Monday, August 16, 2010

Doing good can be hard work

Using geographic boundaries to aggregate information has always been caused problems. Economists have long noted that place-prosperity is a poor indicator of people-prosperity. Anti-poverty policies often target poor neighborhoods, but all neighborhoods are somewhat diverse and if and when a program actually elevates someone out of poverty, he or she is likely to leave the area. Geographic indicators will miss that success.

Insurance companies and banks usually get in trouble when they use "redlining" as a shortcut for identifying more vs less worthy applicants.

Today's LA Times includes this which illustrates the problem in another light. Here is the punch-line.
Some affluent areas qualify for tax breaks intended to benefit the poor ...
Businesses can save up to $37,400 for hiring in an economically disadvantaged area. But those areas are designated based on large census tracts that don't always reflect the intended demographic.

Among the advantages for those who live in multimillion dollar houses on the hillside in Los Feliz are celebrity neighbors, sweeping views of the downtown skyline, the Griffith Observatory in their backyard and designation by state tax authorities that they are economically disadvantaged.

That means tens of thousands of California businesses can claim tax breaks worth up to $37,400 each for hiring some of Los Feliz's rich residents, through a program that provides benefits to companies for hiring welfare recipients, ex-convicts, military veterans and the chronically unemployed.
This one makes the front pages because it is so bizarre. Who was it that said that missing and detailed local knowledge stymies even well-meaning political programs?