Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hyper-active labor market policy

A labor market scheme for immigrants goes off the rails in Sweden.

Hat tip (on the article and the title): Charlie Brown

Monday, February 23, 2015

Frontiers of urban planning

Conor Freidersdorf at the Atlantic on the scourge of Little Free Libraries and the terrible sociopaths who run them.

So far the ones in Ann Arbor are, to my knowledge, operating entirely without the benefit of regulation! How can that even be possible in this day and age?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The 70s were an odd time indeed

One of my girlfriends in high school was into KISS. I tried my best to empathize but never really understood.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Active labor market program flavor of the month

The Atlantic, who should really know better, profiles a program called Platform to Employment. The subtitle of the article says that it is "successful" but in fact the article does not even attempt to provide plausible evidence of causal effects on labor market outcomes, presumably because there is no such evidence, even though some states are now providing the program at, in Connecticut, about $7,000 per participant.

What the article does provide is the information that there is an 80 percent placement rate. That sounds good, especially if you miss the one mention of the fact that the program serves "a selected group" of the long-term unemployed. Presumably, they are selected for employer appeal, which makes the placement rate even more meaningless as a measure of program success than it otherwise would be.

In addition to the lack of any causal evidence on the program's effectiveness, the Atlantic writer also seems woefully ignorant of the policy environment in which the program operates. The services provided by the program are not that different from what the Workforce Investment Act (WIA, soon to have the exciting new acronym WIOA) provides to someone who receives "intensive" job search assistance followed by subsidized on-the-job training. (OJT). WIA's caseworkers perform the same sort of selection when recommending clients to employers for subsidized OJT as PtE's caseworkers do. More broadly, the community college system offers vocational training for free (yes, already, someone please tell our beloved leader) via Pell Grants and/or WIA to those with low incomes and at a highly subsidized price to those without low incomes.

Some of these difficulties appear to arise because the author relies solely on the program itself, program participants, and advocacy organizations as sources. The Atlantic can, and should, do better.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book: On the Run by Alice Goffman

Goffman, Alice. 2014. On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

This may be the best ethnography I have ever read, and I have read a bunch of them starting when I was in college. It studies the home front of mass incarceration via the lives of young men in a poor African-American neighborhood in Philadelphia.

Why do I like it so much? First, it is brutally honest. There is no sugar coating here and no romanticizing of the poor or of the police or of social workers or of academics. Second, there are no overt politics (not even the heretofore seemingly obligatory bad policy chapter at the end). There are lots of clear policy messages in the book, but they are all implicit in the descriptions of institutions and events. Third, the material does not require obtuse theoretical structures for its value. Goffman recognizes that and just lets the agents and events speak. As a result, she avoids the situation in some ethnographies, such as Drylongso by John Langston Gwaltny, where the observed seemed to be saying one thing and the observer quite another. Fourth, the author really seems to just want to understand how the individuals she studies see themselves and their actions. That, to me, is both what good history and good ethnography should do: allow you to see how other people see themselves and make sense of their world. Fifth, and finally, the book also functions as a sort of academic coming of age story of the author, one that I found quite moving and memorable. Oh, and be sure to read the methodological note at the end. It contains some of the best material in the book.

Highly recommended.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Assorted links

1. Yummy art deco cinemas in California.

2. But I thought it was duct tape, not duck tape. Still, pretty cool.

3. The lost art of minding your own business.

4. Apostrophe Protection Society.

5. Government is just another name for the things we do together: paperwork edition.

Addendum: I am informed by Charlie Brown that "duct tape" is a product category and "Duck tape" is a brand within that category. Good to know.