How High-Income Areas Receive More Service from Municipal Government: Evidence from City Administrative Data
25 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2015 Last revised: 13 Aug 2015
Date Written: August 12, 2015
Do economic inequalities translate into political inequalities, and if so, how? Combining data on over 500,000 requests for services from the 24-Hour Constituent Service Hotline in Boston, Massachusetts with fine-grained census data on income, we show that higher-income census tracts request and receive more services from the city’s government than do lower-income census tracts located in the same neighborhood. To ensure that these results are not driven by differences in the service needs of higher- vs. lower-income areas, we first estimate them using only requests for snow removal, because snowfall affects the entire city. We report that a 10% increase in the per-capita income of a census tract predicts roughly a 3% increase in the number of requests for snow removal (p < 10^−5). We then show that higher-income areas are more likely to place requests using the city’s smartphone app, and patterns in the timing of requests suggest, as expected, that the smartphone app is more convenient than the alternative methods for placing requests available to those who do not own smartphones. Higher-income citizens are thus advantaged in the non-electoral components of local politics because it is easier for them to participate.
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