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California Policy Lab

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The California Policy Lab pairs trusted experts from UCLA and UC Berkeley with policymakers to solve our most urgent social problems, including homelessness, poverty, crime, and education inequality.

California Policy Lab

There are 30 publications in this collection, published between 2017 and 2021.
Academic and Working Papers (5)

Measuring the labor market at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis

We use traditional and non-traditional data to measure the collapse and partial recovery of the U.S. labor market from March to early July, contrast this downturn to previous recessions, and provide preliminary evidence on the effects of the policy response. For hourly workers at both small and large businesses, nearly all of the decline in employment occurred between March 14 and 28. It was driven by low-wage services, particularly the retail and leisure and hospitality sectors. A large share of the job losses in small businesses reflected firms that closed entirely, though many subsequently reopened. Firms that were already unhealthy were more likely to close and less likely to reopen, and disadvantaged workers were more likely to be laid off and less likely to return. Most laid off workers expected to be recalled, and this was predictive of rehiring. Shelter-in-place orders drove only a small share of job losses. Last, states that received more small business loans from the Paycheck Protection Program and states with more generous unemployment insurance benefits had milder declines and faster recoveries. We find no evidence that high UI replacement rates drove job losses or slowed rehiring.

This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grant MRP-19-600774.

A randomized trial of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless persons with high use of publicly funded services

We found that the Permanent Supportive Housing program intervention was able to house 86 percent of chronically homeless adults randomized to the treatment group based on their high use of multiple systems who were randomized to the treatment group. On average, it took 2.5 months for participants randomized to housing to become housed and 70 percent moved at least once, demonstrating that PSH can be successful with high‐risk participants but requires time and flexibility.

By using a randomized controlled trial design, we found that those randomized to housing (versus usual care) had lower use of psychiatric emergency departments and shelters, but did not have large reductions in service use described in previous uncontrolled studies.

This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grant MRP-19-600774.

Can Nudges Increase Take-up of the EITC?: Evidence from Multiple Field Experiments

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) distributes more than $60 billion to over 20 million low-income families annually. Nevertheless, an estimated one-fifth of eligible households do not claim it. We ran six pre-registered, large-scale field experiments to test whether “nudges” could increase EITC take-up (N=1million). Despite varying the content, design, messenger, and mode of our messages, we find no evidence that they affected households’ likelihood of filing a tax return or claiming the credit. We conclude that even the most behaviorally informed low-touch outreach efforts cannot overcome the barriers faced by low-income households who do not file returns.

This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grant MRP-19-600774.

2 more worksshow all
Policy Briefs (14)

The Effects of California’s Enhanced Drug and Contraband Interdiction Program. Policy Brief

In 2014, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation began a demonstration of theEnhanced Drug and Contraband Interdiction Program at 11 prisons in California. Using data provided bythe Department, this study finds that the intensive version of the program yielded a 23% decline in failurerates of random drug tests over the period studied, and a reduction in the number of cellphone violations,but that these same institutions experienced increased levels of drug-related rules violations. Themoderate program had no discernable impact on drug abuse in the prisons in which it was tested.

Evaluation of Los Angeles County Measure H-Funded Homelessness Prevention Strategies 

On any given night, nearly 60,000 people experience homelessness in Los Angeles County, and an estimated 141,000 are homeless in any given year. In response to this growing crisis, voters in Los Angeles County passed Measure H, agreeing to increase their taxes to add an estimated $355 million in homeless services each year. As reported in the 2018–19 Measure H 15-Month Report Card, tens of thousands of people were housed and/or linked to intensive services as a result. Yet, the homeless population continues to grow as inflow outpaces exits to permanent housing. In 2019, despite the fact that thousands of people were served by Measure H services, the homeless population in Los Angeles County (as measured by the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count) grew by 12%. To help reduce inflows and to reach people before they become homeless, the Board of Supervisors approved Measure H spending plans for Fiscal Years 2017–18 and 2018–19 that included $5.5 million and $17 million, respectively, for prevention strategies. These strategies included short-term financial assistance, case management, and legal services.

This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grant MRP-19-600774.

High Users of San Francisco’s Criminal Justice System

The top one percent of arrestees in San Francisco (“high users”) account for approximately seven percent of all arrests. Property crimes, both felony and misdemeanor, are the most frequent charge in both high user arrests and cases filed by the District Attorney. High users are predominantly male and fall between 30 and 50 years old. African Americans, though 6% of San Francisco’s population, constitute almost 50% of the high user cohort. San Francisco’s high user cohort also faces significant economic insecurity: more than half accessed safety-net benefits from the Human Services Agency during the study period.

11 more worksshow all
Research Reports (9)

 Increasing the Take up of Cal Grants

Over 150,000 low- and moderate-income California high school graduates each year are eligible for CalGrant entitlement awards, which can cover full tuition and most fees at any of the three public higher education segments in the state, or can make substantial contributions toward tuition at private colleges. Unfortunately, many eligible students don’t take up the awards. Many may not be aware of their eligibility, know how to navigate the system, or feel like these funds are truly meant for them. In 2017-8, the California Policy Lab worked with the California Student Aid Commission to design and test more effective notifications to eligible high school seniors. The redesigned letters were clearer, shorter, and encouraged students to think of themselves as college-bound. The results were promising. Students who received the redesigned letters were much more likely to take the first step toward claiming the award than a randomly selected comparison group. Future analyses will measure impacts on college enrollment, CalGrant payouts, and eventual college completion.

Letters of Recommendation at UC Berkeley

In the admissions cycle that began in November 2016, UC Berkeley carried out the second year of a pilot experiment with letters of recommendation. Unlike other highly selective universities, Berkeley has never previously asked applicants to submit letters from teachers and guidance counselors. This may limit the information available for use in holistic review, and some at Berkeley think that as the university gets more selective it is getting harder to make informed decisions with the evidence available. Others, however, are concerned that students from disadvantaged backgrounds may not have access to adults who can write strong letters, and that the use of letters will further disadvantage these students.

In the pilot experiment, a subset of applicants was invited to submit letters of recommendation if they wished. Any submitted letters were incorporated into the “second read” evaluations of their applications. I evaluate the impact of this on the outcomes of applicants from four groups underrepresented among successful applicants to Berkeley: students from families with low incomes, students whose parents did not attend college, students from low-scoring high schools, and students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. I use a variety of methods, including a within-subject design that compares application scores when readers had access to letters with scores from a parallel process that suppressed the letters and a regression discontinuity design that exploits sharp distinctions between otherwise similar students in the selection of students to be invited to submit letters.

High Utilizers of Multiple Systems in Sonoma County

Counties across California report that a large bulk of government programs and services are used by a relatively small group of familiar faces who cycle in and out of hospitals, homeless shelters, behavioral health programs, and jails. This report focuses on “high utilizers” in Sonoma County who use government programs and services provided in five domains: physical health, behavioral health, housing, human services, and criminal justice. While high utilizers in Sonoma County represent approximately 1% of the county population, they account for an average of 26% of jail time, 28% of annual costs for behavioral health services, and 52% of nights in housing or shelters provided to the homeless.

This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grant MRP-19-600774.

6 more worksshow all
Recent Work (30)

The Effects of California’s Enhanced Drug and Contraband Interdiction Program. Policy Brief

In 2014, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation began a demonstration of theEnhanced Drug and Contraband Interdiction Program at 11 prisons in California. Using data provided bythe Department, this study finds that the intensive version of the program yielded a 23% decline in failurerates of random drug tests over the period studied, and a reduction in the number of cellphone violations,but that these same institutions experienced increased levels of drug-related rules violations. Themoderate program had no discernable impact on drug abuse in the prisons in which it was tested.

Evaluation of Los Angeles County Measure H-Funded Homelessness Prevention Strategies 

On any given night, nearly 60,000 people experience homelessness in Los Angeles County, and an estimated 141,000 are homeless in any given year. In response to this growing crisis, voters in Los Angeles County passed Measure H, agreeing to increase their taxes to add an estimated $355 million in homeless services each year. As reported in the 2018–19 Measure H 15-Month Report Card, tens of thousands of people were housed and/or linked to intensive services as a result. Yet, the homeless population continues to grow as inflow outpaces exits to permanent housing. In 2019, despite the fact that thousands of people were served by Measure H services, the homeless population in Los Angeles County (as measured by the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count) grew by 12%. To help reduce inflows and to reach people before they become homeless, the Board of Supervisors approved Measure H spending plans for Fiscal Years 2017–18 and 2018–19 that included $5.5 million and $17 million, respectively, for prevention strategies. These strategies included short-term financial assistance, case management, and legal services.

This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grant MRP-19-600774.

High Users of San Francisco’s Criminal Justice System

The top one percent of arrestees in San Francisco (“high users”) account for approximately seven percent of all arrests. Property crimes, both felony and misdemeanor, are the most frequent charge in both high user arrests and cases filed by the District Attorney. High users are predominantly male and fall between 30 and 50 years old. African Americans, though 6% of San Francisco’s population, constitute almost 50% of the high user cohort. San Francisco’s high user cohort also faces significant economic insecurity: more than half accessed safety-net benefits from the Human Services Agency during the study period.

27 more worksshow all
White Papers (2)

A Roadmap for Linking Administrative Data in California

California needs a centralized authority for linking the state’s administrative data. Legislators are focusing on new datasets and data systems, which is a step in the right direction. But what the state truly needs is a new office with a clear mandate to link the state’s core data assets, a clear set of tools for doing so, and governance that ensures data are used to inform program improvement. Think of it as the state’s Census Bureau – or “Statistics  California.”

We propose here a roadmap toward that goal: (1) create a new, independent office with the mandate and expertise to link data across siloes, (2) sequence the linkage process by starting with education and expanding outward, and (3) establish streamlined governance that makes data available to improve state policies and programs.

This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grant MRP-19-600774.

Linking Administrative Data: Strategies and Methods

We review the linking of datasets that contain identifying information (e.g., names, birthdates) but not unique common identifiers for each individual. We discuss strategies for identifying matches in three families: rules-based matching, supervised machine learning, and unsupervised machine learning. These vary in the ways that they combine human knowledge with computing power. We define different measures of accuracy and explore the performance of common algorithms in test data.

Our goal is to de-mystify data linking for non-technical readers. We attempt to explain the criteria that should inform the choice of linking methods, and the decisions that need to be made to implement them.

Additional resources, including code and public data referenced on pp. 26-34 is available at: https://github.com/californiapolicylab/data-linking.