ITROW Research Projects Fact Sheet



The Big Picture of Economic Restructuring

Excerpted from ITROW News, Fall/Winter 1996, Vol. 5, No. 1, page 6.

Focus 1: Economic Restructuring and Jobs

The first focus of the Institute's Neighborhood Research Group emerges from an overall interest in the political economy, especially in the economic restructuring currently taking place in the United States and in the world, and its impact on women's as well as men's economic activity. Studies of poverty in the United States often point to cultural or family characteristics of the poor as the main source of poverty. Less studied are the effects of economic restructuring, particularly the change from factory employment to service employment, in increasing and concentrating poverty. Although some analysts have suggested that family reproductive decisions, the presence of middle class role models, and the suburbanization of employment affect poverty, not many have looked at the effects of economic restructuring, downsizing, economic polarization, and stagnant and falling wages. Few have examined these factors in depth, and even fewer have considered gender in their analyses. The study itself consists of six stages of work. The first is to conduct background research on the political economy in the Baltimore regional economy post-World War 2. In this stage, the investigators review historical documents and interview local authorities. This part of the research concentrates on external factors which affect the local economy such as regional transportation patterns, suburbanization trends, and governmental policies affecting jobs and housing.

The second stage of the research involves collecting longitudinal census data for the Baltimore City area. Here, researchers look at statistics on employment, occupation, poverty, race, gender, social class, shifts in occupational distributions, housing stocks, and transportation networks. Most of the census level data and preliminary research has already been conducted. "We've developed our research design, made big inroads into the literature review, and have collected much of the data. However, analysis of data has only just begun,"according to Vanfossen.

The third stage of the research involves using the longitudinal census data for the 200 neighborhoods in Baltimore City to become familiar with the occupational and economic characteristics of the populations in these areas. The investigators will compare the occupational characteristics of the areas to the entire Baltimore region. In the fourth stage, an ethnographic study of the two neighborhoods which facilitate employment of their citizens and those which do not will be conducted. The ethnographic research will focus on the diversity within and between communities. This research will be conducted with the aid of community research assistants who will perform multiple tasks. This part of the research involves using "focus groups" with young women and men; semi-structured interviews with community insiders (local business people, religious leaders, community activists, community service workers); interviews with young women and men who are unemployed, underemployed, and/or have experienced only fragmented or insecure employment to those with more secure employment or college attendance; and participant observation. The ethnographic research will focus specifically on two factors: "spacial mismatch" and social isolation. Researchers will focus on how urban residents perceive and use kin, friendship, neighborhood, school, and other networks to locate and obtain jobs.

The fifth stage combines the longitudinal neighborhood and economic data with longitudinal data on Baltimore children and their families collected by the Prevention Research Center (PRC) at Johns Hopkins University between 1985 and the present. In 1997, the PRC will re-interview the 2000 children who by now are around 18 years old. The NRG will examine how the adolescents are planning their futures with reference to work patterns, educational expectations, and family formation goals. An additional survey of the parents in 1999 will collect detailed job histories, including job searching behavior as well as employment status.

Focus 2: Community Violence and Child Development 

The Second Focus of the research by the TSU's Neighborhood Research Group is on "The Impact of Neighborhood Crime and Violence on the Development of Children." High levels of crime and violence in the neighborhood may have important effects upon the pathways to adult educational and occupational attainment of children. Yet, other characteristics of neighborhoods have a protective influence. There may be strong systems of social cohesion and social control within neighborhoods that guide the development of children, for example. There may be economic opportunities which reward young people for commitment to work. One purpose of this research is to identify the characteristics of neighborhoods which promote adult attainment and positive mental health, in spite of deleterious levels of neighborhood crime and economic disadvantage.

Protective influences may also emanate from parental practices. Faced by economic deprivation, some parents experience spouse conflict, which may spill over into hostile relationships with children. Others are able to withstand the pressures of economic difficulty without these deleterious side-effects.

The investigators plan first to establish whether high levels of community violence encourage aggressive and antisocial behavior among children as well as higher levels of emotional depression. Then, they will see how these basic relationships are altered or diminished by neighborhood resources and parental practices. Finally, the group will see how community characteristics affect the late teenage transition to adult pathways, such as additional schooling, occupational activity, and family formation.




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