Project to collect real portraits of American life

Monday, Feb 4, 2019
by B. Rose Kelly, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Today, only half of children grow up to earn more than their parents, as opportunities for upward mobility continue to decline. Meanwhile, more than 15 percent of children live in poverty.

Understanding what is behind these problems has been a challenge, as each pocket of the United States faces particular struggles. The American Voices Project will make it possible to take these local differences into account.

Through comprehensive interviews and rigorous field work, the project will collect rich comprehensive portraits of American life, from finances to personal wellbeing to individual values and aspirations.

Eighty research fellows will interview 5,000 households from 200 American communities across the United States, collecting data on day-to-day routines, relationships, health, finances and other measures of wellbeing. 

The principal investigators of the project include Peter Cookson Jr. of Georgetown University, Kathryn Edin of Princeton and David Grusky of Stanford.

“For years, the United States has built its policy in the blind, without understanding how people are working, living and getting by,” said Edin, a professor of sociology and public affairs and co-author of the 2015 book $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.”

“The American Voices Project relies on immersive interviews to deliver an unusually comprehensive portrait of American life,” she said. “The objective: To build 21st-century policy that's truly of the people, by the people, for the people.”

“The American Dream has it that all children, rich and poor alike, should have the same opportunities,” said Grusky, a professor of sociology. “We began with the radical idea that our country's founding dream should be taken as a serious national commitment and that we should work together to figure out what it would take to actually realize it.”

The American Voices Project is a joint initiative by Princeton’s Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, which is based at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and directed by Edin; Stanford’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, which is directed by Grusky; the American Institutes for Research; and a coalition of Federal Reserve banks.

Applications are being accepted for the research fellows who will talk with people throughout the country’s rural, suburban and urban communities. The fellowship is paid, provides training and is designed for anyone committed to tackling the country’s most pressing problems. The positions begin this June and will conclude in summer 2020.

The project is also seeking skilled regional directors to lead fellow teams and conduct field work. Regional directors will usually be assigned to a certain region of the country, where they will live, work and manage their team. The position is for one year beginning in June 2019 with an intensive leadership workshop. There will also be an opportunity to apply for an additional year, which will include data science training and analysis of the data collected.

Learn more or apply for a position at the American Voices Project. 

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