Roberta Rehner Iversen, PhD, MSS

  • Associate Professor

3701 Locust Walk, Caster Building, Room D2
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6214
  • office: 215.898.5529
  • fax: 215.573.2099

Research Interests

Low-income families and economic mobility

Poverty, welfare, and workforce development policies

Dr. Iversen uses ethnographic research to better understand and improve welfare and workforce development policy and programs and to extend knowledge about economic mobility, especially in relation to families who are working but still poor.

  • Dr. Iversen’s ethnographic accounts illuminate what low-income working parents need from secondary schools, job training organizations, businesses and firms, their children’s public schools, and public policy in order to earn enough to support their families through work.
  • Housing policy in Milwaukee, WI and workforce development programs and policy in New Orleans, LA, Seattle, WA, St. Louis, MO, and Philadelphia, PA have been improved by findings from Dr. Iversen’s research.

Dr. Iversen’s earlier book, Jobs Aren’t Enough: Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families (2006; Temple University Press) presents new ways to increase the economic mobility of low-income families.

Iversen has recently collaborated with Frank F. Furstenberg on grant-funded “Families in the Middle” research, which is a multi-site examination of how middle-income families in the United States and Canada experience the recent recession. One paper from this research (Iversen, Napolitano, & Furstenberg, 2011) is the first qualitative research manuscript to be published in the international journal, Longitudinal and Life Course Studies. An additional paper about how families in the two countries manage their lives and goals in diverse social policy contexts is under review.

Iversen is also working on a book manuscript, tentatively called The Meaning of Work on Main Street over Three Transformative Decades. The book, based on qualitative research she has conducted since the 1980s, examines the experiences of individuals and families with labor-market work in relation to changes in the labor market over the three decades.

In fall 2011, Iversen was invited to provide district-level TANF administrators with policy recommendations for TANF policy reauthorization (see PowerPoint below).

In 2014, she was named to the inaugural class of Fellows of the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR). Since 2013, she has served on the Executive Committee of the Mayor’s Shared Prosperity Philadelphia anti-poverty initiative. Since 2008, she has been Associate Editor for North America of the international journal, Child and Family Social Work.


Iversen, R.R. & Armstrong, A.L. (2006). Jobs Aren’t Enough: Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Jobs Aren’t Enough: Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families is available here.

Iversen, R.R. (2002). Moving Up is a Steep Climb. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

An ethnographic study by Dr. Roberta Rehner Iversen of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work follows the lives and fortunes of 10 families who participated in the Casey Foundation’s Jobs Initiative programs in Milwaukee and Seattle.

Moving Up is a Steep Climb is available here.