Research Topics at the NPC
Our research agenda
The last decade has been a time of great change for low-income families in the United States. Fundamental modifications in policy have occurred, including reforms in welfare policy, expansions in public health insurance, changes in tax policy for low-income workers, and expanded work-support policies, such as child care subsidies.
Significant economic changes interacted with these policy changes, with low unemployment rates and improved real wages for less-skilled workers during the last half of the 1990s.
Taken together, these policy and economic changes led to dramatic behavioral changes, including large drops in welfare usage and large increases in work among single mothers. At 11.3 percent, the official poverty rate in 2000 is nearly as low as it was in the early 1970s. And if a broader definition of poverty is adopted, the inclusion of in-kind benefits and the earned income tax credit shows a lower poverty rate in 2000 than in 1973.
The agenda of key research questions relating to the causes and consequences of poverty continues to evolve, as we learn more about the impact of recent policy changes, as we learn more about how the economic environment for less-educated workers improves or deteriorates, and as we learn more about the family and community environment of low-income families.
We are particularly interested in studying conditions in the aftermath of welfare reform, that is, questions about policy design, implementation, and effects relating to recent major changes in programs for low-income families.
Addressing the broad poverty research agenda of the next decade requires a large and diverse collaboration among economists, sociologists, demographers, developmental psychologists, medical researchers, urban planners, public health and social work researchers, and political scientists.
We will pursue six broad research themes:
Studies that focus on causality rather than description will become increasingly important as we move from monitoring changes in targeted outcomes (e.g., work and welfare participation) to understanding the effects of policy changes.
Related to questions of causality, research should seek to understand behavioral dynamics and analyze the effects of changes over time. Many behavioral impacts, especially those related to family and fertility behavior, are likely to evolve slowly, so that the best research will focus on longitudinal data that allow one to investigate the evolution of behavioral changes.
Studies that investigate well-being in a broad sense will be increasingly important because of the complex interactions among economic, social, and policy changes. We need to understand more than the impacts on caseloads work; research should also focus on changes in families, communities, child well-being, and other long-term outcomes.
Research that evaluates program design and implementation can reveal important process issues, especially in a world where many states and localities have launched diverse new social welfare program efforts.
Studies that differentiate between disadvantaged subpopulations will be essential for understanding the full set of changes among the poor population. Studies may focus on immigrants, African Americans, Hispanics, on inner city versus rural populations, or on married couples versus unmarried mothers. Aggregate conclusions may or may not be relevant for specific subpopulations, and understanding how policy and economic changes are affecting these subgroups is important both for understanding the evolution of opportunities among different groups and for developing and targeting policies to those most in need.
The collection of new and revised data remains highly important. As policies and targeted outcomes change, the key survey research questions will change. And, the growing diversity in program designs across states and localities means that area- or state-based surveys will become increasingly important.