research projects

glasses no logoI use survey data and in-depth qualitative interviews to examine how social programs and policies affect people’s lives.

I am especially proud of the policy briefs that I have authored, which communicate my research findings to a broad audience:  see my work on UI in collaboration with NELP, and employment problems and material hardship with NPC.  I co-authored this piece for Talking Points Memo with Alex Hertel-Fernandez.

Below are abstracts and links for my academic papers: 

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Workplace Experiences and Unemployment Insurance Claims: How Personal Relationships and the Structure of Work Shape Access to Public Benefits 

What influences whether unemployed individuals take up Unemployment Insurance (UI)? For answers to this question, research on the take-up of public benefits has looked to the individual, government social programs, and their interactions. This study shows that workplace context also plays a prominent role in UI take-up. Using data from 45 qualitative interviews with a diverse group of workers who experienced job loss between 2007 and 2011, this study documents how the interpersonal climate at work prior to job loss, the environmental context at the time of job loss, and the structural arrangement of work interact with employee characteristics to impede or facilitate benefit access in a distinct manner. Although further research is necessary to fully understand employer behavior, the results suggest that changes to employer incentives and behavior have the potential to facilitate access to UI.
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Unemployment Insurance participation by Race and Ethnicity/ with H.Luke Shaefer

Less than half of unemployed workers receive Unemployment Insurance benefits. In this paper we examine patterned variation by education attainment and race and ethnicity in application for and receipt of UI benefits among applicants. We use the Current Population Survey (CPS) March 2005 UI non-filers supplement to examine whether unemployed workers apply for UI, whether applicants receive UI, and why non-applicants fail to apply, stratifying the sample by educational attainment and race and ethnicity. We find that the low-educated unemployed are significantly less likely to both apply for and receive UI if they do apply, than their college-educated counterparts. While we find no statistically significant differences between Black and White non-Hispanic unemployed workers, we find that Hispanics are less likely both to apply for and to receive UI if they do apply, when compared to White Non-Hispanics. Low-educated non-filers are far more likely than high-educated non-filers to perceive themselves as ineligible, and to attribute their ineligibility to not working or earning enough.

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Do Alternative Base Periods Increase Unemployment Insurance Receipt Among Low-Educated Unemployed Workers? / with H. Luke Shaefer

Unemployment Insurance (UI) is the major social insurance program that protects against lost earnings resulting from involuntary unemployment. Existing literature finds that low-earning unemployed workers experience difficulty accessing UI benefits. The most prominent policy reform designed to increase rates of monetary eligibility, and thus UI receipt, among these unemployed workers is the Alternative Base Period (ABP). In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act sought to increase use of the ABP, making ABP adoption a necessary precondition for states to receive their share of the $7 billion targeted at UI programs. By January 2013, 40 states and the District of Columbia had adopted the ABP despite the absence of an evaluation of ABP efficacy using nationally representative data. This study analyzes Current Population Survey data from 1987 to 2011 to assess the efficacy of the ABP in increasing UI receipt among low-educated unemployed workers. We used a natural-experiment design to capture the combined behavioral and mechanical effects of the policy change. We found no association between state-level ABP adoption and individual UI receipt for all unemployed workers. However, among part-time unemployed workers with less than a high school degree, adoption of the ABP was associated with a 2.8 percentage point increase in the probability of UI receipt.

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“The Help that We Get”: Racial Differences in Private Safety Nets and the Scarring Effects of Unemployment Following the Great Recession 

Though the Great Recession came to a close in June 2009, workers are still feeling its effects due to continued high rates of underemployment and long-term unemployment. The long-term unemployed are more marginally attached to the labor force than their short-term unemployed peers, yet less is known about how people sort into long-term unemployment or cope with this status, nor why African Americans are disproportionately represented in this group. Using data from qualitative interviews with a diverse group of individuals who experienced job loss between 2007 and 2011, this study identifies the important role private safety nets play in ameliorating the scarring effects of unemployment in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Private resources, which are unequally distributed along racial lines, connect job losers to satisfactory jobs, provide high quality re-training opportunities, and facilitate more comfortable labor force exits. Private resources also augment the living conditions of individuals who find themselves long-term unemployed or underemployed, buffering them from the potential negative consequences of the decline in the quality of their employment situation. Because these resources are unequally distributed along racial lines, African Americans who lose their jobs experience worse labor market outcomes and greater decreases in their wellbeing than their White counterparts. These results suggest that job loss is a turning point in the life course—like incarceration, eviction, or high school completion—in which racial inequality is magnified and reproduced.

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Supported from both sides? Changes in the dynamics of joint participation in SNAP and UI following the Great Recession / with H. Luke Shaefer

This paper uses panel data from the nationally representative Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) from years 2000-2011, to examine changes in the prevalence and character of joint participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) among job losers during the Great Recession. Descriptive as well as multivariate analyses are presented. Descriptive statistics examining changes following the onset of the Great Recession indicate heightened use of Unemployment Insurance and Food Stamps/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a change in the sequencing of program entrance with joint participants becoming less likely to access SNAP first, and the composition of the group joint participants becoming more advantaged across a range of demographic characteristics.

Our multivariate results suggest that the extended length of unemployment spells following the onset of the Great Recession drives much of the increase in joint participation. The extension of UI benefits and the liberalization of SNAP eligibility requirements account for the remaining increase in joint participation. These results suggest that our safety net programs have been responsive to a changed macroeconomic context and changing needs of the target populations of UI and SNAP. However, the fact that following the onset of the recession the demographic characteristics of joint participants reflect a more advantaged population–while other research demonstrates that the bulk of those experiencing unemployment following the Great Recession are less advantaged–suggests that, in terms of joint participation, the safety net is most flexible in responding to the needs of its more advantaged constituents.

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Scholars interested in accessing the qualitative data used in my work should feel free to get in touch with me at agouldw@umich.edu