Shah Publishes Research on Improving Sanitation Practices

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah’s research on improving sanitation practices in Indonesia has been published in the Journal of Development Economics. Shah and two co-authors measured the effects of scaling up both the construction of toilets and the education of communities about the negative health consequences of open defecation. Poor sanitation habits can have dire consequences: Worldwide, an estimated 1.7 million people die each year because of unsafe water, hygiene and sanitation practices, according to the World Bank. The researchers studied Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), a program active in 60 countries, to determine its effectiveness when scaled up over large sections of rural Indonesia. Among their findings:

  • CLTS led to modest increases in toilet construction and decreased community tolerance of open defecation.
  • Roundworm infestations in children declined, but there was no impact on anemia, height or weight.
  • When the program was implemented by local governments instead of agency teams, its effectiveness declined.
  • The poorest households chose not to build toilets, highlighting the potential advantages of offering financing or subsidies through the program.

As Shah’s research illustrates, interventions that work on a small scale face challenges when implemented on a large scale. “Currently, there are very few studies that explicitly examine the scale-up process through the lens of a rigorous quantitative evaluation,” wrote Shah and co-authors Lisa Cameron and Susan Olivia. Their findings are designed to increase the chances of success of these programs by reducing dependence on trial and error.


 

Immersed in the Real World The yearlong Applied Policy Project puts MPP candidates on the front lines to grapple with issues close to home and far afield

By Mary Braswell

It’s a year’s worth of exacting work, whittled down to a 20-minute talk.

And for some, it’s over in a flash.

“We were all talking about it afterward. ‘That was 20 minutes? It felt like five minutes!’ ” Ramandeep Kaur said of her team’s Applied Policy Project presentation, a rite of passage for all Luskin School MPP candidates.

Kaur’s team was one of 13 to stand before a packed lecture hall over three evenings in May. Each succinctly presented a policy issue, reviewed their research, made a case for the wisest course of action — then fielded a barrage of questions from their peers and professors. They also produced polished reports laying out their findings in detail.

In short, they were using skills each will need as they leave UCLA Luskin and put their master’s degrees to work.

“These Applied Policy Projects are extremely beneficial to our MPP students as they are an opportunity to put all of their policy analysis skills to work in a real-world setting,” Public Policy Vice Chair Manisha Shah said.

“In their first year, students learn so many of the tools necessary to do policy analysis, and then in their second year, they get to implement these tools in the APP,” Shah said. “The final product is an important piece of policy analysis on topics ranging from health to housing to the environment to social justice issues … and the list goes on.”

This year’s APP teams conducted rigorous research on issues near and far — from the drinkability of Los Angeles tap water to human rights abuses in Europe.

Some of the teams formed a year in advance, as students with similar interests and complementary skill sets banded together. Knowing they would work on the APP during their entire second year, they chose topics close to their hearts.

“I knew I wanted to do a project I was passionate about, a project that had an advocacy lens on it,” Kaur said.

Teammate Annia Yoshizumi had worked with the UCLA Luskin-based Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) and suggested pursuing a project on housing. Allan Nguyen and Xiaoyue Zheng brought strong data analysis skills to the team, Kaur said.

Their research on the impact of drastic rent increases in unincorporated L.A. County benefited two clients, CNK and the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action.

“For me personally, I did grow up in L.A., and my parents did live in a rent-controlled apartment, and they were able to then save a lot of money and purchase a house,” Kaur said. “But that’s not an opportunity that many people have. So how do you tell that story so that people understand?”

Another team focused on preserving undocumented patients’ access to healthcare in a time of anti-immigrant rhetoric. Two of the team’s members are earning concurrent MPP and M.D. degrees through UCLA’s Prime Program, including Joe Torres, who was undocumented himself until he became a U.S. citizen in 2016.

Working with Venice Family Clinic, which has provided medical care to vulnerable populations in West Los Angeles for nearly 50 years, the team paired data analysis with extensive surveys in English and Spanish. Among the findings: In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, 64 percent reported more fear or anxiety about ICE raids specifically at clinics, and 39 percent felt less safe taking their U.S. citizen children to the doctor.

To maintain the trust of its patients, Venice Family Clinic should step up the security of its patient records and forge partnerships with legal advocates in the community, the team recommended.

This year’s APP clients were a diverse lot, including the Partnership for L.A. Schools, the Clean Power Alliance, the European Implementation Network, an administrative judge for the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission and several local government entities.

One team that shared an interest in international development took on the World Bank as a client. Their focus was assessing financial incentives for hospitals in the Kyrgyz Republic to improve infant and maternal mortality rates.

Key to the project were interviews conducted with agencies on the ground, team member Tanya Honey said.

“That’s the thing I love to do — I love doing outreach,” said Honey, who spent hours on international calls with the World Health Organization, United Nations and USAID. She credits faculty advisor Wes Yin with pushing the team to use these conversations with experts to provide context to their data.

“I think that was extremely valuable to our project,” Honey said, adding, “I’ve never heard so many Russian accents!” With a bachelor’s degree in linguistics, Honey speaks Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, Hindu and English, but “not Russian — yet.”

To prepare for their APP presentation, Honey’s team recruited students from the Luskin School’s third-floor Commons to serve as a mock audience.

“We were definitely a little bit nervous,” she said, but fortunately her team had substantial experience in public speaking. Teammate Parshan Khosravi is an officer and advocate with the Graduate Students Association, and others have taught classes as teacher’s aides or presented papers at symposiums.

Another APP tradition also helped calm nerves: dressing like you mean business. “I actually feel more confident when I dress up,” Honey said.

Following each APP presentation is a question and answer period that can be daunting. While everyone in the audience is supportive of the presenters, many are also experts in their fields and can readily spot holes in data, assumptions and methodology.

Kaur’s team knew that its main policy recommendation — a rent stabilization ordinance — was controversial.

“A lot of economists do not like RSOs, so we knew we were going to be hit with a lot of questions about that,” she said.

But her team was confident in their analysis and ready for any challenge they might face.

“We did a mock presentation in front of both of our clients, and had them ask us really hard questions that they get in the field when they talk about any sort of tenant protection policy,” she said. “So that really prepped us.”

Also important to Kaur’s team was putting a human face on their policy analysis. They included tenants’ voices because “we really wanted to frame it in a way that people understood who this policy was going to impact.”

Faculty advisors for this year’s APP teams were Shah, Yin, Meredith Phillips and John Villasenor. “What’s great about the experience is that, while it is a real-world experience, it is also a guided experience in that each group is assigned to a Public Policy professor who advises them through the entire process,” Shah said.

This year, three APP projects were singled out for special recognition:

  • Highest honors: Reducing Delay to Promote Civil Rights: How Administrative Judges at the EEOC Can Resolve Employment Discrimination Complaints in a Fair Yet Efficient Manner (Delvin Turner, Elizabeth Joun, David Lyons)
  • Honors: Social Determinants of Health Literacy: Optimizing Public Health Outreach and Education Strategies in Long Beach, California (Stephanie Berger, Marisa Conner, Alexander Fung, Taylor Wyatt)
  • Honors: LA TAP (Tap Water Action Plan): Evaluating the Customer Experience of Tap Water in Los Angeles (Virdiana Auger-Velez, Rachel Lacoe, Caleb Rabinowitz, Bei Zhao)

Find more photos from the 2018 Applied Policy Project presentations on Flickr

Applied Policy Project presentations 2018

The Goal: Making Diversity Redundant UCLA Luskin alumni, faculty, students and staff gather for a daylong diversity recruitment fair showcasing programs and commitment to social justice

“You need diversity because it is excellence and its absence is a sign of intellectual weakness and organizational incapacity. So what we do here today and what we do at Luskin makes the country, Los Angeles and the world a better place.”

— UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura

By Stan Paul

Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, was happy to host the second all-school diversity recruitment fair at UCLA. But, in truth, he would like to see it become redundant.

“I am hoping and believing that we are getting very close to the verge of making it redundant in what Luskin does,” said Segura, who has devoted his academic life to studying issues related to the issues highlighted by the fair.

“By your arrival next fall, Luskin will indisputably be the most diverse school of public affairs in the United States,” Segura said to an audience of students who have applied, or are thinking of applying, to one or more of the School’s three professional graduate programs in public policy, social welfare and urban planning.

In addition to UCLA Luskin’s outstanding faculty, Segura cited the School’s wide array of groups, caucuses and organizations — including the D3 Initiative (Diversity, Disparities and Difference) — and new programs, new hires and ongoing searches for new faculty focused on racial inequality, multicultural planning and immigration policy, among other areas of expertise.

The many UCLA Luskin student groups, along with their classmates, alumni, faculty and staff, came together again this year to organize the Dec. 2, 2017, event.

“At some point, the study of class and racial and sexuality differences as an understanding of public policy, social well-being and urban issues is not a niche, it is the discipline,” Segura said. “It’s 70 percent of the population.”

Joining the dean in welcoming fair attendees were faculty leaders in Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, along with a panel of Luskin alumni representing all three graduate programs.

Making her pitch to candidates for the Master of Social Welfare professor and department chair Laura Abrams focused on recent tax legislation passed by the U.S. Senate.

“What does the tax bill have to do with social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs?” she asked. “Everything,” came a soft voice rising from the audience, stealing a bit of Abrams’ thunder.

“That was on my notes,” quipped Abrams, who explained that the bill would directly attack Social Security, Medicare and “all the public benefits that are the foundation of our social welfare system.”

She then asked who would deal with the costs of economic hardships on the front lines.

“Social workers!” she answered emphatically, adding, “We are going to have to be the ones who pick up the pieces of those who are displaced, who are homeless, who are pushed into the criminal justice system, who don’t have enough to eat and who don’t have housing.

“So,” Abrams added, “we need all of you, not just those entering social welfare, but the planners and the policy makers because you are the future that is going to have to fix what is happening today.”

Manisha Shah, associate professor and vice chair of Public Policy, highlighted the expertise of Luskin faculty in areas such as health policy, education, immigration, inequality, science and technology.

“We have a lot of flexibility in the department based on what your interests are and what you want to do, what type of policy arena you want to work in,” said Shah, who cited the department’s mixture of qualitative and quantitative approaches to evidence-based policymaking and analysis.

Vinit Mukhija, professor chair of Urban Planning, said that diversity and excellence are not trade-offs in outlining the holistic approach his department — which will soon celebrate 50 years at UCLA — takes in making admissions decisions. Urban Planning emphasizes not only grades but also a student’s personal statement, recommendations and the importance of relevant work experience.

Mukhija, who studies informal housing and slums in the global north and south, explained his own interest as a planner in finding ways to improve living conditions in slums, and his goal to “learn about them to change our ideas about cities and about our design ideas, our rules and to have more just cities.”

Also providing information and encouragement were recent graduates of the Luskin School’s programs who participated in a series of discussions with aspiring students.

Panelists were asked what motivated them to apply to Luskin in their chosen disciplines.

“Communities of color are not always exposed to urban planning although we’re often experiencing the negative effects of what actually happens,” said Carolyn Vera MURP ’17, who was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. Vera, who now works at a transportation consulting firm, said that when she moved back to Los Angeles following her undergraduate years, she didn’t recognize the city she grew up in, citing the effects of gentrification. Vera said urban planning is such a diverse field and, “I knew I wanted to stay in L.A. and work with my community.”

It was homelessness that brought Cornell Williams MSW ’12 to UCLA Luskin Social Welfare.

“I was homeless for a year. I had a college degree and I was sleeping in the park,” said Williams, now a psychiatric social worker for Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and clinical director of the Jeffrey Foundation in Los Angeles. “Like a lot of our clients and people we have the passion to serve, I was stuck in that position and I had no knowledge of resources and access.”

Williams said the experience forced him to ask tough questions about himself and his future. “I came to one of these events and had an interest in all three programs,” but he said that Gerry Laviña, director of field education and associate director of D3, “was a big part of helping me conjure or stir the gifts inside of me to choose social welfare.”

Williams said UCLA Luskin’s Social Welfare gave him the flexibility to work in “every environment you can think of, and I’ve worked in a good number of them myself.”

The day’s events also included breakout sessions led by a number of the School’s sponsoring and organizing student groups: D3, Luskin Leadership Development, Social Welfare Diversity Caucus, Policy Professionals for Diversity & Equity, and Planners of Color for Social Equity.

Attending the event was recent UCLA graduate Vanessa Rodriguez, who said she hopes to enroll in the MSW program next fall. Rodriguez, who grew up in Boyle Heights and has worked with children with autism, said she has always had a passion for helping people. She said her reason for pursuing an MSW degree would be to work with women and victims of domestic abuse.

Among the staff and student volunteers who made the day a success was second-year MSW candidate Marisol Granillo Arce, who said she had attended a number of Luskin diversity related fairs before applying. Granillo Arce, who now also works as a graduate researcher for the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, said it is exciting to meet future agents of change and tell them: “You’ve got what it takes to be a social worker, urban planner, and public policymaker.”

Granillo Arce added: “I think that individuals thinking of applying get the unique opportunity to know the staff, professors and students in the different departments. It is truly inspirational. You end up leaving the fair more confident and inspired.”

Giving Microeconomics a Human Face Public Policy professor Manisha Shah’s research bridges a worldwide gap between health, economics and education

By Stan Paul

At age 16, Manisha Shah went to the Andes Mountains of Ecuador — her first chance to dig into “real development work.” The task after a year of fundraising and training? Building latrines in rural communities. Soon after arrival, however, she realized that everyone there “already knew how” to build latrines.

What they actually needed was financing and supplies. “That is what we helped facilitate — paying for and transporting supplies to this faraway town in the middle of the mountains.”

The experience in Ecuador was transformative for Shah, now an associate professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin. It enhanced a developing global view nurtured as a child during family visits to see her grandparents in India, where she saw “poverty all around her.”

Her youthful travels helped put Shah on the path to her career in academia and research around the world — from Mexico to India, Tanzania to Indonesia — and eventually to the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“Never in a million years would I have predicted that I would be a tenured professor at UCLA,” Shah said. “I feel so lucky to be doing what I love at one of the best universities in the world.”

Getting There

Today, Shah focuses her teaching and research on the intersection of applied microeconomics, health and development. She is supported by organizations that include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the World Bank.

An example of her work is a recent study, “Investing in Human Capital Production: Evidence from India,” that fills a substantial gap in development literature related to whether early-life investments encourage more educational investments later on, whether low-skill wages in rural India increase school dropouts, and whether rural schools produce gains in consumption later in life. The results have widespread implications for family and individual well-being, economic growth and national competitiveness for the country of over a billion people.

Her research affiliations and teaching might suggest otherwise, but Shah’s path was not exactly a straight one. “I don’t think I had a direct route. In fact, it was very indirect,” said Shah, who sought work abroad after earning undergraduate degrees in economics and development
at Berkeley.

“I quickly learned how difficult it is to find a job that will actually pay you to do international work,” she said.

She wound up in a one-year program at the London School of Economics where her master’s thesis in development economics examined HIV/AIDS issues in India and how NGOs were working to fill gaps in countries that were slow to react to potential epidemics.

“This was 1996-97. Getting HIV in a developing country was a death sentence, and so many countries were doing little to publicly acknowledge they even had an HIV problem,” Shah said.

Next was Mexico, and work at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. Shah is fluent in Spanish, and at the time thought she was “done with school and would never come back,” having achieved her goal of working in international development. “I loved the job.”

But there was a catch.

“I knew I wanted to keep doing this type of work, but I also started to realize that the people calling the shots, raising the money, directing things, all had Ph.D.s,” Shah said. So she spent a year doing the math — literally, taking the calculus, statistics and real analysis coursework she needed for a doctoral program at UC Berkeley. “There was almost no literature in economics on HIV/AIDS,” Shah said of her ongoing interest in the intersection of HIV and economics. “I learned that most interventions in development related to HIV/AIDS often targeted sex workers, as they tend to have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS than the general adult population in most developing countries.”

Shah’s eyes were opened when she learned how many women in developing countries are employed in the sex sector. She saw the implications for public health and noted a lack of serious empirical study, which “began an important area of research for me.”

She recently co-edited the “Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Prostitution,” in which more than 40 researchers from around the world compiled and interpreted valuable economic data and research that may help lawmakers and government officials set policy guidelines concerning prostitution worldwide.

“A number of factors, including the proliferation of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, especially in developing nations, have created the need to look at prostitution through an economic lens,” she said.

And yes, like the teenager who traveled to Ecuador decades ago, Shah is still interested in sanitation, a core issue at the intersection of human health and economics
in developing countries.

Research and Public Policy

Shah refers to herself as an applied microeconomist interested in development economics, health and education. “Most of my research fits into those bins,” Shah said.

She has written papers on the long-term impacts of positive rainfall shocks as well as drought in India on human capital outcomes of young children and adolescents, and risk-taking behaviors in the wake of natural disasters, as well as the effects of cash transfer programs on criminal behavior in Indonesia. Behind each are human stories of how policies affect large populations.

Shah’s research on HIV and the sex industry has wide-ranging implications for the health and well-being of not only adults but also vulnerable young people caught up in prostitution around the world.

“These days most of my work is either related to children or adolescents,” Shah said. “I often joke that my switch to research about children perfectly coincides with my becoming a mother. I remember researching questions about child development when I was pregnant and being surprised about how little we know about many important issues related to child cognitive/health and development.”

Shah is the principal investigator of a randomized controlled trial in Tanzania attempting to understand how to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes for teenage girls. “I am really excited about this work,” said Shah, who was also recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to better understand education outcomes for children in rural India.

After teaching stints at the University of Melbourne, Princeton University and UC Irvine, she joined the Luskin faculty in 2013. Today, she teaches microeconomics, development economics and serves as a faculty adviser for the Applied Policy Project (APP), a challenging yearlong requirement for master of public policy students at Luskin.

“Ironically, I learned in grad school that I actually enjoy teaching, and I was sort of good at it,” she said of her classroom duties. Her research topics are heavy, which could lead to frustration about things that should be happening but don’t. “But spend some time with our students and it will put you in a good mood,” she said.

“Our students make me optimistic, and that optimism can be infectious. I love how our students care so deeply about issues that matter to them.”

 

A Final Test for Policy Analysis Projects UCLA Luskin public policy master’s degree culminates in a public forum in which students present Applied Policy Projects on issues of regional, global importance

By Stan Paul

By necessity, the Master of Public Policy (MPP) students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs quickly begin learning skills and tools to complete the program and prepare for problem-solving careers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The students, working in groups, must clear one final hurdle to graduate: the Applied Policy Project presentation.  Each group has 20 minutes to impress faculty and peers by showcasing what they have learned during two rigorous years of study.

Each year, a diverse group of clients “hire” the students, usually in teams of two or more, to tackle real-world problems and offer actionable recommendations and feasible solutions.

“I think one of the exciting aspects of the APP is the variety of topics covered,” said Manisha Shah, associate professor of public policy and faculty coordinator of the program. “Because our students have a diverse set of interests and because we encourage them to identify their own clients, the result is an interesting variety of APP projects.”

Among this year’s clients were the Southern California Association of Governments, Covered California, Peterson Institute for International Economics and a member of the California State Assembly. Internal clients included a research center within the Luskin School, a professional program elsewhere on campus and the University of California’s Office of the President.

“The first-year curriculum of the MPP program is tool-driven,” Shah said. “What I mean by that is we try to give students a diverse set of tools — both quantitative and qualitative — that will help guide them through the APP process and ultimately go out into the real world and conduct policy analysis on issues close to their hearts.”

Shah said she was fortunate to advise a diverse set of APP groups this year. One group of students found that behavioral tools such as reciprocity and commitment devices should be implemented in schools to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables in an attempt to combat obesity. Another group helped improve the service delivery model of an organization in L.A. that tries to get at-risk youth into better employment opportunities. And another group proposed interventions and policies aimed at reducing displacement and gentrification in South L.A.

In all, 18 presentations were made. Luskin faculty watched and then asked questions that tested the students’ depth and breadth of knowledge and the thoroughness of their projects.

The range of projects is broad, including:

  • Local and regional issues such as investments in electric vehicle charging stations in Los Angeles and a rent stabilization ordinance to prevent displacement of low-income minority communities in South Los Angeles.
  • Statewide issues such as bail reform, insuring Californians, health care, access to water and juvenile justice.
  • National and global issues like mitigating the negative impacts of trade on employment in the U.S. auto industry and improving local-level governance amid decentralization reforms in the Ukraine.

A closer look at some of this year’s APPs follows.

Gender Issues in Engineering

Applying qualitative and quantitative methods to their study for the UC’s Office of the President, Traci Kawaguchi, Yuhan Sun and Eri Suzuki focused on the need for connections in their analysis of system-wide retention by gender in engineering at the undergraduate level. They initially determined that the retention rate of female engineering students was significantly lower than for male engineering classmates across the UC system.

Their faculty adviser, Professor of Public Policy John Villasenor, also holds an appointment in electrical engineering at UCLA. He helped connect them with UCLA engineering students, which led to interviews with aspiring female engineers.

Women and men had similar levels of academic performance in the first year, but the qualitative interview uncovered that “affinity groups play a key role in affirming engineering identity and belonging in the field,” according to the UCLA Luskin students’ written summary.

“I think the big thing that came up was just the idea of fitting in,” Kawaguchi said. “When you go into a classroom that is 80 percent male … it may make you feel that you don’t necessarily belong.”

Team members analyzed policy options based on anticipated effectiveness, cost feasibility and institutional feasibility, and they recommended support for female students based on a sense of community and belonging. Adoption of residential living communities and formal peer mentoring programs for female undergraduate students in engineering were also recommended.

 A Program to Help Plug-In Commuters

Another APP team focused on plug-in vehicles with a limited range on all-electric power that switch to gasoline-based power after batteries are exhausted. Specifically, the group studied how workplace charging stations in Los Angeles could increase the number of miles that vehicles travel without burning gasoline.

MPP students James Di Filippo, Mahito Moriyama, Toru Terai, Kelly Trumbull and Jiahui Zhang completed their project, “Prioritizing Electric Vehicle Charging Station Investments in Los Angeles County,” for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Their model combined commuting data from SCAG’s transportation demand study with plug-in electric vehicle registration data, information on vehicle all-electric range, and point data on existing charging infrastructure locations.

The students found that nearly 6,000 plug-in hybrid commuters could benefit from workplace charging but currently do not have access. Full support of those commuters’ vehicles would yield about 76,000 additional miles driven on electric power each day.

The potential increase is concentrated in just a few zones. Di Filippo said that the group used a tool from the Environmental Protection Agency to identify zones that fall within disadvantaged communities that might require additional support, which were more than a third of all zones identified as having potential for investment across Los Angeles County. SCAG should direct additional funding toward those disadvantaged communities to ensure that the benefits are distributed equitably, the students said.

Di Filippo said that the APP process was challenging but rewarding. “I credit my teammates for pulling together quickly, conceptualizing and delivering a strong report that offers actionable information for SCAG’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure siting decisions in only eight weeks,” he said. “My team was fortunate to have the support of faculty and peers who were invaluable in shaping our thinking on key aspects of the report.”

Healthy Food for Children

Sarah White and teammates Sydney Ganon, Hiroto Iwaoka and Jonathan McIlroy examined behavioral economics for tools in nutrition education curricula. Their goal was to promote long-term healthy food choices and habits in third and fourth grade students in light of a growing recognition of negative health outcomes of childhood obesity.

“While the field of behavioral economics is still fairly new, we read a lot of the existing literature and had reason to believe that really low-cost interventions could potentially have large impacts on getting people to make better choices for themselves,” White said.

One challenge that behavioral economics has “rarely, if at all, studied within the realm of children’s nutrition.” That made evaluating different policy options more difficult. “We had to evaluate each policy option on our own,” White said.

The group’s recommendations bundled three potential behavioral tools that are cost-effective. Giving attractive names such as “power peas” to fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria would frame foods in a way that is appealing to children. Giving students something as simple as a sticker and thanking them for choosing the healthy option would promote reciprocity. Having students set goals for eating better would make them more likely to stay committed.

Ayappa Biddanda

Rocking his Comeback

For one student, Ayappa Biddanda, the final APP presentation was a long time in the making. In the early 2000s he left UCLA Luskin to pursue an opportunity that turned into a career in the music industry. He came back this year to do his final presentation — and thus finish his master’s degree.

Biddanda’s project evaluated the impact of an educational enrichment program called Rock the Classroom that paired local musicians with students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Biddanda’s solo presentation on the final night of the APP program literally rocked the classroom with musical sound bites and his enthusiastic, informative and professionally presented argument that, in education, “art matters.”

A Fond Farewell

Wrapping up two decades of APP presentations, Mark Peterson, chair of the department, thanked the students for their efforts. “I really want you all to applaud yourselves,” he said. “The hard work that went into all of the presentations was obvious to us all, and we really just admire the time you put into all of this and the work that you did to put these presentations on a scale of professionalism that we like to see.”

The 2017 APPs ended on a bittersweet note, with Peterson acknowledging the retirement of a key player. Maciek Kolodziejczak is a longtime UCLA staff member who joined the public policy program when it was founded more than 20 years ago and has long coordinated the APP presentations.

“Sadly, this is the last time that this part of the APP program will be orchestrated, moderated and run by Maciek,” Peterson said.


From the UCLA Luskin Flickr feed:

2017 Applied Policy Project presentations

Shining New Light on a ‘Red Light’ Profession Oxford handbook co-edited by UCLA Luskin researcher compiles latest economic research on prostitution

By Stan Paul

Although prostitution has been examined by various social scientists, the “world’s oldest profession” has received less attention from an economic standpoint. But that’s changing.

Thanks to the increasing availability of existing data sets on the internet, as well as new surveys that are being implemented, researchers have been able to gather valuable economic data that could help government officials in setting policy guidelines concerning prostitution.

A number of factors, including the proliferation of sexually transmitted infections (STI) and HIV/AIDS, especially in developing nations, have created the need to look at prostitution through an economic lens.

These subjects and other topics dealing with the sex trade are part of the newly published “Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Prostitution,” co-edited by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs researcher Manisha Shah and Scott Cunningham, associate professor of economics at Baylor University. A development economist and associate professor in the Department of Public Policy, Shah’s teaching and research interests focus on the intersection of applied microeconomics, health and development.

Researchers in fields from anthropology to sociology have looked at various facets of prostitution both qualitatively and quantitatively. The book’s co-editors cite the nature of economics as looking at problems in mostly quantitative terms, and the new data is yielding a wealth of useful — and often counterintuitive — information on this resilient underground economy.

“I think one of the things that always surprises me is how often the sex market looks like any other market that economists study,” said Shah, who has written on the topic in order to learn how more-effective policies and programs can be deployed to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STIs.

“Most of the time, the predictions of economic theory play out in the sex market as well,” Shah said. “There are so many chapters that highlight this and illustrate that sex workers respond to incentives and prices in the same way that other market participants do.”

More than 40 researchers from around the world contributed to the book, divided into six parts: Supply and Demand, Sex Workers in Developing Countries, Men Who Have Sex With Men, Law and Policy, History of Prostitution Law, and Externalities: Sexually Transmitted Infections and Sexual Exploitation. Chapters include Economics of Sex Work in Bangladesh, Violence and Entry in Prostitution Markets and A Method for Determining the Size of the Underground Economy in in Seven U.S. Cities.

“We know that prostitution has important policy implications because of the effect that prostitution has on STI rates, risky behaviors, as well as its responsiveness to poverty,” Shah said. “But we don’t know as much about optimal policy design.” In addition, she said, most governments have not experimented with different strategies, so prohibition has been the most common policy.

The book also contains chapters that explain and use information collected directly from the web because prostitution continues to shift from the street to indoor sex work. Shah points out that the internet facilitates the functioning of illicit markets through free classified advertising, lower search costs and even client reviews of sex workers.

“Reviews create reputations for sex workers, much like eBay and Airbnb reviews create reputations for vendors,” said Shah, explaining that these “reputation mechanisms” are allowing illegal markets to function more like legal businesses. Shah said this is an important point because, in the illegal sector, providers and clients cannot access legal courts to enforce contracts.

“Reputation, in other words, is the mechanism by which contracts are enforced in illegal sex markets,” Shah said.

Policy makers need to understand the distinction between voluntary prostitution and sex trafficking, Shah said. “Too often these two get conflated. The social costs of sex trafficking are very high, whereas arguably the social costs of voluntary prostitution are lower.”

Pointing to recent government experiments in Sweden and New Zealand, for example, Shah said that policy makers should have a working understanding of how these markets function, as well as understanding theories of policies that can regulate these markets optimally.

“Policy makers can use this information to better design policies that can reduce sex trafficking as well as accompanying externalities,” Shah said, citing a detailed analysis of the Nevada brothel system, which, she said, “can help policy makers understand if there are elements of the Nevada policy that could be applied elsewhere.”

Shah said that with a better understanding of how these markets operate, optimal policies can be designed to reduce the harm associated with prostitution markets and lower the overall social costs.

“The book has explicit models to guide the design of prostitution laws,” Shah said. “We think these are one of the highlights of the handbook in general.”

Are Workfare Programs In India Effective? Public Policy professor Manisha Shah evaluates the impact of antipoverty programs

By Stan Paul 

Manisha Shah’s work in development economics has taken her around the world, from Mexico and Ecuador to India and Indonesia.

Her work seeks to evaluate the impact of seemingly well-intentioned efforts such as antipoverty programs as well as their unintended consequences, using primary data collection and applied microeconomics as a tool. At home at the Luskin School, she is the Applied Policy Project coordinator for the Department of Public Policy’s Master of Public Policy (MPP) students. In addition, she teaches graduate courses in microeconomics as well as a course on international development.

In a recent working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), where she is a faculty research associate, Shah and her co-author, Bryce Steinberg, have evaluated the effect of India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). In “Workfare and Human Capital Investment: Evidence From India,” the authors posit that the NREGS workfare program, which requires beneficiaries to work on local public works projects in order to receive benefits, “could increase the opportunity cost of schooling, lowering human capital investment even as incomes increase due to increased labor demand.”

The research shows that this government program, one of the largest in the world, actually lowers both school enrollment and math scores for students ages 13 to 16. For boys in India, the antipoverty program has them substituting work for school, while adolescent girls are substituting into unpaid domestic work at home (since their mothers are now more likely to be working outside the home). Put in human terms, this means, according to Shah, that the program in India “may have caused anywhere from 650,000 to 2.5 million adolescents to leave school prematurely.”

Interestingly, the additional income from the workfare program may benefit the very young children in the household — the 2- to 4-year-olds. The authors find that human capital outcomes improve for the very youngest children as a result of NREGS.

Overall, the workfare program may serve as a disincentive for adolescents to invest in education. This is important to policy makers, who may be considering workfare as a means of poverty alleviation, says Shah. “If we believe education is important for economic growth, and that workfare programs raise prevailing wages and cause older students to substitute toward work and away from school, lump sum grants or conditional cash transfers might be other policy options to consider.”

“The takeaway from these results is that social programs have price effects, and that these price effects can have very real consequences,” Shah’s report concludes. “Ultimately it is important to maximize their potential to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of the poor.”

Other areas Shah has examined include child health and development. Recent work has involved evaluating impacts of improved sanitation on child health outcomes in rural Indonesia. She also has written on the economics of sex markets to learn how more effective policies and programs can be deployed to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

Where will her research take her next?

Shah says her next destination is Tanzania in East Africa to study intervention programs for adolescent girls. Programs to help girls stay in school and avoid risky sex and its harmful consequences are proving unsuccessful. Shah wants to know what’s going on and why this is happening, looking to the data to provide answers.

Manisha Shah is an Associate Professor in the Department of Public Policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. She also is a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a Faculty Affiliate at UC Berkeley’s Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) and a Research Associate at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).