Monday, August 11, 2008

New Social Work Dean at UMich

The official university news email brings word that Laura Lein will become the new Dean of the School of Social Work.

I do not know Laura but have read one of her many books, called Making Ends Meet and co-authored with Kathryn Edin. The book is (mainly) an ethnographic study of single mothers on welfare. It of interest in (at least) two ways: the first is the interesting network sampling scheme used by the authors and, of greater import, their clever decision to first ask their subjects to detail their monthly consumption behavior and then, only after that was complete, to ask about where the got the income to pay for it. This interview strategy, combined with the fact that welfare payment levels are largely the result of a simple formula led many subjects to reveal sources of income they might not otherwise have revealed in order to not appear like liars about their consumption. The variety of strategies that the subjects used to obtain income (that was not reported to the welfare authorities so that it could be taxed away at a very high rate) was astounding, as was the near universality of the use of such strategies. One can interpret this finding in several ways. The authors argue that it shows that benefit levels are too low, and there is something to that, particularly in some low benefit states. Alternatively, one can interpret it is positive evidence of skills and hustle that were going unused (and which would be relied upon when welfare reform came along after the book was written).

The book is well worth reading even though it is now well over a decade old. Ignore the regression bits toward the end and focus on the ethnography, which is the book's strong suit.

So, an advance welcome to Laura Lein who will make a fine addition to the rich (pun intended, of course) group of poverty scholars here at Michigan.