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2014-15 Small Grants for Poverty Research Awarded

We are pleased to announce the winners for our 2014-2015 Small Grants for Poverty Research. All recipients will receive grants to support their research projects related to the core themes of the Center and will present as part of our seminar series. Congratulations!

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Habit Formation and the Persistent Impact of WIC
By David Frisvold, University of Iowa

Abstract:
In this project, we will examine the possibility that antipoverty programs that provide highly targeted vouchers for a sustained period could persistently influence behavior after the program ends through the formation of habits. We do this in the context of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a part of the non-traditional safety net, which provides recipients a set of vouchers for specific food items. Specifically, using detailed scanner data, we will estimate whether the changes in household purchasing patterns that occur during program participation persist after eligibility ends. We will estimate the differences in the purchases of WIC-eligible and WIC-ineligible products among income eligible and income-ineligible households in which the youngest child is age-eligible and age-ineligible. Further, we will examine the robustness of these results to multiple additional empirical strategies using the change in the WIC food packages implemented throughout 2009 and household income volatility over time. The relatively long period during which WIC provides vouchers and the large scale of implementation set this study apart in the literature on incentives and habit formation. Overall, this project represents the first investigation into the potential of public assistance programs to combat the effects of poverty by instilling positive habits in beneficiaries.

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The Timing of SNAP Benefit Receipt and Children’s Academic Achievement
Anna Gassman-Pines, Duke University

Abstract:
An important part of the U.S. safety net, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides cash-like benefits to low-income people that can only be used to purchase food. My proposed project will investigate relationships between the timing of SNAP benefit receipt and children’s achievement test scores in North Carolina (NC), using a unique dataset I have created that links administrative data on student test scores from the NC Department of Public Instruction and data on SNAP receipt from the Department of Health and Human Services. Using this dataset, I will examine whether recency of SNAP benefit receipt affects children’s test scores, by comparing children who take tests at the beginning of their families’ monthly benefit cycle to children who take tests at the end of their families’ benefit cycle. Importantly, in NC, timing of benefit receipt within the month varies randomly by household based only on the last digit of the recipient’s social security number. My project relates strongly to the Center’s core research theme of “Children and the intergenerational transmission of poverty.” My unique contribution will be findings with implications for inequality between low-income and higher-income children. Standardized test scores provide information on children’s cognitive functioning. If children have poorer test performance at the end of families’ SNAP benefit months, this implies that for a portion of each month, children in SNAP-receiving families operate with reduced cognitive functioning. Even if, for example, cognition is only affected for three days per month, over the course of a school year, these experiences will accumulate as a 10% decline in the share of schooling for which SNAP-receiving children are fully attentive relative to their higher-income peers. This design will identify the extent to which such accumulation over the school year may account for the test score gap between low-income and higher-income children.

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The Organizational Context of Employment Scarring
David Pedulla, The University of Texas at Austin

Abstract:
Recent research has demonstrated that histories of long-term unemployment and non-standard employment – part-time work, temporary agency employment, and skills underemployment – can have a direct negative effect on workers’ future labor market opportunities. Given the important role that employment can play in protecting individuals and their families from material hardship, these emerging findings are of particular concern to scholars and policymakers interested in reducing poverty. Yet, while spells of unemployment and non-standard work have been shown to limit a worker’s ability to obtain future employment, little is know about the organizational-level forces that shape these trajectories. What factors make some employers, but not others, willing to hire workers with histories of unemployment or non-standard employment? This project seeks to make inroads into this gap in the literature by merging company-level data with evidence from an original experimental audit study of job openings previously conducted by the author. Combining detailed information from the ReferenceUSA database about the companies in the audit study, analysis of the text of the job postings to which applications were submitted in the audit study, and “callback” (i.e., positive employer response) data from the audit study, I will examine whether organizational context – such as firm size, sector, financial standing, and organizational demography – matters in shaping the scarring effects of long-term unemployment and non-standard employment. Findings from this research will provide insights into potential interventions that can mitigate the employment challenges faced by job seekers with scarred employment histories, in turn reducing the likelihood that they will experience poverty.

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Ethnic Philanthropy as a Non-Traditional Safety-Net: Do Elite Latinos Help to Alleviate Poverty in Latino Immigrant Communities?
Jody Agius Vallejo, University of Southern California

Abstract:
Latinos are America’s largest minority group, now comprising 17% of the population. Their proportion of the population is expected to double in less than three decades. Latinos’ relatively low levels of educational attainment over the generations have led scholars, politicians, and laypersons to fear that they may not move into the middle and upper classes, but instead, experience stagnated or downward mobility over the generations where they become mired in poverty. Scholars are especially pessimistic about Latino mobility because Latino communities are viewed as lacking ethnic institutions and social capital that help to overcome safety net deficits in Asian communities and that can guard against policy failures and institutionalized racism in urban education. This research bridges two of CPR’s thematic areas: 1) the nontraditional safety-net, and immigration and poverty, by exploring whether Latino elites use their wealth and resources by engaging in ethnic philanthropy to create institutions (i.e. Latino banks, health clinics, Latino schools, job creation programs) that fill resource gaps in immigrant communities. This research is the first to examine whether Latino elites act as safety net agents in poor Latino communities and is important for policy makers devising innovative policies that redefine, and overcome cutbacks, in the social safety net. Ethnic philanthropy is not typically viewed as a segment of the safety net, but programs and institutions spearheaded by ethnic elites may prove crucial in stabilizing the economic well being of poor Latinos in immigrant communities.

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