Research

Job Market Paper

Jim Crow and Black Economic Progress After Slavery

with Hugo Reichardt

This paper studies the long-run effects of institutionalized oppression on racial inequality in the US. We trace each Black family's linked census and administrative records between 1850 and 2000 to measure how long they were enslaved and where they lived during Jim Crow. We show that Black families who were enslaved until the Civil War continue to have considerably lower education, income, and wealth today than Black families who were free before the Civil War. The persistent disparities between the two groups are entirely driven by the fact that families who were enslaved longer were freed further south and, as a consequence, experienced more severe post-slavery oppression under Jim Crow. In a regression discontinuity design based on ancestors' enslavement location, we show that states with more oppressive regimes sharply reduced Black economic progress in the long run, in large part because their access to human capital was limited. In sum, had it not been for Jim Crow, Black economic progress after slavery would have been substantially faster.

Winner of the 2022 Urban Economics Association Prize

Winner of the 2022 IPUMS USA Research Award

Media: Marginal Revolution, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Helsingin Sanomat

Work in Progress

Intergenerational Mobility and Assortative Mating

with Harriet Brookes Gray and Hugo Reichardt

The US has been considered the land of opportunity. However, representative estimates of intergenerational mobility are scarce as women's historical records are difficult to trace once their name changes upon marriage. This paper overcomes the challenge of linking women's census records using information from Social Security Number (SSN) applications. Those applications contain the maiden and married names of 60 million women—either as applicants or as applicants' mothers. Our new panel dataset covers an unprecedented number of women between 1850 and 1940 and opens a myriad of new opportunities to study women's role in the US economy. We document three important new facts. First, we construct representative estimates of intergenerational mobility from 1850 to 1940 from our new panel. We show that historically, women's intergenerational mobility tended to be higher than men's for Black and white Americans. Second, we highlight mothers' significant role in predicting their children's future outcomes, suggesting that traditional father-child comparisons overestimate intergenerational mobility. Third, we document a robust relationship between sorting in marriage markets and levels of intergenerational mobility across time and space. The more sorting there is in the marriage market, the more rigid the socioeconomic status of families across generations.

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.

Full 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 US 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

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.

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.