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Panhandling UNDERCOVER

Ever wondered if you make as much money as someone who begs for a living?

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - David Spears goes undercover, hiding his notes behind a handmade sign, to study panhandling at the Interstate 205 off-ramp into downtown Oregon City for his book 'Exit Ramp.'Now, one of your neighbors has taken the time to find out how much you could expect to make by standing outside with a homemade cardboard sign.

Last week, Oregon City resident David P. Spears II released “Exit Ramp: A Short Case Study of the Profitability of Panhandling.” by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Oregon City resident David Spears' 'Exit Ramp: A Short Case Study of the Profitability of Panhandling' is based on an undercover study at the Interstate 205 off-ramp into downtown Oregon City.Through an undercover study done at the Interstate 205 off-ramp into downtown Oregon City, his 98-page book mixes economic research and investigative journalism to make conclusions about modern urban charity.

Spears, 33, served for a year in the U.S. military’s Iraq operations before using the 9/11 G.I. bill to pay the costs for earning an economics and political science degree from George Fox University this spring.

Standing for 80 hours on the OC exit ramp started as a project to satisfy his own curiosity during summer break before his senior year. With his eye-opening findings recorded, he successfully raised $5,000 through an online Kickstarter campaign to launch his literary career.

To prepare for his experiment last July, Spears grew his beard for two months and pulled the rattiest garments out of his closet. After some brainstorming, he wrote “Iraq Vet, Anything Helps” in black Sharpie on his cardboard canvas.

Spears admitted that he suffered an internal “dilemma” about accepting money that he didn’t need. He’s had a part-time job, but has been paying his mortgage on time thanks to government stipends that also pay for veterans’ college courses. In the end, he settled on accepting strangers’ money in the name of science and (as graciously as possible) refusing offers to help him find a job.

Satisfying curiosity

Examining what kind of people give to panhandlers, Spears discovered that one of every 59 people driving through the exit ramp gave money to him. Men and women gave to him about equally, shattering his perception that women would shy away from his scruffy appearance and be more hesitant of “stranger danger.”

by: DAVID SPEARS - Book coverMiddle-age people, estimated between 25 and 49, gave to Spears much more than those he perceived to be older or younger. Although they account for only 39 percent of insured drivers in Oregon, middle-age drivers made up 80 percent of his donors.

After 12 days of work, Spears found that he averaged $11.10 an hour, more than Oregon’s minimum wage of $8.95 an hour.

“I was surprised by how often people gave and how much they gave,” he said in conclusion. “I was also disheartened by how often it amounted to nothing more than an exchange of money from one random individual to another random individual.”

Spears spends the heart of the book detailing each transaction and lauding individuals who gave him more than just an extra dollar. In circumstances he said were more than “real generosity,” a woman referred him to an employment opportunity at her friend’s concrete-cutting company, and a fellow former military man offered him a ride to a veterans’ job-training center.

“Taking 60 seconds of our daily commute to give a dollar to a total stranger is nothing more than the economic equivalent of a drive-by shooting — not exactly a strategy to win the war on poverty,” he wrote.

His inspiration for “Exit Ramp” sprang from reading popular economics books by authors like Paul Collier, Jeffrey Sachs and Esther Duflo. He was struck with the idea that he also wanted to publish an economics book but realized he didn’t yet have the experience to write the unauthorized biography of Ben Bernanke or the history of inflation in pre-industrial Europe. Then he remembered his longstanding curiosity about panhandlers.

“I don’t think I’m the only one that’s had this curiosity,” he said. “I decided the best way to satisfy my curiosity was to build an independent data set by going undercover and doing some panhandling myself. No matter what I found out, I thought I would at least have some good stories to tell ... and it turns out I was right.”

The book is available in paperback and electronic formats from major online retailers.



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