Connecting Research and Policy
The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated existing trends toward workforce automation as employers sought to minimize labor costs and new work-from-home imperatives increased digitalization of workplaces across many sectors.
Recognizing an onslaught of economic challenges since the Great Recession, many economists and policymakers have expressed concerns that the middle class—long considered a cornerstone of the American economy—has been shrinking or becoming unattainable. Understanding the so-called phenomenon of the “squeezing” of the middle class has been an active area of scholarship and active public policy deliberations.
The U.S. retirement savings landscape places a great deal of responsibility on individuals. One of the most basic responsibilities is keeping track of individual retirement accounts through job switches, shifts in savings programs, and other changes that can occur over decades of working. If individuals fail to keep track of these accounts over their lifetime, they may abandon or forget the accounts, losing the money in them.
For workers in the United States, defined contribution retirement plans have long been replacing pensions. 401ks and similar plans leave it up to workers to decide how much they contribute to their retirement savings and how they allocate the amount, and employers can provide some matching funds. That’s opposed to a pension plan where employers distribute a fixed amount to workers upon retirement.
A heightened focus on wealth inequality emerged in the Covid-19 pandemic, due to disproportionate health and economic impacts on people of color. These adverse impacts exacerbated the existing wealth gap between Black and White households in particular. In a recent paper, co-authored with Darlene Booth-Bell and Taylor Griffin, we outline the existing racial wealth gap and illustrate longstanding disparities in several measures of financial success.
The federal government’s propagation of redlining, beginning in the 1930s, is typically attributed to two housing finance programs established in that decade: the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). In a recent paper, co-authored with Price Fishback of the University of Arizona, Ken Snowden of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Thomas Storrs of the University of Virginia, we seek to better understand the historical role of each agency in propagating redlining.
In recent decades with the growth in inequality, Americans have become increasingly concerned about the degree of equality of opportunity in American society. Does every child growing up in the United States have the same chances for economic success or do parents’ economic circumstances largely dictate a child’s future economic status? An important way that researchers have approached this question is by studying intergenerational economic mobility. These studies typically measure the degree of the association of parents’ income to their children’s income in the next generation. When the association is very high, intergenerational income mobility is said to be low. Similarly, if the intergenerational association in income is low, mobility is thought to be relatively high.
Researchers have long studied the costs to workers of major shocks to businesses like plant closures, new regulations, or international trade. Less understood, however, is how one common and frequent shock plays out in the lives of thousands of workers each year: The several dozen bankruptcies of publicly traded corporations that happen annually in the United States.
Policymakers are increasingly focused on wealth inequality, which is even more extreme than income inequality. The income of the 75th percentile household in the United States is 3.5 times greater that of the 25th percentile. For net worth, it’s 32 times greater.
In communities across America, local policymakers rely on data-driven research to help them gauge potential returns to public investment. But while a wealth of data on schools and infrastructure has made it possible to measure the effects of spending in these areas and others, one area of significant local importance has been historically understudied: investment in public libraries.
Nearly 40 years ago, Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to reduce discriminatory lending practices that prevented creditworthy borrowers from obtaining loans because of the neighborhood that they lived in or wanted to purchase a home in—a practice known as “redlining.” To effect change, the CRA directs and empowers financial regulatory agencies like the Federal Reserve to ensure that financial institutions provide fair access to credit to all borrowers.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, high crime rates led many states to pass laws that mandated or encouraged judges to send more people to prison. These laws were so much stricter than previous laws that, despite a significant reduction in crime over the past 30 years, current incarceration rates are roughly 300% higher than their 1980 levels. However, a new research paper by Andrew Jordan of Washington University in St. Louis, Ezra Karger of the Chicago Fed, and Derek Neal of the University of Chicago finds that for a large share of the prison population, prison time isn’t the crime deterrent many people think it is.