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Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research seeks to point policymakers for improvement in upward mobility

This Way Up by Inga Kiderra

UC San Diego’s Yankelovich Center for the Social Science Research seeks to point policymakers to the most effective strategies for improving upward mobility in the United States.

The American Dream is less real than it used to be. On that, the evidence is clear. Incomes have grown slowly for all but the wealthiest since the late 1970s. And if you were born into a less advantaged family, the chances of making it into the middle class have diminished. But what to do? What will work best to restore the nation’s promise of upward mobility? The Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research at UC San Diego will weigh 25 available options and, in two years, will release a ranking of the most effective.

“There is no shortage of proposed strategies to remedy America’s upward mobility problem,” said sociology professor Lane Kenworthy, director of the Yankelovich Center in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences. “What we lack, and what policymakers most need, is information about the relative merits of such strategies.”

Image: Lane Kenworthy    Lane Kenworthy

With the support of a $100,000 gift in start-up funding from Yankelovich Center founder Daniel Yankelovich, Kenworthy is putting together an Upward Mobility Commission to examine the existing research on possible solutions and estimate their probable impact.

The commission will consist of eight experts, with assistance from a postdoc at UC San Diego. The experts will be drawn from around the country and will represent different disciplines. They will also come from several points on the political spectrum.

The project differs from a lot of social science research, Kenworthy said, in that its primary aim is to give useful guidance to policymakers and the public: “If you really want to make a dent in the problem, or solve it, here’s what the science tells us will help—and how much.”

Yankelovich, sometimes dubbed the “dean of American pollsters,” has spent 50 years monitoring social change and public opinion. Founder of several nonpartisan public policy research organizations, including Public Agenda, he is perhaps best known for starting the New York Times/Yankelovich poll, now called the New York Times/CBS News poll.

The Upward Mobility project strikes a personal chord with Yankelovich, aged 90.

“Back when I was a kid, the American Dream was very real for me,” Yankelovich said. “I had a very limited understanding of how to make a living but there were so many sources of opportunity. I want us to try to find practical ways, bipartisan ways, of reversing the current trend—and bringing back equality of opportunity.”

Kenworthy, author of half a dozen books, including the forthcoming “The Good Society,” holds UC San Diego’s Yankelovich Chair in Social Thought, a chair endowed with the explicit aim of transcending traditional academic boundaries.

Kenworthy conceives of the Yankelovich Center’s Upward Mobility Commission as a smaller and country-specific version of the IPCC, or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Much like the IPCC report, he said, the report the commission will produce is meant “to steer the debate in an evidence-based direction.”

“I think the shortfall in upward mobility is America’s most important economic problem,” Kenworthy said. “And for the first time in a generation, it is getting attention on the national stage. It is critical we not only talk about it but also figure out what to do.”

The 25 strategies the commission will examine range from improving infrastructure and reducing economic regulation to expanding access to preschool.

Broadly defined, the strategies are of four interlinked types. Those aimed at:

  • increasing economic growth;
  • enhancing education and training;
  • increasing the degree to which economic growth reaches middle- and lower-income households; and
  • improving opportunity for persons from less advantaged backgrounds.

The impact estimates will be standard cost-benefit estimates, focusing on employment and earnings. They will be based on the number of people likely to be helped, the average magnitude of the benefit, the length of time before the benefit occurs, the duration of the benefit, and the cost. They will also take into account the degree of uncertainty around these estimates.

In ranking each strategy, the commission will, among other factors, consider who it helps and whether or not it is dependent on other strategies.

The commission will not take into account the likelihood of policymakers adopting a given strategy. “That is an important issue, but one that should be addressed separately,” Kenworthy said. “First, let’s see what social science has to say about our best next steps for heading in the right direction.”


Undergrad Major Shayla Wilson Wins Research Award

Four undergraduate students at the University of California, San Diego have been awarded the 2015 Undergraduate Library Research Prize in recognition of their superior research skills. The annual award, sponsored by the UC San Diego Library, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and the UCSD Alumni Association, recognizes students who have demonstrated exemplary research skills in mining the Library’s rich and diverse information resources and services. Awards are given in two categories: Social Sciences/Arts/Humanities, and Life and Physical Sciences. The awards also include a cash prize of $1,000 and $500 for first and second place, respectively.

“The purpose of this prize is to encourage and recognize excellent research skills among our undergraduates, which includes the ability to exploit a wide range of digital and physical library resources,” said Brian E. C. Schottlaender, The Audrey Geisel University Librarian. “The Library—with our partners in Student Affairs and Alumni Affairs—is honored to recognize these talented students, who’ve learned that solid academic research doesn’t happen without careful and strategic library research.”

Image: Nelish Ardeshna, Nhat-Dang Do, Tiffany Lee and Shayla WilsonNelish Ardeshna, Life and Physical Sciences Second Prize winner; Nhat-Dang Do, Social Sciences/Arts/Humanities First Prize winner; Tiffany Lee, Life and Physical Sciences First Prize winner; and Shayla Wilson, Social Sciences/Arts/Humanities Second Prize winner.

In the Life and Physical Sciences category, First Prize went to Tiffany Lee, an Eleanor Roosevelt College senior, for her research on the role that syndecan-1 (a heparan sulfate proteoglycan) plays in lipoprotein binding and subsequent uptake in the liver. She was nominated by her mentor, Dr. Jeffrey Esko, a professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, who reflected that her adept use of the UC San Diego Library’s resources has “enhanced Tiffany’s abilities in being efficient and a critical thinker.”

Second Prize in the Life and Physical Sciences category was awarded to Nelish Ardeshna, a second year student at Revelle College who graduated with distinction in June 2015. Nelish’s research explored the newly recognized condition of electrohypersensitivity (EHS). His research investigated the underlying biological mechanisms of EHS, including its possible link to oxidative stress detoxification. Nelish conducted his research at Dr. Beatrice Golomb’s lab at the School of Medicine, who commented, “My appreciation of the value—and scope—of library tools, and the range of settings in which they can profitably be used, has grown through Nelish’s project.”

Image: Associate Professor Michael Provence with Nhat-Dang Do.Associate Professor Michael Provence with Nhat-Dang Do.

First Prize in the Social Sciences/Arts/Humanities category went to Nhat-Dang Do, a fourth year student at Earl Warren College, with a double major in Political Science and History. Dang’s research for his honors thesis focused on the emergence of martial law in Palestine, and the effects of British colonialism in the region. His research garnered the Department of History’s Rapaport Prize for best undergraduate thesis. His advisor, Associate Professor Michael Provence, notes that Dang “mastered the relevant historical material of a complicated historical puzzle” by having “read countless contemporary memoirs, news articles, and hundreds of archival documents to understand and recreate the atmosphere of acute political crisis that enveloped British decision making in the Middle East during the 1930s.”

The Second Prize for Social Sciences/Arts/Humanities was awarded to Shayla Wilson, a fourth year student at Warren College who was nominated by Sociology Professor Christena Turner. Wilson designed and conducted a comparative cross-national analysis of laws and legal practices related to violence against women in three countries: India, Japan, and the United States. A goal of her comparative analysis was to look at the role of law in the perpetuation and prevention of violence against women. It shed light on some of the many reasons why women often do not report sexual assault, and demonstrated the ways the legal process re-victimizes survivors. Turner noted that “persuasively making this kind of sociological argument required Shayla to become a mature researcher able to combine insights from multiple data sets, legal codes, case studies, and secondary sources.”

Image: Social Sciences/Arts/Humanities Second Prize winner, Shayla Wilson with nominating professor Christena TurnerSocial Sciences/Arts/Humanities Second Prize winner, Shayla Wilson with nominating professor Christena Turner.

To be considered for the Undergraduate Library Research Prize, students must be nominated by faculty members and must participate in either the annual UC San Diego Undergraduate Research Conference held in the spring, or in other university programs that foster and recognize student research and scholarship. The Undergraduate Research Conference is one of three major undergraduate scholarly meetings that the Office of Student Affairs Academic Enrichment Program coordinates each year that afford students from all academic disciplines the opportunity to present findings of research conducted under the guidance of UC San Diego faculty members.

According to David Artis, director of Academic Research Programs and Dean of Undergraduate Research Initiatives in the Office of Student Affairs, more than 200 UC San Diego undergraduates reported their research findings at the University’s 2015 conference this year, including the Library Undergraduate Research Prize winners. Artic noted, “We are seeing a dramatic increase in interest in all our undergraduate research programs. The achievements of these particular students and the recognition the Prize conveys upon them will encourage even more students to look for ways to get involved in hands-on research and, with the Library’s resources, make meaningful contributions to the generation of new knowledge at UC San Diego.”

Article by Tad Skotnicki and Prof. Jeff Haydu in Social Movement Studies

Congratulations to Tad Skotnicki and Jeff Haydu, whose article, “Three Layers of History in Recurrent Social
Movements: The Case of Food Reform” will be published in an upcoming issue of Social Movement Studies.

Tad was a recipient of one of the department’s Summer Research Grants a couple of summers ago. Thanks, Tad, for providing such a great demonstration of how that program works!

Dan Davis receives Kauffman Foundation Dissertation Fellowship

Grad student Dan Davis was informed that he has received a highly competitive dissertation fellowship from the Kauffman Foundation in support of his research on student technology incubators on university campuses.

This follows the great news that Dan (and his co-author Professor Amy Binder) have had two papers accepted, one on “Career Funneling” at elite universities (to appear in Sociology of Education, Nick Bloom also a co-author) and one called “Selling Students” about corporate partnership programs on college campuses (to appear in a special issue about higher education in Research in the Sociology of Organizations). All of this work examines in various ways the increasing corporatization of higher education. Congrats Dan.

Tad Skotnicki’s article accepted by Journal of Historical Sociology

Congrats to Tad Skotnicki (recent PhD) on his solo article accepted with the Journal of Historical Sociology. It is entitled “Consumer Senses and Commodity Fetishism: Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century Consumer Activism in the United States and England.”

Article by Laura Rogers published in Journal of Contemporary Ethnography

Laura Rogers’ solo authored article, “Helping the Helpless Help Themselves”: How Volunteers and Employees Create a Moral Identity While Sustaining Symbolic Boundaries within a Homeless Shelter” is now out on the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography website’s “online first” list. Congratulations, Laura!