Do Earmarks Target Low-Income and Minority Communities? Evidence from US Drinking Water
The quality and inequality of US drinking water investments have gained attention after recent environmental disasters in Flint, Michigan, and elsewhere. We compare the formula-based targeting of subsidized loans provided under the Safe Drinking Water Act with the targeting of congressional drinking water earmarks (“pork barrel” spending). Earmarks are often critiqued for potentially privileging wealthier and more politically connected communities. We find that earmarks target Black, Hispanic, and low-income communities, partly due to targeting water systems serving large populations. Earmark and loan targeting differ significantly across all the demographics we analyze. Compared to Safe Drinking Water Act loans, earmarks disproportionately target Hispanic communities but not Black or low-income communities.