Differential Impacts of Environmental Policy on Infants in Poor and Minority Neighborhoods

John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation 
Principal Investigator: Janet Currie



Background: The hazards people are exposed to are affected by where they live, and minority and low-income children may be both disproportionately exposed to environmental pollution and less able to deal with the consequences of such exposure. Exposure during the fetal period and in infancy may be particularly harmful, and lead to lifelong consequences. Hence, policies to clean up pollution might be expected to have particular benefits for poor and minority infants. When measuring benefits, it is important to take account of the potential effects through the housing market. When an environmental policy is successful, it may increase housing costs and poor and minority children may be displaced. In such a case, housing market effects could undo some of the positive effects of environmental cleanups for these children.

Design: This research considers several such pollution-related policies, including Superfund cleanups, changes in regulations covering the Toxic Release Inventory, and the introduction of the electronic toll collection systems on roadways – initiatives that take differing approaches to ameliorating environmental problems. The study will explore whether vulnerable children suffer greater exposure, and whether such vulnerable children are benefit differentially from a given policy. This research will entail a statistical analysis of a unique longitudinal data base created from millions of U.S. birth records that includes large samples of African American, Asian, and Hispanic children. Less-educated mothers, teen mothers, and mothers in high-poverty neighborhoods also can be identified.

Outcomes: The results of this study will shed new light on the environmental justice literature by examining the extent to which environmental policies close gaps in exposures and outcomes between poor and minority infants and others, and on the extent to which these policies displace vulnerable mothers and infants from the newly-improved neighborhoods. These research outcomes also will show how spatial disparities in exposures arise, and how persistent they are likely to be. The ultimate goal of the research is to suggest policies to improve outcomes and minimize displacement. Since most neighborhood improvements can be expected to affect housing prices, the results will have relevance to other place-based policies, as well.


Working Papers and Publications

Janet Currie and Reed Walker, 2009. "Traffic Congestion and Infant Health: Evidence from E-ZPass," NBER Working Papers 15413, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
Full text: http://www.nber.org/papers/w15413.pdf


Janet Currie, Erdal Tekin, 2011. "Is the Foreclosure Crisis Making Us Sick?" NBER Working Papers17310, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc. 
Full text: http://papers.nber.org/papers/W17310