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Robynn Cox - USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Los Angeles, CA, US

Robynn Cox Robynn Cox

Assistant Professor of Social Work | USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work


Dr. Cox focuses on understanding the social and economic consequences of mass incarceration.


Dr. Robynn Cox is an assistant professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and a faculty affiliate at the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging and the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. Her research interests include the fields of crime, health, labor, housing, food insecurity, and social and racial inequality. She is primarily an inequality researcher who is concerned with understanding the social and economic consequences of criminal justice policies in general, and mass incarceration in particular. Specifically, her work focuses on how to successfully transition individuals impacted by mass incarceration policies back into society using a life course approach. Her life course approach to reentry has three pillars: systemic/institutional barriers to reentry (macro), family and community (mezzo), and the individual (micro).
Because of the housing barriers faced by the formerly incarcerated (and marginalized groups disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration), Cox (and colleagues) has taken the lead in developing a global definition and approach to improve the measurement of housing insecurity based on the development of the food insecurity measure. Her work purports that there are seven dimensions of housing insecurity: housing stability, housing affordability, housing safety, housing quality, neighborhood safety, neighborhood quality, and homelessness. Much like food insecurity, individuals that are income constrained will face tradeoffs across these factors to secure housing. Her work has led to the conceptualization and incorporation of a pilot housing insecurity module within the 2019 American Housing Survey (AHS).
In AY 2018-2019, Cox was selected as a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute (OIGI) and a Kelso Fellow at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations’ Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing. In AY 2014-2015, she was selected as a Resource Center for Minority Aging Research Scholar (funded by the NIA) at the USC Schaeffer Center, where her research explored the impact of incarceration on health outcomes over the lifespan. Cox has received additional funding from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, the Russell Sage Foundation, the USDA Food and Nutrition Services, and the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research.

Education (3)

Georgia State University: PhD 2009

Georgia State University: MA 2007

Cox earned her master’s degree and doctorate in economics from Georgia State University, where she was awarded the Andrew Young Fellowship.

Duke University: BA 2002

Cox completed her undergraduate studies at Duke University, where she obtained a dual bachelor’s in economics and Spanish and Latin American studies.

Areas of Expertise (7)

Consequences of Mass Incarceration

Mass Incarceration

Social Inequality

Social Work Education

Social Work


Race and Class Inequalities

Industry Expertise (4)

Social Services



Health and Wellness


Research, Publications & Presentations (1)

Publications and Presentations

Cox has published in various academic and policy outlets such as Cityscape (forthcoming), Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging, Journal of Labor Research, Southern Economic Journal, Review of Black Political Economy, and the Economic Policy Institute. In addition, she has presented her research at numerous professional conferences and has been featured on both locally and nationally syndicated radio programs such as NPR. In 2011, she was invited by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to take part in a roundtable conversation with Attorney General Eric Holder and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chairwoman Jacqueline Berrien on workforce development and employment strategies of the formerly incarcerated.

Professional Experience & Partnerships (2)

Assistant Professor of Economics

Spelman College 


Prior to her appointment at USC, Cox was an assistant professor of economics at Spelman College.

Post Doctoral Associate

Duke University 


Cox was a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Economics at Duke University.

Research Articles & Publications (3)

Identifying the Link Between Food Security and Incarceration

Southern Economic Journal

Robynn Cox, Sally Wallace

2016 Previous work has found that incarceration (defined as confinement in an adult correctional facility) has a variety of impacts on the incarcerated individual and their families including effects on employment and income, educational outcomes of children, and food insecurity (Wallace and Cox 2012). However, previous literature does not identify a causal impact of incarceration on food insecurity. From a policy perspective, identification of a causal link may aid in understanding why some affected families experience food insecurity, while similarly situated families do not...

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Roadmap to a Unified Measure of Housing Insecurity

CESR-Schaeffer Working Paper No. 2016-013

Robynn Cox, Benjamin Henwood, Suzanne L Wenzel, Eric Rice

2016 We argue for the development of a unified measure of housing insecurity, which includes the creation of a consistent definition and an instrument that allows researchers to accurately measure the problem. Our survey of the literature uncovers that there are multiple terms and definitions used to describe housing insecurity. Based on our analysis, we argue for one term, housing insecurity, and we put forth a definition that captures the various dimensions of this issue...

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The Effect of Private Sector Work Opportunities in Prison on Labor Market Outcomes of the Formerly Incarcerated

Journal of Labor Research

Robynn Cox

2016 This paper examines the effects of a private-sector prison work program called the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) on formal unemployment duration, duration of formal employment, and earnings of men and women released from various state prisons between 1996 and 2001. It also investigates the labor market dynamics of formerly incarcerated men and women. The program is found to increase reported earnings and formal employment on the extensive margin, with a stronger impact on the formal employment of women...

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