IRP Discussion Paper Abstracts - 2012

Notes: Abstracts are plain text. Downloadable papers are in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format.
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Need-Based Financial Aid and College Persistence: Experimental Evidence from Wisconsin
Sara Goldrick-Rab, Douglas N. Harris, Robert Kelchen, and James Benson

Full Text: DP 1393-12 (Revised title and paper from July 2011 version)

We examine the impacts of a private need-based college financial aid program distributing grants at random among first-year Pell Grant recipients at thirteen public Wisconsin universities. The Wisconsin Scholars Grant of $3,500 per year required full-time attendance. Estimates based on four cohorts of students suggest that offering the grant increased completion of a full-time credit load and rates of re-enrollment for a second year of college. An increase of $1,000 in total financial aid received during a student's first year of college was associated with a 2.8 to 4.1 percentage point increase in rates of enrollment for the second year.

The Legacy of the War on Poverty's Health Programs for Non-Elderly Adults and Children
Barbara Wolfe

Full Text: DP 1403-12

Two of the major gaps between those living in poverty and those with higher incomes are gaps in access to health care and gaps in health. These disparities were considerably worse prior to the introduction of the Medicaid program, which was signed into law in 1965. In this paper I will review existing gaps in health care usage and, to the extent possible, document gaps in health, comparing those with incomes below the poverty line to those above it. The paper includes a systematic review of programs directed at helping those living in low-income families obtain health care from the demand and supply perspectives, beginning with the period just before the War on Poverty and at selected intervals after the initiation of the War on Poverty in January 1964. I will review Medicaid's history, including the number of persons who use the program, and discuss its strengths and weaknesses both historically and contemporaneously. I will explore major components of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which appear to be built upon the successful components of the Medicaid and Community Health Center programs of the War on Poverty.

Nutrition and Cognitive Achievement: An Evaluation of the School Breakfast Program
David E. Frisvold

Full Text: DP 1402-12

This paper investigates the impact of the School Breakfast Program (SBP) on cognitive achievement. The SBP is a federal entitlement program that offers breakfast to any student, including free breakfast for any low-income student, who attends a school that participates in the program. To increase the availability of the SBP, many states mandate that schools participate in the program if the percent of free or reduced-price eligible students in a school exceeds a specific threshold. Using the details of these mandates as a source of identifying variation, I find that the availability of the program increases student achievement.

Bridging the Gap: Do Farmers' Markets Help Alleviate Impacts of Food Deserts? Final Report
Vicki A. McCracken, Jeremy L. Sage, and Rayna A. Sage

Full Text: DP 1401-12

Pressures of the globalized food system have left communities and individuals in precarious situations in which nutritious and accessible food is not a given. Research has begun to suggest that relocalization efforts will not necessarily alleviate these trends without directed efforts to produce exchanges that enhance both food and farm security. Existing research in the area of food deserts and Community Food Security lacks significant empirical, spatially relevant support for developing a sound understanding of the variation in effectiveness of federal food assistance programs in relation to local food systems. This research begins to fill this void by first establishing the traditionally conceived food desert estimation for Washington State using grocery store location and census demographic data, followed by an expansion using farmers' markets. Findings suggest substantial variation in the amount of food benefits redeemed at each market based on whether the market is in an UA, UC, or a rural location. Markets in urbanized areas took in over $655,000 dollars combined in WIC FMNP vouchers, while UC markets took in roughly $124,000, and rural markets $9,000.

A Very Uneven Road: U.S. Labor Markets in the Past 30 Years
Harry J. Holzer and Marek Hlavac

Full Text: DP 1400-12

In this paper we use data from the Current Population Survey to summarize labor market trends in the U.S. over the past 30 years. First we focus on secular trends over the four years (and three cycles) that constitute labor market peaks during this period: 1979, 1989, 2000, and 2007. Then we consider peak-to-trough changes in employment outcomes for each of the four recessions that have occurred in this period, including the Great Recession. Overall we find great unevenness in labor market performance across cycles and across demographic groups. Inequality has widened dramatically and important structural changes have occurred.

Women and/or more-educated workers have gained substantially relative to men and/or the less-educated, while high earners within each group gained relative to others. The Great Recession has hurt all groups but especially young and less-educated men, whose outcomes had already deteriorated over time

Food Insecurity and Food Access
Alessandro Bonanno and Jing Li

Full Text: DP 1399-12

This paper measures the relationship between food access and households’ food adult insecurity using two years of Current Population Survey – Food Security Supplement data, matched with MSA-level data on different food outlets (small grocery stores and convenience stores, medium and large grocery stores, convenience stores associated with gas stations and Wal-Mart Supercenters). Endogeneity of food stores’ location is tested and accounted for to eliminate spurious correlation between household food insecurity status and food access. The results indicate that while medium-large grocery stores and small food stores have a mitigating effect on adult food insecurity, especially among low-income households and households with children, convenience stores attached to gas stations seem to contribute to higher food insecurity levels among low-income households. The presence of Wal-Mart Supercenters seems to have no overall impact on adult food insecurity. Some results point to the company having a modest direct adult food insecurity-easing effect, and a detrimental indirect effect (via a negative impact on the number of other food stores helping reduce food insecurity), suggesting a null net effect of Wal-Mart Supercenters on adult food insecurity.

Estimating the Impact of Food Stamps on the New York City Poverty Rate Using a National Academy of Sciences-Style Poverty Measure
Mark Levitan and Daniel Scheer

Full Text: DP 1398-12

The official poverty measure, which relies solely on pre-tax cash income, provides a limited view of the impact of government policy on the poverty rate. By taking taxation and in-kind benefits such as Food Stamps into account, poverty measures based on the National Academy of Science's recommendations are suited to capture the effect of a wider range of anti-poverty policies. Over the past several years, the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) has developed such a measure for New York City. This study utilizes CEO's approach to assess the impact of Food Stamps on the New York City poverty rate from 2007–2009. We find that the Food Stamp program plays an important role in anti-poverty policy for the City as a whole, as well as for specific sub-groups. Because benefits are not conditioned on employment, Food Stamps offset some of the income loss associated with the economic downturn. We also develop counterfactual scenarios in order to identify the role of efforts to expand the program's participation rate in 2008 and 2009, and the increase in benefit levels in 2009. We find that these additional efforts had relatively small and statistically insignificant effects on the City poverty rate. We conclude that policymakers should focus on maintaining the program's relative flexibility, bolstering its level of benefits and continuing work to increase the participation rate among eligible individuals.

The Dynamics of SNAP Participation and the Increase in SNAP Caseloads during the Recovery of 2003–2007
Janna Johnson

Full Text: DP 1397-12

The recent Great Recession has seen an increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation of over 30 percent. The period following the 2001 recession also saw an increase in SNAP participation, the first time in program history that participation rose during a period of economic recovery. This study seeks the reason for this unexpected increase by examining the dynamics of SNAP participation. Descriptive results using the Survey of Income and Program Participation show that a dramatic fall in the exit rate is the primary reason why SNAP caseloads increased during the recovery period. Results from hazard regressions are inconclusive as to whether or not SNAP policy changes that occurred during the period are responsible for the decrease in the SNAP exit rate.