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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 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 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 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 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.