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To What Extent Do Student Debt Forgiveness Programs Reduce Racial Wealth Gaps?

Rising student loan debt and defaults have become a fixture in higher education research since the Great Recession of 2007-09. Student loan debt has been the largest source of non-mortgage debt owed by US households since 2010 and outstanding student debt amounted to $1.7 trillion dollars by quarter four of 2020 (“Z.1 Financial Accounts of the United States,” 2021). While average levels of student loan debt held by households have steadily increased, total student loan borrowing differs considerably across racial groups. According to the Survey of Consumer Finances, conditional mean student loan debt for White, Black, and Hispanic households was $40,516, $42,571, $34,839 in 2019, respectively, with even more pronounced differences emerging in the full distribution of student loan debt.  

This project will examine the impact of existing student debt forgiveness policies on racial wealth gaps, specifically on Black-White and Hispanic-White wealth gaps, focusing on three points:   

  1. the distribution of total student loan borrowing, default, and student debt forgiveness patterns across various racial groups, socioeconomic groups, and education levels; 

  1. the extent to which student debt forgiveness policies affect racial wealth gaps across the wealth distribution; and 

  1. an examination of these effects on financial wealth vs. housing wealth across racial groups and the wealth distribution. 

Ultimately, this work will have important implications for the ways in which programs are tailored and targeted to underrepresented groups, as well as for improving household wealth outcomes. 

Date Funded

Economic Pathways to Better Health: Evidence from a Guaranteed Income Experiment in Compton

Economic instability brought on by systemic racial inequality has adverse consequences for physical and mental health, and these effects have likely been exacerbated among minority populations as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Guaranteed, unconditional cash to families with low incomes has the potential to reduce the economic, social, and racial inequities brought on by systemic racism and are large, important policies. 

In January 2021, in collaboration with the Fund for Guaranteed Income, the city of Compton, CA began delivering an unconditional guaranteed income to 698 low-income households, which will last for a period of 24 months. This project will evaluate the impact of the guaranteed income program on the health and well-being of the recipients, with a focus on health and related outcomes.  

This research will provide valuable evidence of the effects of a guaranteed income on families with low incomes and allow other jurisdictions who may be considering similar policies to use the program in Compton, CA as a model.  

Date Funded

A Black Community's Vision for and Accountability of a Local Reparations Process

Reparations are one policy solution that can advance racial equity and justice in the United States and can decrease racial inequities in health and well-being (Bassett & Galea, 2020; Darity & Mullen, 2020). Yet reparations cannot be truly effective and reparative if they are not deeply accountable to the people who were harmed (Correa et al., 2009; Makhalemele, 2009; Suchkova, 2011). Building on the authentic grassroots organizing and meaningful community engagement of the Racial Justice Coalition in Asheville, North Carolina, the research team will utilize qualitative methods to study the local reparations process underway in Asheville and Buncombe County, North Carolina, asking:  

  1. What are Black residents' perceptions of and desires for how the reparations policy is implemented, both in terms of the local government's process of community engagement as well as the recommendations that will come from the Community Reparations Commission?  

  1. How is the local reparations process measuring up to its stated goals and desired outcomes, and what data are needed to measure progress on decreasing racial inequities in health and wellbeing? 

With national attention on Asheville, North Carolina as the first US municipality to pass reparations in the South, the region offers a valuable case study to understand this bold remedy designed to reduce structural racism and inequities. This study will fill the gap in evidence regarding the process of change and the perceived and real impact of a reparations commission on systems, structures, and the lives of African Americans. Because this community-partnered work will be real-time rather than retrospective, this research has the potential to advance community driven solutions that come from the people most directly impacted by structural racism. 

Date Funded

Impact of Early Childhood Income Supplements on Long-Term Health

Children who grow up in poverty are exposed to many risk factors that adversely impact their health trajectories, resulting in poorer health into and throughout adulthood. This project will use a simulation approach to test the long-term impact of early childhood income supplements on health and educational attainment. Income supplement policies (e.g., child benefits, guaranteed minimum income, earned income tax credit, or welfare) may provide parents the opportunity to make healthier choices for their children.

This project will provide actionable evidence for policy makers about whether income supplement policies are a valuable strategy for improving long-term education and health at the population level, and reducing inequities in those outcomes.

Date Funded

The Effects of Paid Family Leave on Infant and Maternal Health Outcomes

The U.S. lags far behind other countries in public policies that support parents in the crucial first days, weeks, and months of a child's life. Most notably, the U.S. is the only developed country that does not guarantee a period of paid and job-protected leave for new parents. As a result, paid family leave coverage is both limited and highly unequal. This situation, however, is beginning to change, as California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island and a handful of U.S. cities now have paid family leave (PFL) programs.

Focusing on California, this study will examine the effects of the law on: breast-feeding; receipt of well-baby care and immunizations; and maternal mental health. It will analyze large, nationally representative datasets, using econometric procedures to determine causal impacts.

This research will obtain information on whether work-family policies, such as PFL, promote a Culture of Health and reduce disparities. This evidence will be important as other states and Congress consider additional legislation in this area.

Date Funded

Shaping Healthier Housing for Low-Income and Vulnerable Populations

The built environment and housing have pronounced effects on community health. This study will look at the reach of Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) programs and their potential to produce healthier rental housing that serves low-income and vulnerable populations. The research will focus on four research questions:

  1. What occupant health-related built environment (OHBE) factors do states' Housing Finance Agencies (HFA) include to assess and award LIHTC funding?
  2. How do HFAs ensure compliance with promised OHBE practices once a project has received funding?
  3. What barriers exist to implementing OHBE in the LIHTC process and housing stock?
  4. How can states replicate effective practices in developing OHBE factors, incorporating them into policy, and ensuring implementation?

This research represents a rich opportunity for comprehensive evaluation of how states incentivize and incorporate OHBE factors in the LIHTC process, and opportunities for expansion.

Date Funded

The Effect of SNAP on Food Purchases and Family Nutrition

Does enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) encourage families to purchase healthier foods and thereby increase the nutrition of those families enrolled in the program?

To answer this central question, this study will use an event-study design coupled with new, high-scale commercial transaction data from a grocery retailer to provide precise evidence on the effect of SNAP receipt on the amount and composition of food purchases. The study will generate evidence on the effects of SNAP enrollment from early childhood through adulthood.

Date Funded