The Corner

New York City Ends Cash for Conscientiousness Program

New York City is putting the kybosh on a three-year-old pilot program that incentivized the impoverished to make prudent decisions — by giving them cash payments for doing things like “going to the dentist ($100) or holding down a full-time job ($150 per month).”

The program also paid children between $25 and $50 a month to regularly attend school, and a whopping $600 for passing the New York State Regents exam.

The program was modeled on a similar Mexican effort, and initially financed through private donations. But it made only a limited impact:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pointed to a few examples of success: High school students who met basic proficiency standards before high school tended to increase their attendance, receive more class credits and perform better on standardized tests; more families went to the dentist for regular checkups.

But the elementary and middle school students who participated made no educational or attendance gains. Neither did high school students who performed below basic proficiency standards before high school.

“If you never fail, I can tell you, you’ve never tried new, innovative things,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “And I don’t know that this is a failure. I think it is, some things worked, and some things didn’t, and some things the jury’s still out on. And anything new you’re going to have that diversity of results.”

While payments to the families will end in August, researchers will continue to monitor them for three more years, to see if any behavior encouraged by the initial payments will continue. A final report will be issued in 2013.

Naturally, the program cost nearly twice as much to administer and evaluate as it gave out in payments: In its two-year run, about $14 million had been paid out to 2,400 families, compared with $10.2 million spent on operating costs, and $9.6 million for research and evaluation.


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