Joint with Andrew B. Hall

Abstract

Municipal governments oversee many of the most important political matters of daily life in the U.S., yet our understanding of municipal politics remains limited. We combine a large dataset of requests for local government services—such as snow plowing, traffic signal repairs, pothole repairs, and graffiti cleanup—in Boston, Massachusetts, 2011–2015, with fine-grained census data on localized incomes and income inequality. Employing a within-neighborhood design, we establish that, other things equal, higher-income census tracts make more requests for government services. Using data from open-ended text responses submitted by the city, we then connect these requests to the provision of services, showing how the underlying capacity of local communities for communicating requests—i.e., for participating in the process of local government—helps drive inequality in the receipt of services themselves. These results highlight how inequality in economic resources connects to inequality in the non-electoral components of participation in local government.

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