Recession Trends

I was part of a major initiative at the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality to track the effects of the recent economic recession on different areas of American life.

Phil Morgan, Chris Wimer, and I looked at the effect of the recession on families. We wrote a chapter in The Great Recession, a follow-up paper on how the fertiliy response varied across states, and a research brief for Pathways and We also teamed up with Andrew Cherlin to write a paper for the ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science that extends our analyses from the original book chapter.

Mike Hout, Asaf Levanon, and I looked at the recession's impact on the labor market. We wrote a chapter in The Great Recession, and Hout and I wrote follow-up reports in 2012 and 2014.

Sheldon Danziger, Koji Chavez, and I wrote a research brief looking at the recession's effect on poverty.

I also compiled and processed nearly all of the data in the trend data graphing utility associated with the initiative


In another on-going project with Pablo Mitnik and David Grusky, we assess whether inter-generational mobility has fallen in recent years. There was a huge take-off in income inequality starting in the early 1980s, and it is often hypothesized that the rise in inequality might lead to lower rates of social mobility. So far there has been little evidence of such a decrease actually occurring. The data needed to test that hypothesis are only now becoming available, since the first children born after the take-off in inequality are just now entering adulthood. In a forthcoming paper, we present some of the first evidence of a downward trend in class mobility after 2000, based on log-linear analyses of data from the General Social Survey.

In a second paper, we are exploring more carefully some of the possible mechanisms for the decrease in mobility.

Racial Differences in Access to Low-Income Housing

I'm also working on a study of racial differences in access to both traditional public housing and the more recently-instituted Housing Choice Voucher program (more commonly referred to as the "Section 8" program). My measure of "access" is the average number of months that a housing agency's participants spend on the program's waiting list before being processed for enrollment. I report three key findings.:

First, agencies' average waiting times are correlated with the racial composition of their participants in both the public housing and voucher programs. Agencies with more black or Hispanic participants have longer average waiting times than agencies with mostly white participants. Some of the difference, but not all of it, can be explained by characteristics of the housing agencies other than racial composition, such as city size, housing costs, and HUD-assigned measures of agency performance.

Second, average waiting times are considerably longer for the voucher program than they are for traditional public housing, and so are the racial differences in waiting times. This suggests that even though vouchers are widely accepted as a better way to provide housing assistance than traditional public housing, their increased use exacerbates racial differences in access to assistance.

Finally, I find that the race differences in access are particularly large in the voucher program, driven by the difference between housing agencies with mostly black participants and those with mostly white participants, primarily in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. These same regions tend to have some of the highest levels of racial segregation in the country, suggesting that the differences in access to housing assistance are associated with residential segregation.

Many people associate public housing with poor black families in cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Baltimore; but in fact, my research suggests that those same families have the least ability to access housing assistance relative to similar families living in mostly-white jurisdictions in the same regions of the country.

Erin Cumberworth
Contact Info

Stanford University
Department of Sociology
450 Serra Mall, Bldg. 120
Stanford, CA 94305