26.9. INEQ Book Launch Event

Poverty in the Pandemic: Policy Lessons from COVID-19 by Zachary Parolin
Event Details

Date, time & Location: INEQ – Helsinki Inequality Initiative, Unioninkatu 37, (room K1053) or via Zoom on 26.9.2023 at 14.00-16:00.

Welcome to this book launch organized by INEQ – Helsinki Inequality Initiative in collaboration with the Social Work Unit. The launch takes place at Unioninkatu 37, room K1053, University of Helsinki on Tuesday 26.9.2023 at 14.00-16.00 (Finnish time) and via Zoom.

About the event

What lessons ought to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic for reducing poverty for future generations? This event gathers inequality researchers for a discussion based on Zachary Parolin's new book, Poverty in the Pandemic (out 1.9.2023 with the Russell Sage Foundation). Following a short presentation by the author, Professor Anne Kouvonen (Social Policy, University of Helsinki) and Professor Minna van Gerven (Social Policy, University of Helsinki) will provide a commentary and questions on this important new text. There will be an opportunity for the audience to ask questions.


Please register for this event by clicking the following link: https://elomake.helsinki.fi/lomakkeet/125113/lomakkeet.html. If you wish to participate online, you will be sent the link to the Zoom session a few days before the event. 

About the Author

Zachary Parolin is an Assistant Professor of Social Policy at Bocconi University and a Senior Research Fellow at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy. He has published widely on topics related to the measurement, sources, and consequences of poverty in journals such as Nature Human Behaviour, American Economic Association Papers & Proceedings, Journal of Policy Analysis & Management, Demography, and American Sociological Review. His research on poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, The Atlantic, CNN, in a U.S. presidential debate, and in other outlets.

Overview of Poverty in the Pandemic

Poverty in the Pandemic provides a data-driven account of how poverty influenced the economic, social, and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, as well as how the country’s policy response led to historically-low rates of poverty during the pandemic. The book challenges conventional understanding of poverty in the U.S., comprehensively documents the struggles of low-income households during COVID-19, and offers a set of specific policy takeaways from the pandemic for improving economic well-being in the future.

Specifically, Poverty in the Pandemic provides the most complete account to date of the unique challenges that low-income households in the U.S. faced relating to physical health, employment, poverty, food and housing hardship, mental health, school closures, learning loss, and child care closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Applying a new, three-part framework to interrogate poverty’s consequences, the book demonstrates how high exposure to poverty as early as childhood, particularly common among Black and Hispanic individuals, is directly connected to higher COVID-related fatality rates, higher likelihood of job loss, lower access to income support, and greater learning losses throughout the pandemic.

At the same time, the book carefully documents, and extracts lessons from, the extraordinary policy response that led to a record-low poverty rate in the U.S. in 2020, and then again in 2021. Introducing a real-time measure of poverty that provides uniquely timely updates of the economic conditions of households across the U.S., the book’s evidence demonstrates how policy interventions such as stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits, and SNAP benefit enhancements affected the national poverty rate during each month of the pandemic’s first two years. Moreover, the book presents original evidence on the successes of the 2021 expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which cut child poverty nearly in half in 2021, cut food insufficiency by one-fourth, led to the lowest child poverty rate in U.S. history, and had the American welfare state temporarily cutting child poverty at the rate of Norway’s. 

The evidence within Poverty in the Pandemic stems from the use of dozens of data sources, ranging from debit and credit card spending, the first national databases of school and child care centre closures in the U.S., bi-weekly Census-run surveys on well-being, and more. The range of data sources allows the book to evaluate many of the policy experiments – ranging from the near-universal provision of cash assistance to the introduction of a wage subsidy scheme – that the federal government unveiled throughout the pandemic. The lessons from these experiments contribute to 10 specific policy lessons, as detailed in the book’s conclusion, that the U.S. can apply in more ‘normal’ times to improve the living conditions of low-income households after the pandemic subsides.

In short, pre-pandemic exposure to poverty was central to the economic, health, and social consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic; but the federal government’s policy response during the pandemic also offers a blueprint for reducing exposure to poverty moving forward.

Advance Praise for Poverty in the Pandemic

“An important and engaging book that is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in U.S. poverty, whether they be general readers or people working in the poverty field. Perhaps the best new book on U.S. poverty this year.”

Robert Greenstein, founder and president emeritus, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and visiting fellow, Economic Studies, the Brookings Institution

“Zachary Parolin has given us the most comprehensive and thoughtful summary of how the pandemic affected the poorest amongst us and the policy lessons that emerged from this experience. The sudden onset of COVID underlined how those who were most at risk of poverty were affected, by how much monthly poverty changed and how policy responded, and the lasting consequence of the pandemic for the poorest Americans. Whether the outcome was disparities in job loss, material hardship, income, assets, mental health consequences, or the effects of childcare and school closures on children and their families, it is all masterfully brought together in this compact and highly readable volume.”

Timothy M. Smeeding, Lee Rainwater Distinguished Professor of Public Affairs and Economics, La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin

“Despite our nation’s enormous wealth, the United States entered the pandemic with high rates of poverty and systematic inequities by race and ethnicity. The public health crisis led to enormous loss of life and economic vitality. The federal government, straddling two administrations, responded in kind with a massive policy response. Zachary Parolin’s comprehensive and readable book studies poverty and inequity in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. He assembles a wide range of evidence documenting how poverty acts as a preexisting risk factor for health and economic hardship experienced during this period. He also shows how a robust policy response mitigated the worst of the economic shock and how this can help point the way forward in the next generation of antipoverty policy. A must read for anyone wanting to understand the consequences of poverty and structural inequalities in America.”

Hilary Hoynes, professor of public policy and economics and Haas Distinguished Chair of Economic Disparities, University of California, Berkeley