Less fortunate

Kevin Lewis

November 23, 2017

The impact of childhood neighborhood disadvantage on adult joblessness and income
Steven Elias Alvarado
Social Science Research, forthcoming

Research on residential inequality focuses heavily on adult economic outcomes as crucial components of the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Yet, empirical evidence on whether youth neighborhoods have a lasting impact on adult economic outcomes at the national level is scarce. Further, we know little about how youth neighborhood effects on adult economic outcomes manifest. This study uses 26 years (14 waves) of restricted panel data from the NLSY, Children and Young Adults cohort – data that have never been used to analyze long-term neighborhood effects – to examine whether youth neighborhood disadvantage impacts adult economic outcomes through sensitive years in childhood, teen socialization, duration effects, or cumulative effects. Sibling fixed effects models that net out unobserved effects of shared family characteristics suggest that youth neighborhood disadvantage increases joblessness and reduces income in adulthood. However, the timing of exposure across developmental stages of youth does not appear to act as a significant moderator while sustained exposure yields pernicious effects on adult economic outcomes. Moreover, these results are robust to alternative variable specifications and cousin fixed effects that net out potentially unobserved confounders, such as the inheritance of neighborhood disadvantage across three generations.

The Effect of Socioeconomic Status on Delinquency Across Urban and Rural Contexts: Using a Genetically Informed Design to Identify Environmental Risk
Eric Connolly, Richard Lewis & Danielle Boisvert
Criminal Justice Review, September 2017, Pages 237-253

An extensive line of research has demonstrated that low socioeconomic status (SES) is a risk factor for adolescent delinquent behavior. The possibility that low SES affects adolescent’s risk for engaging in delinquent behavior has garnered a significant amount of empirical and public attention, given its implications for delinquency prevention. However, few studies have examined the association between low SES and delinquent behavior across urban and rural contexts in the United States. Moreover, much is unknown about the strength of the association between low SES and delinquency across urban and rural context after controlling for common genetic liabilities that often cluster within different levels of SES. The present study aimed to address these existing gaps in the literature by conducting a genetically informed analysis of sibling pairs from a nationally representative sample of U.S. youth. The results revealed that shared environmental factors accounted for 17% of the population variation in adolescent delinquent behavior among adolescents growing up in urban contexts, and 3% of this family-wide environmental effect was accounted for by SES. No evidence of a family-wide environmental effect on population variation in delinquent behavior was found among adolescents from rural contexts. Findings from the present study suggest that the association between low SES and delinquency in urban contexts in the United States may be a true environmental effect and highlight the utility of using genetically informed research designs to better understand the extent to which social contexts influence adolescent delinquent behavior.

The Economics of Scale-Up
Jonathan Davis et al.
NBER Working Paper, October 2017

Most randomized controlled trials (RCT) of social programs test interventions at modest scale. While the hope is that promising programs will be scaled up, we have few successful examples of this scale-up process in practice. Ideally we would like to know which programs will work at large scale before we invest the resources to take them to scale. But it would seem that the only way to tell whether a program works at scale is to test it at scale. Our goal in this paper is to propose a way out of this Catch-22. We first develop a simple model that helps clarify the type of scale-up challenge for which our method is most relevant. Most social programs rely on labor as a key input (teachers, nurses, social workers, etc.). We know people vary greatly in their skill at these jobs. So social programs, like firms, confront a search problem in the labor market that can lead to inelastically-supplied human capital. The result is that as programs scale, either average costs must increase if program quality is to be held constant, or else program quality will decline if average costs are held fixed. Our proposed method for reducing the costs of estimating program impacts at large scale combines the fact that hiring inherently involves ranking inputs with the most powerful element of the social science toolkit: randomization. We show that it is possible to operate a program at modest scale n but learn about the input supply curves facing the firm at much larger scale (S × n) by randomly sampling the inputs the provider would have hired if they operated at scale (S × n). We build a simple two-period model of social-program decision making and use a model of Bayesian learning to develop heuristics for when scale-up experiments of the sort we propose are likely to be particularly valuable. We also present a series of results to illustrate the method, including one application to a real-world tutoring program that highlights an interesting observation: The noisier the program provider’s prediction of input quality, the less pronounced is the scale-up problem.

The Effect of Recipient Contribution Requirements on Support for Social Programs
Sally Sadoff & Anya Samek
University of Southern California Working Paper, September 2017

Whether aid programs should require recipients to contribute their own resources to receive benefits is widely debated, but little is known about public support for these requirements. Using randomized experiments, we find an inverted u-shape response to monetary contribution requirements for a food aid program: support increases when recipients make small monetary contributions and returns to baseline under large contribution requirements. Recipient time contribution requirements also increase program support. Analysis of mechanisms suggests that individuals screen recipients to target those who need and value the aid. We find suggestive evidence of stronger responses to monetary contributions among conservatives versus liberals.

Effects of the 2013 SNAP Benefit Cut on Food Security
Bhagyashree Katare & Jiyoon (June) Kim
Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, December 2017, Pages 662–681

Effects of the 2013 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit cut on food security is examined by employing the annual Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement 2012–2014. Food security measured in December 2014 is compared with the corresponding statistics for December 2012 using difference-in-differences methods. Results confirm that reduced SNAP benefits significantly threatened the food security of SNAP households.

New Social Program Participation During the Great Recession: The Case of SNAP
Lloyd Grieger
Social Science Quarterly, forthcoming

Methods: I examine the complete adult SNAP participation histories for a nationally representative cross-section of 7,680 individuals at the end of the Great Recession. Data are from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics with observations spanning the period 1968–2010.

Results: A large number of adult SNAP participants used the program for the first time during the Great Recession. New participants were not solely young adults and often originated from groups not typically associated with social program participation, such as: whites, suburbanites, and the highly educated. Repeat participants had varying program histories prior to the recession. Some spent a substantial portion of adulthood receiving program benefits while most others were only sporadic participants.

SNAP Benefits and Crime: Evidence from Changing Disbursement Schedules
Jillian Carr & Analisa Packham
Miami University Working Paper, March 2017

Government transfer programs infuse a substantial amount of resources into the budgets of millions of low-income families each month. Under some states' aid disbursement schemes, there are extended periods of time within each month in which no recipients receive transfers, generally limiting the amount of resources in communities. In this paper, we study the effects of nutritional aid disbursement on crime, utilizing two main sources of variation: (i) a policy change in Illinois which substantially increased the number of SNAP distribution days, and (ii) an existing Indiana policy that issues SNAP benefits by last name. We find that staggering SNAP benefits throughout the month leads to a 32 percent decrease in grocery store theft and reduces monthly cyclicity in grocery store crimes. Moreover, we find that the relationship between time since SNAP issuance and crime is nonlinear. Findings show that criminal behavior decreases in the second and third weeks following receipt, but increases in the last week of the benefit cycle, potentially due to resource constraints.

Health-Related Strains and Subsequent Delinquency and Marijuana Use
Lisa Kort-Butler
Youth & Society, November 2017, Pages 1077-1103

General strain theory provides one framework for explaining the relationship between physical health and delinquency, pointing to mechanisms such as negative emotions, social bonds, and stress proliferation. Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health were used to examine these hypothetical mediators. Controlling for demographic factors, prior illicit behavior, and other strains, results from a series of regressions indicated that health-related strain (HRS) was positively associated with subsequent delinquency and marijuana use. Stressors at school were the primary mediators of these effects. Absences from school and social life due to health problems exerted an independent effect. The results lend support to the idea that experiencing HRS contributes to the proliferation of stress in other life domains, increasing the likelihood of delinquency and marijuana use.

New Careers for the Poor: Human Services and the Post-Industrial City
Claire Dunning
Journal of Urban History, forthcoming

In the 1960s, a new and popular theory of “new careers” proposed to address urban poverty and deindustrialization by growing the human services sector and hiring so-called nonprofessional workers to aid the delivery of those services. This strategy gained traction in social scientific, philanthropic, and bureaucratic circles and shaped Great Society legislation, which allocated federal grants to create entry-level jobs and professionalizing career ladders in the fields of health, education, and welfare. The implementation of this strategy had consequences for the human service organizations that received federal funds, as well as for the people hired into the new positions. Instead of building ladders to professional employment, efforts produced dead-end positions that left the predominantly African American women hired as aides in poverty. Even as the new careers experiment helped usher in a post-industrial economy, it reinforced the stratification of the labor market along lines of race, gender, and credentials.


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