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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.

Cover page of Letters of Recommendation at UC Berkeley

Letters of Recommendation at UC Berkeley

(2021)

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.

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

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

(2020)

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.

Cover page of High Utilizers of Multiple Systems in Sonoma County

High Utilizers of Multiple Systems in Sonoma County

(2020)

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.

Cover page of Increasing Take-Up of the Earned Income Tax Credit

Increasing Take-Up of the Earned Income Tax Credit

(2020)

The federal and state Earned Income Tax Credits can provide a significant financial boost to low-income Californians. However, there is concern that some eligible Californians are missing out on these credits, and this report summarizes a two-year effort to increase the number of eligible Californians who claim the federal and state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs), which can provide a significant financial boost to low-income families.

In a series of randomized trials, more than one million Californians received text messages and letters designed to inform them about the credits. Although some people engaged with online resources about the EITC shared in the texts and letters, these efforts had no effect on increasing the number of people who filed a tax return or claimed the EITCs, indicating that these additional, targeted outreach strategies were not enough to increase take-up of the EITCs amongst low-income households.

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

Cover page of Proposition 25’s Predicted Impact in San Francisco and Sonoma Counties

Proposition 25’s Predicted Impact in San Francisco and Sonoma Counties

(2020)

In 2018, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 10 (SB 10) to end the practice of cash bail throughout the state. The law enacted other pretrial reforms, including requiring that counties use a validated risk assessment to inform pretrial release decisions, develop pretrial supervision programs, and release defendants unless detention is necessary for public safety or to guarantee appearance at trial. Implementation of the law has been stalled pending Proposition 25, a referendum on the ballot in November 2020. If the referendum passes and SB 10 is implemented, the law will significantly change pretrial practice throughout the state. However, there is little empirical evidence about how these changes to the pretrial system might affect release rates and jail populations. In this brief, we use detailed data from two counties with different histories of pretrial reform — San Francisco and Sonoma — to estimate the potential effect of the law on release and detention prior to arraignment. To predict the possible effect of SB 10, we posit the following question: If SB 10 had been in effect in 2017 and 2018, how would releases prior to arraignment have changed?

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

Cover page of Racial and Identity Profiling act (RIPA) in the Los Angeles Police Department

Racial and Identity Profiling act (RIPA) in the Los Angeles Police Department

(2020)

The Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) of 2015 was enacted in order to better identify and mitigate race-based and identity-based bias in policing. The law requires California police departments to record data on stops made by police officers, including fields such as perceived identity and demographics, reasoning for stops and searches, and the outcome of each encounter. RIPA does not explicitly distinguish between vehicle or pedestrian stops.

In December of 2019, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) RIPA Board (the Board) requested that Dr. Emily Owens of the California Policy Lab (CPL) conduct an analysis of the RIPA data and provide a report to the Board, in order to better understand any patterns that the data revealed. This report provides a place-based analysis of all stops made by the LAPD from July 2018 – October 2019.

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

Cover page of 2018 Tax Filing Season Honesty and Accuracy Nudge

2018 Tax Filing Season Honesty and Accuracy Nudge

(2020)

A sizable tax gap (taxes owed to California, but not reported) exists in California partly because some taxpayers may misrepresent self-reported elements on their return, such as their income and deductions to reduce their tax liability. Building off of previous research on honesty “nudges,” the California Policy Lab and California Franchise Tax Board, in partnership with a tax preparation software provider, conducted a randomized control trial to test the impact on tax filer behavior of presenting an honesty and accuracy nudge at the beginning of the tax preparation process. The nudge reminded taxpayers of their responsibility to complete the return accurately and honestly, and was intended to keep this responsibility in the forefront of their minds while completing returns. The nudge did not produce detectible changes in income reporting or taxes paid.

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