2014 News

Interdisciplinary efforts on economic fragility spark new book, May 28 policy discussion in D.C.

by Jessica Martin

The Great Recession and its aftermath — slow recovery, unemployment, underemployment and economic malaise — have produced an era unseen since the Great Depression. In an effort to study causes and find solutions, Washington University in St. Louis faculty from across disciplines are examining economic insecurity through the university’s Livable Lives Initiative. 

One of the products of this interdisciplinary collaboration is a new book, “Working and Living in the Shadow of Economic Fragility,” edited by Marion Crain, JD, vice provost and the Wiley B. Rutledge Professor of Law, and Michael Sherraden, PhD, the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor at the Brown School. Another result: an upcoming discussion for policymakers hosted by the New America Foundation in Washington on Wednesday, May 28.

“The shared premise is that economic fragility is linked to a set of economic and labor policy choices that structure workers’ lives,” Crain said.

“Our cross-disciplinary focus allows us to consider a broad range of interventions designed to enhance the quality of workers’ lives, including income-support programs, health-care reform, bankruptcy protections, labor and employment law, and tax mechanisms designed to fund unemployment and Social Security benefits. Our efforts reveal the links between work, well-being and democratic engagement, suggesting how addressing economic insecurity is critical to promoting a vibrant political democracy.”

In the book, published by Oxford University Press, prominent scholars of economic and social policy examine the current state of employment through historical, macroeconomic, cultural, sociological and policy lenses to address fundamental questions about the role and value of work in America today. The book offers suggestions for addressing the short- and long-term challenges of rebuilding a society of opportunity with meaningful and sustaining jobs as the foundation of the American middle class.

Extending the conversation

Using “Working and Living in the Shadow of Economic Fragility” as background, the New America Foundation’s Asset Building Program and Economic Growth Program will host a conversation to discuss economic inequality, insecurity and fragility in America from 12:15-2 p.m. EDT on May 28 in Washington.

In addition to Crain and Sherraden, panelists include: Reid Cramer, director of New America’s Asset Building Program; Michael Lind, policy director of New America’s Economic Growth Program; and Heather Boushey, executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

“This book on fragility in employment is an excellent first step in this inquiry,” Sherraden said. “Working with Marion Crain and other scholars across the WUSTL campus has been a great pleasure and very productive.”

The May 28 event at New America Foundation, geared toward policymakers and leaders in academia, nonprofit and business, will be available online. Join the conversation on social media using #EconFragility and following @AssetsNAF and @EconomicGrowth.

The Livable Lives Initiative is committed to undertaking research and testing innovations designed to document conditions that inhibit or foster the achievement of livable lives, forming and testing innovations, designing policies and practices that may promote more livable lives, and studying the impacts of these policies and practices. The initiative, working in the context of rising inequality and fragile labor markets, will next examine housing in the U.S.