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.
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.
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
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