Our policy briefs deliver our cutting-edge research directly to policy makers, researchers, and stakeholders in an accessible format. These peer-reviewed resources are short and informative analyses of our research relating to poverty and policy.
When measured relative to median income, poverty in the United States, at 16.3 percent, is much higher than in many industrialized, democratic countries. To explain this, scholars, politicians, and the public often focus on the risks of poverty. Risks are characteristics more common among the poor than the non-poor, like low education, unemployment, single motherhood, or young age of the head of household. In a study I conducted with David Brady and Sabine Huebgen, we found that the cause of relatively high poverty in the U.S.
Preschool interventions are arguably one of the most important elements of support for poor families. Head Start, a federal program for children in low-income families administered through the Department of Health and Human Services, is a case in point. While research shows a range of benefits lasting beyond preschool for participants, evidence of the “fade-out” of cognitive gains of the preschool years and the differential impact of the program on children with different skill levels in the preschool population has prompted debate over its efficacy.
Poor children in the United States are less healthy than other children, which may be a central factor in why poverty persists across generations. Research approaches that use variation in public programs let researchers disentangle the effects of a program itself from other factors. These approaches confirm the broad benefits of safety net programs that target children’s health and nutrition. They also suggest that access to these programs in early life improves children’s economic well-being as adults, which likely transmits to the next generation.
The Great Recession led to unemployment rates unseen since the deep recessions of the early 1980s. At the same time, significant changes in the safety net both before and during the downturn have changed the way we support children in vulnerable households. In a new study, we examine how and to what extent the current safety net provides protection to at-risk children during economic downturns. We find that increases in unemployment affect children in the poorest households most. We also find that while the safety net is strongest at stabilizing household incomes for these children, children in immigrant households get no protection.
Each year, over 1.5 million Americans rely on homeless programs for overnight shelter. These programs provide beds and services, and they act as a last resort for many of the most impoverished individuals and families in the U.S. In a new study, I found that a higher level of federal funding successfully shelters those who would otherwise be unsheltered, with little evidence that it increases the total of individuals in the homeless population. However, homeless families move to communities with more generous programs, so non-residents also benefit from local funding. This fact may affect local government incentives to fund programs and services.
Hospitals and clinics frequently rely on bicultural healthcare workers as cultural brokers to offer translation and other assistance to help low-income immigrant patients overcome cultural barriers to healthcare. In a new study, we find that Spanish-bilingual nurses navigate complex relationships with their Latino patients in medical institutions with assorted regulations and often limited resources. They do so by developing diverse care strategies.
California’s Continuum of Care Reform Act (CCR) shifts foster care in the state toward placing children with families and more support for foster parents. We conducted a survey-based study to learn about who is most likely to be willing to serve as a resource family, the level of knowledge about foster care and potential motivations for fostering. We found that the strongest motivations among potential parents are to support foster youth and their biological parents rather than any emotional or financial benefits for themselves. Strong deterrents were financial strain and worries about being able to adequately care for them.
During a job interview, workers cannot tell whether an employer is prejudiced. However, they can observe the race of a potential supervisor. In a new study of racial inequality in the labor market, we tested a model of Black and White workers’ wages and job stability using a unique dataset that includes the race of the worker’s supervisor and state-level measures of prejudice. Our findings suggest that higher levels of prejudice in the state may cause Black job applicants to accept lower wages in exchange for the security of working for a Black supervisor. This could lead to lower average wages for Black workers.
In recent years, for-profit colleges have seen sharp increases in enrollment despite public community colleges being much cheaper. In a recent study, we sent almost 9,000 fictitious resumes of young job applicants who recently completed their schooling to online job postings in seven major U.S. cities across six occupational categories to track employer callback rates. We find no evidence that employers prefer applicants with resumes listing a for-profit college relative to those whose resumes list either a public community college or no college at all.
Jobs that offer hours that vary from week to week present significant challenges for low-wage workers. In a new study we find that the number of workers with inconsistent work hours increased significantly throughout the Great Recession and recovery. These workers had lower incomes and higher poverty rates than those with steady hours. However, the increase in inconsistent hours was smaller among union members and in states with higher-than-average unionization. This suggests unionization could improve the chances a worker will have the steady income needed to plan for even short-term basic needs.
Direct health care support and personal care jobs have the largest projected growth in the next decade. Immigrants make up growing percentages of workers in these fields, and having a better understanding of their range of experiences in these occupations will help attract and retain them. My new research finds that African immigrant direct health care workers often experience prejudice based on both their race and African backgrounds. They also see their jobs as lacking opportunities for advancement, and often struggle to meet basic needs with their incomes.
In the U.S., low-income immigrants are disproportionately excluded from social services. Even those who have gained formal access must often overcome informal institutional barriers. In a new study, I interviewed low-income Mexican immigrant mothers with limited English skills to understand these informal barriers in education and healthcare settings as they advocated on behalf of their children. The study suggests that mothers are most effective in a less bureaucratized setting and when staff recognize how deeply they care for and understand their children.
Discussions of the safety net available to families in poverty overwhelmingly focus on government assistance programs. An additional component of how many families make ends meet is with support from their private networks, especially from parents, grandparents, or extended family. For some, this “private safety net” can support material needs not sufficiently met though earnings and public assistance. However, some individuals may lack connections to family members who can provide such support. Understanding how access to a private safety net varies by group is key to assessing kin support’s role in alleviating material hardship.
At the core of debates about Head Start is evidence of its effectiveness, which has been questioned due to the reduction in test score gains, known as test score “fade-out”, in the years following participation. However, short-term test score gains may not accurately reflect the impacts of the program. A number of studies suggest that the program yields long-term improvements that include social, cognitive and physical well-being. These findings show that, overall, Head Start produces a positive return on investment.
Urban poverty has become more geographically concentrated in recent years. Areas of concentrated poverty are also frequently located relatively far from many job opportunities. If low-wage employers discriminate against applicants from poor or more distant neighborhoods, those applicants and their neighborhoods may face even deeper poverty. In a new study, I find that employers are less likely to respond positively to applicants who list addresses in distant, poor neighborhoods. However, the applicant’s commute distance rather than neighborhood affluence itself is the largest factor.
Household economic security contributes to child and family wellbeing, and is especially important during the rapid developmental periods of infancy and early childhood. My new study shows that, on average, the economic wellbeing of U.S. households falls in the months before and after a birth, especially among parents with low levels of education and single mothers who live without other adults. Timely and more generous income supports and policies facilitating mothers’ employment could boost economic wellbeing during this critical period.
Despite a near-continuous decline over the past 20 years, the teen birth rate in the United States continues to be higher than in other developed countries. Many have advocated for long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), which are more effective at preventing pregnancy than more commonly used contraceptives. In a new study, we analyze Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative, the first large-scale policy intervention to improve access to LARCs in the U.S. We find that the program reduced the teen birth rate by about five percent, and these effects were concentrated among Colorado counties with higher rates of poverty.
National efforts to increase college attainment and to address the nation’s skills gap have focused heavily on community colleges. Understanding returns to community college programs is particularly important for low-income students, since nearly half of low-income students begin their college careers at community colleges, compared to just 15 percent of high-income students. Using administrative data from California, we find that students who earn vocational certificates and degrees see large earnings gains that vary substantially by course of study.
Children are removed from their families for different reasons, but poverty and disconnection from financial support such as employment or public benefits are associated with referrals to child welfare and children being placed outside the home. Our new research suggests that efforts to minimize the negative financial impact of child placement for parents have the potential to improve both the financial lives of vulnerable families and their chances for reunification.
Official measures of poverty may not capture the difficulties afflicting low-wage workers, since households can still experience material hardship while not considered poor by official measures. From a survey of front-line service workers, we find that material hardship is associated with higher levels of self-reported depression and overall poorer mental health. This suggests that the mental health of low-wage workers may benefit from laws that not only increase earnings but also facilitate income stability. Low-wage workers may also benefit from programs that directly address material hardship.
In the United States, food assistance programs have been established to improve the well-being of poor and low-income children. The School Breakfast Program is a federal program that offers breakfast to any student who attends a participating school. In a new study, I evaluate the impact this program has on student achievement in elementary schools nationally using variation across states that require schools to participate in the program. The results suggest that state mandates for the School Breakfast Program are effective at increasing academic achievement among low-income students by improving nutrition.
The goal of federal food and nutrition programs in the United States is to improve the nutritional well-being and health of low income families. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states to support nutrition for pregnant and post-partum mothers and children up to age five. Our study, one of the first to convincingly describe the program’s causal effect, found that WIC’s implementation led to an increase in average birthweight, especially among mothers with low levels of education. This suggests that the value of WIC benefits for needy participants is substantial compared to the program’s relatively low costs.
Where children grow up has a striking effect on where they live as young adults. Our new study examined an experimental federal housing voucher program from the 1990s to learn what factors may contribute to children living in higher-income neighborhoods as young adults. We find that housing assistance helps the next generation to exit concentrated poverty. We also found that a family’s finances, ties to neighborhoods and the housing market all play roles, but a family’s desire to live in higher-income, more integrated neighborhoods is also important.
Paid Family Leave (PFL) provides income for workers to take time off to care for a newborn or sick loved one. The U.S. is the only industrialized country without national PFL. Moreover, job-protected leave is not universal. A large body of research on policies outside the U.S. suggests that paid and protected leave help workers remain in the labor force. Increasing researchers’ access to governmental administrative data would further show how to improve these policies for U.S. workers. Limited existing data from California PFL show that the majority of new mothers do not take advantage of this policy, and that take-up is even lower among low-wage women.
In 2010, an estimated 2.7 million children and one in nine African-American children had an incarcerated parent. Incarceration creates challenges for inmates’ families. Resources that inmates had contributed are removed, while incarceration introduces new expenses. Children with incarcerated fathers have worse educational outcomes and poorer mental health than otherwise comparable children. Employment assistance and less restrictive visitation rules may mitigate the economic and emotional effects incarceration has on families.
During the most recent economic recession in the U.S., many parents lost their jobs. When a parent loses a job, it can impact their child’s well-being in complex ways. In a new study, we sought to understand how a parent losing a job affects their children’s health. We found that after a job loss, an increase in public coverage offset much of the decrease in private coverage. In addition, we found almost no effects on children’s use of routine health care services and no evidence that job loss negatively affects children’s physical health in the short run. However, we do find that parental job loss results in a deterioration of mental health for some children, which may have negative implications for child health in the long run.
Truancy in California is a pervasive problem that disproportionately impacts children in high-poverty schools. Our study examined how school safety and connectedness relate to truancy in California’s high-poverty middle and high schools. We found that children who perceive their schools to be unsafe and feared being in fights were more likely to skip school. Students who reported that they were more closely connected to their schools, particularly students who reported having a teacher or adult who cared about them, were more likely to attend. School-wide initiatives enhancing both school safety and connectedness may lead to improved school attendance at California’s most disadvantaged schools.
A major component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a mandated expansion of Medicaid. The law also prescribed cuts to Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments, which subsidize hospitals with high levels of uncompensated care. For states that have opted out of Medicaid expansion, Medicaid reimbursements will not make up for lost DSH payments. However, DSH cuts may also create additional financial challenges for these hospitals in opt-in states if Medicaid expansion does not reduce overall uncompensated care.
California health advocates are increasingly aware of the hazards of Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis), a disease caused by a fungus spore living in semi-arid regions of the west and southwest U.S. California has the most associated deaths despite only representing about 31 percent of all U.S. cases. Policy makers can reduce its impact on low-income communities and save millions of dollars in treatment each year by addressing the circumstances of infection, as well as the difficulties low-income populations face in accessing care.
After decades of reductions in official measures of family violence, annual incidence rates have plateaued over the past ten years. Poverty and the increased stress it causes can increase the risk for family violence, which suggests that economic downturns like the Great Recession may contribute to this stagnation. Income support in new and existing interventions may help reduce family violence, especially among high-risk, poor families.
Intensified violence and poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America have spurred migration among youth who seek to either reunite with family or to support families who remain abroad. Policies to protect these youth would promote their holistic integration into U.S. society, enforce safety and well-being along the U.S. southern border and help strengthen the youths’ countries of origin socially, economically and politically.
Despite significant efforts to deter unauthorized immigration, repeat migration to the United States following deportation is common. In a new study, my co-authors and I examined how having family in the U.S. affects the intent to return among migrants deported to El Salvador. We found that being separated from their families in the U.S. is the most important factor in the intent to return, even despite the severe penalties if caught.
Domestic violence is a significant problem in the U.S. It leads to serious medical and emotional costs for victims and their children, but also has important negative spillovers. Our new work finds that exposure to a higher proportion of peers experiencing domestic violence during primary school leads to lower academic achievement in the long-run, even after moving to schools with a mixed peer composition.
With obesity affecting over a third of the U.S. population, public health advocates—including first lady Michelle Obama—have called to “drink up” on water instead of sugary beverages. In new work, supported by the Center for Poverty Research, we find that low-quality drinking water is a potential barrier to reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in high-poverty rural immigrant communities.
In recent years, inner-city school districts have worked to balance budgets despite funding cuts and unpredictable enrollment due to demographic changes. While redistricting—the process of changing school boundaries, closing and/or consolidating schools—can effectively address budget and enrollment problems, it can disproportionally affect disadvantaged students and families.
With unauthorized youth at the forefront of immigration reform discourse and policy proposals, understanding the diversity of their profiles and experiences is necessary to create holistic immigration policies.
Some safety net programs, such as unemployment insurance (UI) and food stamps (SNAP), have shown to automatically stabilize income during financial downturns. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) raises millions of American workers out of poverty, but its impact in times of crisis has not been explored.
Public insurance can provide needed medical coverage for those who cannot afford it. Considering that private insurance is often bound to employment, a public option could have an impact on the labor market if it reduces incentives to work.
Growing up in poverty may have long-term impacts beyond the chance of a better financial future. The stress of early-life poverty may in fact be associated with serious health problems well into adulthood.
Ongoing research by Center Graduate Student Fellow Natalie Troxel and Faculty Affiliate Paul Hastings examines the association between poverty and compromised adult health, which may have implications for healthcare costs in the U.S.
In July 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown overhauled the state’s school finance system, which has long been criticized for its complexity and failure to meet student needs. The prior system generally did provide more revenues to districts serving many disadvantaged students, but the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) dramatically increases the state’s investment in those districts, and creates a more transparent and equitable school finance system.
From 1900 through the 1960s, millions of black Americans moved northward during The Great Migration toward economic opportunity and away from Jim Crow in the South. However, over the last few decades many of those destination cities in the north have fared poorly.
There has been considerable debate about whether payday lending alleviates or exacerbates financial distress. On the one hand, payday loans can help a family weather shocks to household income or expenditures. Many argue, however, that these high-cost loans lead to greater financial difficulties in the long run.
Community-based organizations (CBOs) serve low-income immigrants who face significant barriers to public aid. An increasing proportion of these populations includes families with children who live in poverty.
In recent years, ethnic concordance—matching the ethnicity of healthcare workers to that of their patients—has been promoted as an important measure for achieving “patient-centered care” for minority patients in the U.S.
Health problems, such as diabetes, are often considered the result of either genetics or individual choices. In fact, our network of family, friends and co-workers can have a major impact on how we measure and manage our health.
For decades, high school students have taken technical training classes that prepare them for jobs, but little research has examined the impact these classes have on whether those students go to college.