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Working Paper Series

  • Why SNAP Matters

    Hilary Hoynes

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (January 2016)

  • The Measurement of Student Ability in Modern Assessment Systems

    Jesse Rothstein, Brian Jacob

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (January 2016)

  • Risk, Race, & Recidivism: Predictive Bias and Disparate Impact

    Jennifer Skeem, Christopher T. Lowenkamp

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (November 2015)

    One way to unwind mass incarceration without compromising public safety is to use risk assessment instruments in sentencing and corrections. These instruments figure prominently in current reforms, but controversy has begun to swirl around their use. The principal concern is that benefits in crime control will be offset by costs in social justice — a disparate and adverse effect on racial minorities and the poor. Based on a sample of 34,794 federal offenders, we empirically examine the relationships among race (Black vs. White), actuarial risk assessment (the Post Conviction Risk Assessment [PCRA]), and re-arrest (for any/violent crime). First, application of well-established principles of psychological science revealed no real evidence of test bias for the PCRA — the instrument strongly predicts re-arrest for both Black and White offenders and a given score has essentially the same meaning — i.e., same probability of recidivism — across groups. Second, Black offenders obtain modestly higher average scores on the PCRA than White offenders (d = .43; appx. 27% non-overlap in groups’ scores). So some applications of the PCRA could create disparate impact — which is defined by moral rather than empirical criteria. Third, most (69%) of the racial difference in PCRA scores is attributable to criminal history — which strongly predicts recidivism for both groups and is embedded in sentencing guidelines. Finally, criminal history is not a proxy for race — instead, it fully mediates the otherwise weak relationship between race and re-arrest. Data may be more helpful than rhetoric, if the goal is to improve practice at this opportune moment in history.

  • Social Experiments in the Labor Market

    Jesse Rothstein, Till von Wachter

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (November 2015)

    Large-scale social experiments were pioneered in labor economics, and are the basis for much of what we know about topics ranging from the effect of job training to incentives for job search to labor supply responses to taxation. Yet, many important questions about these topics require going beyond random assignment. This applies to questions pertaining to both internal and external validity, and includes effects on endogenously observed outcomes, such as wages and hours; spillover effects; site effects; heterogeneity in treatment effects; multiple and hidden treatments; and the mechanisms producing treatment effects. In this Chapter, we review the value and limitations of randomized social experiments in the labor market, with an emphasis on these design issues and approaches to addressing them. These approaches expand the range of questions that can be answered using experiments by combining experimental variation with econometric or theoretical assumptions. We also discuss efforts to build the means of answering these types of questions into the ex ante design of experiments. Our discussion yields an overview of the expanding toolkit available to experimental researchers.

  • Revisiting the Impacts of Teachers

    Jesse Rothstein

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (October 2015)

    Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff (2014a and 2014b) study value-added (VA) measures of teacher effectiveness. Exploiting teacher switches as a sort of quasi-experiment, the first paper investigates potential bias from student sorting to teachers, and concludes that any such bias is negligible. The second paper finds that VA scores are useful proxies for teachers’ effects on students’ long-run outcomes. I successfully reproduce both sets of analyses and results in data from North Carolina. But I find that teacher switching is correlated with changes in student preparedness, leading quasi-experimental estimates to understate bias in VA scores. Estimates that adjust for this indicate moderate bias. The long-run effects results are sensitive to controls and cannot support strong conclusions.

  • Deaths in Custody in California: 2005 through 2014

    Steven Raphael, Justin McCrary

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper: GSPP (September 2015)

  • City Policies, City Interests:  An Alternative Theory of Interest Group Systems

    Sarah F. Anzia

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (August 2015)

    To understand the extent to which interest groups are active in politics—and which groups are active, under what conditions—I argue that we should start by focusing on the policies governments make.  I use such an approach, which Hacker and Pierson (2014) call a “policy-focused approach,” to develop hypotheses about how the amount of interest group involvement in city politics varies with city characteristics, as well as hypotheses about how the kinds of interest groups that are active depends on group- and city-level factors.  I test these hypotheses using data from a survey of elected officials in over 500 U.S. municipal governments, providing the first-ever bird’s-eye view of interest group activity in a diverse set of American cities.  My findings reveal that the size and composition of city interest group systems vary in ways consistent with my hypotheses, demonstrating the promise of this theoretical approach.   

  • The Great Recession and its Aftermath: What Role for Structural Changes?

    Jesse Rothstein

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (August 2015)

    The last eight years have been disastrous for many workers, and particularly so for those with low human capital or other forms of disadvantage. Although the Great Recession officially ended in 2009, the labor market has been very slow to recover. One explanation attributes the ongoing poor labor market outcomes of young and non-college workers to the combination of deficient aggregate labor demand and greater sensitivity of marginal workers to cyclical conditions. A second attributes the recent outcomes to structural changes in the labor market. These have importantly different policy implications: Cyclical explanations imply that the main challenge is to raise aggregate labor demand and that if this is done many of the patterns seen in the last several years will revert to their prior trends. Structural explanations, by contrast, suggest the recent experience is the “new normal,” absent policy responses to encourage more (or different) labor supply. This paper reviews recent data for evidence on the two explanations, focusing on wage trends as an indicator of the relative importance of labor supply and demand. I find little evidence of wage pressure in any quantitatively important labor markets before 2015. The most recent data is more mixed, but still suggests substantial ongoing slack.