Research

Working Papers

“Loans for the Little Fellow”: Credit, Crisis, and Recovery in the Great Depression This version: December 2019.
Abstract:
This paper studies how structural transformation exacerbates financial crises. Using newly-collected data, I document the persistent effect of credit supply shocks on local economies during the Great Depression. Cities with access to an unusually generous branching network were no different from other California cities in the 1920s but had significantly smaller recessions and stronger recoveries in the 1930s. Linked worker-level data demonstrate local credit supply shifted workers out of agriculture and into nontradable employment, which was higher-skilled, creating a lingering barrier to convergence.

 

Human Capital Formation and Regional Recovery From the Great Depression, with Zachary Bleemer. This Version: May 2020.
Abstract: Labor and credit market conditions both deteriorate in a financial crisis, altering students’ incentives to invest in human capital. In this paper, we characterize changes in parental characteristics, major choice, and labor market outcomes due to the local intensity of the Great Depression. Using a difference-in-difference design and Census data linked to detailed student-level California university registers, we show that California towns with less-severe economic contractions increased college-sending during the crisis. These university enrollees came from lower-socioeconomic-status households than students from towns with worse local economies and tended to enroll at lower-cost public universities in high-return fields of study. As a result, by 1940 they had earned a wage premium even relative to other college-educated workers with similar pre-Depression characteristics. Economic stability during the Great Depression facilitated middle-income households’ human capital investment, increasing later income and promoting intergenerational mobility.

 

Income Shocks and Housing Spillovers:  Evidence from the World War I Veterans’ Bonus. This version: September 2020.
Abstract: This paper isolates the direct and spillover effects of household income shocks on housing markets in the Great Depression. During the 1930s, the federal government unexpectedly gave World War I veterans a large income transfer. I examine the housing market consequences of this shock using longitudinal data on treated men and their next-door neighbors. The bonus, equivalent to per-capita income in 1936, substantially improved veterans’ 1940 home values and homeownership rates compared to those of their 1930 neighbors. Veterans capitalized on this payment to move up the wealth distribution even when abstracting from general equilibrium changes. Gains were concentrated in booming local economies, likely pricing out otherwise similar households. Together, these results indicate that the interaction between household shocks and neighborhood spillovers limited the overall recovery of these markets.

 

Publications

Old Immigrants, New Niches: Russian Jewish Agricultural Farming Colonies and Native Workers in Southern New Jersey, 1880-1910, with Siobhan O’Keefe. Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences. 2018.
Abstract: The effect of immigration shocks on native workers in a labor niche remains an open question. We test how workers in the farm and nonfarm sectors were affected by the establishment of Russian Jewish agricultural colonies in southern New Jersey in the late nineteenth century. By following the same individuals across the 1880 and 1910 US censuses, we avoid making assumptions about the substitutability of immigrants and native workers. Russian Jews established themselves as farmers or factory workers with the help of international aid societies. Many native workers increased their occupational standing by transitioning to occupations complementary to agricultural and semi-skilled factory work, the immigrants’ main niches. We see no impact on farmers, likely due to the structure of agricultural markets. We also find a decreased probability of out-migration for natives living near a successful agricultural colony, with occupational upgrading concentrated among stayers.

Works in Progress

Financial Deepening Versus Credit Booms: A Historical Perspective, with Mathias Drehmann and Mikael Juselius.

Moving On Up: Immigration and Native Occupational Mobility in the United States, 1870-1930, with Rowena Gray, Siobhan O’Keefe, and Zachary Ward.