Algorithms Too? Yes, Computers Can Reinforce the Bias of Their Designers

The Markup – https://themarkup.org/denied/2021/08/25/the-secret-bias-hidden-in-mortgage-approval-algorithms – has a great set of visualizations that illustrate one of the reasons why the wealth gap between Black and White Americans continues to grow.

The article on The Secret Bias Hidden in Mortgage-Approval Algorithms shows how communities of color routinely get fewer mortgage loans than white communities with the same income levels, housing stock, etc. The redlining of the 1930’s persists in other forms.

Nationally, loan applicants of color were 40%–80% more likely to be denied than their White counterparts

Even accounting for factors lenders said would explain disparities, people of color are denied mortgages at significantly higher rates than White people

An investigation by The Markup has found that lenders in 2019 were more likely to deny home loans to people of color than to White people with similar financial characteristics—even when we controlled for newly available financial factors that the mortgage industry for years has said would explain racial disparities in lending.

Holding 17 different factors steady in a complex statistical analysis of more than two million conventional mortgage applications for home purchases, we found that lenders were 40 percent more likely to turn down Latino applicants for loans, 50 percent more likely to deny Asian/Pacific Islander applicants, and 70 percent more likely to deny Native American applicants than similar White applicants. Lenders were 80 percent more likely to reject Black applicants than similar White applicants. These are national rates.

In every case, the prospective borrowers of color looked almost exactly the same on paper as the White applicants, except for their race.

In the New York/New Jersey area, if 100 people applied for a mortgage:

Findings were unreliable for Native American applicants.
Source: 2019 HMDA Data, illustrations from ProPublica. We applied the odds ratios from our regression to White applicants’ actual denial rates to calculate the number of denials for each racial and ethnic group above. These numbers are not the actual denials or actual number of applications in each location, but rather have been standardized for comparison. We rounded to the nearest person.

The article continues that:

This algorithm was developed from data from the 1990s and is more than 15 years old. It’s widely considered detrimental to people of color because it rewards traditional credit, to which White Americans have more access. It doesn’t consider, among other things, on-time payments for rent, utilities, and cellphone bills—but will lower people’s scores if they get behind on them and are sent to debt collectors. Unlike more recent models, it penalizes people for past medical debt even if it’s since been paid.

“This is how structural racism works,” said Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “This is how racism gets embedded into institutions and policies and practices with absolutely no animus at all.”

For the full article, see: https://themarkup.org/denied/2021/08/25/the-secret-bias-hidden-in-mortgage-approval-algorithms

If You’ve Got Kids, You Can Get Discounted Internet and Laptops/Tablets/Desktops

A federal program is offering New York families with children who attend public schools discounted internet and devices

Chalkbeat is reporting that because so few families have signed up for these amazing discounts, the Education Department is trying to spread the word that you can receive up to a $50 monthly discount on broadband service and equipment. Additionally, you can get a one-time discount of up to $100 on a laptop, tablet or desktop computer.

The discount is part of the federal government’s $3.2 billion temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which launched in May as part of the response to COVID’s public health crisis. The city’s education department promoted the program in a recent issue of its family-facing blog.

The program will last “when the fund runs out of money” or six months after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the pandemic.

Everybody’s Eligible

Any families with children in schools offering free meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision can sign up for this program — meaning it’s available to all students enrolled in New York City’s public schools, according to a spokesperson for the city’s education department.

Families must apply and find a broadband provider in their area participating in the program. Families can also check to see if their current providers are participating in the program. The broadband service then offers eligible families a discounted rate and is reimbursed by the federal government.

Families also qualify for several other reasons, including if they receive certain benefits, such as SNAP, or lost work last year and had a total household income in 2020 of $99,000 for single tax filers or $198,000 for joint filers.