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Demystifying College Costs: How Nudges Can and Can’t Help

(2021)

Abstract: As US college costs continue to rise, governments and institutions have quadrupled financial aid. Yet, the administrative process of receiving financial aid remains complex, raising costs for families and deterring students from enrolling. In two large-scale field experiments (N= 265,570), we test the impact of nudging high-school seniors in California to register for State financial aid. We find that simplifying communication and affirming belonging each significantly increase registrations, by 9% and 11% respectively. Yet, these nudges do not impact the final step of the financial aid process -- college enrollment. In contrast, a simplified letter that affirms belonging while also making comparable cost calculations more salient significantly impacts college choice, increasing enrollment in the lowest-cost option by 10.4%. Our findings suggest that different nudges are likely to address different types of administrative burdens, and their combination may be the most effective way to shift educational outcomes.

This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grants MRP-19-600774 and M21PR3278.

The ‘Gig Economy’ and Independent Contracting: Evidence from California Tax Data

(2021)

Most labor market policy in the United States is designed for long-term employment relationships. Self-employed workers, including independent contractors and on-demand platform (“gig”) workers, are excluded from labor market protections such as wage and hour laws, occupational safety and health regulations, unemployment insurance, and employer-provided health insurance and retirement programs. They are also poorly covered by our tax collection system, which relies heavily on employer reporting of worker earnings for enforcement. Growth in independent contracting could undermine labor market arrangements, with implications for regulation, tax collection, and worker wellbeing.

This paper uses California tax data to provide an alternative lens on many of the outstanding empirical questions about independent contracting. We use de-identified, individual-level data from California personal income tax returns for tax years 2012 through 2017 to measure the prevalence and nature of self-employment and independent contracting. We estimate that 14.4% of California workers aged 18-64 in tax year 2016 had some independent contracting income. Over half of independent contractors also had traditional jobs generating W-2s, and most of these received the bulk of their earnings from their traditional jobs. Workers with low earnings are significantly more likely to earn independent contracting income and to rely primarily or exclusively on that income. We explore the characteristics of independent contractors and their distribution across family type, geography, and industry.

This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grants MRP-19-600774 and M21PR3278.

Understanding the 100 highest users of health and social services in San Francisco

(2021)

This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grants M21PR3278.

Assessment of a Hotel-Based COVID-19 Isolation and Quarantine Strategy for Persons Experiencing Homelessness

(2021)

Importance  Several jurisdictions in the United States have secured hotels to temporarily house people experiencing homelessness who require isolation or quarantine for confirmed or suspected coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). To our knowledge, little is known about how these programs serve this vulnerable population outside the hospital setting.

Objective  To assess the safety of a hotel-based isolation and quarantine (I/Q) care system and its association with inpatient hospital capacity.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This retrospective cohort study of a hotel-based I/Q care system for homeless and unstably housed individuals in San Francisco, California, was conducted from March 19 to May 31, 2020. Individuals unable to safely isolate or quarantine at home with mild to moderate COVID-19, persons under investigation, or close contacts were referred from hospitals, outpatient settings, and public health surveillance to 5 I/Q hotels. Of 1009 I/Q hotel guests, 346 were transferred from a large county public hospital serving patients experiencing homelessness.

Exposure  A physician-supervised team of nurses and health workers provided around-the-clock support, including symptom monitoring, wellness checks, meals, harm-reduction services, and medications for opioid use disorder.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Characteristics of I/Q hotel guests, program retention, county hospital readmissions, and mean length of stay.

Results  Overall, the 1009 I/Q hotel guests had a median age of 44 years (interquartile range, 33-55 years), 756 (75%) were men, 454 (45%) were Latinx, and 501 (50%) were persons experiencing sheltered (n = 295) or unsheltered (n = 206) homelessness. Overall, 463 (46%) received a diagnosis of COVID-19; 303 of 907 (33%) had comorbid medical disorders, 225 of 907 (25%) had comorbid mental health disorders, and 236 of 907 (26%) had comorbid substance use disorders. A total of 776 of 955 guests (81%) completed their I/Q hotel stay; factors most strongly associated with premature discontinuation were unsheltered homelessness (adjusted odds ratio, 4.5; 95% CI, 2.3-8.6; P < .001) and quarantine status (adjusted odds ratio, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.5-4.6; P = .001). In total, 346 of 549 patients (63%) were transferred from the county hospital; of 113 ineligible referrals, 48 patients (42%) had behavioral health needs exceeding I/Q hotel capabilities. Thirteen of the 346 patients transferred from the county hospital (4%) were readmitted for worsening COVID-19. Overall, direct transfers to I/Q hotels from emergency and outpatient departments were associated with averting many hospital admissions. There was a nonsignificant decrease in the mean hospital length of stay for inpatients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 from 5.5 to 2.7 days from March to May 2020 (P = .11).

Conclusions and Relevance  To support persons experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, San Francisco rapidly and safely scaled a hotel-based model of I/Q that was associated with reduced strain on inpatient capacity. Strategies to improve guest retention and address behavioral health needs not met in hotel settings are intervention priorities.

This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grants M21PR3278.

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

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

(2020)

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.

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

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

(2020)

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.

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

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

(2020)

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.

Cover page of A Leg Up on College The Scale and Distribution of Community College Participation Among California High School Students

A Leg Up on College The Scale and Distribution of Community College Participation Among California High School Students

(2020)

Research shows that dual enrollment—a practice in which high school students take college courses while they are still in high school—has multiple benefits for student success in both systems. To capitalize on those benefits, California and other states have moved in recent years to increase high school students’ access to college courses. 

In California, the historical lack of an integrated state data system that connects information from K-12 to higher education has hampered efforts to understand the extent of dual enrollment here. The prevailing narrative has been that California lags other states and the nation in dual enrollment, which is offered in 89% of U.S. high schools, with 11% of all high school students participating nationally.

This brief, released in partnership with Wheelhouse, the Center for Community College Leadership and Research, breaks new ground by matching high school and community college datasets to provide a clearer picture of college course-taking among California public high school students statewide. The analysis of course-taking for the population of students who were seniors in the 2016-17 school year—the most recent cohort for which data from both segments was available—shows that 12.6% of California high school students take college courses, a rate higher than the national average and well above what previous reports suggest for California.

A closer look at the matched dataset, however, reveals significant differences in college course-taking by race and socioeconomic status. Latinx and African American students were underrepresented in community college course-taking compared to their share of overall high school students. Socioeconomically disadvantaged (SED) students were also less likely to dual enroll than their non-SED peers.

The vast majority of California public high schools do not have a formal dual enrollment program, though many have at least one student enrolled in a community college course during high school. Access to an important onramp to the early college experience, and its many demonstrated benefits, is not currently available to all California high school students.

Note: On November 23, 2020, a revised version of this report was posted, and updated analysis was presented in December 2020; see here.

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

Cover page of Capacity and flexibility in community college CTE programs: program offerings and student success

Capacity and flexibility in community college CTE programs: program offerings and student success

(2020)

This article asks whether small changes to community college courses and programs can help improve student outcomes. We use administrative data from the California Community College system, including millions of student records and detailed course-level information for most career-technical education programs in the state. We construct a summary measure of each program’s flexibility, incorporating many components of the availability and scheduling of its courses. We show considerable variation in this flexibility measure across programs and over time. An increase in a program’s flexibility is associated with increases in enrollment and completions, but not with changes in its completion rate.

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