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Robert I. Lerman

Institute Fellow
Center on Labor, Human Services and Population

Dr. Robert Lerman, a leading expert on how education, employment, and family structure work together to affect economic well-being, is the Urban Institute's first Institute fellow in labor and social policy. He was director of the Institute's Labor and Social Policy Center from 1995 to 2003.

Dr. Lerman was one of the first scholars to examine the factors leading to unwed fatherhood and the effects of early unwed fatherhood on earnings. His work on youth apprenticeships in the late 1980s encouraged the creation of national school-to-work programs. Dr. Lerman's current research focuses on interactions between job and marital stability, the effects of marriage promotion programs, and youth transitions from school to career.

The author of more than 150 articles, monographs, reports, reviews, and conference papers, Dr. Lerman has held dual appointments with the Urban Institute and the economics department at American University since 1995. He chaired the American University department from 1989 to 1995 and continues to be a professor of economics there. Dr. Lerman has served on a variety of panels and commissions, including the National Academy of Sciences panel looking at the nation's postsecondary education and training system for the workplace and the board of the National Fatherhood Initiative. He has testified before congressional committees on such topics as youth apprenticeship, child support policies, and the information technology labor market.

Dr. Lerman earned his doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He taught at the University of Pittsburgh (1969-1971) and Brandeis University (1980-1989), where he also served as research director in the Heller School of Social Welfare's Center for Human Resources. He conducted research on social security and housing policy as research associate at the Brookdale Institute of Gerontology in Jerusalem, Israel (1974-1976). His public policy experience includes positions as staff economist with Congress' Joint Economic Committee (1972-1974) and special assistant for youth and welfare policy at the U.S. Department of Labor (1977-1980).


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The Second Year of Accelerating Opportunity: Implementation Findings from the States and Colleges (Research Report)
Theresa Anderson, Lauren Eyster, Robert I. Lerman, Carolyn T. O'Brien, Maureen Conway, Ranita Jain, Marcela Montes

The second annual implementation report for the Accelerating Opportunity (AO) initiative in four states finds that:

  • colleges aligned pathways and supports with local needs
  • students were satisfied with AO
  • AO instructors grew more adept at team teaching
  • colleges struggled to recruit adult education students
  • states and colleges sought new financial support and developed partnerships
  • colleges served more students with fewer resources
  • states changed policies to support and sustain AO

AO provides grants to help community colleges create career pathway programs to enroll students with low basic skills into for-credit career and technical education courses to improve educational and employment outcomes.

Posted to Web: March 12, 2015Publication Date: March 12, 2015

Expanding Economic Opportunity for Young Men and Boys of Color through Employment and Training (Occasional Paper)
Shayne Spaulding, Robert I. Lerman, Harry Holzer, Lauren Eyster

Young men of color have long experienced lower earnings and higher unemployment compared to young white men. Many factors have contributed to these negative outcomes: persistent discrimination, hiring practices of employers, geographic and social isolation, substandard secondary education, lack of career and postsecondary educational guidance, inadequate career and technical education, and higher incarceration rates. This paper focuses on promising strategies for improving the labor market outcomes of low-income young men of color. It outlines an employment-focused approach to improving economic opportunities and outcomes for these young men, highlighting potential policy, system and institutional reforms as well as program investments.

Posted to Web: February 04, 2015Publication Date: February 04, 2015

Do Homeownership and Rent Subsidies Protect Individuals from Material Hardship? (Research Brief)
Robert I. Lerman, Sisi Zhang

Homeowners and subsidized renters experience significantly lower material hardship than unsubsidized renters, even after taking account of income, income variability, race, education, and family structure. Homeownership conveys more protection against hardship than do rent subsidies. Using the Survey of Income and Program Participation, we estimate the likelihood of experiencing any material hardship is about 9.2 percent lower for subsidized renters and 24.5 percent lower for homeowners. Even homeowners who bought just before the recent crash in home prices experienced less hardship than unsubsidized renters. White, black, and Hispanic homeowners all suffer less material hardship than their renting counterparts (whether subsidized or unsubsidized). This reduction is most pronounced among Hispanic families.

Posted to Web: November 18, 2014Publication Date: November 18, 2014

The First Year of Accelerating Opportunity: Implementation Findings from the States and Colleges (Research Report)
Theresa Anderson, Lauren Eyster, Robert I. Lerman, Additional Authors

Beginning in 2012, the Accelerating Opportunity (AO) initiative provided $1.6 million in grants to five states. The grants were to help community colleges create career pathway programs to enroll students with low basic skills into for-credit career and technical education courses to improve their educational and employment outcomes. A rigorous and comprehensive evaluation of AO includes a non-experimental impact study, an implementation study, and a cost-benefit analysis. This first report provides key findings on the pathways, students, resources, partnerships, culture shifts, and policy developments from the first year of implementation of the initiative.

Posted to Web: September 23, 2014Publication Date: September 23, 2014

Expanding Apprenticeship Training In Canada: Perspectives From International Experience (Research Report)
Robert I. Lerman

Concern about a rising "skills gap" alongside high unemployment is emerging as a key competitiveness issue in North America. Among Canadian companies, 59 per cent of department executives expressed concern about the availability of needed skills over the next two years. This report examines the rationale for expanding apprenticeship training in Canada and the implications for policy and practice. It considers the benefits of a robust apprenticeship system, as well as potential concerns, describes the scale and composition of the current Canadian apprenticeship system, and concludes with recommendations for increasing apprenticeships in Canada.

Posted to Web: May 08, 2014Publication Date: May 08, 2014

Do Homeownership and Rent Subsidies Protect Individuals from Material Hardship?: Evidence from the Great Recession (Research Report)
Robert I. Lerman, Sisi Zhang

Do homeownership and rent subsidies protect individuals from experiencing material hardships? Do the relationships differ by race and ethnicity? Using the Survey of Income and Program Participation, we find that the likelihood of experiencing any material hardship is 5.6 percentage points lower for homeowners than renters without rent subsidies, a reduction of about 25 percent. Owning a home over ten years provides a larger protection than owning a home less than four years. Homeownership’s role in shielding people from material hardship is at least as important for non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics as for non-Hispanic whites.

Posted to Web: January 29, 2014Publication Date: January 08, 2014

Apprenticeships Could Help U.S. Workers Gain a Competitive Edge (Commentary)
Stuart Eizenstat, Robert I. Lerman

In this Washington Post commentary, Robert Lerman and Stuart Eizenstat argue that the U.S. manufacturing sector is poised for a comeback, but faces serious workforce challenges. To avoid squandering the opportunity to sustain a manufacturing resurgence, the U.S. must match the quality and quantity of skills training achieved in many other countries. One way to do this is a 21st-century apprenticeship program. By training youth and adults through a combined work-based learning and classroom instruction program leading to a recognized and valued occupational credential, apprenticeships can increase employment, while insuring a close match between the skills learned and the skills required.

Posted to Web: May 09, 2013Publication Date: May 08, 2013

The Two Worlds of Personal Finance: Implications for Promoting the Economic Well-Being of Low- and Moderate-Income Families (Research Report)
Robert I. Lerman, C. Eugene Steuerle

Personal finance for low- and middle-income families differs significantly from that of upper-income families, who tend to be the focus of mainstream finance. The assets of low- and middle-income families have less to do with stock and bond portfolios than they do with human capital, social insurance programs, and homeownership. Social welfare policy should be adjusted to acknowledge this reality.

These remarks were originally presented at the "The Future of Life-Cycle Saving and Investing" conference, co-sponsored by the Boston University School of Management, the Research Foundation of the CFA Institute, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston on May 24, 2011. It was first published in Life-Cycle Investing: Financial Education and Consumer Protection (November 2012): 85-96 (doi: 10.2470/rf.v2012.n3.7).

Posted to Web: February 26, 2013Publication Date: February 26, 2013

Coping with the Great Recession: Disparate Impacts on Economic Well-Being in Poor Neighborhoods (Research Report)
Robert I. Lerman, Sisi Zhang

Did the Great Recession hit poor neighborhoods especially hard? Surprisingly, between 2007 and 2009, residents in the poorest neighborhoods did not suffer worse losses in employment and wages than did other neighborhoods. Poor neighborhoods saw unusually high job losses among men but not among women. Because residents in poor neighborhoods had especially low homeownership rates, they were less likely to face big losses in home equity. Homeowners in poor neighborhoods were slightly less likely to sustain homeownership, but they weren’t locked out of jobs because of immobility. In fact, these homeowners fared better in the job market than renters.

Posted to Web: January 07, 2013Publication Date: January 07, 2013

Homeownership Policy at a Critical Juncture: Are Policymakers Overreacting to the Great Recession? (Policy Briefs/Opportunity and Ownership Project)
Robert I. Lerman, C. Eugene Steuerle, Sisi Zhang

Is supporting homeownership still viable policy for low- and moderate-income families? Although middle-aged families are less likely to own homes than a decade ago and many recent purchasers are underwater, homeownership is still the primary saving vehicle for low- and moderate-income families, and longer-term homeowners generally managed to achieve net saving or gains despite the losses of the Great Recession. Nearly 90 percent of families that owned homes as of 1999 were still homeowners in 2011, and market conditions are increasingly favorable for homeownership. This suggests that losses incurred during the recent bust mask emerging opportunities and sensible housing policies.

Posted to Web: July 12, 2012Publication Date: May 11, 2012

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