The Slaughter of the Bison and Reversal of Fortunes on the Great Plains
In the late 19th century, the North American bison was brought to the brink of extinction in just over a decade. We show that the bison?s slaughter led to a reversal of fortunes for the Native Americans who relied on them. Once the tallest people in the world, the generations of bison-reliant people born after the slaughter were among the shortest. Today, formerly bison-reliant societies have between 20-40% less income per capita than the average Native American nation. We argue that federal Indian policy that limited out-migration from reservations and restricted employment opportunities to ...
The Great Migration and Educational Opportunity
This paper studies the impact of the First Great Migration on children. We use the complete count 1940 Census to estimate selection-corrected place effects on education for children of Black migrants. On average, Black children gained 0.8 years of schooling (12 percent) by moving from the South to the North. Many counties that had the strongest positive impacts on children during the 1940s offer relatively poor opportunities for Black youth today. Opportunities for Black children were greater in places with more schooling investment, stronger labor market opportunities for Black adults, more ...
Accounting for Central Neighborhood Change, 1980-2010
Neighborhoods within 2 km of most central business districts of U.S. metropolitan areas experienced population declines from 1980 to 2000 but have rebounded markedly since 2000 at greater pace than would be expected from simple mean reversion. Statistical decompositions reveal that 1980-2000 departures of residents without a college degree (of all races) generated most of the declines while the return of college educated whites and the stabilization of neighborhood choices by less educated whites promoted most of the post-2000 rebound. The rise of childless households and the increase in the ...
Income and Wealth Inequality in America, 1949-2016
This paper introduces a new long-run dataset based on archival data from historical waves of the Survey of Consumer Finances. The household-level data allow us to study the joint distributions of household income and wealth since 1949. We expose the central importance of portfolio composition and asset prices for wealth dynamics in postwar America. Asset prices shift the wealth distribution because the composition and leverage of household portfolios differ systematically along the wealth distribution. Middle-class portfolios are dominated by housing, while rich households predominantly own ...
The Effect of Immigration on Local Labor Markets: Lessons from the 1920s Border Closure
In the 1920s, the United States substantially reduced immigration by imposing country-specific entry quotas. We compare local labor markets differentially exposed to the quotas due to variation in the national origin mix of their immigrant populations. U.S.-born workers in areas losing immigrants did not gain in income score relative to workers in less exposed areas. Instead, in urban areas, European immigrants were replaced with internal migrants and immigrants from Mexico and Canada. By contrast, farmers shifted toward capital-intensive agriculture, and the immigrant-intensive mining ...
College Access and Attendance Patterns: A Long-Run View
We harmonize the results of 42 different data sets and studies dating back to the early 20th century to construct a time series of college attendance patterns for the United States. We find an important reversal around the time of World War II: before that time, family characteristics such as income were the better predictor of college attendance; afterwards, academic ability was the better predictor. We construct a model of college choice that can explain this reversal. The model's central mechanism is an exogenous rise in the demand for college that leads better colleges to become ...
How Common Was Blockbusting in the Postwar U.S.?
This article documents the prevalence of blockbusting—the orchestration of racial turnover in urban neighborhoods—throughout many major U.S. cities from the 1950s through the 1970s.
Health Insurance and Hospital Supply: Evidence from 1950s Coal Country
The United States government spends billions on public health insurance and has funded a number of programs to build health care facilities. However, the government runs these two types of programs separately: in different places, at different times, and for different populations. We explore whether access to both health insurance and hospitals can improve health outcomes and access to health care. We analyze a coal mining union health insurance program in 1950s Appalachia with and without a complementary hospital construction program. Our results show that the union insurance alone increased ...
Fireside Chats: Communication and Consumers’ Expectations in the Great Depression
This paper shows how policy announcements can be used to manage expectations and have a role as a policy tool. Using regional variation in radio exposure, I evaluate the impact of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1935 Fireside Chat, in which he showcased the introduction of important social policies, establishing a new cycle of the New Deal. I document that cities with higher exposure to the announcement exhibited a significant increase in spending on durable goods. I provide evidence that this result is not driven by wealth or other potentially confounding variables. The estimated effect ...
Fight the Pandemic, Save the Economy: Lessons from the 1918 Flu
The COVID-19 outbreak has sparked urgent questions about the impact of pandemics, and associated countermeasures, on the real economy. Policymakers are in uncharted territory, with little guidance on what the expected economic fallout will be and how the crisis should be managed. In this blog post, we use insights from a recent research paper to discuss two sets of questions. First, what are the real economic effects of a pandemic—and are these effects temporary or persistent? Second, how does the local public health response affect the economic severity of the pandemic? In particular, do ...