Working Paper Series

  • The Real Value of SNAP Benefits and Health Outcomes

    Hilary Hoynes, Garret Christensen, Erin Bronchetti

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (September 2017)

    The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) is one of the most important elements of the social safety net. Unlike most other safety net programs, SNAP varies little across states and over time, which creates challenges for quasi-experimental evaluation. Notably, SNAP benefits are fixed across 48 states; but local food prices vary, leading to geographic variation in the real value of SNAP benefits. In this study, we provide the first estimates that leverage variation in the real value of SNAP benefits across markets to examine effects of SNAP on child health. We link panel data on regional food prices to National Health Interview Survey data and use a fixed effects framework to estimate the relationship between local purchasing power of SNAP and children’s health and health care utilization. We find that children in market regions with lower SNAP purchasing power utilize less preventive health care. Lower real SNAP benefits also lead to an increase in school absences. We find no effect on reported health status.

  • Pensions in the Trenches: Are Rising City Pension Costs Crowding Out Public Services?

    Sarah F. Anzia

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (August 2017)

    Some experts claim that state and local governments have seen dramatic increases in their public pension costs and that pension spending is crowding out local public services.  Others maintain that serious pension problems are limited to a small number of governments that have been especially irresponsible.  However, no existing studies—nor the datasets they rely on—allow us to evaluate the extent to which local pension costs are actually rising, or whether pensions are crowding out services.  In this paper, I analyze a new dataset of the annual pension expenditures of 219 municipal governments across the U.S. from 2005 to 2014.  I find that 85% of the cities saw increases in their pension expenditures over this ten-year period.  In the median city, inflation-adjusted pension expenditures increased by 45% in ten years, and the average increase was 69%.  There is also considerable cross-city variation in the amount cities spend on pensions per employee, with typical cities spending about $7,000 per employee per year but some spending as little as $2,500 and others spending more than $20,000.  And when I examine variation within cities over time, I estimate that a 10% increase in per-employee pension expenditures is associated with a 0.73% average drop in city employment the following year.  These pension-induced employment reductions are most pronounced for non-public safety employees and for cities in states with collective bargaining laws.  In addition, many cities are seeing cuts in areas other than employment:  rising pension costs are also associated with reduced spending on construction and equipment. 

  • Does Gender Stereotyping Affect Women at the Ballot Box? Evidence from Local Elections in California, 1995-2013

    Sarah F. Anzia, Rachel Bernhard

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (August 2017)

    Research demonstrates that many voters use gender stereotypes to evaluate candidates, but does that stereotyping affect women’s electoral success? In this paper, we try to make headway in answering that question by combining a novel empirical strategy with local election data from California. Our empirical strategy relies on two key findings from the existing literature: first, that individuals are more likely to rely on stereotypes when they have less information about the candidates, and second, that the average voter in elections held concurrently with national elections has less information about local candidates than the average voter in off-cycle elections. We propose that we can therefore estimate the electoral effect of increased gender stereotyping by examining the difference in women’s win rates in higher-information (off-cycle) and lower-information (on-cycle) elections—and how that difference varies by constituency and the office sought. Our preliminary results show that the effect of increased stereotyping is more negative for female candidates in mayoral races than in city council races, and also that the effect of greater stereotyping is more negative for women running in conservative cities than in more liberal cities. Thus, we conclude that there probably isn’t a single, one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how gender stereotyping affects female candidates, but rather that the direction and magnitude of the effect varies across contexts.

  • Racial Disparities in ther Asquisition of Juvenile Arrest Records

    Steven Raphael, Sandra Rozo

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (August 2017)

  • The Effect of Mandatory Minimum Punishments on the Efficiency of Criminal Justice Resource Allocation

    Steven Raphael, Sarah Tahamont

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (August 2017)

  • Estimating Earnings Adjustment Frictions: Method&Evidence from the Earnings Test (R&R, AEJ: Applied)

    Alexander Gelber, Damon Jones, Daniel W. Sacks

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (May 2017)

  • Exuberance and Municipal Bankruptcy: A Case Study of San Bernardino, Stockton and Vallejo, CA

    Larry A. Rosenthal, Tracy Gordon, Michael Lens, Paavo Monkkonen

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (May 2017)

    A series of municipal bankruptcies across the United States during and after the financial crisis of 2007-2008 revealed the need for a better understanding of the many factors that shape cities’ fiscal operating environments and solvency conditions. The larger project this study is part of focuses on the role of real estate price changes in the spending and revenues of local governments, examining specifically the issue of irrational exuberance at city hall. We know that property value changes can influence revenue expectations, and ask whether perceptions about future growth conditions may increase propensity to commit to spending revenue that might not materialize. One understudied aspect of this hypothesis is the way in which local governments of various structures process information about local real estate market conditions and revenue expectations. In work completed recently, we analyzed how city councils and fiscal managers learn about real estate market conditions. We found that cities see themselves as budgeting conservatively, and that the housing boom and bust was secondary to declines in sales tax and other revenues during the recession. In this paper, we extend the inquiry to cover the bankruptcies of San Bernardino, Vallejo, and Stockton, CA. We explore these cases relying upon contemporaneous news reports and commentaries, as well as background sources providing municipal history. While exuberance may set the stage for the very extreme policy choice to seek Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, we find that the perceptions of local administrators and lawmakers relative to economic growth and revenue expectations alone were likely not sufficient to predict, or explain, these cases. Instead, a number of political, budgetary, and financial factors must coincide in order to place leaders and managers into the kind of predicaments which place bankruptcy on the table as a rational, if unappetizing, option. 

  • How do the U.S and Canadian social safety nets compare for women and children?

    Hilary Hoynes, Mark Stabile

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (May 2017)