In-Class Activity

Each policy at the federal, state or local level, however well-intended it is, brings with it one or more “unintended consequences” or a “disparate impact.” For example, at a public library, if excessive fines are charged for overdue books, what might be the fallout? It may result in fewer overdue books, but what if it discourages literacy? “Disparate Impact” refers to the concept of public policy resulting in the unfair repercussions based on race, religion, class, disability, income, etc. For example, might the overdue fines weigh more heavily on the poor?

Write a 1 page reflection on any federal, state or local law, policy, or custom. Describe either an unintended consequence of it or a way in which it has a “disparate impact” on a specific population. Then suggest a possible modification that could be enacted or adopted that would make the law/policy/system or custom more fair.


  1. Grocery stores give price discounts for merchandise purchased in larger quantities…if you buy toilet paper in a 12-pack vs. a 4-pack, the price per roll is lower. How might one’s ability to purchase a 12-pack be affected by the need to take public transportation? Those with cars can wheel their cart directly to their car and transfer large amounts of groceries with ease. Bus riders often must walk some distance and are limited in the number of bags they can carry on one trip. Possible solution: provide van pools that make trips from low-income housing complexes to grocery stores and back. Or, re-route public bus routes so that they run directly to grocery stores.
  2. People who own their own homes usually have a parking space for a car in a garage or a driveway on their property. People who live in apartments (who are more likely to be low-income) may not have anywhere to park their cars except on the streets. In Minneapolis, after a heavy snowfall, cars may only be parked on one side of the street for two days to facilitate snow removal, cutting the available spaces in half. Cars left on the snowplow’s side of the street are ticketed and towed. Possible solution: offer businesses, churches, and shopping centers some kind of incentive if they allow local residents to park in the business lot overnight during a snow emergency.

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