Kevin T. Leicht

Professor and Head of Department of Sociology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Chapter Member: Chicagoland SSN
Areas of Expertise:

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About Kevin

Leicht’s expertise lies in economic development, globalization, and the American middle class. He speaks extensively to civic groups and public forums addressing community decline, recessions, and economic restructuring including the Kiwanis, Optimists, Americorps, and others. He was recently named co-investigator for the Committee on Institutional Cooperation’s Center for the Study of International Competitiveness, a think tank conducting research on the economic future of the upper Midwest. His work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Spencer Foundation, and the Ford Foundation.

In the News

"Is America Having the Wrong Conversation about Income Inequality?," Kevin T. Leicht, Interview with Gillian B. White, The Atlantic, April 6, 2016.
"Cutting Class? New Book Examines the Economic Health of Today’s Middle Class," Kevin T. Leicht, Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 1, 2007.
"Debt-Laden Middle Class Works Harder, Slips Further," Kevin T. Leicht, Des Moines Register, May 12, 2007.


"Getting Serious about Inequality" The Sociological Quarterly 57, no. 2 (2016): 211-231.

Redirects current popular conversations about combating inequality away  from a focus on factors such as race and gender and toward the gap between the poor and the wealthy, proposing that improving access to the mechanisms through which most people gain access to economic goods, services, and social respect - jobs and money - are the keys to achieving better parity.

"Borrowing on the Brink: Consumer Debt in America" in Broke: How Consumer Debt is Undermining the Middle Class, edited by Katherine Porter and Elizabeth Warren (Stanford University Press, 2012), 195-217.
Simulates how much consumer debt held by those filing for bankruptcy would disappear in a regulated credit environment similar to that of the late 1970s. Simple credit re-regulation and a return to fiduciary responsibility on the part of creditors would substantially reduce the amount of financial distress among contemporary families.
"Political Environments and Labour Market Opportunities as Contributors to Housing Indebtedness: A U.S. State-Level Analysis" Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 5 (2012): 61-75.
Looks at how foreclosures and “underwater” mortgages are not uniformly distributed across the United States, and shows that places where residents have few community ties, few good job opportunities, and a concentrated, finance-driven business culture have the biggest housing problems.
"Nickels and Dimes Won’t Fix This: The Future of Work and Pay in America" Work and Occupations 37 (2010): 225-233.
Presents the long-term implications of a world where financial rewards accrue in almost every way except earnings from a job – and those implications are not pretty. Ties between consumption and earnings are severed. Social distress increases, and political and social civility declines.
"Minority College Aspiration, Expectations, and Applications under the Texas Top 10% Law" (with Kim Lloyd and Teresa Sullivan). Social Forces 86 (2008): 1105-1137.
Utilizes data from the Texas 10 Percent Research Project at Princeton to suggest that knowledge of the 1996 Texas 10 percent law among high school students increases the educational aspirations of minority students.
Postindustrial Peasants: The Illusion of Middle Class Prosperity (with Scott Fitzgerald) (Worth Publishers, 2007).
Describes in detail how borrowing has replaced earning as the engine driving the U.S. consumer economy, and the implications this switch has for inequality and community well-being. We suggest that the easy availability of consumer credit has masked big declines in the real purchasing power of the American middle class, producing an indebted “post-industrial peasant” who only possesses the superficial trappings of real prosperity. 2009 winner of the Best Book Award, Midwest Sociological Society and selected as the campus-wide book of the year, Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin, 2011.
"Do High Technology Policies Work? An Analysis of High Technology Employment Growth in U.S. Metropolitan Areas, 1988-1998" (with J. Craig Jenkins and Arthur Jaynes). Social Forces 85 (2006): 283-314.
Shows that long-term commitments to high-technology growth programs by U.S. states increases high-technology employment over a ten-year period (1988-1998), but that many of these programs simply magnify pre-existing location advantages.