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Going Away to College? School Distance as a Barrier to Higher Education

By Abigail Wozniak·March 22, 2018
University of Notre Dame

The Issue:

Geographic location is an important factor in determining not just where, but whether, a high school senior goes on to college. About one in six American high school seniors lack access to a nearby college, at either the two- or four-year level. However, the role of geography is overlooked in many higher education funding decisions.

The Facts:

  • The share of students who attend college close to home is large and has increased over the past quarter century. The majority — 56.2 percent — of public four-year college students attend an institution under an hour’s drive away, and nearly 70 percent attend within two hours of their home, according to the latest Higher Education Research Institute’s CIRP survey (see chart).
  • An important share, about 1 in 6, high school seniors lack a nearby college. By one measure, 58 percent of counties — containing 14 percent of the U.S. population — lack local college access.
  • Several studies show that the presence of a college in a person's county of residence is strongly related to college attendance. For instance, when California’s public university systems added four new universities between 1995 and 2005, enrollment in these new universities came predominantly from new enrollments from high schools within 25 miles of a new campus. System enrollment from other high schools was essentially unchanged. This suggests that for some students, the presence of a local college is key to their attendance.
  • Many people are reluctant to move over long distances even when there are large financial benefits to doing so. Despite these large implied costs of moving, most loan and grant programs that seek to expand access to education give the greatest emphasis to covering tuition and other direct costs but do not factor in the differential costs that students face depending on where they live.

What this Means:

When determinants of college attendance are unrelated to ultimate college success, this can lead to underinvestment in higher education. If some students who would equal or outperform their peers simply never attend college, then this is a loss for both those students and our wider society. Such barriers can be addressed in two ways. The first approach is to reduce the impact of barriers by subsidizing college attendance for those without good geographic access. The second approach is to enhance access by building new colleges or college system branches in underserved areas. The first approach is likely to be substantially cheaper, but the second entails potential spillovers to affected communities that might nevertheless make it a cost-beneficial strategy as well.

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Access to Substance Abuse Treatment, Drug Overdose Deaths, and Crime

By Samuel R. Bondurant, Jason M. Lindo and Isaac D. Swensen·March 16, 2018
Texas A&M University and Montana State University
(Click here for a larger interactive version. Hover over each county to see county-specific estimates.)

The Issue:

Fueled in part by a raging opioid epidemic, drug overdose deaths have surged in the United States since 1999. Though treatment availability is extremely limited, there is evidence that increasing access to treatment reduces drug-related deaths. Moreover, providing greater access to treatment can have a broader community impact by reducing crime.

The Facts:

  • There were more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2016. This is more than triple the overdose death rate in 1999. Yet, access to substance abuse treatment is very limited. In 2016, only about 1 in 10 of those who needed substance use treatment were treated at a specialty facility.
  • There is variation across the country in the rates of overdose deaths and the availability of treatment facilities (see map). Many counties in different parts of the United States have high drug-induced death rates relative to the rest of the country but do not have a single stand-alone substance use treatment facility, especially in rural areas. The map shows the availability of substance abuse treatment centers (SATs) in 2012 as well as the average drug-induced deaths per 100,000 residents between 2008 and 2012 on a county-by-county basis. The counties in the darkest hues of red are among those with the highest rates of drug-induced deaths and also fewest numbers of treatment facilities — zero in many cases. Counties in darker blue also had high rates of drug-induced mortality, but had more treatment centers than the median county.
  • In our research, we find that adding one additional treatment facility leads to a 0.5 percent decline in the drug-induced mortality rate in that county. This measure provides an average effect of adding an additional treatment center but does not give more indication as to which types of treatment offered might be more effective.
  • There is a strong connection between substance abuse and crime. For this reason, it is possible that reducing drug use disorders through expanded treatment could lower crime. We find that adding one treatment facility in a county reduces homicides by between 0.18 and 0.24 percent, on average. Adding an additional treatment facility also has a significant effect on reducing robbery, motor vehicle theft, burglary and larceny.

What this Means:

Our work shows that having more treatment facilities reduces drug-induced mortality and reduces crime. This evidence provides strong backing for policies to expand access to treatment not just in terms of its effectiveness, but also because it gives some indication that doing so would be cost-effective. The average cost of operating one facility is $1.1 million annually. Our estimates indicate that an additional facility saves one life lost through drug-induced mortality every two years on average. Our results also indicate that they reduce costs associated with crime by $1.2 million to $2.9 million annually. As such, there is good reason to encourage access to treatment facilities in our communities, even for individuals whose lives are unlikely to be directly affected by drug abuse. For those who value the life saving benefits of such facilities, the case is even clearer.

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Will Steel Tariffs put U.S. Jobs at Risk?

By Lydia Cox and Kadee Russ·February 26, 2018
Harvard University and University of California, Davis

(Click here for a larger interactive version with state-specific estimates. Map updated March 3, 2018)

The Issue:

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced recommendations on February 16, 2018 to impose heavy tariffs or quotas on foreign producers of steel. This could help domestic steel producers, but it would harm U. S. manufacturing industries that use steel and products made of steel as inputs. The number of jobs in U.S. industries that use steel or inputs made of steel outnumber the number of jobs involved in the production of steel by roughly 80 to 1. For this reason, these trade recommendations raise concerns among many manufacturing companies.

The Facts:

  • The Commerce Department has recommended that the Administration adopt one of three new protectionist measures on steel: (1) a global tariff of 24 percent on all steel imports, (2) a 53 percent tariff on U.S. steel imports from twelve developing and transitional economies and quotas for all other nations capped at 2017 levels, or (3) a quota on steel imports from all countries capped at 63 percent of what those countries exported to the United States in 2017. Any of these measures would raise the domestic price of steel, which could stimulate domestic steel production.
  • About 2 million jobs are in industries that use steel intensively, where “intensively” means that steel inputs represent 5 percent or more of the industry’s total (input) requirements. Jobs in steel-intensive industries are located in nearly every state in the country, but particularly concentrated in California, Texas, the Rust Belt states, and the Southeastern states (see map). Steel-intensive U.S. industries include manufacturers of auto parts and motorcycles; household appliances; farm machinery; machinery used in mining, oil extraction, and construction; batteries; armored military vehicles; and hardware.
  • The higher price of steel in the United States cannot always be easily passed on to consumers because many steel-using manufacturing industries both export and face import competition. If they pass on steel cost increases in their final goods prices, companies in these industries risk losing market share, both at home and abroad, to suppliers who produce outside the United States where steel would not be subject to the U.S. trade restrictions.
  • Global overcapacity is the biggest challenge to the steel industry in the United States as well as across the world: steel-producing capacity more than doubled  — and the gap between capacity and demand nearly tripled —  between 2000 and 2015. China is a big player in the global market for steel, accounting for one-half of world steel production and 45 percent of world steel use. However, China is not a main direct supplier of steel to the United States — only about 2 percent of U.S. imports of steel mill products come directly from China, in part due to existing anti-dumping and countervailing duties already imposed on Chinese steel. Canada, Brazil, Korea, and Mexico were the main sources of U.S. imports in recent years, as well as others like Europe and Japan.

What this Means:

The Trump Administration has until April to decide whether to implement the recommendations to restrict or tax steel imports. Past experience shows trade restrictions on steel will raise costs for manufacturers that rely on steel as a direct or indirect input into production. Across many states, the number of jobs adversely affected in these steel-using industries could far exceed any steel jobs saved. Past experience also shows that unilateral action like Section 232 tariffs will invite retaliation, potentially impacting jobs in other industries. The root problem, global overcapacity in steel production, is best addressed through multilateral like the OECD Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity, which the United States helped pioneer in 2016, and has likely led to some cuts in production and capacity.

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Could Drug Ads Have Positive Side Effects?

By Michael Sinkinson and Amanda Starc·February 20, 2018
Yale University and Northwestern University

The Issue:

The United States is one of only two countries in the world where it is legal for pharmaceutical companies to advertise their products directly to consumers. Critics of the practice say that it can lead to unnecessary demand for more expensive products and could be a contributing factor to rising medical costs. The American Medical Association called for a ban on such ads in 2015 and the National Academies of Science recommended ways to discourage the practice in a 2017 report. But advertising drugs to consumers can potentially help inform the public about treatments for health conditions and, in this way, raise awareness and prevent illness and disease.

The Facts:

  • Spending by pharmaceutical companies on direct-to-consumer advertising has been on the rise, representing over $5 billion in 2016, up from around $3 billion in 2012 and $1 billion in 1998.
  • Advertising can serve a positive informational role, giving potential consumers a new awareness of medical conditions and available treatments.
  • Yet advertising might instead serve to persuade existing customers to switch from one drug to another brand: drug advertising can be a type of  "arms race" between competing pharmaceutical companies, which end up paying for TV ads just to defend the market share for their branded product.
  • Our research finds that drug ads do impact demand for the products. When political advertising went up during the 2008 presidential election cycle, it reduced the number of ads showing for the statin drugs Crestor and Lipitor and, subsequently, the number of prescriptions sold for these drugs decreased in the markets impacted. Moreover, we found that while advertising for one drug can reduce the sales of its competitor, it can also lead to an increase of sales for non-advertised drugs in the same class.

What this Means:

Drug ads are expensive and pharmaceutical companies are spending hefty sums advertising certain drugs. Evidence indicates that such advertising does indeed lead to increases in drug sales, some of which happen at the expense of a competitor's product. But, by expanding the patient population, advertising can also lead to social benefits. A consumer that starts taking statins is much less likely to have a heart attack. And heart attacks are expensive to treat. We find that the benefits of getting these patients on statins far outweigh the costs of the statin ads themselves and were larger even than the costs of all direct-to-consumer drug advertising added together in the year of our study.

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Weak Links in the Chain Migration Argument

By Susan J. Cohen and Michael W. Klein·February 14, 2018
Mintz Levin, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, PC and Fletcher School, Tufts University

(Click here for a larger version.)

The Issue:

The term "chain migration" is currently being used to describe a process in which one legal immigrant can generate many new admissions by sponsoring his or her relatives — each of whom, in turn, leads to even more immigrants. While immigrants admitted on the basis of family ties constitute the largest share of new permanent residents each year, the potential for an ever-expanding chain is constrained.

The Facts:

  • The number of legal permanent residents admitted each year to the United States has averaged roughly 1 million persons over the past decade, with family-based migration accounting for about two thirds annually. In addition, roughly 140,000 legal permanent resident cards go to employment-sponsored immigrants and 55,000 are awarded via the diversity lottery each year.
  • There are two broad categories of family-based immigration visas: immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and those classified under a family-preference system (see chart). There are no numerical limits to the visas available for spouses, minor children and parents of adult U.S. citizens.
  • Visa categories under the "Family-Preference System" have been effectively capped at 226,000 visas per year for the last two decades and there can be no more than 7 percent of the visas going to people from one country. As a result, there are long wait times, of years or even decades, for many family-based immigrant visas, which vary by country. For example, the visa applications being processed in January 2018 for siblings of U.S. citizens born in the Philippines were filed more than 23 years ago.
  • Many of the family-based categories available for immigration require the sponsor to be a U.S. citizen. The naturalization process, which allows legal permanent residents to acquire U.S. citizenship, generally takes about five years — adding an additional time lapse to the wait times for permanent residents who would like to bring in a parent or a sibling.
  • People who wish to sponsor a relative must provide evidence they can financially support both their own family and that of the sponsored relative at an annual income generally no less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level. Before they can be approved, the person applying for the visa is subject to extensive background and security checks and must also have an in-person interview at a U.S. Consulate overseas or at a U.S. Customs and Immigration Service field office in the United States.

What this Means:

Under current immigration law, U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents cannot directly obtain family-based visas for distant relatives; they cannot directly apply for a visa for a cousin, uncle, grandparent or other extended-family member. Statutory limits on family-preference categories, as well as substantial backlogs, severely limit family-based immigration, especially from countries like Mexico, China, India and the Philippines. For all these reasons, it is very difficult to bring family members to the United States – the chain, to the extent that it exists, is short and difficult to forge.

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