Online Invited Seminar Talk

Stratifying Disaster: State Aid, Institutional Processes, and Inequality in American Communities

Laboratory of Digital and Computational Demography
Online Invited Seminar Talk, October 07, 2020

Ethan Raker from Harvard University, argued in an Online Invited Seminar Talk that disaster welfare programs produce racial and socioeconomic inequalities through a process of aid access.


Disaster aid is an increasingly costly form of social spending and an often-overlooked way that welfare states manage risks related to climate change. In this article, Ethan Raker argues that disaster welfare programs produce racial and socioeconomic inequalities through a process of aid access constituted by distinct state logics, administrative features, and bureaucratic actors. He tests this claim empirically by analyzing 5.37 million applicant records from FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program (IHP) for housing-related aid from 2005-2016. Results demonstrate that key institutional features—the conditions of eligibility, administrative burdens of proof, and bureaucratic interactions with state inspectors—combine in a stepwise process to funnel resources to high-income households in whiter, more affluent communities. Further evidence suggests that the decoupling of permanent from temporary forms of housing assistance exacerbates inequality by stratifying socioeconomic growth during recovery. This research integrates insights from environmental sociology, political sociology, and social stratification to reveal general mechanisms by which welfare programs structure outcomes and to advance a general theoretical account of institutional processes transferable to other analyses of social policies and inequalities.


Ethan Raker is a PhD candidate in sociology at Harvard University. His research interests include socio-spatial inequality, climate change, health, and neighborhoods. His work uses novel, large-scale administrative and climate data to address theoretical questions about the relationship between the environment and society.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.