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2021–22 Grants

The following are summaries of the research grants awarded:

CCGT fosters academic inquiry at GPS and departments across UC San Diego by offering grants for innovative research for faculty and doctoral students. The following major projects were awarded.

Employee Hardship Funds as Mutual Aid

John Ahlquist, Professor

Dozens of major U.S. companies now maintain programs that combine monetary donations from their employees and (tax deductible) corporate contributions to offer emergency cash grant programs for their own workers in times of need. These programs are known as “employee hardship funds,” or EHFs. There is no academic or policy research on EHFs despite their apparently rapid growth. With seed funding, Ahlquist designed a novel survey of workers matched to their employers and piloted the survey by using Facebook to target survey recruitment at employees of one large U.S. retailer of hardware and home improvement products. The survey found high but low awareness of the program. Randomly presenting subjects with information about the program using simple text as well as a corporate communications video showed interesting patterns. Although the corporate propaganda video failed to improve feelings of financial security, the video treatment did induce greater attachment to the employer and coworkers. The video also made workers more uncertain about unionization and more supportive of government support for the unemployed. The survey provides the first systematic evidence of employee awareness, experience and opinion about EHFs. Ahlquist presented preliminary findings at the 2022 meetings of the Labor and Employment Relations Association and American Political Science Association. He plans to use these initial findings as the basis for further grant support. 

Science Innovation and Mentorship

Joshua Graff Zivin, Professor; Gaurav Khanna, Assistant Professor; and Elizabeth Lyons, Associate Professor

With support from CCGT, Graff Zivin, Khanna and Lyons’ research is contributing to the advancement of science and innovation by investigating the circumstances under which researchers in academia are most productive. They are using 10 years of data on researchers across the entire University of California system, including faculty and postdoctoral scholars, paired with publication and patent data and industry information on pay norms across degree types and jobs. This data is allowing them to analyze how pay differentials between academia and industry across areas of specialty relate to basic and applied research output, and how departmental compositions — including diversity and whether senior faculty have reputations as generous mentors — relate to department-level productivity. The findings from this multidimensional project will have meaningful implications for management of academic science and subsequent innovation within the broader economy.

Measuring the Cost of Living in Mexico and the U.S.

Munseob Lee, Assistant Professor

The construction of cross-country price indexes is of crucial importance to compare living standards between countries and to measure global inequality. The ICP has taken on the important and heroic exercise of measuring these prices but faces severe data limitations. In this paper, Lee and coauthors David Argente and Chang-Tai Hsieh construct a data set for two countries that allows data limitations to be addressed, namely the fact that the ICP has incomplete information on items across countries, that they do not have expenditure information to weight items appropriately, that they cannot compare exactly the same item across countries, and that they do not have information on differences on the set of products available in each country. Using the alternative data, Lee estimates that Mexican real consumption is larger relative to the U.S. than previously estimated. Overall, the results show that the real non-durable consumption inequality across the U.S. and Mexico is 23% lower than that predicted by the ICP estimates. The paper will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics. 

Big Pixel Initiative shows widespread impact of air pollution on crop productivity around the world and on environmental justice across California

Professors Jennifer Burney, Morgan Levy and Kate Ricke, and Susanne Benz, former Big Pixel postdoctoral scholar

Two recent studies have broadened our understanding of the widespread negative effects of pollution generated by human activity. In one study, Burney and collaborators at Stanford University (David Lobell and Stefania diTomasso) linked satellite-derived measures of crop greenness to atmospheric measurements of nitrogen dioxide, a common byproduct of fossil fuel combustion. Using fine-grained measurements across five major “breadbaskets” of the world — India, China, Brazil, Europe and the U.S. — the team found that higher levels of this pollutant are strongly associated with lower crop yields. This remained the case even when controlling for local weather and other factors that contribute to yield differences. The study also provided some of the first large-scale evidence that nitrogen oxides impact crop yields through multiple pathways — directly, via formation of ozone (also toxic to plants), and also when converted to particulates in the atmosphere. Because these pollutants are so strongly associated with reduced yields, measures to clean up air pollution could have very strong economic and food security implications around the world. 

A second study, conducted by the larger environment and policy group at GPS, used a broad range of particulate matter monitors around California, as well as high-resolution atmospheric and land surface measurements, to understand what happened to air quality during the early COVID-19 shutdowns in spring 2020. The team found that — as reported in popular media — California’s shelter-in-place orders brought with them major improvements in regional air quality; however, these improvements were not equal across California. During the shutdown, neighborhoods with higher shares of Hispanic and Asian residents saw bigger improvements in air quality compared to whiter (and wealthier) neighborhoods. This was true even when adjusting for income, road density, local movement and weather. In other words, air quality was more “fair” during the shutdown. This implies that the opposite is also true — during business-as-usual conditions, the state’s economy distributes pollution unfairly toward these neighborhoods. This study provided very strong evidence of a systematic bias in California’s regulation and control of air pollution. Although California has a strong record in environmental justice and policies aimed at rectifying these inequitable exposures, we still have a long way to go. 

SDG Policy Initiative Supports Government of Paraguay on 2030 Agenda

Gordon McCord, Associate Teaching Professor & SDGPI Director

On Nov. 8, 2021, the SDG Policy Initiative launched the very first Sustainable Development Report for Paraguay. The initiative supports Paraguay’s Finance Ministry with a team of experienced scholars, statisticians and economists from around the globe. The project brings data and policy analysis to inform domestic policy around the challenges of meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and places Paraguay within a global community on a shared path toward the 2030 Agenda. SDGPI used novel techniques to prepare statistical indicators at subnational scale on issues ranging from poverty to air pollution to gender equity. Armed with these data and the clearly defined objectives of the SDGs, the current phase of the project supports the government with policy proposals and costing estimates that can lead to dramatic improvements in the well-being of all Paraguayans and their natural environment. Multiple students have developed data and spatial analysis projects around SDG topics in Paraguay and have showcased their work on the SDGPI Student Blog.