Feb. 6, 2003
Vol. 22 No. 9

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    Kalil examines middle-class unemployment

    By Peter Schuler
    News Office

    As a recipient of a $300,000 William T. Grant Foundation award, Ariel Kalil will begin to examine the impact that job loss has on a group of Americans who comprise a growing percentage of the unemployed in the United States–the middle class.

    Kalil, Assistant Professor in the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, was one of five scholars selected in 2002 to receive the Grant Foundation’s funding over a five-year period. Her study, “Consequences of Parental Job Loss for Adolescents,” will investigate the potential effects of parental job loss on the educational attainment of middle-class children. These include high school academic performance, graduation rates and college attendance, and the transition to adulthood–all issues that social science research has yet to rigorously examine.

    “This research has four interconnected objectives,” Kalil said, “and it cuts across disciplines.” Kalil, a developmental psychologist, said she would draw on theories and studies in psychology, economics and sociology to develop an integrated theoretical framework to understand the problem. “I want to analyze the links and patterns between parental job loss and adolescent school performance. I want to examine the mechanisms by which the job loss of the parent affects the performance of the child.

    “I also am specifically looking at whether and how the impact of job loss differs in black and white families. Finally, I want to see what the influences are of family wealth, racial discrimination in the labor market and the neighborhood context.”

    Kalil cited examples of how children’s lives could be changed by parental unemployment. A family’s financial reversal due to a job loss might force a child to abandon college plans; a father might withdraw emotionally from a son or daughter, causing a drop in the child’s school performance; a child might focus solely on finding a job because of a perceived duty to help keep the household afloat; or a parent’s crisis could alter a child’s views on the value of higher education.

    Kalil believes her study could shed light on how job loss may have a disproportionately severe impact on black middle-class families. “I argue that black and white children, on average, are likely to have a significantly different experience when a parent becomes unemployed.”

    Over five years, Kalil will use large-scale data sets for quantitative analysis enhanced by qualitative analysis through in-depth interviews with black and white middle-class families in Chicago. Several Harris School students who are pursuing doctorates and masters’ degrees in public policy will assist Kalil.

    She said she hopes the results of her research will provide useful guidance for public policy decision makers when they design programs to lessen the impact of job loss. “Policy makers are faced with countless options to address the effects on families and children that an unemployed parent creates, yet no one has really taken a hard look at what those effects are and why they occur,” she said.

    The highly competitive W.T. Grant Scholars program was established in 1982. The foundation names four to six grant recipients annually to support young scholars who show promise for having a significant impact on youth research, public policy and practice.

    Kalil also recently received the Award for Early Research Contributions from the Society for Research in Child Development.