Quarantine Envy Got You Down? You’re Not Alone

Some groups may also be better than others at resisting envy. A recent Brookings Institution study showed that African-American and Hispanic people, especially those with low incomes, remained more optimistic than their white counterparts, despite facing physical and economic challenges from the pandemic.

Students Share their Experiences with the Graduate Policy Scholars Program

The Graduate Policy Scholars program provides students from all fields of study with impactful opportunities and training outside of their curriculum. Offered by the Clark-Fox Policy Institute in partnership with the Social Policy Institute, the yearlong program inspires students to pursue their unique interests. Nearly 120 students have completed the GPS program through its first […]

COVID-19 is widening the achievement gap

Parents shouldn’t have to choose between their children’s’ health and their academic success—between surviving and thriving. While the choice to attend school in-person or virtually may ultimately be up to parents in some cases, we should ensure that both options allow for academic success—especially for the most vulnerable learners.

The demographics of racial inequality in the United States

The numbers provided here only scratch the surface of the realities of racial inequality in the United States. As we begin to reimagine policing, dismantle systems of oppression, and reinvest resources into Black communities, we must use these numbers to help guide us.

Strategies for Debt Reduction: Comparing Financial Tips and Financial Counseling

Interest among employers is growing in Employee financial wellness programs (EFWPs), a new type of benefit to address financial stress among employees. EFWPs benefits include financial counseling, small-dollar loans, and savings programs that address employees’ non-retirement financial needs. Little evidence exists concerning the availability and use of and outcomes associated with EFWPs, especially among low- and moderate-income (LMI) workers who may be in greatest need of these benefits. We present findings concerning awareness and use of EFWPs from a national survey of LMI workers (N=16,650). Availability of different EFWP benefits ranged from 11 to 15% and over a third of workers were unaware of whether their employer offered an EFWP. Experiencing financial difficulties predicted both EFWP awareness and use suggesting that employers take time to assess employees’ specific financial challenges to select benefits. Yet use of EFWPs by LMI workers may suggest the need for better compensation and work conditions.

Experts Warn of Potential Housing Crisis When Eviction Moratorium Lifted

In an interview with NBC 6, Michal Grinstein-Weiss discussed the housing crisis and looming evictions. She said, “We are already in a housing crisis in the U.S. and we were in one long before, and housing is really central for our people to recover from COVID-19.”

Pandemic boosts urgency of housing instability

The Columbian features SPI data in a story about housing hardship. “Nationally, a survey of low- to moderate-income households, conducted by the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, found that individuals are facing increased hardships such as evictions, delayed rent or mortgage payments, or unexpected utility payments and home repairs during the pandemic.”

It’s about to get a lot worse

SPI faculty director, Mat Despard, was interviewed in this Axios story about evictions: “We should be very concerned about what’s going to happen in August and beyond.”

Grinstein-Weiss and Ferris receive Washington University’s Outstanding Faculty & Staff Mentor Award

Michal Grinstein-Weiss, director of the Social Policy Institute, and Dan Ferris, director of policy and planning at the Social Policy Institute, were selected out of nearly 100 nominations as recipients of the 2020 Washington University Outstanding Faculty Mentor and Staff Mentor Awards. Awarded by the university’s Graduate Student Senate, students from all of WashU’s schools nominated […]

Event Replay: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Racial, Gender, and Generational Wealth Gaps

Below is a recording of the June 25, 2020 event, The Impact of COVID-19 on the Racial, Gender, and Generational Wealth Gaps, hosted by the Social Policy Institute at Washington University and the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. View Presentation Slides LEARN MORE: The Social Policy Institute […]

Material hardship among lower-income households: the role of liquid assets and place

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides substantial financial support to low-income workers, yet around a quarter of EITC payments are estimated to be erroneous or fraudulent. Beginning in 2017, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 requires the Internal Revenue Service to spend additional time processing early EITC claims, delaying the issuance of tax refunds. Leveraging unique data, we investigate how delayed tax refunds affected the experience of hardship and unsecured debt among EITC recipients. We find that early filers experienced increased food insecurity relative to later filers after the implementation of the refund delay.

Employee Financial Wellness Programs: tips for providers

There are several types of Employee Financial Wellness Programs (EFWPs), such as workplace financial counseling, workplace credit building, and employer-sponsored small dollar loans. Each program benefits the company and its employees in different ways.

The Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, with generous support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, studied the implementation of EFWPs at several diverse organizations, including a nonprofit in the Midwest and several supply chain locations of a national retailer, to understand the impact. As a result, we’ve identified five ways in which providers can maximize the benefits of EFWPs and avoid pitfalls along the way.

Employee Financial Wellness Programs: tips for employers

There are several types of Employee Financial Wellness Programs (EFWPs), such as workplace financial counseling, workplace credit building, and employer-sponsored small dollar loans. Each program benefits the company and its employees in different ways.

The Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, with generous support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, studied the implementation of EFWPs at several diverse organizations, including a nonprofit in the Midwest and several supply chain locations of a national retailer, to understand the impact. As a result, we’ve identified four ways in which organizations can maximize the benefits of EFWPs and avoid pitfalls along the way.

Employee financial wellness programs: promising new benefit for frontline workers?

Interest among employers is growing in Employee financial wellness programs (EFWPs), a new type of benefit to address financial stress among employees. EFWPs benefits include financial counseling, small-dollar loans, and savings programs that address employees’ non-retirement financial needs. Little evidence exists concerning the availability and use of and outcomes associated with EFWPs, especially among low- and moderate-income (LMI) workers who may be in greatest need of these benefits. We present findings concerning awareness and use of EFWPs from a national survey of LMI workers (N=16,650). Availability of different EFWP benefits ranged from 11 to 15% and over a third of workers were unaware of whether their employer offered an EFWP. Experiencing financial difficulties predicted both EFWP awareness and use suggesting that employers take time to assess employees’ specific financial challenges to select benefits. Yet use of EFWPs by LMI workers may suggest the need for better compensation and work conditions.

Tax-time saving and the earned income tax credit: results from online field and survey experiments

Tax refunds are an opportunity for Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) recipients to build emergency savings. Randomly assigned behavioral interventions in 2015 and 2016 have statistically significant impacts on refund saving take-up and amounts among EITC recipients who filed their taxes online. From a survey experiment, we also find that EITC recipients have a 49 percent and 59 percent increased likelihood of deferring 20 percent of their refunds for six months when hypothetically offered 25 and 50 percent savings matches (p < .001), respectively. These findings can inform policy development related to encouraging emergency saving at tax time.

Promoting public retirement savings accounts during tax filing: evidence from a field experiment

Many U.S. households—especially those with low- to moderate-incomes (LMI)—struggle to save for retirement. To address this issue, the Department of the Treasury launched myRA, a no-fee retirement account designed primarily to help people who lacked access to employer-sponsored plans build retirement savings. In this paper, we report findings from two myRA-focused field experiments, both of which were administered to well over 100,000 LMI online tax filers before and during the 2016 tax season. The first experiment involved sending one of three different myRA-focused email messages to tax filers immediately prior to tax season, and the second experiment involved incorporating myRA-focused messages and choice architecture directly into an online tax filing platform. Messages were chosen to address different barriers to retirement savings LMI households may face. We find that, though the general level of interest in myRA was very low in this population, interest and enrollment in myRA depends heavily on the way in which the benefits of the accounts are framed. Results from both experiments indicate that messages emphasizing the possibility of receiving a larger refund in the future were the most effective at increasing interest in myRA, while messages focused around the simplicity and ease of use of the accounts were less effective. We also conduct several subsample analyses to investigate the extent to which these effects differed by key household characteristics.

The impact of tax refund delays on the experience of hardship and unsecured debt

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides substantial financial support to low-income workers, yet around a quarter of EITC payments are estimated to be erroneous or fraudulent. Beginning in 2017, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 requires the Internal Revenue Service to spend additional time processing early EITC claims, delaying the issuance of tax refunds. Leveraging unique data, we investigate how delayed tax refunds affected the experience of hardship and unsecured debt among EITC recipients. We find that early filers experienced increased food insecurity relative to later filers after the implementation of the refund delay.

Using financial tips to guide debt repayment: experimental evidence from low-and moderate-income tax filers

Much of the literature on household finances tends to focus on discrete or relatively objective measures like savings, debt, economic mobility, and there has been a lack of research on holistic measures of financial well-being. This gap is due in part to the absence of a common understanding of how to define and measure financial well-being; a gap that was recently addressed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s development of a financial well-being scale. However, the research on this scale is still scarce and little is known about how financial well-being evolves over time. To that end, this paper uses a two-wave survey of low- and moderate-income tax filers to present the first longitudinal analysis of the CFPB’s financial well-being scale. Using a combination of descriptive analysis, OLS regression, and fixed effects panel regression, we assess (1) the stability of financial well-being over a six-month period; (2) the extent to which household characteristics predict volatility in financial well-being; and (3) the relationship between the experience of adverse financial events, including financial shocks and material hardships, and financial well-being. We find that financial well-being scores are extremely stable over the short-term, and that household characteristics are generally not strong predictors of financial well-being changes. We also find that, while adverse financial events like the loss of a job are significantly associated with declines in financial well-being, these changes are not large. These findings have implications for researchers and practitioners interested in using the financial well-being scale in program and policy evaluations.

Event Replay: Jump-Starting America: How Investing in Technology & Science Revives Economies

The Social Policy Institute at Washington University and the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis invite you to a virtual conversation at 1 p.m. on June 4 with Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson, authors of Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream. Gruber […]

A message from Michal Grinstein-Weiss, director of SPI

Dear Friends, These are dark days in our nation’s history. At a time when we are trying to respond to a global health pandemic and its disproportionate health and economic toll on families of color, we are witnessing endless injustices and brutality against black and brown civilians. It is appalling and astounding. And the similarities […]

Housing Hardships Reach Unprecedented Heights during the COVID-19 Pandemic

SPI research, published on Brookings Institution: Groundbreaking data from a new large-scale, nationally-representative survey of low- and moderate-income (LMI) households administered by the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis in April of 2020 suggests that individuals have been facing increased housing hardship such as evictions, delayed rent or mortgage payments, and unexpected utility payments and home repairs during the pandemic.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Racial, Gender and Generational Wealth Gaps

On June 25, 2020, join the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis and Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis to better understand the likely impacts COVID-19 on family wealth, and some possible responses to those gaps.

Jump-Starting America: How Investing in Technology & Science Revives Economies

At 1 p.m. on June 4, 2020, join the Social Policy Institute at Washington University and the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis for a virtual conversation with Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson, authors of Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream.

SPI researchers win top awards for papers at ACCI Conference

Yingying Zeng, Mathieu Despard, and Sophia Fox-Dichter received the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) Paper Award for their paper “Workplace Financial Counseling: Credit Outcomes Among Lower-Paid, Entry-Level Workers”.

Stephen P. Roll, Blair D. Russell, Dana C. Perantie, and Michal Grinstein-Weiss received the JCA Best Article of the Year for their paper “Encouraging Tax‐Time Savings with a Low‐Touch, Large‐Scale Intervention: Evidence from the Refund to Savings Experiment”.

Employees are stressed about money. Financial wellness benefits can help.

The National Fund for Workforce Solutions and the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis have collaborated on a new Guide to Employee Financial Wellness to help employers identify the best program for their team. The guide combines four years of research and best practices collected from a wide range of employers using employee financial wellness programs.

Improving Educational and Career Opportunities for Youth with Disabilities in the Future Trend Program

This research brief is part of a series by the Social Impact Nudgeathon initiative. This initiative incorporated insights from behavioral economics into the design and delivery of social welfare programs. Developed through a partnership between the Joint Distribution Committee in Israel (JDC-Israel) and the Social Policy Institute (SPI) at Washington University in St. Louis, this initiative is among the first of its kind to launch in Israel. […]

Improving the Take-Up of Homecare Services Among Holocaust Survivors in a Jewish Charitable Organization

This research brief is part of a series by the Social Impact Nudgeathon initiative. This initiative incorporated insights from behavioral economics into the design and delivery of social welfare programs. Developed through a partnership between the Joint Distribution Committee in Israel (JDC-Israel) and the Social Policy Institute (SPI) at Washington University in St. Louis, this initiative is among the first of its kind to launch in Israel. […]

Household Savings Decisions in Israel’s Child Savings Program: The Role of Demographic, Financial, and Intrinsic Factors

Israel’s Child Development Account (CDA) program, the Savings for Every Child Program (SECP), is universal and automatically enrolls all children under the age of 18, depositing approximately $14 into their accounts every month. Parents can transfer an additional monthly $14 into these long-term savings accounts and can choose an investment vehicle for their children’s deposits. […]

Assessing the Short-Term Stability of Financial Well-Being in Low- and Moderate-Income Households

Much of the literature on household finances tends to focus on discrete or relatively objective measures like savings, debt, economic mobility, and there has been a lack of research on holistic measures of financial well-being. This gap is due in part to the absence of a common understanding of how to define and measure financial well-being; a gap that was recently addressed […]

Does Savings Affect Participation in the Gig Economy? Evidence from a Tax Refund Field Experiment

This paper investigates how saving the federal tax refund affects gig economy participation for low-income online tax filers in the six months following tax filing. Using longitudinal survey and administrative data, we leverage random assignment in a unique refund savings experiment as an instrument for refund savings. We find significant heterogeneity in estimated effects that are consistent […]

Nothing to Show for It: Non-Degreed Debt and the Financial Circumstances Associated with It

The number of individuals with student loan debt who do not earn their degrees is on the rise; nevertheless, there is little research that demonstrates the financial conditions and circumstances of these individuals. We address this knowledge gap by comparing the financial outcomes of student debt-holders who started college but did not earn a degree—those […]

MBA student: “We don’t need a map to know who COVID-19 hits hardest”

Olin Business School Blog: “What makes the initial statistics about COVID-19 infections by zip code so alarming is that in the zip codes with the highest number of infections, people are actually less likely to get tested because of a lack of insurance or transportation, so the real number of cases might be even higher than is presently known.”

Inspired by father who survived Holocaust, Wash U professor aims to help north St. Louis residents

Michal Grinstein-Weiss understands how trauma can have a lasting effect. Her father, Slomo Grinstein, survived the Holocaust by spending years hiding in the woods of Poland while his family was killed at concentration camps. “He always struggled a little bit between jobs — and [the Holocaust] doesn’t leave anyone, and he was never able to fully recover from the trauma,” said Grinstein-Weiss, who grew up in Israel and moved to St. Louis in 1999 to pursue a doctorate in social work. Now she’s the director of the Social Policy Institute at Wash U and working to research and develop policy to help black families in north St. Louis who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

Tracking COVID-19 cases by zip code highlights inequity in St. Louis region

St. Louis on the Air, Sarah Fenske spoke with Washington University’s Dr. Laurie Punch and Michal Grinstein-Weiss, the director of Washington University’s Social Policy Institute and of the Centene Center for Health Transformation. Grinstein-Weiss recently looked into COVID-19 case counts in ZIP codes across the St. Louis region.

What tax refunds tell us about how households might use economic impact payments

While economic impact payments are different than a tax refund, we can be fairly confident, based on this research, that in this moment of emergency, payments from CARES Act will be used on essential purchases. It is also possible households will allocate their economic impact payments to clear debt entirely or to make a minimum payment in order to keep some liquid assets in checking or savings.

Social Policy Institute, McDonnell International Scholars Academy award $10,000 seed grants to three research proposals

Social Policy Institute and McDonnell International Scholars Academy have jointly announced the selection of three international policy-focused proposals to receive $10,000 seed grants following a call for proposals in September 2019. The selected proposals will develop research that fosters international collaboration on policy projects and includes faculty from both Washington University and an international university.