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Small business and computers: adoption and performance
Until recently, little evidence suggested that the computer revolution of recent decades has had much impact on aggregate economic growth. Analysis at the worker level has found evidence that use of computers is associated with higher wages. Although some research questions whether this finding is solely due to unobserved heterogeneity in worker quality, others point to such results as evidence that the wage premia for skilled workers have increased over time. Adoption of new technologies is associated with higher productivity and higher productivity growth. As in the worker literature, firms adopting computers may simply be more productive firms. Using new data from the 1998 Survey of Small Business Finances, I examine the determinants of computer adoption by small, privately-held firms and analyze whether computer use affects profits, sales, labor productivity, or other measures of firm success. I am able to control for many firm characteristics not available in other data sets. I find that computer adoption is more likely by larger firms, by younger firms, by firms whose markets are national or international, and by limited liability firms. Adoption is also more likely by firms founded or inherited by a current owner and by firms whose primary owners are more educated. Firms with more than 50% of their ownership shares held by African Americans or Asians, and, in some specifications, firms with more than 50% of their shares held by Hispanics are less likely to have adopted computers, echoing results for households in the literature. Evidence concerning the link between computer use and firm performance is mixed. Current performance as measured by profits or sales is not associated with current computer use in the full sample. In some specifications, use of computers for specific tasks is associated with higher costs. Estimates of the effects of computer use on costs are larger (in absolute value) when the sample is restricted to manufacturing or wholesale trade firms or to larger small businesses. Estimates using the more parsimonious set of control variables widely available in other firm level data show large and positive effects of computer use on firm costs, sales, and profits, suggesting that controlling for managerial, firm, and owner characteristics is important.
AUTHORS: Bitler, Marianne
The state of the safety net in the post-welfare reform era
The passage of the 1996 welfare reform bill led to sweeping changes to the central U.S. cash safety net program for families with children. Importantly, along with other changes, the reform imposed lifetime time limits for receipt of welfare de facto ending the entitlement nature of cash welfare for poor families with children in the United States. Despite dire predictions about poverty and deprivation, the previous research shows that caseloads declined and employment increased, with no detectible increase in poverty or worsening of child-well-being. We re-evaluate these results in light of the severe recession which began in December 2007. In particular, we examine how the cyclicality of the response of program caseloads and family wellbeing has been altered by the implementation of welfare reform. We find that use of food stamps and non-cash safety net program participation have become significantly more responsive across economic cycles after welfare reform, going up more after reform when unemployment increases. By contrast, there is no evidence that cash welfare for families with children is more responsive after reform, and some evidence that it might be less so. There is some evidence that poverty increases more with the unemployment rate after reform (and no evidence that poverty increases less with unemployment after reform). We find that reform has led to no significant effects on the cyclical responsiveness of food consumption, food insecurity, health insurance, household crowding, or health.
AUTHORS: Bitler, Marianne; Hoynes, Hilary W.
Financial services used by small businesses: evidence from the 1998 survey of small business finances
Using newly available data from the 1998 Survey of Small Business Finances, this article offers preliminary findings regarding the characteristics of small businesses in the United States and their use of credit and other financial services. The main goals of the survey are to provide information on credit accessibility for small businesses, their use of financial services, and the sources of those services. The survey also provides a general-purpose database that can be used to study small business financing. Preliminary findings suggest that although the financial landscape has changed markedly since the previous survey in 1993, financing patterns and the use of particular suppliers have not.
AUTHORS: Bitler, Marianne; Robb, Alicia M.; Wolken, John D.
The effect of Medicaid eligibility expansions on births
In an effort to increase the use of prenatal care by pregnant women and the utilization of medical care by children, eligibility for Medicaid was expanded dramatically for pregnant women and children during the 1980s and early 1990s. By lowering the costs of prenatal care, delivery, and child health care for some individuals, Medicaid expansions may prompt some women to give birth who otherwise would not have children or lead some women to have more children than they otherwise would have. This study uses natality data from 1983 to 1996 to examine the relationship between a state's eligibility threshold for Medicaid and birth rates among various groups. The results suggest that expansions have significant and sizable effects on births. A 10 percentage point increase in the eligibility threshold is associated with a 1.4 percent increase in the birth rate among nonblack women and a 1.0 percent increase among black women. Between 1983 and 1996, the expansions appear to have led to an average increase in the birth rate of about 10 percent.
AUTHORS: Bitler, Marianne; Zavodny, Madeline
The impact of welfare reform on marriage and divorce
The goal of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) was to end the dependency of needy parents on government benefits, in part by promoting marriage; the pre-reform welfare system was widely believed to discourage marriage because it primarily provided benefits to single mothers. However, welfare reform may have actually decreased the incentives to be married by giving women greater financial independence via the program's new emphasis on work. This paper uses Vital Statistics data on marriages and divorces during 1989-2000 to examine the role of welfare reform and other state-level variables on marriage and divorce rates. The results indicate that implementation of TANF is negatively associated with marriage and divorce rates, as are pre-TANF waivers from the AFDC program in some specifications.
AUTHORS: Bitler, Marianne; Gelbach, Jonah B.; Hoynes, Hilary W.; Zavodny, Madeline