Category Archives: Inequality

Pandemics and Automation: Will the Lost Jobs Come Back?

Source: Tahsin Saadi-Sedik, Jiae Yoo, International Monetary Fund (IMF), IMF Working Paper No. 2021/011, January 1, 2021

From the abstract:
COVID-19 has exacerbated concerns about the rise of the robots and other automation technologies. This paper analyzes empirically the impact of past major pandemics on robot adoption and inequality. First, we find that pandemic events accelerate robot adoption, especially when the health impact is severe and is associated with a significant economic downturn. Second, while robots may raise productivity, they could also increase inequality by displacing low-skilled workers. We find that following a pandemic, the increase in inequality over the medium term is larger for economies with higher robot density and where new robot adoption has increased more. Our results suggest that the concerns about the rise of the robots amid the COVID-19 pandemic seem justified.

The Unequal Commute: Examining inequities in four metro areas’ transportation systems

Source: Christina Stacy, Alena Stern, Kristin Blagg, Yipeng Su, Eleanor Noble, Macy Rainer, and Richard Ezike, Urban Institute, October 6, 2020

All people need high-quality, reliable, and safe transportation to reach jobs, resources, and services. But that kind of transportation is not equally accessible to all.

In many cities, white, highly educated, and high-income residents have greater access to public transportation, and wealth differences by race and ethnicity make it easier for white residents to purchase a car, allowing for increased access to jobs. Public transit that is inaccessible for elderly people and people with disabilities can leave transit-dependent residents stranded. And a lack of transit options, particularly at off-peak hours, means that people who work irregular schedules often have no safe or affordable way to get to work.

Policymakers can reduce disparities in access to opportunity through targeted investments, but many decisionmakers lack clear definitions and measures of equity needed to make these choices. To inform stakeholders making transportation decisions, we created a set of metrics analyzing transportation equity for neighborhoods — which we approximate with census block groups — within four metropolitan regions: Baltimore, Maryland; Lansing, Michigan;  Nashville, Tennessee; and Seattle, Washington. These regions represent four distinct types in terms of sprawl, fiscal health, transportation infrastructure, population growth, and housing costs.

For each, we calculated the time it takes residents across the metro area to get to opportunities such as jobs, schools, libraries, and hospitals via both public transit and automobile, and we used those times to create an access to opportunity measure. With these new metrics, we’ve highlighted disparities in access to jobs and analyzed how these opportunities differ by race and ethnicity and for night-shift workers.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back? Gender, Power and Leadership in Troubled Times

Source: Emilia Belknap, Laura Shaw, Meryl Kenny, Political Insight, Volume 11 Issue 2, June 2020

…Why do gender inequalities in political leadership persist? And (why) does it matter? We examine these questions in the context of two recent and pivotal leadership contests: the 2020 UK Labour leadership election and the US Democratic presidential primary. We ask whether these contests represent a case of ‘two steps forward, one step back’ for women, evaluating both the opportunities for, and obstacles to, women’s political leadership. We then evaluate why gender (in)equality at the top matters, assessing the gendered dynamics of political leadership, and evaluating the implications for women’s political participation. We conclude by reflecting on the future prospects for women’s political leadership in troubled times….

A century of educational inequality in the United States

Source: Michelle Jackson and Brian Holzman, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Vol. 117, no. 32, August 11, 2020

From the abstract:
The “income inequality hypothesis” holds that rising income inequality affects the distribution of a wide range of social and economic outcomes. Although it is often alleged that rising income inequality will increase the advantages of the well-off in the competition for college, some researchers have provided descriptive evidence at odds with the income inequality hypothesis. In this paper, we track long-term trends in family income inequalities in college enrollment and completion (“collegiate inequalities”) using all available nationally representative datasets for cohorts born between 1908 and 1995. We show that the trends in collegiate inequalities moved in lockstep with the trend in income inequality over the past century. There is one exception to this general finding: For cohorts at risk for serving in the Vietnam War, collegiate inequalities were high, while income inequality was low. During this period, inequality in college enrollment and completion was significantly higher for men than for women, suggesting a bona fide “Vietnam War” effect. Aside from this singular confounding event, a century of evidence establishes a strong association between income and collegiate inequality, providing support for the view that rising income inequality is fundamentally changing the distribution of life chances.

US racial inequality may be as deadly as COVID-19

Source: Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), first published August 24, 2020

From the abstract:
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a catastrophic increase in US mortality. How does the scale of this pandemic compare to another US catastrophe: racial inequality? Using demographic models, I estimate how many excess White deaths would raise US White mortality to the best-ever (lowest) US Black level under alternative, plausible assumptions about the age patterning of excess mortality in 2020. I find that 400,000 excess White deaths would be needed to equal the best mortality ever recorded among Blacks. For White mortality in 2020 to reach levels that Blacks experience outside of pandemics, current COVID-19 mortality levels would need to increase by a factor of nearly 6. Moreover, White life expectancy in 2020 will remain higher than Black life expectancy has ever been unless nearly 700,000 excess White deaths occur. Even amid COVID-19, US White mortality is likely to be less than what US Blacks have experienced every year. I argue that, if Black disadvantage operates every year on the scale of Whites’ experience of COVID-19, then so too should the tools we deploy to fight it. Our imagination should not be limited by how accustomed the United States is to profound racial inequality.

Race and Networks in the Job Search Process

Source: David S. Pedulla, Devah Pager, American Sociological Review, OnlineFirst, November 7, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Racial disparities persist throughout the employment process, with African Americans experiencing significant barriers compared to whites. This article advances the understanding of racial labor market stratification by bringing new theoretical insights and original data to bear on the ways social networks shape racial disparities in employment opportunities. We develop and articulate two pathways through which networks may perpetuate racial inequality in the labor market: network access and network returns. In the first case, African American job seekers may receive fewer job leads through their social networks than white job seekers, limiting their access to employment opportunities. In the second case, black and white job seekers may utilize their social networks at similar rates, but their networks may differ in effectiveness. Our data, with detailed information about both job applications and job offers, provide the unique ability to adjudicate between these processes. We find evidence that black and white job seekers utilize their networks at similar rates, but network-based methods are less likely to lead to job offers for African Americans. We then theoretically develop and empirically test two mechanisms that may explain these differential returns: network placement and network mobilization. We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for scholarship on racial stratification and social networks in the job search process.

Status Characteristics, Implicit Bias, and the Production of Racial Inequality

Source: David Melamed, Christopher W. Munn, Leanne Barry, Bradley Montgomery, Oneya F. Okuwobi, American Sociological Review, OnlineFirst Published November 7, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Racial stratification is well documented in many spheres of social life. Much stratification research assumes that implicit or explicit bias on the part of institutional gatekeepers produces disparate racial outcomes. Research on status-based expectations provides a good starting point for theoretically understanding racial inequalities. In this context it is understood that race results in differential expectations for performance, producing disparate outcomes. But even here, the mechanism (i.e., status-based expectations) is often assumed due to the lack of tools to measure status-based expectations. In this article, we put forth a new way to measure implicit racial status beliefs and theorize how they are related to consensual beliefs about what “most people” think. This enables us to assess the mechanisms in the relationship between race and disparate outcomes. We conducted two studies to assess our arguments. Study 1 demonstrates the measurement properties of the implicit status measure. Study 2 shows how implicit status beliefs and perceptions of what “most people” think combine to shape social influence. We conclude with the implications of this work for social psychological research, and for racial stratification more generally.

Building America – The making of the black working class

Source: William P. Jones, The Nation, October 7, 2019

Books in Review
Workers on Arrival: Black Labor in the Making of America
By Joe William Trotter Jr.

Four hundred years ago, “about the latter end of August,” an English pirate ship called the White Lion landed at Point Comfort in the Virginia Colony carrying “not anything but 20 and odd Negroes,” wrote colonist John Rolfe. Though this is often viewed as the starting point of slavery in what would become the United States, the anniversary is somewhat misleading. Africans, both enslaved and free, had lived in St. Augustine, in Spanish Florida, since the 1560s, and since slavery was not legally sanctioned in Virginia until the 1640s, early arrivals would have occupied a status closer to indentured servants. But those ambiguities only point to how essential people of African descent were to the establishment and development of the imperial outposts that became the United States. It was their work, as much anyone else’s, that helped build the world we live in today.

In his new book, Workers on Arrival, the historian Joe William Trotter Jr. shows that the history of black labor in the United States is thus essential not only to understanding American racism but also to “any discussion of the nation’s productivity, politics, and the future of work in today’s global economy.” At a time when mainstream political rhetoric and analysis related to economic change still tend to center on white men displaced by job loss in manufacturing and mining, similar challenges faced by black workers are often examined through a distinct lens of racial inequality. As a result, Trotter contends, white workers are viewed as the victims of “cultural elites and coddled minorities,” while African American workers suffering from the very same economic and political conditions are treated as “consumers rather than producers, as takers rather than givers, and as liabilities rather than assets.” Reminding us that Africans were brought to the Americas “specifically for their labor” and that their descendants remain “the most exploited and unequal component of the emerging modern capitalist labor force,” Workers on Arrival provides an eloquent and essential correction to contemporary discussions of the American working class…..

The radical plan to change how Harvard teaches economics

Source: Dylan Matthews, Vox, May 22, 2019

Raj Chetty has an idea for introducing students to econ that could transform the field — and society…..

….Chetty has made his name as an empirical economist, working with a small army of colleagues and research assistants to try to get real-world findings with relevance to major political questions. And he’s focused on the roots and consequences of economic and racial inequality. He used huge amounts of IRS tax data to map inequality of opportunity in the US down to the neighborhood, and to show that black boys in particular enjoy less upward mobility than white boys.

Ec 1152 is an introduction to that kind of economics. There’s little discussion of supply and demand curves, of producer or consumer surplus, or other elementary concepts introduced in classes like Ec 10. There is no textbook, only a set of empirical papers. The material is relatively cutting-edge. Of the 12 papers students are required to read, 11 were released in 2010 or after. Half of the assigned papers were released in 2017 or 2018. Chetty co-authored a third of them.

And while most economics courses at Harvard require Ec 10 as a prerequisite, Ec 1152 does not. Freshmen can take it as their first economics course…..

….If this were just a pedagogical shift at Harvard, that would be one thing. But Chetty is aiming to make the course a model for other schools. After the financial crisis, many economists have concluded that Econ 101 is broken across the university system and is not preparing students for a world where markets frequently fail. Chetty’s class offers a new way to teach an introductory course, yet at the same time is more closely aligned with what contemporary economic research looks like. The course’s lecture videos are already available online, for students at other institutions to use…..

Why wealth equality remains out of reach for black Americans

Source: Darrick Hamilton, Trevon Logan, The Conversation, February 28, 2019

Black History Month has become the time to reflect on all the progress black Americans have made, but the sobering reality is that when it comes to wealth – the paramount indicator of economic security – there has been virtually no progress in the last 50 years.

Based on data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finance, the typical black family has only 10 cents for every dollar held by the typical white family.

While there is no magic bullet for racism, access to wealth, and the security to pass it down from one generation to the next, would go a long way toward changing the economic trajectory for blacks.

As researchers who study historical and contemporary racial inequality, we mostly conceive of wealth as a maker of success, but its true value is functional: the independence and economic security that it provides…..