People

Headshot of Dr. Roberta Iversen

Roberta Rehner Iversen, PhD, MSS

  • Associate Professor

  • Faculty Associate, Penn Institute for Urban Research

  • Affiliated Faculty, Alice Paul Center for Research on Gender, Sexuality and Women

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

Research Interests

Work and families – especially low-earning families, stratification, and opportunity

Poverty, welfare, and workforce development policies and programs

Economic sociology theory

Roberta (Bobbie) Iversen, PhD, MSS, associate professor in SP2, uses ethnographic and related forms of qualitative research to extend knowledge about economic mobility, particularly among families who are working but still poor. Her ethnographic accounts illuminate what low-income working parents need from secondary and post-secondary schools, job training organizations, employers, their children’s public schools, and public policy in order to earn enough to support their families through work. Housing policy in Milwaukee and workforce development programs and policy in New Orleans, Seattle, St. Louis, and Philadelphia were improved by findings presented in Iversen’s 2006 book, Jobs Aren’t Enough: Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families, co-author A.L. Armstrong. The ethnographic research was made possible by multiple independent grants from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Because the labor market has changed dramatically over the past 30+ years and there are not enough well-paying jobs in the U.S., Dr. Iversen’s second book, What Workers Say: Decades of Struggle and How to Make Real Opportunity Now, illustrates those changes through voices of workers in many different occupations. What Workers Say is currently in production at Temple University Press and is expected to be published early in 2022. This book draws upon Iversen’s interview-based research through welfare reform (1990s), the tight labor market in the late 1990s, and the two recessions  in the 2000s and their anemic recoveries that persist and are compounded now by the economic downturn during the coronavirus pandemic. What Workers Say expands ideas about what is considered and compensated as “work” and provides new ways that expanded work in the form of compensated “civil labor” can foster people’s capabilities and result in increased personal, family, and community flourishing.

Iversen’s research provides master’s and doctoral students with real-life examples that extend their understanding of poverty, welfare, work, stratification, social policy, social programs, and mobility. In 2019, Dr. Iversen received the Excellence in Teaching Award in SP2 for the Standing Faculty. In 2014, Dr. Iversen was named to the inaugural class of Fellows of the Society for Social Work and Research. From 2013-2018 she served on the Executive Committee of the Mayor’s Shared Prosperity Philadelphia anti-poverty initiative. At SP2, Iversen served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs (2000-2005) and Faculty Director of the Master of Science in Social Policy (MSSP) program (2009-2016).

Selected Publications

Iversen, R.R. (2019, March). Transforming “work”: From capability approaches to Ulrich Beck’s civil labor. Social Work & Society: International Online Journal, 16(2), Special Issue on “Ambivalences of the Rising Welfare Service State”

Iversen, R.R. (2019, October). Poverty, unemployment, and work:  The unsafe ‘Safety Net,’ inadequate wages, and possible policy solutions. In M.E. Reisch (ed), Social Policy and Social Justice: Meeting the Challenges of a Diverse Society, 3rd Edn, Ch. 12, pp. 353-382. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Iversen, R.R. (2017). Hurricane Katrina’s families and children: Before, during, and after the deluge. Review Essay. Journal of American Studies, 52(1), 1-5.

Parsons Leigh, J., Gauthier, A., Iversen, R.R., Luhr, S., & Napolitano, L. (2018). Caught in between: Neoliberal rhetoric and middle-income families in Canada and the United States. Journal of Family Studies, 24(2), 170-186.

Iversen, R.R. (2009). ‘Getting out’ in ethnography: A seldom-told story. Qualitative Social Work, 8(1), 9-26 (lead article).

Iversen, R.R. (2009). Are we subjugating the “user” of social work research to save the profession? In Hans-Uwe Otto, Holger Ziegler, & Andreas Polutta (eds), Evidence-based Practice: Modernizing the Knowledge Base of Social Work,” pp. 47-59. Leverkusen Opladen, Germany & Farmington Hills, MI: Barbara Budrich Publishers.

Iversen, R.R. & Armstrong, A.L. (2008). Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans: What might an embeddedness perspective offer disaster research and planning? Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 8(1), 183-209.

Iversen, R.R. & Armstrong, A.L. (2007) Parents’ work, depressive symptoms, children, and family economic mobility: What can ethnography tell us?” Families in Society (Special issue on the Working Poor), 88(3), 339-350.

Iversen, R. R., Gergen, K.J. & Fairbanks, R.P.II. (2005) Assessment and social construction: Conflict or co-creation? British Journal of Social Work, 35, 689-708.

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

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

SP2 News

U.S./Mexico border with wall in foreground and mountains behind

Faculty & Research

The state of U.S. immigration

Immigration is once again front and center in the national debate. Approximately 65,000 Afghans have been evacuated to the United States after...

Dennis Culhane stands in front of a class of students. All are wearing face masks.

Faculty & Research

‘The passionate pursuit of social justice’

The School of Social Policy & Practice addresses social inequities through research. After majoring in psychology, John Gyourko spent 10 years exploring...

School of Social Policy & Practice sign on the Caster Building seen with pink azaleas.

Student Life, Alumni Stories

SP2 Mentor Collective Connects Students with Supportive Alums

Navigating the student experience at a rigorous Ivy League institution like Penn – and planning for what comes next—comes with...

Jennifer Prah

Faculty & Research

New Director of the Ortner Center

Dean Sara S. Bachman is delighted to announce the appointment of Jennifer J. Prah, Amartya Sen Professor of Health Equity,...

Discover More