A Select List of Current Research Grants

IRP researchers and affiliates engage in a wide range of poverty-related research with the generous support of many entities, including the University of Wisconsin; the Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; the U.S. Administration for Children and Families; the Economic Research Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families; and a host of private, nonprofit organizations, including the William T. Grant Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Institutional Awards

National Poverty Research Center
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation

RIDGE Center for National Food and Nutrition Assistance Research
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, RIDGE Division
(See RIDGE grant abstracts here.)

Visiting Scholars from Underrepresented Groups Program
University of Wisconsin–Madison, Office of the Chancellor

Robert J. Lampman Memorial Lectures
Multiple donors

IRP Affiliate Awards

(A partial list arranged thematically)

Much of IRP’s research agenda is shaped by three integrated themes: Economic Self-Sufficiency, Family Change and Poverty, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty. These themes were selected because they reflect issues of emerging importance to researchers and national and state policymakers, because IRP can bring significant intellectual assets to bear on each, and because they are characterized by important gaps in knowledge and unresolved methodological problems.

The following list of IRP UW affiliates’ and researchers’ projects provides a sampling of the research currently underway at IRP, organized by the three integrated themes; it is by no means a comprehensive list.

Economic Self-Sufficiency

Maria Cancian with Patricia Brown and Jennifer Noyes
Building an Integrated Data System to Support the Management and Evaluation of Integrated Services for TANF-Eligible Families
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families

This project includes a set of integrated data-development, analysis, and evaluation activities to be conducted by Maria Cancian (PI), Patricia Brown, and Jennifer Noyes. The data development efforts are generating an improved capacity to analyze TANF administrative data, and to merge data from TANF, FoodShare (the Wisconsin name for SNAP), Medicaid/BadgerCare (Wisconsin’s SCHIP program), child welfare, child support, and Unemployment Insurance wage records. The related data analysis will allow researchers to better assess earnings, income, and multiple program participation for current and former Wisconsin TANF participants and applicants. The data evaluation initiative will explicitly assess the gains from more intensive use of existing data and potential TANF administrative data system modifications.

Steven Durlauf
How Does the Criminal Sanction Regime Affect Socioeconomic Outcomes? A Structural Approach to Understanding Crime and Employment Choices
IRP Small Grant, Funded by the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Durlauf is analyzing the effects of criminal sanctions on labor market outcomes. With approximately 2.5 million Americans currently incarcerated, and the concentration of the incarcerated among the relatively disadvantaged, it is now well understood that criminal sanction policies play an important role in deprivation in modern American society. Our analysis will attempt to understand the effects of criminal sanctions on inequality via an integrated analysis of crime and labor market choices.

Sara Goldrick-Rab
Rethinking College Choice in America
William T. Grant Faculty Scholars Award

Goldrick-Rab is replicating the Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study—a randomized evaluation conducted with Doug Harris of a private Wisconsin need-based grant program to estimate the impacts of financial aid on college attainment among Pell Grant recipients at 13 public universities and 29 two-year colleges over three years—with a new cohort of students in order to examine how the relation between family income and college choices is affected by students’ initial health (upon entering college), motivation and effort, and family relationships. She is exploring hypotheses about the degree to which family (in)stability affects whether conditional cash transfers exert positive impacts on the college attainment of low-income students. She is also considering how the effects of financial aid vary by the depth of poverty experienced by students prior to college entry, and how their pathways to college shape the quality of education obtained.

Douglas N. Harris
Preparing for the Future: A Randomized Trial of a Promise College Scholarship for Urban Public School Students
Smith Richardson Foundation

Promise programs seek to increase college access by assuring students by early in high school that they will have the financial resources to pay for college. There are at least 73 such programs in operation nationally—including Georgia HOPE, the Kalamazoo Promise, and others—but these programs have not been rigorously tested. This will be the first U.S.-based randomized trial of a promise program. Harris is studying the Great Lakes in Milwaukee Promise Scholarship (GLIMPS)—funded by a $10 million philanthropic donation—and rigorously testing its effects on one cohort of Milwaukee Public School (MPS) ninth graders. In October 2011, the GLIMPS program will promise students attending half of MPS's 36 ninth-grade schools $10,000 to pay for college. Schools will be selected at random, and all ninth graders in each selected school will be given the scholarship promise.

If they achieve a minimum 2.5 high school GPA, attend school regularly, and graduate from high school, they can use the money for college. Existing evidence suggests that promise programs are indeed promising and that is a good thing because the nation’s status as a world leader in education is waning, while income inequality grows. Shifting the nation’s $100 billion investment in traditional loans and grants to early promises could address both problems at once.

Robert Haveman
Extending the Higher Education Payback Calculator Tool to Two-Year College Programs
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

This project builds upon an earlier one in which Haveman developed websites that calculate the user-specific financial gains to pursuing post-high school schooling by completing a four-year college degree, extending the calculator to user-specific financial gains to completing a two-year college program. The calculator provides each student user (or his/her parents or high school counselor) with a tailor-made estimate of the financial payback from pursuing an advanced degree, relative to stopping schooling at the high school level. The web-based program tool will address the regrettable lack of understanding by low-income young people, their parents, and their high school counselors of the very large economic payoff and career gains of securing a post-high school degree or certificate. Providing an easily accessible, personalized picture of the large financial returns and career gains to obtaining a college degree or will increase college applications and enrollment for this disadvantaged population.

Robert Haveman, Thomas Kaplan, and Barbara Wolfe
The Effects of Section 8 Housing Voucher Receipt: An Extension
MacArthur Foundation

With past support from the MacArthur Foundation, the investigators have used longitudinal Wisconsin administrative data extending over several years to study a wide variety of effects of federal low-income housing voucher receipt. The results of these analyses have shown housing voucher receipt to have complex and dynamic effects. This project extends the current research and undertakes three new lines of inquiry. To extend their current research, they are adding two more calendar years of data to all of their sample observations, which will enable them to estimate the effects of voucher receipt from the time of initial receipt (2001 for the first cohort) through 2008, for a total of up to 8 years of estimated impacts after voucher receipt. In addition to extending their current research, they are studying the relationship between housing voucher receipt and three additional outcomes: the effect of voucher receipt on children’s educational opportunities; the effect of voucher receipt on adult participation in worker assistance/training programs; and, given the macroeconomic recession that began in 2007, the investigators are using the additional data for 2007 and 2008 to understand how the recession affected the behavioral responses and other impacts of Section 8 housing voucher receipt.

Timothy Smeeding
Luxembourg Middle-Income Countries Study
National Science Foundation

Smeeding founded the Luxembourg Income Study in 1983. One of the archive’s two databases includes income microdata from many countries at multiple points in time; the other houses wealth microdata from a smaller selection of countries. Both incorporate labor market and demographic information. The LIS data play an essential role in research at many universities and research centers, both domestic and abroad, especially in studies of social, economic, and health-related inequality. In this study, Smeeding is directing the addition of middle-income countries such as China and India to the LIS archives. The major goal is to create a new template for including middle-income countries (MICs) in the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) database and for the initial research using this data.

Timothy Smeeding and Julia Isaacs
Improving Federal and State Poverty Measurement: The Supplemental Poverty Measure and the Wisconsin Poverty Measure
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation

Smeeding and Isaacs are collaborating on efforts to improve poverty measurement on the national and state levels. They created a new poverty measure for Wisconsin with the knowledge that poverty can’t be reduced unless researchers and policymakers have an accurate view of both the resources and expenses of individuals and families. Compared to the official poverty measure, the Wisconsin Poverty Measure provides a more accurate tally of Wisconsinites whose basic needs outweigh their resources, and tells policymakers what they need to know to gauge the effectiveness of public programs such as food and nutrition assistance (FoodShare in Wisconsin) and tax credits.

The official federal poverty measure considers pretax cash income, whereas the new Wisconsin Poverty Measure counts other resources as well, such as food assistance and tax credits. The measure includes state-specific policies such as the Wisconsin State Earned Income Tax Credit and the Wisconsin Homestead Credit, in addition to estimating payments for federal taxes, Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, and the federal EITC. They also consider work-related expenses such as transportation and child care and out-of-pocket medical expenses, which reduce income that could be spent on food, housing, and other basic needs. The new Wisconsin Poverty Measure also looks at geographic differences in cost of living both within the state and relative to the nation as a whole.

The Wisconsin Poverty Project is informing efforts to create a new, Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) on the federal level, which will complement, but not replace, the existing official national poverty statistic. The IRP website serves as a repository for research papers on development of the SPM (see http://www.irp.wisc.edu/research/povmeas/spm.htm).

Timothy Smeeding, Lawrence Berger, and J. Michael Collins
How Housing Matters: Measuring the Impacts of Federal and State Policies on the Ability of Vulnerable Populations to Retain Owner-occupied Housing and on Child Maltreatment
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

The main thesis of the Smeeding, Berger, and Collins project is that income benefit policies are also housing stability policies that help families maintain payments for mortgages and rent and therefore avoid forced housing changes. The researchers' goal is to identify the most effective policies for avoiding the negative impacts of housing changes on family well-being. The findings of this research will be of particular interest to organizations supporting low-income homeownership and mitigating mortgage default, including the U.S. Department of Treasury and Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as state legislatures and child and protective service practitioners who seek to prevent bad outcomes from housing loss.

Justin Sydnor
How Does the Time a Borrower Has to Repay Affect Default or Rollover?
Russell Sage Foundation Behavioral Economics and Consumer Finance Working Group

Sydnor and Paige Skiba from Vanderbilt University are using a large dataset on payday loans to explore whether the length of time a person has to repay the loan affects the likelihood of defaulting or rolling over the loan. This is an important question for policy debates around payday and other short-term high-interest loan products. There is a great deal of concern that these financial products are harmful for the poor, and that has motivated a range of policy responses, some of which may ultimately limit these products on the market. Others argue, however, that if properly used, these simple loans could be an effective way of helping the poor to gain liquidity at crucial moments. If Sydnor and Skiba’s research finds that longer repayment periods improve how people manage this debt, that could be an effective policy lever that does not otherwise limit the availability of this credit market.

Family Change and Poverty

Lawrence Berger
Maternal Re-Partnering, Parenting Behaviors, and Child Development
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Public Health Service/National Institutes of Health K-01 Career Award

Berger is engaged in a 5-year study of associations of family structure states and transitions—with a focus on maternal re-partnering and new-partner fertility—with parenting behaviors and children’s development and well-being. Specifically, this research seeks to understand the ways in which maternal re-partnering and new-partner fertility may influence the quality of parenting children receive from their biological mother, (nonresident) biological father, and mother’s new partner (social father), as well as children’s subsequent well-being. Data are drawn from several population-based longitudinal studies including the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, and Panel Study of Income Dynamics.

Lawrence Berger and J. Michael Collins
Household Consumer Debt, Family Functioning, and Children’s Well-Being
IRP Small Grant Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation; and the University of Wisconsin Graduate School

Berger and Collins are studying associations of household consumer debt with family functioning and children’s well-being. This research uses data from four existing population-based longitudinal datasets to (1) investigate whether household debt is associated with adult union formation (marriage and cohabitation) and fertility patterns (whether one becomes a parent, at what age, and within or outside of marriage), as well as the types and quality of parenting behaviors to which children are exposed, and children’s subsequent cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioral well-being; and (2) examine whether links between household debt and parenting behaviors explain (mediate) any associations between debt and children’s well-being. This work will specifically focus on consumer debt (debt that is used for consumption) rather than debt that is accrued as a result of human capital investment (e.g., education-related debt).

Maria Cancian
Integrating Child Welfare, Income Support, and Child Support to Improve Outcomes
W. T. Grant Foundation Distinguished Fellows Program

As a W. T. Grant Foundation Distinguished Fellow, Cancian learned firsthand about the challenges confronting leaders within the State of Wisconsin’s newly established Department of Children and Families (DCF). DCF leaders are seeking to integrate existing programs aimed at supporting vulnerable children and their families and develop new initiatives that cross typical program boundaries. Cancian spent six months in residence at DCF and also spent an extended period in a county welfare agency in order to better understand the realities of child welfare service delivery.

Daniel R. Meyer and Maria Cancian
Child Support Policy Research Agreement
Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

The research agreement comprises numerous projects; descriptions of two of them follow below. See IRP’s web pages on child support policy research for descriptions of all current research.

Maria Cancian and Daniel R. Meyer with Yiyoon Chung
Multiple-Partner Fertility: Causes and Consequences

Multiple-partner fertility is more common among those with lower incomes, and to the extent that its consequences are more children with fewer resources, it is particularly important in understanding children’s economic well-being. This line of research includes several projects. One paper (with IRP Postdoctoral Fellow Chung) examines the extent to which incarceration of fathers results in multiple-partner fertility and family complexity. This analysis uses administrative records on incarceration and fertility and uses difference-in-difference analyses to explore whether those whose partners have been incarcerated are more likely than similar mothers to go on to have children with new men. In a project examining the consequences of multiple-partner fertility, we use Wisconsin administrative and survey data to examine whether fathers of TANF participants contribute less informal support when their ex-partners have children with new men. A third paper in this series focuses on fathers whose partners have had children with multiple men, and explores the extent to which fathers provide informal and other support to those who are not their biological children. This paper uses a unique survey in which fathers were asked to describe their contributions not only to their own biological children, but also the contributions they make to, and the connections they have with, children of other men who are living with their own children (their children’s half-siblings).

Daniel R. Meyer, Maria Cancian, Jennifer Noyes, David Pate, and Yiyoon Chung
Milwaukee Prison Project Evaluation

The interactions between the child support and incarceration systems are the focus of ongoing and future research. The Milwaukee Prison Project examines the effects of an innovative policy aimed at temporarily reducing child support orders for incarcerated noncustodial parents, using a combination of qualitative interviews (Noyes and Pate) and quantitative analysis (Cancian and Noyes) to understand the consequences for parents’ attitudes towards the child support system, as well as for post-incarceration employment and child support payment patterns. Supported in part by an IRP Graduate Research Fellow Dissertation grant, another project considers the impacts of paternal incarceration on child support payments by the father and welfare receipt by the mother (Chung). Future, related research will analyze the relationship between paternal incarceration and child welfare involvement (Cancian and Chung), and will also document the extent to which incarceration and post-incarceration earnings changes account for child support arrears (Cancian and Meyer).

Jennifer Noyes and Thomas Corbett
Enhancing the Capacity for Cross-Systems Innovation in the Midwest and Beyond: Advancing the Service and Systems Integration Agenda
Joyce Foundation

Corbett and Noyes are engaged in a study of cross-systems integration in social services. The project has three goals: (1) to develop and broadly communicate a coherent understanding of what it takes to design, introduce, operate, and evaluate integrated service delivery models for programs intended to improve job stability for low-income families with children; (2) to help state and local officials develop, implement, and evaluate integrated services of this kind; and (3) to disseminate findings about the effectiveness of service integration and related research and evaluation methods. It will draw upon recently completed IRP research and experience gained through IRP’s work throughout the country (e.g., in states such as Arkansas, Utah, and Wisconsin).

Kristen Shook Slack
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program Participants in Socioeconomic Context
IRP Small Grant, Funded by the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

This project is an outgrowth of earlier work supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation that sought to predict child protective services involvement among WIC users. In this project, results of Slack’s Family Support Survey conducted in Wisconsin will be analyzed, three papers will be developed to explore findings, and a descriptive report for Wisconsin WIC administrators will be prepared. The project seeks to learn more about WIC participants, about whose social and economic contexts very little is known beyond their eligibility characteristics. This statement is particularly true in the climate of the current U.S. economic recession. The current project is able to shed light on the broader family situations of WIC participants, their sources of income and social support and stress, and the quality of relationships with partners and children.

Kristen Shook Slack and Lawrence Berger
Identifying Risk Factors for Child Neglect
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

Understanding the etiology of child neglect is of critical importance to the development of child maltreatment prevention strategies, since a clear understanding of the risk and protective factors associated with neglect would facilitate more effective service interventions. Most child neglect research, however, is inadequately designed for identifying true risk and protective factors because sampling strategies do not afford a precise understanding of how the timing of these factors might affect maltreatment episodes. Slack and Berger intend to fill this gap in child maltreatment knowledge by (1) conducting a comprehensive review of existing research studies that (a) focus on child neglect outcomes and (b) have adequate designs for identifying risk and protective factors that precede these outcomes; (2) applying the findings from this review to three ongoing studies designed to assess neglect risk in families with young children, and (3) developing and piloting a brief child neglect risk assessment tool intended for maltreatment prevention programs with voluntary clients.

Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

Judith Bartfeld
Long-Term Food Security Patterns and Children’s Cognitive and Health Outcomes
Food Economics Division, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Bartfeld examined patterns of household food insecurity over the kindergarten through eighth-grade period and the impact of household food insecurity on children’s cognitive and health outcomes. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Cohort, she found that food insecurity, whether measured by the standard definition or an alternative definition that also captures less severe food-related hardship, was generally a transient rather than a persistent condition. Annual estimates of food insecurity substantially underestimated the share of children who experienced household food insecurity at some point over their elementary and middle school years.

Marcia Carlson
Trajectories and Consequences of Nonmarital Fathering
National Institute of Child Health and Development, Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch

Carlson is investigating the factors associated with men becoming unwed fathers and the nature and consequences of unmarried fathers’ involvement with children. This is an important topic, given the large and growing number of men who will have at least one child outside of marriage—and the large fraction of children and mothers who will be exposed to their fathering behavior. Yet, our knowledge about nonmarital fathering and how it affects partners, children, and the fathers themselves remains limited, in part because men are often under-represented in national surveys.

The study includes three specific aims:

  • To evaluate the antecedents of nonmarital fatherhood and the effects of becoming an unwed father on the male life course;
  • To analyze the nature and dynamics of unwed fathers’ involvement in families as partners and parents, especially as linked to relationships with mothers, multi-partnered fertility, and paternal incarceration; and
  • To examine the consequences of unmarried fathers’ involvement for the wellbeing of children and of fathers themselves, including whether the benefits are moderated by fathers’ characteristics or context.

Using three national datasets (the National Survey of Family Growth, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, and the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study), this research will provide new information about the process, content, and consequences of nonmarital fathering for children and families and may shed light on the development of sound policies and programs to strengthen families.

Julia Isaacs
Social Mobility: Helping Children Become Middle Class by Middle Age
Center on Children and Families, Brookings Institution; and IRP

Isaacs has been working with Isabel Sawhill and other Brookings colleagues on developing a microsimulation model of social mobility from early childhood to adulthood with the goal of identifying policies that help children—especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds—to become “middle class by middle age.” Isaacs and Katherine Magnuson are leading development of the early childhood (birth to five) module, as a key step in linking birth circumstances, school readiness, basic skills acquisition, adolescent outcomes, transitions to adulthood and adult earnings and income in one life-cycle model. In conjunction with this ongoing work, Isaacs and Magnuson are writing a paper that will examine family income and maternal education as predictors of children’s school readiness.

Katherine Magnuson
Ecocultural Family Interview Project
UW School of Medicine and the Wisconsin Partnership Program

Magnuson is conducting research with the Milwaukee Department of Health to improve their Empowering Families Milwaukee (EFM) home visiting program. The EFM program is designed to improve birth outcomes and early development among economically disadvantaged mothers in Milwaukee. The effectiveness of the Ecocultural Family Interview (EFI, a conversational interview with clients about family functioning) and other programs is being evaluated by a random assignment study. Magnuson helped EFM staff train and implement the EFI, and she is serving as the primary evaluator of the EFI component of the program.

Barbara Wolfe, Marsha Seltzer, and Jason Fletcher (Yale University)
Examining the Importance of Health Spillovers between Siblings: Magnitudes and Mechanisms
W. T. Grant Foundation

Wolfe, Seltzer, and Fletcher are exploring whether having a sibling with a chronic health or mental condition significantly influences a child’s eventual educational and labor market outcomes. Siblings are a major part of the environment or home and social setting in which a child develops yet there has been little attempt to study their role in influencing such outcomes. The investigators are examining spillovers based on siblings’ health status, paying attention to relative age and gender of the sibling, and possible pathways for the spillover effects. The analysis uses two rich, national, longitudinal data sources. The investigators are concentrating their research initially on Add Health, a survey that tracks siblings from adolescence to early adulthood.