Tag Archives: public policy

The Impact of Pollution Exposure on Educational Outcomes and Inequality

Upcoming Journal of Human Resources article uncovers the hidden effects of pollutants on cognitive development and academic performance in adolescents

Journal of Human Resources Fall 2019 current issue cover

Increasing environmental consciousness means that more people are reaching for metal straws, but we may not be aware of a much larger issue: the hidden toxins in the air. New research set to appear in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Human Resources suggests that pollutants from local Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) sites may impact the productivity and educational development of students in nearby schools.

Over the past four years, Claudia Persico, an assistant professor at American University, evaluated over one million elementary, middle, and high school students in Florida using their Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores, their level of academic success, and general wellness. With over 30% of schools in Florida existing within one mile of a TRI site, exposure to air pollution was found to be associated with lower test scores and a greater chance that students will be suspended from school, have greater numbers of absences from school and perform lower on their FCAT exams. Persico expanded on these results to determine if different proximities to TRI sites affected grade repetition, behavior, and health over time. When students’ records were examined, it was revealed that those who had been exposed to the pollution for a greater cumulative time had lower attendance records and more health concerns.

Persico joined us to discuss the genesis of her interest in this topic and the larger implications of the study. To learn more, read the full Journal of Human Resources preprint article, “The Effects of Local Industrial Pollution on Students and Schools.”


1. How did you decide to pursue this topic? What spurred this study?

I used to study the neurobiology of autism at the Boston University School of Medicine, but I became interested in why low-income children perform so much worse in school and are more likely to have disabilities. Because the developing brain is so vulnerable to the environment, this got me interested in studying pollution.

It turns out that in 2014 alone, Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) sites in America (which represent only one type of industrial plant) released 3.95 billion pounds of (untreated) toxic chemicals into the air, land, and water, out of 25.45 billion total pounds of toxic chemicals created in production-related wastes. Although we do not currently have comprehensive evidence on which pollutants are most harmful, the evidence we do have is worrisome and suggests a source of inequality that has not yet been explored in depth. Namely, since African American, Hispanic, and low-income families are more likely to live and attend school in close proximity to sources of pollution like toxic waste and TRI sites, where housing is less expensive, it is possible that exposure to pollution—which more affluent families can avoid because they can afford more costly housing—is one mechanism through which poverty produces negative cognitive and health outcomes over time.

2. You note that about 30 percent of children in Florida live within one mile of a TRI site. Is Florida an extreme case? How are the effects of pollutants on cognitive development applicable to other areas of the United States and the world?

There are currently about 21,800 TRI sites operating across the United States and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 59 million people (about 19 percent of the population) live within one mile of a TRI site (EPA 2014). We find that nearly 22 percent of all public schools were within one mile of a TRI facility in 2016 serving more than 11 million public school students.

While other countries don’t call their factories TRI sites, it is likely that my findings could generalize to power plants, pharmaceutical industry, chemical, metal, and concrete manufacturers, as well as other factories that produce pollution containing carcinogens or known developmental toxicants worldwide. It is difficult to know how many people this would affect given that there isn’t a central database for international pollution, but my guess is that many people are affected. 

3. What is one takeaway from your article that you’d like to communicate to non-scholars (or policymakers)?

These findings have strong implications for where we locate schools, playgrounds, public housing and places children or pregnant women congregate. For a long time, we have known that neighborhoods matter to children’s long-term outcomes. We are starting to realize that pollution is one major reason why this is the case, that pollution might drive more inequality than we are comfortable with, and that the true costs of pollution are only beginning to be understood.

4. To what extent do you feel that your research could inspire change in policy?

I think policymakers are starting to be interested in these findings, and I am optimistic about the future. While the land near TRI sites is cheaper to build a school on in the short run, the truth is that these sites might jeopardize the very mission of the schools located there. This also says nothing of the long-run costs on the children exposed to this type of pollution. In the back of the envelope calculation, we find that being exposed to TRI pollution in school leads to a US$4,361 decrease in lifetime income per person (in present value terms). With 436,088 children in Florida ever attending school within one mile of an operating TRI site during this sample period, this result implies US$1,875,178,400 in lost lifetime earnings.

5. Will you continue to pursue similar questions or will you take your research in another direction?

Yes, I am pursuing several new projects about the true costs of pollution. For example, I have another new working paper (along with David Simon and Jenni Heissel) in which we compare students who have to switch from elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school as they progress through the school system. We compare children who switch from a school that is upwind from a highway to a school that is downwind of a highway, and again find that highway pollution affects students’ test scores, behavior, and absences. Children who attend school near a major highway are again more likely to be low income or minority than children attending school elsewhere.

Figure 1. Locations of Toxic Release Inventory and Superfund sites in the United States in 2015.

Note: Toxic Release Inventory facilities are shown in blue and sites on the Superfund National Priorities List are shown in red.

Source: National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services. https://toxmap.nlm.nih.gov/toxmap


Claudia Persico is an applied policy scholar whose research focuses on environmental policy, inequality, health and education policy using causal inference methods. Persico is also an IZA Research Affiliate, and a Research Affiliate with the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. Her research has recently been featured in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Journal of Labor Economics, and the Journal of Human Resources. Her current work examines the social and biological mechanisms underlying the relationships between poverty, the environment, and children’s cognitive development and health. In particular, much of her current research focuses on how early exposure to environmental pollution can cause inequality by affecting child health, development, behavior, and academic achievement. She has also studied how school funding affects long term outcomes, how school segregation impacts racial disproportionalities in special education, and how childhood exposure to pollution affects academic outcomes. Her research has been covered by the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, the Atlantic, and many other major media outlets. She was formerly an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Which Renewable Energy Source Is Best for Citizens’ Well-Being?

For a long time, economists lacked an objective way to measure complicated outcomes like well-being, so this aspect of human life didn’t receive much attention in the economic literature. Heinz Welsch is part of a growing movement in research to use subjective data, such as survey responses, to understand human impacts. In a video for Latest Thinking, Welsch describes his study examining the relationship between type of energy source and citizen well-being, the results of which were published in Land Economics journal.

Heinz Welsch on Electricity Supply and Citizen Well-Being | Latest Thinking

Source: Heinz Welsch on Electricity Supply and Citizen Well-Being | Latest Thinking

The study looked at German citizens’ proximity to solar, wind, and biomass plants. The authors relied on survey responses to find correlations between well-being and the presence of a particular type of power facility in the local area. Welsch and his coauthor Charlotte von Möllendorff found that while the positive financial and moral aspects of solar energy balanced out the negative, “eyesore” qualities of solar installations, resulting in no net impact for citizens, those living near biomass facilities experienced significant decrease in well-being due to the strong odors emitted by the plants. Interestingly, people who had to deal with wind turbines going up in their neighborhoods experienced negative well-being for a certain period following installation, but this changed over time into an overall positive effect.

In the Latest Thinking video, Welsch expresses the hope that his research will aid the many countries that are currently in the process of restructuring their energy supplies in response to climate change. With evidence that certain forms of renewable energy make better neighbors, governments would do well to consider citizen well-being when deciding how to power their futures.

To learn more, read the full article, “Measuring Renewable Energy Externalities: Evidence from Subjective Well-being Data,” in Land Economics.

 

Finalist, National Book Awards! (Philippines)

The National Book Development Council of the Philippines and the Manila Critics Circle have just announced finalists for the National Book Awards of the Philippines.

Among the finalists in the History category is Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850–1945 by Daniel F. Doeppers, emeritus professor of Geography and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Daniel Doeppers

The University of Wisconsin Press published the book in 2016 in the series New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies, which UWP publishes in collaboration with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at UW-Madison. The book focuses on how Manila has historically dealt with the formidable challenge of getting food, water, and services to millions of residents, a problem that is increasingly pressing for policy makers, agencies, and businesses who manage food, water, and services for the world’s megacities.

Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet of the Australian National University has called Doepper’s work “outstanding, wide-ranging scholarship that shines in every chapter. He crafts a thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis of provisioning Manila and comparable cities. This is a sterling example of how to investigate and analyze such questions, not only for other parts of the Philippines but elsewhere in Southeast Asia and beyond.”

UWP licensed a Philippine edition for the book to Ateneo de Manila University Press, which submitted Doepper’s book for the award competition. Winners will be announced in the coming months.

New books and new paperbacks, July 2017

We’re pleased to announce these new books, and titles new in paperback, debuting this month.

July 18, 2017
WISCONSIN AND THE SHAPING OF AMERICAN LAW
Joseph A. Ranney

“Not simply about Wisconsin’s legal history, for Ranney covers the sweep of state laws in American history from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 to recent legal questions of the twenty-first century. Impressively researched and invitingly written, this is a unique introduction to our states as laboratories of democracy.”—Lloyd C. Gardner,Rutgers University

State laws affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives—our safety, personal relationships, and business dealings—but receive less scholarly attention than federal laws and courts. Joseph A. Ranney looks at how state laws have evolved and shaped American history, through the lens of the historically influential state of Wisconsin.

 

July 18, 2017  NEW IN PAPERBACK
AMENDING THE PAST
Europe’s Holocaust Commissions and the Right to History
Alexander Karn

“Historical commissions, Karn argues, have brought expert historical practice to bear on complex questions, adding new meaning to facts that have either been debated or glossed over. These commissions matter because they serve to amend history in cases in which social memory has impeded understanding of historical injustices and begin the amelioration of past human rights violations.”Choice

“A very important contribution to the interdisciplinary scholarship on the broad theme of reckoning with histories of atrocity.”—Bronwyn Leebaw, University of California, Riverside

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

 

July 18, 2017 NEW IN PAPERBACK
SHAPING THE NEW MAN

Youth Training Regimes in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany
Alessio Ponzio

“Ponzio tells a nuanced story of the delicate and volatile relationship between interwar Europe’s two fascist regimes. . . . He highlights power struggles between leaders, curricula designed not to educate youth but to transform them into ideal representatives of their regimes, and strict gender policing within each of the organizations. Recommended.”Choice

“Ponzio provides, above all, valuable new perspectives on the tremendous influence of Italian Fascism on fledgling Nazi youth organizations, and the cooperative and reciprocal relationships that flourished between the two regimes.”—Michael Ebner, author of Ordinary Violence in Mussolini’s Italy

George L. Mosse Series in Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History
Steven E. Aschheim, Stanley G. Payne, Mary Louise Roberts, and David J. Sorkin, Series Editors

 

July 27, 2017
BEYOND THE MONASTERY WALLS

The Ascetic Revolution in Russian Orthodox Thought, 1814–1914
Patrick Lally Michelson

“Impressive in its analytical breadth and astute in its interpretive depth, this is an engaging, lucid, and original contribution to the history of modern Russian thought and modern Orthodoxy.”—Vera Shevzov, Smith College

“Reading this extraordinary book is like having missing pieces of a puzzle click together at last. Actors normally examined separately—radical socialists, theological academies, hermits, great writers, bureaucrats, lay intellectuals—emerge as part of the same religious culture that placed asceticism at the center of discourse and practice in imperial Russia’s defining century.” —Nadieszda Kizenko, University at Albany, SUNY

 

July 27, 2017
IF YOU DON’T LAUGH YOU’LL CRY 
The Occupational Humor of White Wisconsin Prison Workers
Claire Schmidt

“A lucid, compelling study of some very funny, compassionate corrections officers. Their intelligence and comic delight shine through on every page.”—Jackie McGrath, College of DuPage

America is fascinated by prisons and prison culture, but few Americans understand what it is like to work in corrections. Claire Schmidt, whose extended family includes three generations of Wisconsin prison workers, introduces readers to penitentiary officers and staff as they share stories, debate the role of corrections in American racial politics and social justice, and talk about the important function of humor in their jobs.

Folklore Studies in a Multicultural World

 

 

DEAD MEN (& WOMEN) DO TELL TALES: BRINGING WISCONSIN LEGAL HISTORY TO LIFE

In July, University of Wisconsin Press will release WISCONSIN AND THE SHAPING OF AMERICAN LAW. Author Joseph A. Ranney takes a unique look at legal history through several key individuals who worked to better Wisconsin, especially with regard to equal rights.

When I sat down to write Wisconsin and the Shaping of American Law, I faced an ambitious challenge: describe one state’s law as it evolved over more than 200 years and how it became part of the larger fabric of American history. But, a bigger challenge soon emerged. Many general readers view legal matters as intimidating, boring, or both—how to engage them?

Here enters the power of storytelling. Many of the book’s chapters begin with portraits of people whose lives and views collided in ways that changed the direction of Wisconsin and American law. As the book progressed, other diverse characters appeared on the legal stage who astonished and humbled me. Here are a few of my favorites.

James Doty

Some history buffs know James Doty as an early Wisconsin pioneer and politician, but few are aware that he was one of the nation’s great territorial judges who built the first system of courts and law in the wilderness west of Lake Michigan. Doty was also an early advocate of Native American rights, a stance that eventually cost him his judgeship. Edward Ryan’s life unfolded like a Greek drama. He rose and fell as an apostle of the Jacksonian legal vision in the 1840s, fought judicial corruption and state-rights sentiment in the 1850s, and then descended into obscurity, bitterness and old age until, in the 1870s, he was picked to be Wisconsin’s chief justice and spent the last years of his life forging a new law for the age of industry. Ryan changed American law in tandem with other great judges including Michigan’s Thomas Cooley, Illinois’ Sidney Breese, Iowa’s John Dillon, and Ryan’s Wisconsin colleague and sometime rival Luther Dixon.

John Winslow

John Winslow, Wisconsin’s chief justice during the Progressive era, is my particular favorite, and I hope the book will help him gain the recognition he deserves. “Fighting Bob” La Follette was the leading face of Wisconsin progressivism, but a good case can be made that Winslow was the individual most responsible for the movement’s long-term success. Temperamentally conservative but sensitive to underdogs, Winslow undertook a national campaign to explain Progressives and conservatives to each other. In the process, he won both sides’ respect and turned the judicial tide in Wisconsin in favor of reform.
'Fighting Bob' La Follette was the face of Wisconsin progressivism, but a new book contends that John Winslow was most responsible for the movement’s long-term success. Click To Tweet
Even those lacking a legal voice fought to shape Wisconsin law. The book profiles several Wisconsin heroines of women’s rights: Lavinia Goodell, who overcame Ryan’s opposition to become Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer; suffragist Mabel Raef Putnam and author Zona Gale, who together induced the legislature to enact a pioneering women’s rights law in 1921; and their spiritual successor Mary Lou Munts, a state legislator who was the principal architect of Wisconsin’s modern divorce law (1977) and a pioneering marital property law (1986). Lavinia Goodell overcame Chief Justice Edward Ryan’s opposition to become Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer. Click To Tweet The book also discusses African-American lawyers who led Wisconsin’s civil rights

Lloyd Barbee

movement: William Green persuaded the legislature to enact Wisconsin’s first anti-segregation law (1895), and Lloyd Barbee won a long legal battle to end school segregation in Milwaukee eighty years later.

I am grateful to these legal actors for helping me from beyond the grave. They drive home the oft-forgotten truth that although law is based on reason it is also shaped by our collective hopes, fears, and the courage of those who stand by their beliefs. I hope that readers of the book will enjoy the actors’ stories and will absorb the lessons they teach us about legal history.

 

 

 

Joseph A. Ranney is the Adrian P. Schoone Fellow in Wisconsin Law and Legal Institutions at Marquette University Law School and a partner with the firm DeWitt Ross & Stevens in Madison, Wisconsin. He is the author of several books, including Trusting Nothing to Providence: A History of Wisconsin’s Legal System, honored by the American Library Association as a notable book on state and local government.

Journal of Human Resources contributes to public policy debates

With this post, we launch an occasional series highlighting the University of Wisconsin Press journals program. UWP began publishing journals in the 1960s.

The Journal of Human Resourcescover_jhr is among the most important journals in the field of microeconomics, with research relevant not only to scholars but to current debates in public policy. Findings and analysis published in JHR are often covered by major news organizations, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC’s Today Show, CNBC, and National Public Radio. The journal’s scope includes the economics of labor, development, health, education, discrimination, and retirement.

Founded in 1965 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, JHR continues to be housed within the Institute for Research on Poverty. JHR has had many accomplished editors over the years, including Sandra Black, who was appointed to President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors in July 2015. The current editor, David Figlio, is the director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

A past JHR contributor of particular interest to the University of Wisconsin–Madison is the current UW Chancellor, Rebecca Blank. Her work on poverty and public assistance programs appeared in four articles in JHR before she became Deputy and Acting Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration.

Intriguing examples of research presented in JHR can be seen in two upcoming articles. The first, “It’s Just a Game: The Super Bowl and Low Birth Weight” by Duncan, Mansour, and Rees, interprets data from 1969 to 2004 for mothers whose home team played in the Super Bowl. Read the Washington Post’s coverage here. “The 9/11 Dust Cloud and Pregnancy Outcomes” by Currie and Schwandt also examines birth outcomes, in this case in relation to the events of 9/11. Their findings were recently cited by National Geographic.

Other topics recently covered in JHR included the effect of birth order on the development of a child, the unintended consequences of China’s One-Child policy, the influence of school nutrition programs on childhood obesity, the effects of age on hiring practices, and the effect of the minimum wage on employment practices.

Learn more about The Journal of Human Resources.

View a free online sample issue.