F&M Student Research Using Prosperity Indicators Data

Patrick Fleming

Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Policy
Franklin & Marshall College


While the 2019-20 academic year was dominated by headlines related to COVID-19, Franklin & Marshall students continued to attain substantial academic accomplishments. Among these, several economics students assembled independent research projects assessing aspects of the local Lancaster economy using data available through the Lancaster Prosperity Indicators database ( http://lanc.fandm.edu/ ).

Melissa Gula ’20, Anna Schutt ’20, and Mack Berkowitz ’21 completed these projects as part of an Economic Statistics class. In this class, students are challenged to apply newly-learned statistical concepts and methods to real-world data. These students went above and beyond the requirements for this project, however, by tracking down their own data to analyze important policy questions for the Lancaster region.

Melissa Gula combined data from Pennsylvania’s statewide PSSA testing with the Lancaster Prosperity Indicators to examine the relationship between poverty and academic achievement among 3rd and 4th graders. In 30 Pennsylvania counties, poverty rates had a strong negative association with average county-level test scores. She found that measures of poverty were more strongly correlated with reduced educational achievement than low median income, violent crime, and average levels of parent education. You can read her full report here: COR_Fleming-ECO 210_Melissa Gula.

Anna Schutt examined the relationship between air quality and respiratory health in Pennsylvania counties, in part because Lancaster County has the poorest air quality in Pennsylvania. To complete her research, Schutt gathered additional data from the American Lung Association to test the association between poor air quality and increased incidence of child asthma, adult asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She found a statistically significant correlation between poor air quality and all three respiratory disorders. Childhood asthma in particular appeared to be most strongly affected by poor air quality, even after accounting for additional control variables such as median household income, poverty rates, and measures of access to health insurance. Her report can be found here: COR_Fleming-ECO 210_Anna Schutt.

Finally, Mack Berkowitz took up the question of the complex relationship of income and health by studying the correlation between poverty and obesity rates. He found that poverty rates are strongly correlated with obesity, particularly for young children, even after controlling for ethnicity, race, and average education levels. His full report is available here: COR_Fleming-ECO 210_Mack Berkowitz.

All of these studies shed empirical light on the prosperity and well-being of Lancaster County, using data provided by local community leaders for this purpose. Yet the topics examined by these students–in relation to education, poverty, the environment, food access, and health–represent challenges that confront policymakers in regions across the globe. Even in this time of pandemic, F&M students continue to contribute their insights to important policy questions in the world around them.

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