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
Systemic oppression makes the Latino community especially vulnerable to the economic, health, and psychological risks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Latina mothers, in particular, must navigate the pandemic from their racialized, gendered, and classed positions while caring for children and families. In a recent study, conducted during California’s initial shelter-in-place mandate (March 20 – June 1, 2020), we surveyed 70 Latina mothers from Sacramento and Yolo Counties. We assessed stress, depressive symptoms, and anxiety symptoms among these women.
Among disadvantaged groups, rates of postsecondary enrollment are disproportionately low, with undocumented immigrants facing particularly high barriers to college. In a recent study, we investigated the effects of a decrease in Colorado college tuition on college application and enrollment behavior. Specifically, we used student-level data to analyze a law that granted in-state tuition to certain undocumented students residing in Colorado. We found an increase in the credit hours and persistence of newly enrolled and likely undocumented students in the period after the law was introduced.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) sought to improve access and affordability of health insurance. Most ACA policies targeted childless adults; the extent to which these policies also positively impacted families with children has been unclear. In a recent study, we aimed to examine changes in health care-related financial burden for US families with children before and after the ACA, based on income-eligibility for ACA policies. Using a difference-in-differences design in a cohort of U.S.
Children growing up in economically disadvantaged contexts are at risk of underperforming academically. Why is this? One explanation may be underdeveloped ‘executive function’, an important collection of attention-regulation skills. Executive function is malleable in childhood, indeed—interventions have been effective in improving it, especially among children facing adversity. In a recent study, we set out to examine whether early-life family income predicted long-term academic achievement, and to investigate the role of executive function in explaining this association.
When young adults (YAs) move out of the family home, they often find themselves in a neighborhood that differs considerably from the one in which they grew up. What are the implications of this kind of residential mobility during this particular phase of life? In a recent study, we examined movement in and out of disadvantaged and advantaged neighborhoods as individuals leave home and experience significant life-course events.
In 2014, Berkeley, California became the first US jurisdiction to tax distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). In a recent study, we interviewed city stakeholders and SSB distributors and retailers and analyzed records in order to identify lessons learned from the implementation of this tax. Our findings emphasized the importance of investing tax revenues back into the community through programs that advance health equity.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, implemented in 2012, granted a subset of undocumented youth temporary relief from deportation, as well as work authorization and other benefits. In a recent study, we analyzed both whether and how DACA impacted education and employment among undocumented immigrants in California. We found mixed effects. DACA enabled college for some, but discouraged it for others. DACA recipients perceived substantial occupational mobility, but for many, this was not reflected in movement out of the secondary labor market.
The COVID-19 crisis has hit low-income families especially hard. Unemployment rates have risen highest for those with lower levels of education, and for Black and Hispanic individuals. In response, the Families First Coronavirus Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act have made important provisions in response. Still, many are suffering, and tremendous need remains unmet. Food insecurity rates have increased almost three times over pre-COVID rates.
COVID-19 has created a $54 billion budget deficit for California. This has significant implications for K-12 school districts. It also has the potential to harm high-poverty districts more severely. To balance the budget while averting draconian education cuts, the state’s recently enacted 2020-21 budget defers nearly $11 billion of school district state aid. This forces districts to borrow in order to maintain staffing and educational programs.
Conditions of confinement in immigrant detention facilities make them a ticking time bomb for COVID-19 infections. The health risks are dire and urgent, but federal and state governments can still take legal action to prevent infections, flatten the curve, and save lives.
While the spread of the novel coronavirus is affecting different regions and populations to different extents, one thing is clear: people experiencing homelessness are especially susceptible to both the virus and the disease it can cause (COVID-19). This is due in part to the high concentration of people experiencing homelessness in urban and coastal regions with high infection rates. It is also true that, compared to the general population, people experiencing homelessness suffer from more health conditions and are less able to access health care.
A person’s risk for developing psychosis-spectrum disorders such as schizophrenia in adulthood is determined by multiple factors. With this in mind, we examined the risk for the development of such disorders in a two-generation, 30-year prospective longitudinal study of 3,905 urban families in Montréal, Canada. This study took place against a sociocultural backdrop of changing economic and social conditions.
Uninsurance for young adults (YAs) was greatly reduced by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But were federal health reforms since 2010 equally beneficial for all YAs? Did certain policies exacerbate, rather than resolve, preexisting disparities in health-insurance coverage? In a recent study, using a nationally representative sample of more than 350,000 participants, we investigated inequalities in YA insurance coverage before and after federal health reforms, including the expansions of dependent coverage, Marketplaces and Medicaid.
Food assistance is a large part of the food economy, with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) redemptions totaling $76 billion in 2013, representing more than 10 percent of sales at supermarkets. Such assistance is important to the millions of Americans who depend on it. Less clear until now has been how food assistance shapes the retail food environment. In a recent study, we set out to find out whether the rollout of Food Stamps during the 1960s and 1970s affected the retail environment.
California’s housing crisis stems from an inadequate supply of affordable housing coupled with insufficient legal protections for renters and homeowners. The resulting access-to-justice challenge for low-income and modest-means residents is aggravated in rural areas by the underfunding of legal-aid organizations and the state’s rural lawyer shortage. All of these factors contribute to recent increases in the state’s homeless population. Free, high-quality Legal Aid is needed urgently. We recommend the passing of new laws that protect rural low-income renters and homeowners.
Parental divorce is generally associated with unfavorable outcomes for children, particularly with regard to education. But not every divorce is equally harmful for the children it affects. Why is this? In a recent study, we found that parental divorce does lower educational attainment, but only for children whose parents are statistically unlikely to separate. For these children, divorce is an unexpected shock to an otherwise privileged childhood.
Medicaid covers more than 72 million enrollees and represents over $500 billion in government spending annually. But does it improve the health of its beneficiaries? In a recent study, we investigated the relationship between Medicaid enrollment and mortality. To do so, we compared changes in mortality for near-elderly adults with low incomes in states that did and did not expand Medicaid eligibility through the Affordable Care Act. We found a decline of 0.132 percentage points in annual mortality associated with Medicaid expansion for this population.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) serves more than one-quarter of pregnant and postpartum women in the United States. In October 2009, the WIC food package underwent revisions to improve nutritional content. In a recent quasi-experimental study of more than two million California infants, we investigated the extent to which those revisions—which increased access to whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat milk—resulted in improvements in maternal and infant health.
Economic hardship during childhood contributes to worse mental and physical health across the lifespan. Over the past decade, researchers have begun to highlight the behavioral and biological pathways that underlie these disparities, and to identify protective factors—supportive relationships, for example—that mitigate against their occurrence. In this brief, we summarize some of this recent research and the new challenges it presents. We also make suggestions to inform both policy and practice for youth experiencing economic hardship.
Living in “deep poverty” means living on an income less than half the official poverty threshold, or, for a family of three in 2017, living with annual income of less than $9758. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, 18.5 million individuals in the United States—5.7 percent of the population—lived in deep poverty in 2017. At such low levels of income, it may be particularly important to understand for how long individuals continue to live in deep poverty. My recent study investigates the long-term persistence of deep poverty. While most spells of deep poverty in the U.S.
Parents struggling with food insecurity can experience heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. These pressures may negatively affect their parenting, which may in turn affect the behavior of their children. In this study, we investigated the parenting aggravation levels of parents who experienced food insecurity in the aftermath of the Great Recession. We also explored the extent to which such aggravation may be responsible for the link between food insecurity and children’s behaviors.
The Food Stamp Program (FSP, known since 2008 as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) is one of the largest safety-net programs in the United States. It is especially important for families with children. However, the FSP eligibility of documented immigrants has shifted on multiple occasions in recent decades. When I studied the health outcomes of children in documented immigrant families affected by such shifts between 1996 and 2003, I found that just one extra year of parental eligibility before age 5 improves health outcomes at ages 6-16.
Housing and utility costs consume the majority of monthly incomes for millions of individuals and families in the United States. Missed payments can result in penalties, utility shutoffs, and evictions. Between 14 and 16 percent of the U.S.
In the United States, poverty, incarceration, and race are linked in complex ways, with much evidence that poverty may be both a cause and a consequence of incarceration. Black men are disproportionately more likely than white men to be arrested and incarcerated, a racial gap that first emerged in the early 20th century. In a new study, I explore the historical role played in that gap by education. I find that black men fully exposed to an expansion of rural primary schools between 1913 and 1932 were 1.9 percentage points less likely to be incarcerated later.
A quarter of the world’s population suffer from metabolic syndrome (MetS), a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. MetS is particularly common among people of low socioeconomic status (SES). When we examined the relative roles of early-life SES and current SES in explaining MetS risk, we found that low early-life SES contributed to an 83% greater risk of MetS later on.
Among OECD countries, the United States has fallen from 1st (in 1990) to 9th (in 2016) in terms of the percentage of working age individuals with a bachelor’s degree. This makes interventions that promote college attendance in the U.S. a top policy priority. The benefits of a college education are widely known.
Young, undocumented Latino immigrants face many challenges in the United States. Undocumented Latino youth are less likely to graduate from high school and attend college than native-born youth and are more likely to live in poverty and report clinical levels of depression. Our research examines the impact of changes in legal status related to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Latino immigrant young adults in California, with a focus on distress and psychological wellbeing.
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
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
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
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
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.