A measurement issue

29Aug07

NYC to Pay Poor Parents to Help Their Kids – Newsweek National News – MSNBC.com

But when school starts next week, New York City will try to use the same enticement to get parents in low-income neighborhoods more involved in their children’s education and overall health. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has raised more than $40 million (much of it from his own money and the Rockefeller Foundation) to pay families a modest amount for small tasks—$50 for getting a library card or $100 to take a child to the dentist—that could make a big difference.

Of course I want to say that it’s sick that we should have to even consider paying people for taking care of the basic needs of their children. But of course, some people don’t have the means, so that’s not really fair.

So what I’ll say instead is this: a good economic idea with shoddy measurement and enforcement can lead to bad outcomes. The article doesn’t say much about how this is being administered — so we don’t know how, for example, to check to make sure that the money is being spent as it is supposed to be. But we do know that it’s an experiment, so in a few years’ time, there will be a slew of economic studies on the program’s effectiveness.

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