Exploring downward mobility among middle-income African Americans

UMSI research fellow and investigator Tawanna Dillahunt is exploring the challenges and experiences of African Americans in Detroit, Michigan who grew up in middle-income households and who have experienced intergenerational downward mobility. The proposed work, funded by the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy’s Center for Public Policy in Diverse Societies (CPPDS), seeks to clearly understand the strategies these individuals believe are needed to get ahead, their access to financial resources, and how their levels of social capital at the family and community levels shape their mobility trajectories.

Start date: 5/1/2013
End date: 6/30/2014

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Since the Great Recession of 2007, downward economic mobility and its impact on the future of the American middle class has received significant research and news attention. Job loss, the collapse of the housing market and falling incomes have contributed to an increasingly unstable existence for many Americans who once felt that they had a firm grip on middle class status. 

This is true particularly among middle-income African Americans. However, qualitative research on how downwardly-mobile African Americans interpret and manage their experiences remains limited. This project will explore the challenges and experiences of African Americans in Detroit, Mich. who grew up in middle-income households and who have experienced intergenerational downward mobility. The proposed work seeks to clearly understand the strategies these individuals believe are needed to get ahead, their access to financial resources, and how their levels of social capital at the family and community levels shape their mobility trajectories. 

The research will also explore how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)—computer mobile, or Internet-based technologies such as social media—can help downwardly mobile individuals get ahead. The findings will help to develop a better understanding of the following issues:

  • How individuals manage downward mobility
  • How indicators of social capital are linked to measures of downward mobility 
  • How effective current policies are at building social capital 
  • How to improve policies that aim to build social capital, especially as they relate to new technology initiatives

This research is particularly urgent given increased economic barriers for African Americans in Detroit, and nationwide, since the 2007 economic recession.

Jessica Welburn from the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts is the co-principal investigator on this project.

Grants

Exploring Downward Mobility among Middle-Income African Americans: Interpretations of Social Mobility and the Impact of Information and Communication, University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy CPPDS Seed Grant: $7,500

 

The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy is one of the nation’s top policy schools, providing research, teaching and public discussion on current national and international policy issues. The annual CPPDS grant program supports projects that contribute to academic research on diversity or enrich the broader community's engagement with issues of diversity.