Sebastian Jilke (Rutgers University-Newark) and I developed a new article. It has been published in the Journal of Public Administration, Research & Theory (the nr. 1 journal in Public Administration) and is entitled “Which Clients are Deserving of Help? A Theoretical Model and Experimental Test“.

Abstract

Street-level bureaucrats have to cope with high workloads, role conflicts and limited resources. An important way in which they cope with this is by prioritizing some clients, while disregarding others. When deciding on whom to prioritize, street-level bureaucrats often assess whether a client is deserving of help. However, to date the notion of the deserving client is in a black box as it is largely unclear which client attributes activate the prevailing social/professional category of deservingness. This article therefore proposes a theoretical model of three deservingness cues that street-level bureaucrats employ to determine whom to help: earned deservingness (i.e., the client is deserving because (s)he earned it: “the hard-working client”), needed deservingness (i.e., the client is deserving because (s)he needs help: “the needy client”), and resource deservingness (i.e., the client is deserving as (s)he is probably successful according to bureaucratic success criteria: “the successful client”). We test the effectiveness of these deservingness cues via an experimental conjoint design among a nationwide sample of US teachers. Our results suggest that needed deservingness is the most effective cue in determining which students to help, as teachers especially intend to prioritize students with low academic performance and members of minority groups. Earned deservingness was also an effective cue, but to a lesser extent. Resource deservingness, in contrast, did not affect teachers’ decisions whom to help. The theoretical and practical implications of our findings for discretionary biases in citizen-state interactions are discussed.

Table 1Three deservingness cues

Deservingness cue Description Example Hypothesis
Earned deservingness (‘the hard-working clients’) Clients are seen as worthy of investing time and resources in because they have shown high effort. A student who is seen as deserving of help as she is working very hard every day to learn as much as possible. H1
Needed deservingness (‘the ‘needy clients’) Clients are seen as worthy of investing time and resources in because they are perceived to be need of help. A working and disabled single mother who is applying for extra financial assistance is seen as deserving as she is in need of help. H2a, H3, H4
Resource deservingness (‘the successful clients’) Clients are seen as worthy of investing time and resources in because they are perceived to be successful in terms bureaucratic success criteria. A person who has graduated in engineering and is looking for a first job is seen as deserving of help as this person will likely succeed and therefore the time invested is well spent. H2b

 

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