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Northwestern University Internal Proposal Summaries May 2021

Tabitha Bonilla, Assistant Professor, Human Development and Social Policy, School of Education and Social Policy; Laurel Harbridge-Yong, (Collaborator), Associate Professor, Political Science, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences; Beth Redbird, (Collaborator), Associate Professor, Sociology, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences

COVID-19, Identity, and Institutional Trust

While the pandemic is undeniably a public health problem, it is also a social problem that has exacerbated preexisting social inequalities that critically fall along lines of race and ethnicity. Government policies and public adoption of behaviors to combat the virus’ spread depend on a successful interplay of public policy, mass communication, and public attitudes toward government and fellow citizens. When trust between these actors breaks down or when trust barely existed in the first place, effective policy becomes an even greater challenge. Even after the worst of the pandemic passes, the effects of the pandemic on trust, views of institutions, and the polarization of public attitudes may remain. This project examines the confluence of the pandemic, disproportionate effects on Black and Latinx communities, and lower levels of trust in the government among Black and Latinx communities to investigate the link between crisis, institutional action, and public trust.

We are uniquely situated to conduct such research. The researchers were part of a team that launched the COVID-19 Social Change Survey (CSCS) in March 2020, a nationally representative panel survey designed to preserve data for social science researchers about social, attitudinal, cultural, and behavioral changes resulting from the pandemic. The dataset is one of the most comprehensive nationwide, and we propose to leverage the CSCS panel to further examine how recovery efforts differentially effect different communities. We seek funding to leverage this panel to consider the extended consequences of the pandemic and examine racial and ethnic disparities resulting from the pandemic. Our primary objective for a new module is to explore to further examine how discrepancies in institutional trust and access to service perpetuate inequalities through the recovery period. While the survey design allows for exploration of a significant number of research questions related to public opinion and experiences during the pandemic, we focus primarily on three questions examining the unique burdens on African American and Latinx communities faced during the pandemic.

Dr. Jennifer Chan, MD, MPH, FACEP; Associate Professor, Director of Global Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine; Sarah Welch, MPH, Clinical Research Associate, Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics, Emergency Medicine; both Feinberg School of Medicine

Improving the Usability and Value of Human Mobility Data for Future Pandemic Disasters

This project will investigate how public health practitioners, response planners, and researchers use human mobility data during the COVID-19 pandemic to improve preparedness activities in future pandemic emergencies and disasters. We will analyze 41 interviews collected during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic about how mobility data were being accessed, used, interpreted, communicated, and applied policy and response activities in the United States and globally. This information will provide understanding about how mobility data are being used, what the limitations are for their use in operational environments and how these limitations can be overcome to make the data more usable and valuable. The project will help improve policymakers and response planners’ knowledge of how to leverage human mobility data to mitigate the negative impacts of future pandemics and strengthen evidence based and data driven approaches to pandemic preparedness and response.

Anthony A. DeFusco, Associate Professor of Finance, Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management; Vincent Reina, Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning; University of Pennsylvania, Weitzman School of Design; Benjamin J. Keys; Associate Professor of Real Estate

University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School

Emergency Housing Assistance and Financial Stability: Evidence from the Los Angeles COVID-19 Rent Relief Lottery

This project will study the impact of temporary emergency housing assistance payments provided by the city of Los Angeles (CA) to low-income households affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Using funds made available through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the city of Los Angeles provided up to $2,000 in emergency rental assistance to program recipients. These funds were allocated by lottery to qualified applicants and paid either directly to the tenant or to their landlord. We will use lottery assignment as a source of random variation in payment of funds to study how such assistance causally impacts housing and financial stability among program recipients. To do so, we will link application-level administrative data for approximately 37,000 lottery participants to consumer credit records we plan to purchase from Experian and Clarity Solutions. These data will allow us to measure how receiving rental payment assistance affects a range of economic outcomes including residential mobility, use of non-traditional high-cost credit, overall indebtedness, credit scores, and default. In addition to this, we will also collect baseline and follow-up survey data for roughly 8,000 program applicants containing detailed demographic information as well as survey-based measures of the same outcomes. The results from this study will provide timely empirical evidence that can potentially inform the design and administration of the newly approved $21 billion in additional emergency rental assistance authorized by Congress through the American Rescue Plan Act in early March 2021.

James N. Druckman, Professor, Political Science/Institute for Policy Research, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Tracking U.S. Response to COVID-19: Trust, Information Acquisition, and Inequalities

The COVID-19 pandemic upended social, economic, and political systems throughout the world. The United States has faced particular challenges for at least three reasons. First, the U.S. is extremely heterogeneous in terms of social groups and economic inequities. The pandemic divided the country leaving the well-off to create microcosm worlds shielded from first-hand visions of the pandemic’s impact while leaving others vulnerable to the disease, and in dire situations due to dense living conditions and business shutdowns. Second, the federal nature of the U.S. led to dramatically uneven policy responses across states, resulting in huge variations in the impact across space. Third, perhaps more than any other country, COVID-19 became politicized in the U.S., dividing Democrats and Republicans at both the elite and mass levels. This proposal seeks to extend data from the ongoing COVID States project, a large-scale data collection that includes over-time data from diverse state-level samples. The existing data provide information about state-level policy support, behavioral adaptation, health, economic well-being, mental health, information/misperceptions, racial attitudes, political attitudes, and more. It also contains detailed social network batteries that allow for the study of inter-household and inter-group transmission of the disease and information. This is complemented by Twitter data from nearly 20,000 survey respondents that allow for the identification of misinformation sharing and the study of political discourse. While these data offer a detailed depiction of events and reactions to COVID-19, they provide little insight into the downstream consequences for democracy and society. This proposal is to collect post-pandemic data from the same time series – including empaneled respondents from whom there are responses over the course of the pandemic. This provides an unprecedented opportunity for novel over-time and across-space research designs. The project will study, for example, how pandemic experiences ultimately affect trust in institutions, information and misperceptions, and economic and health inequalities.

Charles G. Nathanson, Associate Professor of Finance, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University with co-authors Michael Reher, Assistant Professor of Finance, University of California San Diego Rady School of Management; Anthony A. DeFusco, Associate Professor, Finance, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

The effect of commercial mortgage financing on business performance during the COVID pandemic

One third of U.S. retail and hospitality firms have shut down since the onset of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Most of these firms pay a significant portion of their revenue in fixed rent expenses, leaving them with a stark choice of whether to defer their rent payments, risking eviction, or lay off workers, risking a further decline in revenue. Turning upstream, the commercial landlords of these firms themselves have fixed debt obligations, which they cannot meet without regular rent payments from their tenants. Together, these observations raise the question of whether expanding landlords’ access to commercial real estate (CRE) lending can enable them to reduce their tenants’ rent burdens and so mitigate the pandemic’s impact on the economic wellbeing of communities.

 Our goal is to assess whether and how access to CRE lending can promote downstream growth in business activity and, in particular, how policy interventions in the CRE loan market can best expand such access. We pursue this question using a broad collection of datasets with rich details on a representative set of commercial landlords and their tenants.

The logic of our exercise is to compare landlords whose loan terms enabled them to obtain liquidity just prior to the pandemic’s onset (e.g., January or February 2020), when liquidity was abundant, with landlords whose terms constrained them to obtain liquidity just after the pandemic’s onset (e.g. April or May 2020), when liquidity was scarce. We hope to assess whether landlords with greater liquidity can stay current on their own debt obligations and whether they pass this liquidity onto their tenants in the form of deferred rent collection, reduced eviction, and better maintenance of property quality. Finally, we trace the effect of liquidity downstream to study whether such tenants can better survive and maintain employment throughout the pandemic.

The results of this research will have direct implications for a number of newly introduced policies that aim to promote CRE lending, such as the Federal Reserve’s TALF 2.0 program. However, to date, little is known about the effectiveness of these policies. Our research will make progress on these important questions, and we are grateful for the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s generous support in enabling us to do so.

Terri Sabol, Assistant Professor, Human Development and Social Policy, School of Education and Social Policy, and Institute for Policy Research; Diane Schanzenbach, Professor, Human Development and Social Policy, School of Education and Social Policy and Institute for Policy Research (co-PIs)

Effects of COVID on the Early Care and Education Market in Chicago

Child care for children younger than school age is a necessary ingredient to support parents’ (especially mothers’) employment. The child care sector has been dramatically impacted by COVID-19 due to multiple factors including extended closures required by the state, reduced enrollment, and increased costs to adhere to new health and safety standards. There have been efforts to stabilize the child care market at the federal level through grant and loan funding, but relatively few programs have received access to these funds. Recent policy proposals from the Biden administration suggest that more aid for this sector may be coming, but details are scant and we lack the research base to provide strong recommendations on how to best structure aid to the child care sector.

Even in normal times, center-based child care can be expensive and often require queuing to obtain a slot. This is especially true for infants and toddlers, for whom safety regulations such as low child-caregiver ratios and requirements for nursey and classroom space to be on the first or second floor of a building can drive up prices. In fact, many child care centers rely on caring for older children (4 year olds), for whom the requirements are less strict and therefore less costly, to cross-subsidize costs for younger children. Chicago, like many other cities and states, is in the process of expanding publicly provided prekindergarten to all 4 year olds. While the impact on children of universal prekindergarten is expected to be positive, removing 4 year olds from the childcare market will further compound challenges in rebuilding the sector.

Our project will explore how access to center-based care in Chicago has changed due to COVID and other market-shifting factors, and how access varies across neighborhoods and by demographic groups. We predict that the COVID-19 shock and other underlying factors may substantially reduce the number of center-based child care options available to younger children. It will be important to understand this impact because of the role child care plays in supporting parents’ employment. We hope to glean insights into how to better structure supports to this sector. The work proposed here will serve as a pilot study for a more in-depth study of the sector and its impacts on children and families. 

Nathan Walter, PhD, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies, School of Communication; Ágnes Horvát, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies, School of Communication, Computer Science Department, McCormick School of Engineering (by courtesy), Department of Management and Organizations of the Kellogg School of Management

Communication Ecology: Using a New Method to Guide Health Policies in an Information-Rich Environment

Vaccine hesitancy poses a threat to public health and financial recovery from COVID-19 and, according to some, is likely to determine the human and financial costs of this and future pandemics. To this end, identifying and mapping online and offline information resources that encourage hesitancy is paramount to improving the effectiveness and resilience of the healthcare system. In fact, any effective future preparedness plan will have to account for the fragmented and blurry media environment which has produced this ‘infodemic.’

With an interdisciplinary team that includes a health communication expert and a data scientist, and is informed by our ongoing work on the spread of misinformation and social network analysis, the current proposal advances a novel method to determine which interpersonal and mediated information resources are most influential in shaping vaccine-related decisions. Unlike past studies which focus narrowly on the reliability of single messages or unique information platforms, such as particular news channels, this study analyzes the interactions among the broad range of information sources which form an individual's communication ecology. To do so, we utilize a probability sample of Illinois residence and map their networks of online and offline information consumption.

Ultimately, the key objectives are to: 1) develop and put into practice a novel method that offers a more valid analysis of the myriad communication factors which explain vaccine hesitancy; 2) assess the interaction effects of online and offline information resources; and 3) produce an “Information Policy Plan” to inform future pandemic preparedness.

Dashun Wang, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations, Director, Center for Science of Science and Innovation (CSSI), (By courtesy) Industrial Engineer & Management Sciences, Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO)

Developing a quantitative framework to track and assess state-level policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic

State governments play a vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet our quantitative approaches to track and assess state-level policy responses at scale remain limited. Here we propose to develop a comprehensive data-driven framework that links novel large-scale datasets across rather disparate domains spanning policy, science, and epidemiology, allowing us to systematically evaluate state-level policy responses to the pandemic, and beyond. Building our preliminary work which was published in Science, we aim to use and develop new tools from the science of science, network science, and computational social science to (1) analyze COVID-19 policy documents across the US to assess state-level policy responses to the pandemic across various policy targets; (2) develop and apply a network-based framework to track the interactions among policy-making institutions across the policy frontier of COVID-19, as well as their connections to other policy institutions (federal agencies, think tanks and intergovernmental organizations), scientific research as well as mainstream media; and (3) develop a multidimensional evaluation of state-level policy outcomes and assess their relationship with policy responses tracked in (1) and (2).

Together, the proposed project will make several key contributions. (1) By integrating and analyzing these diverse data sources for the first time, this project will develop a new quantitative framework with the potential to offer highly differentiating insights to inform effective policy responses. (2) The project will create a real-time dashboard that tracks state-level policy response for researchers, policy makers, and the general public. (3) The data and methodologies developed are not limited to analyzing COVID-19 policy and can be easily extended to a general quantitative framework to track other policy responses and the enormously important outcomes they govern.