Economic Mobility Lab

OFE's innovation is born from experimentation. OFE’s Economic Mobility Lab (mLab) supports purposeful experimentation by designing and testing financial innovations that have the potential to strengthen the economic security and/or mobility of low-income workers and families. Leveraging OFE’s in-house research and development capabilities, risk-tolerant funding, and a strong network of City, private and non-profit collaborators, mLab is developing San Francisco's next generation of financial empowerment innovations and sharing learning with advocates, policy makers, service providers, and municipal peers. mLab's current projects are outlined below.

Coping with Financial Shocks

Partnership: San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

In our first mLab partnership, we’re collaborating with the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to strengthen workers' economic security. Nearly two-thirds of American workers struggle to cover a $1,000 crisis. This is a struggle shared by many private sector workers at SFO. This struggle matters to us, foremost because we want workers to live lives of dignity and abundance, but also because economic insecurity exacts a significant cost to cities. While workers at SFO live across and beyond the Bay Area, we know that economic insecurity costs San Francisco upwards of $70 million a year from lost utility fees and taxes alone. So, we’re co-designing a fund with SFO that helps workers manage unexpected financial shocks—a broken-down car or a trip to the emergency room—that can send families down a dangerous spiral. We’re thrilled to partner with SFO to develop this portable benefit, and grateful to The Workers Lab for supporting this critical work.

  • Challenge: Nearly two-thirds of American workers struggle to cover a $1,000 crisis. This is a struggle shared by the 40,000+ private-sector workers at SFO, half of whom earn less than $50,000 annually in one of the most expensive regions in the country
  • Response: OFE is designing a Workers Fund—a portable cash benefit that equips workers to manage unexpected financial shocks, such as a broken-down car or a trip to the emergency room. See the press release for this work.

Managing Rising Utility Bills

Partnership: San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC)

How can we help residents in the historically disadvantaged Bayview Neighborhood avoid utility shutoff to remain in their home and community?  We are answering this question in a new partnership with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to help residents manage the rising cost of utilities.

  • Challenge: With the high cost of living in San Francisco, many residents struggle to pay their increasing utility bills. This can lead to utility shut-off, accrual of fees, loss of their home—the single largest asset they have to pass on to the next generation—and displacement from their community.
  • Response: OFE is identifying ways that PUC can support residents’ financial stability to prevent their eviction and displacement in San Francisco's Southeast Corridor.

Responding with Cash

Partnership: multiple city departments

A growing number of city departments recognize the potential for cash to complement existing support to residents. OFE is supporting a number of these departments on the design and evaluation of cash-based experiments intended strengthen vulnerable residents’ economic security, based on a ‘toolkit’ for cities co-authored by OFE's Director: Basic Income In Cities: A Guide to City Experiments and Pilot Projects. Launched in early November 2018 at the National League of Cities City Summit, this toolkit highlights emerging practices and shares insights on the process of designing cash experiments in ways that are ethical, rigorous, cost-effective, informative and consequential for local and national policy making. OFE's support for cash-based interventions is based on rigorous research from numerous countries and settings that has demonstrated that households that receive cash assistance are more likely to live longer (Aizer et al. 2016), have better health and lower hospitalization rates (Forget 2011; Haushofer and Shapiro 2018), complete more schooling (Aizer et al. 2016; Akee et al. 2010; Forget 2011), have higher incomes (Aizer et al. 2016; Haushofer and Shapiro 2018), less likely to commit crimes (Akee et al. 2010), and less likely to be homeless (W. N. Evans, Sullivan, and Wallskog 2016).