Robert L. Hawkins is the McSilver Associate Professor in Poverty Studies at the NYU Silver School of Social Work. He received his PhD in social policy with an emphasis on low-income families and children from the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University in 2002. Dr. Hawkins has expertise in poverty and welfare, social capital use and development, race and social policy, community participatory research with mixed methodologies, and social policy analysis. He also has extensive programming, research, and teaching expertise in race and racism, gender studies, diversity, oppression, and privilege. Dr. Hawkins has approached the study and understanding of poverty from many perspectives. He conducted research with low-income families in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, engaged in in-depth studies with single mother-led households, and led international work in poor communities in the Philippines. Dr. Hawkins' current research focuses on the idea of poverty as trauma, and addresses the link between social position, negative life events, and social capital usage among low-income people and families. He is particularly interested in the structural, sociological, and psychological barriers faced by low-income people trying to make a successful transition from poverty and welfare to positions of economic sustainability.
Dr. Hawkins came to NYU from the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development and Department of Urban and Environmental Policy at Tufts University. He also has consulted and served on the social work faculties of numerous colleges and universities, including Boston College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He has teaching and research experience at Brandeis University, Duke University, and the Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Hawkins has been an administrator and trainer in agencies addressing family needs for both children and older adults. He has worked with the Family & Children's Resource Center and the Center for Aging Research and Educational Services in North Carolina, the American Geriatrics Society in New York City, People for the American Way, and the University College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University. He served as an ethnographic researcher with Welfare, Children, and Families, a three-city longitudinal study lead by researchers from Harvard University, University of Texas-Austin, Penn State University, and Brandeis University. This study examined in detail the lives of low-income single mothers, their neighborhood and community networks, and how the women survive under welfare reform. In addition, Dr. Hawkins has served as an adviser and consultant for numerous other community, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations. He speaks, writes, and presents nationally and internationally on a range of related topics.
In addition to his doctorate, Dr. Hawkins holds a master's degree in social policy from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, a Master's in Public Administration from the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.
Dr. Hawkins's most recent research focuses on improving the lives of low-income families lead by single mothers. He is particularly interested in how low-income single mothers make successful transitions from welfare to positions of economic security. Further, Dr. Hawkins is interested in how these same families benefit from or are hurt by their personal social networks.
Statement of Research
In my research, I examine both the causes and consequences of poverty by attempting to look at the complexity of economic inequality through a multi-disciplinary lens that links policy issues with the lived experience of the individuals most impacted by those policies. Among the complex multifaceted issues low-income people face in their lives, my research has centered on social capital, which operates at the individual and community levels. Further, I draw on the concept of personal and family sustainability, which goes beyond the limited policy agenda of self-sufficiency to attain long-term positive social and economic well-being. The populations I study are historically marginalized, usually people of color, often individuals and families living in or near poverty.
Recently, I completed a three-year ethnographic study that included longitudinal interviews with 40 heads of households—mostly single, low-income African American mothers—who were residents of New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina. This research has led to a better understanding of the role of long-term negative life events among poor individuals and families. My latest work centers on understanding complex poverty, social capital, and resilience in families and youth. I have developed the Socioeconomic Empowerment Assessment (SEEA), and am using it in collaboration with four domestic violence shelters operated by the Jewish Board for Families Services in a project to foster permanent employment through an emphasis on employment skills, social management, and emotional regulation. My other research areas use theory and quantitative data analysis, including the National Longitudinal Survey of Health (AddHealth) to better understand the role of risk behaviors and life chances among low-income youth.