Research

Job Market Paper

The Geography of Black Economic Progress After Slavery

with Hugo Reichardt

This paper studies the long-run impact of racially oppressive institutions, finding that Black Americans’ socioeconomic status today is lower than that of white Americans in large part due to the US’s history of slavery and Jim Crow. We overcome the challenge of measuring each Black family’s historical exposure to slavery and Jim Crow by tracing their records from 1850 to 2000. First, we document that Black families who were enslaved until 1865 continue have considerably lower education, income, and wealth. Second, we show this persistence is entirely driven by post-slavery oppression under Jim Crow. We use a regression discontinuity design that compares the outcomes of families who were freed across state borders with more or less stringent Jim Crow laws, finding that states with more oppressive regimes sharply reduced Black economic progress in the long run. Using quasi-experimental variation in access to schools, we show that the limited access to human capital under Jim Crow was key in perpetuating racial disparities after slavery.

Winner of the 2022 Urban Economics Association Prize

Winner of the 2022 IPUMS Research Award

Work in Progress

Intergenerational Mobility and Assortative Mating

with Harriet Brookes Gray and Hugo Reichardt

Throughout modern history, the US has been considered the land of opportunity. Historical estimates of intergenerational mobility focus on father-son links, ignoring the importance of mothers in shaping the outcomes of children. We create a massive new dataset of linked census and administrative records from 1850 to 1940 that is representative across various dimension, most importantly gender. To link women who change their name upon marriage, we use information from 41 million social security applications that contain the maiden and married names of applicants and their parents. We estimate intergenerational mobility by gender and race for people born between 1850 and 1910, suggesting similar levels of mobility for men and women. However, we show that ignoring the role of mothers overstates mobility, especially in educational outcomes.

Draft coming soon

The G.I. Bill and Black-White Wealth Disparities

with Christiane Szerman

The World War II G.I. Bill provided generous benefits to returning veterans, benefiting over 70 percent of young men. While the policy is credited with creating the American middle class, including a boom in homeownership, not every veteran was able to use the benefits. We study the long-run impact that the G.I. Bill had on the wealth of Black and white Americans. We use a regression discontinuity design based on the quarter of birth of men that determined their ability to serve in the war. To study the intergenerational effects of the policy, we develop a new instrument for having a veteran father based on the time of birth in relation to the return of veterans. We find that the G.I. Bill had markedly different impacts on Black and white veterans, exacerbating the racial wealth gap until today.

Draft coming soon

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Racial Income Gaps among Women since 1950

This paper studies the evolution of Black-white disparities in women’s household income between 1950 and 2019. Four main results are documented. First, the convergence in Black-white income differences that occurred in the first half of the sample period has largely stalled since 1980 and large gaps persist. Second, the drivers of progress differ vastly across the distribution. Black women at the middle and bottom have barely changed the position they occupy in the white income distribution. Rather the distribution’s compression pre-1980 is responsible for reducing relative income differences. In contrast, Black women at the top experienced a substantial improvement in the position they occupy in the white distribution. Third, Black-white differences have converged across U.S. regions, so much so that the South no longer stands out as the epicenter of Black-white income inequality among women. Fourth, since 1980, racial differences in women’s observable characteristics have increasingly lost their power to statistically account for the differences in incomes.

The Black-White Gap in Economic Well-Being Among Children Since 1940

I document the Black-white gap in economic well-being among men, women, and children since 1940. To measure economic well-being, I focus on family incomes adjusted for family size and composition. Children are the group that faces the largest Black-white gap across the income distribution. Throughout the past 80 years, the median Black child never exceeded 50 percent of the family resources available to the median white child. Growing differences in the structure of Black and white families have undone most of the progress in narrowing the Black-white gap within family types. The 2021 Child Tax Credit reform had the potential to expand the currently moderate role that redistribution through income taxation has had in narrowing the Black-white gap in children’s family incomes.

Draft coming soon

Publications

The Geography of Remote Work

with Fabian Eckert, Sharat Ganapati, and Conor Walsh

Regional Science and Urban Economics (March 2022)

High-income business service workers dominate the economies of major US cities, and their spending supports many local consumer service jobs. As a result, business services' high remote work potential poses a risk to consumer service workers who could lose an essential source of revenue if business service workers left big cities to work from elsewhere. We use the COVID-19-induced increase in remote work to provide empirical evidence for this mechanism and its role in shaping the pandemic's economic impact. Our findings have broader implications for the distributional consequences of the transition to more remote work.

Media: The Economist, New York Times, Bloomberg, NBER Digest, NYT: Upshot, Bloomberg Opinion, PEW, WirtschaftsWoche, Marketplace, Governing Magazine. Also available as NBER Working Paper #29181.