Spencer Cowan

Spencer lead Woodstock Institute’s applied research for economic security program for four and a half years. Spencer joined Woodstock Institute in December 2011 after serving as Senior Research Associate at the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of North Carolina. Spencer now consults with Woodstock in regards to the research agenda and developing research methodology.

Spencer received a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina, an M.A. in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Florida, a J.D. from Boston University School of Law and an A.B. in Political Science from Columbia University.

Recent posts by Spencer Cowan

This is an image of a boarded up home, with a sign that reads "No Copper".
Written by Spencer Cowan on April 1, 2016 - 11:04am

The City of Chicago requires the owners of vacant properties to register them with the city, and to secure and maintain them.  The city amended its vacant building registration ordinance in November 2011 to require mortgagees to register vacant properties in an effort to address the growing problems created by vacant buildings stuck in the lengthy foreclosure process.  

Morgage picture
Written by Spencer Cowan on February 24, 2016 - 12:07pm
The recent announcement of a new Bank of America lending product seemingly meets a number of issues currently plaguing the mortgage market. Further, this product looks to be able to extend mortgages to creditworthy low-income borrowers.
Written by Spencer Cowan on February 18, 2016 - 10:54am
In this blog post, Woodstock Senior Vice President of Research Spencer Cowan discusses the role that his data has played in the creation of retirement savings legislation. It serves as a testament to the value of data analysis in the policy-making process.
Spencer Cowan Staff image
Written by Spencer Cowan on February 12, 2016 - 1:43pm

In a letter to the editor published by The Chicago Tribune, I respond to Steve Chapman’s February 10 article on Bernie Sanders and Wall Street finance. Chapman writes about the trust he has in the financial firm handling his 401(k) and that he has “to the best of [his] knowledge” never been defrauded. Chapman proceeds to invoke his broader trust in Wall Street actors, attempting to delegitimize and downplay the Sanders campaign’s criticism of the financial sector.


The pay-walled tribune article can be found here, and my letter is reproduced below.

Written by Spencer Cowan on January 14, 2016 - 11:38am

Millions of low-wage workers and small business employees in the United States are approaching retirement with inadequate savings to supplement Social Security benefits that will replace less than half of their pre-retirement income.  Those workers face a bleak financial future in which their standard of living will be much lower than what they now enjoy as they try to subsist on near poverty-level incomes.

Written by Spencer Cowan on December 9, 2015 - 5:07pm

Over the past year, Woodstock has expanded the work it has done to promote greater access to safe and affordable credit for small businesses, building on our 2014 report, Discredited: Disparate Access to Credit for Businesses in the Chicago Six County Region.  That report examined lending by large banks to businesses in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color, specifically small loans that are most likely to go to locally-owned, neighborhood businesses that provide jobs to local residents.  The analysis of lending patterns showed that businesses in those neighborhoods were much less likely to have received loans from large banks than businesses in more affluent, predominantly white neighborhoods.

Written by Spencer Cowan on October 10, 2012 - 6:39pm

Ensuring that retirees can sustain themselves financially is important not only to those individuals, but to the communities they live in as well. Without sufficient economic security, retirees may not have enough money to pay for housing, buy medications, or travel to visit loved ones. That translates into a slower economy and larger demands on the social safety net. Unfortunately, the financial prospects for those planning on retirement are being threatened on all sides—but we can take steps to help people prepare for a more stable future.

Written by Spencer Cowan on July 30, 2012 - 7:41pm

Woodstock Institute, in collaboration with six other organizations, recently released a report showing that African American and Latino/a borrowers were about twice as likely to receive government-backed loans (GBL), either FHA or VA, as were white borrowers. Borrowers in communities of color, those that are 80 percent or more non-white, are more than twice as likely to receive GBLs than borrowers in communities that are less than 10 percent non-white. Those findings are troubling for three reasons.

Written by Spencer Cowan on May 29, 2012 - 8:45pm

Research Corner is a regular column from Woodstock Institute's vice president of applied research Spencer Cowan investigating data trends, posing new questions, and discussing how data inform public policy.
Information is the most important single ingredient for sound decision-making – more specifically, accurate, reliable, relevant, and timely information.  This holds true whether the decision is being made in the private or public sector.  Retailers need data about the surrounding communities that will provide the customer base when choosing new locations for their stores.  Manufacturers need data about the availability of skilled workers, tax rates, and infrastructure when siting new plants.  School boards choosing sites for new schools need data about where students live.  Data enable the decision-makers to make better decisions—and the House of Representatives is trying to eliminate funding for one of the most important data sources in the country.