Durrance, Fletcher, Wang receive funding for inequality research

La Follette School faculty members Jason Fletcher, Yang Wang, and Christine Durrance

La Follette School faculty members Jason Fletcher, Yang Wang, and Christine Durrance received funding to support their research from UW–Madison’s Understanding and Reducing Inequalities Initiative. Their projects were among only 15 selected from 73 proposals.

The initiative supports research that builds stronger bodies of knowledge about reducing inequalities. Its goal is to identify actionable pathways for reducing inequalities based on race, ethnicity, gender, disability, economic standing, language, minority status, country of origin, and/or immigration status.

The chosen projects rely on a variety of methods ranging from surveys, field experiments and in-depth interviews to collect new data and on analyzing existing data, evaluating training programs and assessing case studies.

Understanding and Reducing Inequalities During the COVID-19 Crisis
Principal investigators: 
Christine Durrance, associate professor of public affairs; Jessica Pac, assistant professor of social work

Co-principal investigators: Deborah Ehrenthal, professor of population health sciences and obstetrics/gynecology

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused shocks to not only health systems, but also to the economy, financial stability, health insurance, education, and childcare. Low-income and minority families have been disproportionately impacted by pandemic impact on employment, income, health insurance, and social safety net benefits.

Wisconsin children, especially racial and ethnic minorities, may be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. Early reports indicate that critical preventive health and treatment services for mothers and children are being missed, which may negatively affect short- and long-term health. Moreover, parental stress and loss of economic resources may influence child maltreatment and safety.

This project utilizes unique administrative linked data, Wisconsin Administrative Core Data and Big Data for Little Kids, and several empirical approaches to leverage quasi-experimental timing in county stay-at-home orders and school closures on several health and safety outcomes for mothers and children.

The project’s goals are to understand the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis for families with young children on (1) individual job loss, earnings losses, and social safety net benefit enrollment; (2) outcomes for maternal/child health (early prenatal care, well-child visits, and immunizations); and (3) child safety (child maltreatment reports and high-risk emergency department visits).

For each aim, the study considers population effects and effects across race/ethnicity. These results will shed light on important labor, health, and safety outcomes for families with young children as well as racial/ethnic disparities impacted by COVID-19 and will contribute actionable policy evidence to support low-income families.

The Foundational Inequality — Race Differences in Equal Opportunity in the United States
Principal investigator: Jason Fletcher, professor of public affairs
Co-principal investigator: Eric Grodsky, professor of sociology

Co-investigator: Katie Jajtner, assistant scientist for the Center for Demography of Health and Aging

This project focuses on race/ethnicity heterogeneity in intergenerational education mobility to better understand education disparities. The United States has a history of racial and ethnic inequalities in education and recent research further uncovers vast differences in economic opportunities by race/ethnicity. Non-Hispanic Black and Native American/Alaska Native children in particular face the lowest levels of upward economic mobility in the United States.

Education is fundamental to health and socioeconomic status throughout the lifecourse, and understanding these disparities can help inform socioeconomic inequality more broadly. This project brings an intergenerational mobility lens to the study of education—conceptualizing educational attainment through complementary processes of upward and downward education mobility.

Using Add Health—a nationally representative sample of approximately 14,000 parent-child pairs from the 1994-2001 high school graduating classes—the team will first estimate race/ethnicity differences in upward education mobility (i.e., the portion of children transitioning to college, graduating college, or earning a graduate degree) for the sample of children whose parents have a high school degree or less. Second, they will estimate race/ethnicity variation in downward education mobility (i.e., the portion of children who do not go to college or do not complete a college degree) for the sample of children whose parents have a college degree or more. Preliminary data suggests both these processes contribute to observed disparities in educational attainment.

The study further investigates correlates of these patterns—focusing on criminal justice, mental health, and health insurance—to inform policy and future research.

Impacts of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Intergenerational Health Mobility
Principal investigator: Yang Wang, associate professor of public affairs
Co-principal investigator: Katie Jajtner, assistant scientist for the Center for Demography of Health and Aging

Intergenerational mobility measures equality of opportunity—a vision embraced by many Americans. It quantifies the welfare of children relative to their parents. In the United States, research identifies intergenerational persistence (the converse of mobility) in health and socioeconomic status that varies by race/ethnicity and place—a clear departure from the ideal of equal opportunities.

Childhood access to safety-net programs and public policies may improve later-life health and economic opportunities. However, it is unknown whether the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the largest and possibly most effective anti-poverty program in the United States, affects equality of opportunity. EITC is a tax credit for low-income working families to supplement incomes, encourage work, and reduce tax burdens. Childhood EITC exposure has been shown to improve educational and labor market outcomes in adulthood.

Using 5,000 children matched with low-education parents in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, this project estimates the effect of childhood exposure to the EITC on key measures of opportunity, leveraging variation in federal and state EITC policies over time. The EITC is, and has been, actively changing at the federal- and state-level since its inception in 1975—providing extensive exogenous variation to gauge its effect on equality of health opportunity. Because opportunity is patterned by race/ethnicity, the study team will also examine whether and how the EITC disproportionately affects disadvantaged groups.

This study will be the first to identify effects of early-life EITC exposure on intergenerational health mobility. Results from the research could provide actionable pathways for federal and state policymakers evaluating EITC costs and benefits to effectively reduce inequities in opportunity. The project will spur continued research on the interaction between public policies and health inequality.