IDSS Special Seminar – Sara Heller (UPenn)
May 2, 2017 | 4:00pm-5:00pm | 32-141


The idea motivating half a century of youth employment programs has been that offering training and search assistance to disconnected youth can improve future labor market outcomes, and perhaps as a result, increase the opportunity cost of crime. This paper uses two field experiments, each targeting different populations of disadvantaged youth, to argue for a rethinking of what these programs do and for whom. We report the effects of the program on crime, schooling, and employment outcomes over the 2-3 years after random assignment. We also use a new machine learning method, the causal forest, that predicts treatment heterogeneity from observables to describe who benefits, as well as to explore potential mechanisms. We conclude that these programs can generate substantively important behavioral change, but for different outcomes, different reasons, and different youth than those most often discussed in the literature.


Dr. Heller, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, studies interventions to reduce crime and improve other life outcomes among disadvantaged youth. She has a B.A. in Psychology from Harvard University, an M.P.P. from Georgetown University, and a Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Chicago. Dr. Heller is lead author on several large-scale randomized controlled trials of social programs, including cognitive behavioral therapy and summer job interventions. She is a research affiliate of the University of Chicago Crime Lab and Education Lab, the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, and Penn’s Institute for Urban Research. Her work has been featured in national and international media outlets such as The New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, The Washington Post, Scientific American, and Freakonomics Radio, as well as mentioned in policy speeches by President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

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