New publication: Unequal unions? A comparative decomposition of income inequality in the European Union and United States Abstract: 

With Stefano Filauro, I take a look at how income inequality in the 50 United States compares to that of the combined EU-28. Take a look at our new publication in the Journal of European Social Policy:

Unequal unions? A comparative decomposition of income inequality in the European Union and United States

Abstract: This study applies improved household income data to measure and decompose trends in pan-European income inequality from 2006 to 2014. To contrast the relative significance of economic homogeneity versus the efficacy of welfare state and labour market institutions in shaping income distributions, we compare the structure of inequality in the 28 Member States of the European Union (EU-28) to that of the 50 United States. This comparison stands in contrast to the standard practice of evaluating the United States against individual EU Member States. Despite the greater relative heterogeneity of the EU-28 and our corrections for the underreporting of household income in the United States, post-fisc income inequality in the EU-28 remains lower than that of the United States from 2006 onward. Moreover, inequality appears to be rising in the United States, while it has remained stagnant since 2008 in the EU-28. In both unions, and particularly the United States, within-state income differences contribute more to union-wide inequality than between-state differences. In a counterfactual analysis, we find that if the EU-28 matched the between-state homogeneity of the United States, but maintained its relative within-country inequalities, pan-European inequality would fall by only 20 percent. Conversely, inequality in the United States would fall by 34 percent if it matched the within-country inequality of the EU-28. Our findings suggest that the strengthening of egalitarian institutions within the 28 Member States is more consequential than economic convergence in reducing pan-European income inequality. We highlight institutional challenges towards achieving a ‘more equal’ Europe and discuss implications for future EU policymaking.


New publication: Poor State, Rich State: Understanding the Variability of Poverty Rates across U.S. States

What explains variation in poverty rates across the 50 United States? We take a look in our new publication at Sociological Science.

Poor State, Rich State: Understanding the Variability of Poverty Rates across U.S. States

Authors: Jennifer Laird, Zachary Parolin, Jane Waldfogel, Christopher Wimer

Abstract: According to the Supplemental Poverty Measure, state-level poverty rates range from a low of less than 10 percent in Iowa to a high of more than 20 percent in California. We seek to account for these differences using a theoretical framework proposed by Brady, Finnigan, and Hübgen (2017), which emphasizes the prevalence of poverty risk factors as well as poverty penalties associated with each risk factor. We estimate state-specific penalties and prevalences associated with single motherhood, low education, young households, and joblessness. We also consider state variation in the poverty risks associated with living in a black household and a Hispanic immigrant household. Brady et al. (2017) find that country-level differences in poverty rates are more closely tied to penalties than prevalences. Using data from the Current Population Survey, we find that the opposite is true for state-level differences in poverty rates. Although we find that state poverty differences are closely tied to the prevalence of high-risk populations, our results do not suggest that state-level antipoverty policy should be solely focused on changing “risky” behavior. Based on our findings, we conclude that state policies should take into account cost-of-living penalties as well as the state-specific relationship between poverty, prevalences, and penalties.


San Francisco Chronicle: California’s troubling poverty rate

Note: This is an excerpt of my text, co-authored with David Brady, published in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 7, 2018. You can read the full version here. 

At a forum in 2017, Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley (San Bernardino County), noted that California has “the highest poverty rate in the nation.” Fact-checkers, progressives and conservatives have joined Mayes in a growing chorus calling attention to the fact that more than 20 percent of Californians lived in poverty from 2014 to 2016 — the highest rate in the nation. Much of this is based on the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, though the Public Policy Institute of California’s poverty measure finds the same thing.

There is much controversy over poverty measures, but even putting those disagreements aside, California still has the highest poverty rate in the U.S. Why?

It is certainly not, like some conservatives allege, because our social policies are too generous. There is no evidence that a stronger safety net discourages Californians from working. Even among Californians in poverty, nearly 70 percent live in working households. Moreover, the state’s labor force participation rate is significantly higher than other states from Alabama to Arizona that offer much less generous social policies.

Read the rest over at the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Atlantic: How the Netherlands Made Geert Wilders Possible

Note: This is an excerpt of my text published in The Atlantic on March 13, 2017. You can read the full version here. 

In the 17th century, Dutch settlers flocked to the southern half of what is now Manhattan to establish New Amsterdam, a fur-trading post that would welcome Lutherans and Catholics from Europe; Anglicans, Puritans, and Quakers from New England; and Sephardic Jews who were, at the time, discouraged from settling in America’s other nascent regions. Though its English conquerors would rename the city New York, the values of diversity and tolerance that the Dutch introduced would remain the region’s hallmarks for centuries to come.

In the modern-day Netherlands, however, the Dutch Republic’s founding pledge that “everyone shall remain free in religion” will soon collide with the ambitions of one of the country’s most popular politicians.

“Islam and freedom are not compatible,” claims Geert Wilders, the Party for Freedom (PVV) leader who campaigns on banning the Quran, closing Dutch mosques, and ending immigration from predominantly Muslim countries. “Stop Islam,” the phrase that sits atop Wilders’s Twitter page, aptly summarizes his party’s platform. In December, Dutch courts found Wilders guilty of carrying his rhetoric too far, convicting him of discriminatory speech for rallying supporters in an anti-Moroccan call-and-response. Nonetheless, Wilders is a leading contender to receive the plurality of votes in the country’s parliamentary elections on March 15.

The nation’s peculiar path from “live and let live” to “Make the Netherlands Ours Again” (as Wilders recently said) has as its guideposts a changing definition of tolerance, some instances of political opportunism—and a pair of grisly assassinations.

Read the rest over at The Atlantic.

The Frozen Soup Era: The Last Three Months and the Next Three Years

Oxford becomes a different city when you’re no longer prancing around its streets donning a white bowtie or an inflated sense of intellectual purpose.

I drop a “cheers, mate” to the Tesco cashier as I hand her three pounds to cover for my bottle of value-brand red wine. On my accelerated walk to the place I call home, I notice not the castles or the city’s Gothic architecture but, instead, the ordinariness of those around me: an older woman fumbles with her umbrella as the wind flips it inside-out. A young man at a bus stop waves his hand furiously at the oncoming double-decker as if the driver might otherwise decide, “ah, fuck it, I’ll skip this stop today.” A mid-aged couple wearing matching grey sweatpants cuts me off as they wheel a noisy stroller into The Four Candles.

Back at my temporary home, I dump a blob of dated, half-thawed soup from a freezer bag into the cabinet’s last clean bowl. The texture of the soup resembles a murky combination of mashed potatoes and toothpaste, neither of which, I’m quite certain, was used in making it. To even it out, I mix in two scoops of the leftover white rice that I boiled last night and give it all a hearty stir, waking the last few frozen chunks of potato-like substance from its multi-month slumber.

The frozen soup was one of many edible gifts from two good friends who pawned off their entire pantry prior to relocating to London. The white rice was also once theirs, as was the collection of assorted herbs and spices that I dabble on top to add a dash of tolerance to this makeshift dinner.

Very little in this apartment is actually mine. The flat itself belongs to my best Oxford friend, Max, a German-bred computer scientist (and footballer, naturally) who uses his Ph.D. funding to build autonomous robots — or at least that’s my understanding of his work. His couch has served as my bed for the last month, an arrangement that will last several weeks more until the Belgian government determines that I, as a white American male with no criminal history, an Oxford degree, and a desire to conduct research on child poverty, will do more good than bad if they decide to let me into their country (acknowledged: privilege, etc.).

All I own here are my electronics and the 50 lb. suitcase full of clothes that British Airways deemed me worthy of carrying across the Atlantic Ocean. German Max has saved me; his spare couch is my portal to the continent. Without it, without him, this story goes unwritten. Perhaps it ends back in Missouri or D.C. or Boston, all wonderful places but all places that reeked of complacency and finality and surrender during my two-month, post-Oxford return to God’s country.

For too many reasons, I wasn’t ready to move back home.

At 25, I’m too old to pretend like I don’t have to worry about money and careers and certainties, but still young enough to get away with hopping continents to try once more to make sense of the many contradictions of adulthood: career versus life, ambition versus joy, status versus love.

My return wasn’t necessarily hatched on a whim, but it also wasn’t done with more than a half-baked idea of what I’d do when I landed. My British visa expires on January 31st; my flight brought me to London on November 13th. I was unemployed with a slim wallet, but I had a couch in Oxford, someone to see elsewhere on the continent, and a few job prospects that could, if all worked out, allow me to legally stay in Europe. I would find a way to make it all work – that is the only thing of which I was fully sure when I touched down at Heathrow.

I bite into my soup, appreciating the texture of the rice as the liquidy glop between it fulfils its role of curiously flavouring the night’s sustenance. The soup tastes as if it probably would have been good when it was first made some three months back. For now, I rely on a swig of discounted red wine to wash it down peacefully. I take a deep breath and, then, another bite.

The Frozen Soup Era might be miserable if I were blind to my near future. Soon, I’ll have an income again. Soon, I’ll have my own flat, my own bed, my own white rice, my own soup to make. Soon, I’ll be a legal resident in a country of continental Europe. Soon, I can drink Belgian beer and practice my Dutch (ok, Flemish) and be closer to the primary reason for my return.


I’ve never been to Antwerp, the city to which I’ll move when the Belgian Embassy returns my passport with their stamp of approval. It sounds random, and in some sense it is – I thought I was done with committing myself to cities that I had never visited after Perth or Oxford. It is Antwerp, though, that I’ll call home for the next three years as I conduct research with the Herman Deleeck Centrum voor Sociaal Beleid, or Centre for Social Policy.

I could be neither luckier nor happier with my arrangement in Antwerp. I will build off the policy research I’ve been working on the past year alongside a handful of academics whose work has inspired my own. I’ll publish, contribute to European Commission reports, and earn an income, plus a doctoral degree, along the way.

The frightening realization, perhaps, is where such work is designed to lead: a career in Europe. You don’t complete a Ph.D. analysing European policy trends and expect to land an academic post at Georgetown or Harvard or Mizzou. Somehow, I’m at peace with this – partly because I’m happy out here, and partly because I’ve become capable of scrapping together solutions to my geographical hesitancies. If I feel I need to return and make a career in the States, then I’ll find a way to do so.

There are costs, of course, to uprooting your life and moving to new countries on short notice. Tonight, my dinner consists of leftover soup that had been frozen in a bag for three months. In six days, I’ll spend Christmas without family for the first time. Next month, I’ll move to a country in which the only human I currently know is the director of my new research centre.

The rewards, though, are more numerous. Atop the list: I’m happy. It’s simple, sure, but to find the noun-version of the adjective in its genuine form has not always been so easy. But I feel it right now; I’m genuinely happy. This, as I’m learning, is more important than the other ideas, emotions, and ambitions that I once prioritized.

I forego the dishwasher and clean my soup bowl by hand, a habit that has stuck with me after a year of living with only a partially-functional kitchen. Outside, the wind becomes audibly heavy. Rain thumps the window like bugs on an interstate windshield.

I picture the old woman fumbling with her umbrella again, wondering if she’s still roaming the streets and trying, frantically, to straighten her anti-precipitation device. In this new Oxford, the one in which I live during this post-student, pre-Belgium purgatory, these are the concerns that occupy my mind. Ordinary, simple, and mundane, each of which I’m learning to appreciate.

I scan the kitchen and conduct an eyeballed inventory check: maybe four scoops of rice, a jug of glühwein, half a bottle of red, peanut butter, bread, coffee, mixed vegetables, and three more bags of frozen soup. This will get me to Christmas Eve, at which point I’ll treat myself with a Tesco visit.

After Christmas comes the New Year, and the New Year brings Belgium. Until then, I’ll be patient, I’ll practice my Dutch, and I’ll eat my soup.

Welcome to Perth

So, it’s real now.

All the preparing, researching, waiting and wondering is finished, and here I am, a 22-year-old American kid living 10,000 miles from home in a city that most only know as the title of a Bon Iver song.

Am I scared? Absolutely.

Am I excited? Duh!

Do I have any clue what I’m getting myself into? Not at all. But that’s what makes it great, I guess.

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