These briefs are short and informative analyses of our research relating to poverty policies. Policy Briefs deliver our cutting-edge research directly to policy makers, researchers, and stakeholders in an accessible format.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Transitions into and out of poverty often happen after major events such as marriage, divorce, or changes in income. They are also associated with economic factors, such as unemployment rates or wages.