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Savings, Assets, Credit, and Banking Among Low-Income Households
One in four American adults doesn’t have a bank account. Low-income families lack access to many of the basic financial services middle-class families take for granted and are particularly susceptible to financial emergencies, unemployment, loss of a home, and uninsured medical problems. Insufficient Funds explores how institutional constraints and individual decisions combine to produce this striking disparity and recommends policies to help alleviate the problem. Mainstream financial services are both less available and more expensive for low-income households. High fees, minimum-balance policies, and the relative scarcity of banks in poor neighborhoods are key factors. Michael Barr reports the results of an in-depth study of financial behavior in 1,000 low- and moderate-income families in metropolitan Detroit. He finds that most poor households have bank accounts, but combine use of mainstream services with alternative options such as money orders, pawnshops, and payday lenders. Barr suggests that a tax credit for banks serving primarily disadvantaged customers could facilitate greater equality in the private financial sector. Drawing on evidence from behavioral economics, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir show that low-income individuals exhibit many of the same patterns and weaknesses in financial decision making as middle-class individuals and could benefit from many of the same financial aids. They argue that savings programs that automatically enroll participants and require them to actively opt out in order to leave the program could drastically increase savings ability. Ronald Mann demonstrates that significant changes in the credit market over the past fifteen years have allowed companies to expand credit to a larger share of low-income families. Mann calls for regulations on credit card companies that would require greater disclosure of actual interest rates and fees. Raphael Bostic and Kwan Lee find that while home ownership has risen dramatically over the past twenty years, elevated risks for low-income families—such as foreclosure—may well outweigh the benefits of owning a home. The authors ultimately argue that if we want to demand financial responsibility from low-income households, we have an obligation to assure that these families have access to the banking, credit, and savings institutions that are readily available to higher-income families. Insufficient Funds highlights where and how access is blocked and shows how government policy and individual decisions could combine to eliminate many of these barriers in the future.
Immigrant Origins and the Second-Generation Progress, 1890-2000
According to the American dream, hard work and a good education can lift people from poverty to success in the "land of opportunity." The unskilled immigrants who came to the United States from southern, central, and eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries largely realized that vision. Within a few generations, their descendants rose to the middle class and beyond. But can today’s unskilled immigrant arrivals—especially Mexicans, the nation's most numerous immigrant group—expect to achieve the same for their descendants? Social scientists disagree on this question, basing their arguments primarily on how well contemporary arrivals are faring. In Italians Then, Mexicans Now, Joel Perlmann uses the latest immigration data as well as 100 years of historical census data to compare the progress of unskilled immigrants and their American-born children both then and now. The crucial difference between the immigrant experience a hundred years ago and today is that relatively well-paid jobs were plentiful for workers with little education a hundred years ago, while today's immigrants arrive in an increasingly unequal America. Perlmann finds that while this change over time is real, its impact has not been as strong as many scholars have argued. In particular, these changes have not been great enough to force today’s Mexican second generation into an inner-city "underclass." Perlmann emphasizes that high school dropout rates among second-generation Mexicans are alarmingly high, and are likely to have a strong impact on the group’s well-being. Yet despite their high dropout rates, Mexican Americans earn at least as much as African Americans, and they fare better on social measures such as unwed childbearing and incarceration, which often lead to economic hardship. Perlmann concludes that inter-generational progress, though likely to be slower than it was for the European immigrants a century ago, is a reality, and could be enhanced if policy interventions are taken to boost high school graduation rates for Mexican children. Rich with historical data, Italians Then, Mexicans Now persuasively argues that today’s Mexican immigrants are making slow but steady socio-economic progress and may one day reach parity with earlier immigrant groups who moved up into the heart of the American middle class.
Pursuing Equality in Societies of Difference
Educators and policymakers who share the goal of equal opportunity in schools often hold differing notions of what entails a just school in multicultural America. Some emphasize the importance of integration and uniform treatment for all, while others point to the benefits of honoring cultural diversity in ways that make minority students feel at home. In Just Schools, noted legal scholars, educators, and social scientists examine schools with widely divergent methods of fostering equality in order to explore the possibilities and limits of equal education today.The contributors to Just Schools combine empirical research with rich ethnographic accounts to paint a vivid picture of the quest for justice in classrooms around the nation. Legal scholar Martha Minow considers the impact of school choice reforms on equal educational opportunities. Psychologist Hazel Rose Markus examines culturally sensitive programs where students exhibit superior performance on standardized tests and feel safer and more interested in school than those in color-blind programs. Anthropologist Heather Lindkvist reports on how Somali Muslims in Lewiston, Maine, invoked the American ideal of inclusiveness in winning dress-code exemptions and accommodations for Islamic rituals in the local public school. Political scientist Austin Sarat looks at a school system in which everyone endorses multiculturalism but holds conflicting views on the extent to which culturally sensitive practices should enter into the academic curriculum. Anthropologist Barnaby Riedel investigates how a private Muslim school in Chicago aspires to universalist ideals, and education scholar James Banks argues that schools have a responsibility to prepare students for citizenship in a multicultural society. Anthropologist John Bowen offers a nuanced interpretation of educational commitments in France and the headscarf controversy in French schools. Anthropologist Richard Shweder concludes the volume by connecting debates about diversity in schools with a broader conflict between national assimilation and cultural autonomy. As America’s schools strive to accommodate new students from around the world, Just Schools provides a provocative and insightful look at the different ways we define and promote justice in schools and in society at large.
Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement
Sharp decreases in union membership over the last fifty years have caused many to dismiss organized labor as irrelevant in today’s labor market. In the private sector, only 8 percent of workers today are union members, down from 24 percent as recently as 1973. Yet developments in Southern California—including the successful Justice for Janitors campaign—suggest that reports of organized labor’s demise may have been exaggerated. In L.A. Story, sociologist and labor expert Ruth Milkman explains how Los Angeles, once known as a company town hostile to labor, became a hotbed for unionism, and how immigrant service workers emerged as the unlikely leaders in the battle for workers’ rights. L.A. Story shatters many of the myths of modern labor with a close look at workers in four industries in Los Angeles: building maintenance, trucking, construction, and garment production. Though many blame deunionization and deteriorating working conditions on immigrants, Milkman shows that this conventional wisdom is wrong. Her analysis reveals that worsening work environments preceded the influx of foreign-born workers, who filled the positions only after native-born workers fled these suddenly undesirable jobs. Ironically, L.A. Story shows that immigrant workers, who many union leaders feared were incapable of being organized because of language constraints and fear of deportation, instead proved highly responsive to organizing efforts. As Milkman demonstrates, these mostly Latino workers came to their service jobs in the United States with a more group-oriented mentality than the American workers they replaced. Some also drew on experience in their native countries with labor and political struggles. This stock of fresh minds and new ideas, along with a physical distance from the east-coast centers of labor’s old guard, made Los Angeles the center of a burgeoning workers’ rights movement. Los Angeles’ recent labor history highlights some of the key ingredients of the labor movement’s resurgence—new leadership, latitude to experiment with organizing techniques, and a willingness to embrace both top-down and bottom-up strategies. L.A. Story’s clear and thorough assessment of these developments points to an alternative, high-road national economic agenda that could provide workers with a way out of poverty and into the middle class.
The New Ethnography of Poverty, Low-
As the distribution of wealth between rich and poor in the United States grew more and more unequal over the past twenty years, this economic gap assumed a life of its own in the popular culture. The news and entertainment media increasingly portrayed the lives of the poor with such stereotypes as the lazy welfare mother and the thuggish teen, offering Americans few ways to learn how the "other half" really lives. Laboring Below the Line works to bridge this gap by synthesizing a wide range of qualitative scholarship on the working poor. The result is a coherent, nuanced portrait of how life is lived below the poverty line, and a compelling analysis of the systemic forces in which poverty is embedded, and through which it is perpetuated. Laboring Below the Line explores the role of interpretive research in understanding the causes and effects of poverty. Drawing on perspectives of the working poor, welfare recipients, and marginally employed men and women, the contributors—an interdisciplinary roster of ethnographers, oral historians, qualitative sociologists, and narrative analysts—dissect the life circumstances that affect the personal outlook, ability to work, and expectations for the future of these people. For example, Carol Stack views the work aspirations of an Oakland teenager for whom a job is important, even though it strains her academic performance. And Ruth Buchanan looks at low-wage telemarketing workers who are attempting to move up the economic ladder while balancing family, education, and other important commitments. What emerges is a compelling picture of low-wage workers—one that illustrates the precarious circumstances of individuals struggling with the economic conditions and institutions that surround them Each chapter also explores the capacity for economic survival from a different angle, with ancillary commentary complementing the ethnographies with perspectives from other fields of study, such as economics. At this moment of governmental retrenchment, ethnography's complex, nonstereotypical portraits of individual people fighting against poverty are especially important. Laboring Below the Line reveals the ambiguities of real lives, the potential for individuals to change in unexpected ways, and the even greater intricacy of the collective life of a community.
Evolving Analytic Approaches
Policy analysis has grown increasingly reliant on the random assignment experiment—a research method whereby participants are sorted by chance into either a program group that is subject to a government policy or program, or a control group that is not. Because the groups are randomly selected, they do not differ from one another systematically. Therefore any differences between the groups at the end of the study can be attributed solely to the influence of the program or policy. But there are many questions that randomized experiments have not been able to address. What component of a social policy made it successful? Did a given program fail because it was designed poorly or because it suffered from low participation rates? In Learning More from Social Experiments, editor Howard Bloom and a team of innovative social researchers profile advancements in the scientific underpinnings of social policy research that can improve randomized experimental studies. Using evaluations of actual social programs as examples, Learning More from Social Experiments makes the case that many of the limitations of random assignment studies can be overcome by combining data from these studies with statistical methods from other research designs. Carolyn Hill, James Riccio, and Bloom profile a new statistical model that allows researchers to pool data from multiple randomized-experiments in order to determine what characteristics of a program made it successful. Lisa Gennetian, Pamela Morris, Johannes Bos, and Bloom discuss how a statistical estimation procedure can be used with experimental data to single out the effects of a program’s intermediate outcomes (e.g., how closely patients in a drug study adhere to the prescribed dosage) on its ultimate outcomes (the health effects of the drug). Sometimes, a social policy has its true effect on communities and not individuals, such as in neighborhood watch programs or public health initiatives. In these cases, researchers must randomly assign treatment to groups or clusters of individuals, but this technique raises different issues than do experiments that randomly assign individuals. Bloom evaluates the properties of cluster randomization, its relevance to different kinds of social programs, and the complications that arise from its use. He pays particular attention to the way in which the movement of individuals into and out of clusters over time complicates the design, execution, and interpretation of a study. Learning More from Social Experiments represents a substantial leap forward in the analysis of social policies. By supplementing theory with applied research examples, this important new book makes the case for enhancing the scope and relevance of social research by combining randomized experiments with non-experimental statistical methods, and it serves as a useful guide for researchers who wish to do so.
A History of Coeducation in American Public Schools
Now available in paperback, this award-winning book provides a comprehensive history of gender policies and practices in American public schools. David Tyack and Elisabeth Hansot explore the many factors that have shaped coeducation since its origins. At the very time that Americans were creating separate spheres for adult men and women, they institutionalized an education system that brought boys and girls together. How did beliefs about the similarities and differences of boys and girls shape policy and practice in schools? To what degree did the treatment of boys and girls differ by class, race, region, and historical period? Debates over gender policies suggest that American have made public education the repository of their hopes and anxieties about relationships between the sexes. Thus, the history of coeducation serves as a window not only on constancy and change in gender practices in the schools but also on cultural conflicts about gender in the broader society. "Learning Together presents a rich and exhaustive search through [the] 'tangled history' of gender and education that links both the silences and the debates surrounding coeducation to the changing roles of women and men in our society....It is the generosity and capaciousness of Tyack and Hansot's scholarship that makes Learning Together so important a book." —Science
Many believe that the War on Poverty, launched by President Johnson in 1964, ended in failure. In 2010, the official poverty rate was 15 percent, almost as high as when the War on Poverty was declared. Historical and contemporary accounts often portray the War on Poverty as a costly experiment that created doubts about the ability of public policies to address complex social problems. Legacies of the War on Poverty, drawing from fifty years of empirical evidence, documents that this popular view is too negative. The volume offers a balanced assessment of the War on Poverty that highlights some remarkable policy successes and promises to shift the national conversation on poverty in America.
United States and European Perspectives
Though privately controlled, foundations perform essential roles that serve society at large. They spearhead some of the world’s largest and most innovative initiatives in science, health, education, and the arts, fulfilling important needs that could not be addressed adequately in the marketplace or the public sector. Still, many people have little understanding of what foundations do and how they continue to earn public endorsement. The Legitimacy of Philanthropic Foundations provides a thorough examination of why foundations exist and the varied purposes they serve in contemporary democratic societies. The Legitimacy of Philanthropic Foundations looks at foundations in the United States and Europe to examine their relationship to the state, the market, and civil society. Peter Frumkin argues that unlike elected officials, who must often shy away from topics that could spark political opposition, and corporate officers, who must meet bottom-line priorities, foundations can independently tackle sensitive issues of public importance. Kenneth Prewitt argues that foundations embody elements of classical liberalism, such as individual autonomy and limited government interference in private matters and achieve legitimacy by putting private wealth to work for the public good. Others argue that foundations achieve legitimacy by redistributing wealth from the pockets of rich philanthropists to the poor. But Julian Wolpert finds that foundations do not redistribute money directly to the poor as much as many people believe. Instead, many foundations focus their efforts on education, health, and scientific research, making investments that benefit society in the long-term, and focusing on farsighted issues that a myopic electorate would not have patience to permit its government to address. Originating from private fortunes but working for the public good, independently managed but subject to legal prescriptions, philanthropic foundations occupy a unique space somewhere between the public and private sectors. The Legitimacy of Philanthropic Foundations places foundations in a broad social and historical context, improving our understanding of one of society’s most influential—and least understood—organizational forms.
How Employers are Reshaping Opportunity in the Workplace
About 27.5 million Americans—nearly 24 percent of the labor force—earn less than $8.70 an hour, not enough to keep a family of four out of poverty, even working full-time year-round. Job ladders for these workers have been dismantled, limiting their ability to get ahead in today’s labor market. Low-Wage America is the most extensive study to date of how the choices employers make in response to economic globalization, industry deregulation, and advances in information technology affect the lives of tens of millions of workers at the bottom of the wage distribution. Based on data from hundreds of establishments in twenty-five industries—including manufacturing, telecommunications, hospitality, and health care—the case studies document how firms’ responses to economic restructuring often results in harsh working conditions, reduced benefits, and fewer opportunities for advancement. For instance, increased pressure for profits in newly consolidated hotel chains has led to cost-cutting strategies such as requiring maids to increase the number of rooms they clean by 50 percent. Technological changes in the organization of call centers—the ultimate “disposable workplace”—have led to monitoring of operators’ work performance, and eroded job ladders. Other chapters show how the temporary staffing industry has provided paths to better work for some, but to dead end jobs for many others; how new technology has reorganized work in the back offices of banks, raising skill requirements for workers; and how increased competition from abroad has forced U.S. manufacturers to cut costs by reducing wages and speeding production. Although employers’ responses to economic pressures have had a generally negative effect on frontline workers, some employers manage to resist this trend and still compete successfully. The benefits to workers of multi-employer training consortia and the continuing relevance of unions offer important clues about what public policy can do to support the job prospects of this vast, but largely overlooked segment of the American workforce. Low-Wage America challenges us to a national self-examination about the nature of low-wage work in this country and asks whether we are willing to tolerate the profound social and economic consequences entailed by these jobs.