Sarah Anzia, Professor

Closed (1) Consumer credit, state politics, and inequality in the United States

Applications for Spring 2019 are now closed for this project.

Each year, tens of millions of low-income Americans use “fringe credit” products—such as payday loans, auto-title loans, or short-term installment loans—to make ends meet. These credit products are riskier and more expensive than credit cards or bank loans, yet are often the only option for those with low or no credit scores, without family to borrow from, or with financial obligations like rent or child care that cannot be paid for with a credit card.

Like many policy issues that are consequential for low-income Americans, fringe credit products are regulated by state governments. As a result, the cost of credit, and the risk to consumers, varies widely from state to state. Why is that the case? This project explores how factors beyond party politics–such as business power and the race and class identities of consumers—influence fringe credit policy, and the broader trend of rising inequality in the United States.

Skills learned: Research assistants on this project will become skilled in researching state-level public policy, using session law databases, state statutes, roll call voting data, and lobbying and campaign finance data. They will also become familiar with the state of policy debates on payday lending and consumer credit regulation, learn the basics of computational data analysis in R, and be exposed to best practices for managing and organizing data in research projects.


Specific tasks may include:

• Constructing histories of fringe credit policy in individual states
• Finding and analyzing roll call votes on relevant legislation
• Using R to clean, organize, and query datasets
• Analyzing data and generating data visualizations in R
• Engaging in qualitative coding of legislative hearings and other primary sources


Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Rhea Myerscough, Ph.D. candidate

Qualifications: An interest in the topic and familiarity with Excel are most important. Prior experience with the statistical package R is not required – an interest in learning some basics is sufficient!

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Closed (2) Municipal Civil Service Laws in the United States

Closed. This professor is continuing with Fall 2018 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Spring 2019.

Government employees have always played an important role in American politics, but the nature of their relationship to elected officials and the governments that employ them changed dramatically over the course of the 20th century. Before the Progressive Era, government employees could only enjoy job stability if they successfully worked to elect the candidates of their own party. If an opposing party was elected, the new governing party would bring in its own employees. But starting in the late 19th century and through the early part of the 20th century, cities and states gradually adopted civil service laws, which gave government employees certain job protections--and employees could no longer be fired for partisan or other arbitrary reasons. This change meant that suddenly government employees enjoyed greater job stability--independent of the party or coalition in government--and that employees generally stayed in their jobs for longer periods of time.

A few scholars have suggested that the spread of civil service laws may have enabled the rise of organizations of public employees--first professional associations, and eventually unions. This was yet another change that altered the relationship between government employees and elected officials. But this fundamental change in American government has been subject to little study. Why did certain cities adopt civil service laws at certain times? And how did those civil service laws facilitate or contribute to the eventual organization of government employees? What were the broader consequences for American government? Our goal is to collect data that will enable an analysis that helps to answer these questions.

The student working on this project will collect data from sources in the UC Berkeley library related to the adoption and content of civil service laws in the early and mid-20th century.

Student will be required to meet with Sarah Anzia every 1-2 weeks.

The student will learn about civil service laws and public employee organizations in cities across the United States. The student will also learn about data collection, assembling datasets, and operationalizing variables.

Qualifications: The student must be able to go to the UC Berkeley library each week to collect data. Interest in the topic is required. Familiarity with civil service laws, local government and politics, and public sector unions is desirable but not essential.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated