04/20/2018

News

Housing Inequality

Inequality in U.S. housing prices and rents both declined in the mid-20th century, even as home-ownership rates rose. Subsequently, housing-price inequality has risen to pre-War levels, while rent inequality has risen less. Combining both measures, we see inequality in housing consumption equivalents mirroring patterns in income across both space and time, according to an income […]

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Do Ban the Box Laws Increase Crime?

Ban-the-box (BTB) laws, which prevent employers from asking prospective employees about their criminal histories at initial job screenings, have been adopted by 25 states and the District of Columbia. Using data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System, the Uniform Crime Reports, and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, this study is the first to […]

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People Versus Machines: The Impact Of Minimum Wages On Automatable Jobs

Overall, we find that increasing the minimum wage decreases significantly the share of automatable employment held by low-skilled workers. Our estimates suggest that an increase of the minimum wage by $1 (based on 2015 dollars) decreases the share of lowskilled automatable jobs by 0.43 percentage point (an elasticity of −0.11). However, these average effects mask significant heterogeneity by industry and by demographic group. In particular, there are large effects on the shares of automatable employment in manufacturing, where we estimate that a $1 increase in the minimum wage decreases the share of automatable employment among low-skilled workers by 0.99 percentage point (elasticity of −0.17). Within manufacturing, the share of older workers in automatable employment declines most sharply, and the share of workers in automatable employment also declines sharply for women and blacks.

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Do People Respond To The Mortgage Interest Deduction? Quasi-Experimental Evidence From Denmark

Using linked housing and tax records from Denmark combined with a major reform of the mortgage interest deduction in the late 1980s, we carry out the first comprehensive long-term study of how tax subsidies affect housing decisions. The reform introduced a large and sharp reduction in the mortgage deduction for top-rate taxpayers, while reducing it much less or not at all for lower-rate taxpayers. We present three main findings. First, the mortgage deduction has a precisely estimated zero effect on homeownership. This holds even in the very long run. Second, the mortgage deduction has a sizeable impact on housing demand at the intensive margin, inducing homeowners to buy larger and more expensive houses. Third, the largest effect of the mortgage deduction is on household financial decisions, inducing them to increase indebtedness. These findings suggest that the mortgage interest deduction distorts the behavior of homeowners at the intensive margin, but is ineffective at promoting homeownership at the extensive margin and any externalities that may be associated with it.        

Research & Studies
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Minimum Wage Increases, Wages and Low-Wage Employment: Evidence from Seattle

This paper evaluates the wage, employment, and hours effects of the first and second phase-in of the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance, which raised the minimum wage from $9.47 to $11 per hour in 2015 and to $13 per hour in 2016.

Using a variety of methods to analyze employment in all sectors paying below a specified real hourly rate, we conclude that the second wage increase to $13 reduced hours worked in low-wage jobs by around 9 percent, while hourly wages in such jobs increased by around 3 percent. Consequently, total payroll fell for such jobs, implying that the minimum wage ordinance lowered low-wage employees’ earnings by an average of $125 per month in 2016. Evidence attributes more modest effects to the first wage increase. We estimate an effect of zero when analyzing employment in the restaurant industry at all wage levels, comparable to many prior studies.

Research & Studies
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How the Growing Gap in Life Expectancy May Affect Retirement Benefits and Reforms

Older Americans have experienced dramatic gains in life expectancy in recent decades, but an emerging literature reveals that these gains are accumulating mostly to those at the top of the income distribution. We explore how growing inequality in life expectancy affects lifetime benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and other programs and how this phenomenon interacts with possible program reforms. We first project that life expectancy at age 50 for males in the two highest income quintiles will rise by 7 to 8 years between the 1930 and 1960 birth cohorts, but that the two lowest income quintiles will experience little to no increase over that time period. This divergence in life expectancy will cause the gap between average lifetime program benefits received by men in the highest and lowest quintiles to widen by $130,000 (in $2009) over this period. Finally we simulate the effect of Social Security reforms such as raising the normal retirement age and changing the benefit formula to see whether they mitigate or enhance the reduced progressivity resulting from the widening gap in life expectancy.

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Secular Stagnation? The Effect of Aging on Economic Growth in the Age of Automation

Several recent theories emphasize the negative effects of an aging population on economic growth, either because of the lower labor force participation and productivity of older workers or because aging will create an excess of savings over desired investment, leading to secular stagnation. We show that there is no such negative relationship in the data. If anything, countries experiencing more rapid aging have grown more in recent decades. We suggest that this counterintuitive finding might reflect the more rapid adoption of automation technologies in countries undergoing more pronounced demographic changes, and provide evidence and theoretical underpinnings for this argument.

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The Fading American Dream: Trends In Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940

We estimate rates of “absolute income mobility” – the fraction of children who earn more than their parents – by combining historical data from Census and CPS cross-sections with panel data for recent birth cohorts from de-identified tax records. Our approach overcomes the key data limitation that has hampered research on trends in intergenerational mobility: the lack of large panel datasets linking parents and children. We find that rates of absolute mobility have fallen from approximately 90%for children born in 1940 to 50% for children born in the 1980s. The result that absolute mobility has fallen sharply over the past half century is robust to the choice of price deflator, the definition of income, and accounting for taxes and transfers. In counterfactual simulations, we find that increasing GDP growth rates alone cannot restore absolute mobility to the rates experienced by children born in the 1940s. In contrast, changing the distribution of growth across income groups to the more equal distribution experienced by the 1940 birth cohort would reverse more than 70% of the decline in mobility. These results imply that reviving the “American Dream” of high rates of absolute mobility would require economic growth that is spread more broadly across the income distribution.     

Research & Studies
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Using Linked Survey and Administrative Data to Better Measure Income: Implications for Poverty, Program Effectiveness and Holes in the Safety Net

We examine the consequences of underreporting of transfer programs for prototypical analyses of low-income populations using the Current Population Survey (CPS), the source of official poverty and inequality statistics. We link administrative data for food stamps, TANF, General Assistance, and subsidized housing from New York State to the CPS at the individual level. Program receipt in the CPS is missed for over one-third of housing assistance recipients, 40 percent of food stamp recipients and 60 percent of TANF and General Assistance recipients. Dollars of benefits are also undercounted for reporting recipients, particularly for TANF, General Assistance and housing assistance. We find that the survey data sharply understate the income of poor households. Underreporting in the survey data also greatly understates the effects of anti-poverty programs and changes our understanding of program targeting. Using the combined data rather than survey data alone, the poverty reducing effect of all programs together is nearly doubled while the effect of housing assistance is tripled. We also re-examine the coverage of the safety net, specifically the share of people without work or program receipt. Using the administrative measures of program receipt rather than the survey ones often reduces the share of single mothers falling through the safety net by one-half or more.

Research & Studies
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The Distributional Effects of U.S. Clean Energy Tax Credits

Since 2006, U.S. households have received more than $18 billion in federal income tax credits for weatherizing their homes, installing solar panels, buying hybrid and electric vehicles, and other “clean energy” investments. We use tax return data to examine the socioeconomic characteristics of program recipients. We find that these tax expenditures have gone predominantly to higher-income Americans. The bottom three income quintiles have received about 10% of all credits, while the top quintile has received about 60%. The most extreme is the program aimed at electric vehicles, where we find that the top income quintile has received about 90% of all credits.

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Environmental Benefits from Driving Electric Vehicles?

Electric vehicles offer the promise of reduced environmental externalities relative to their gasoline counterparts. We combine a theoretical discrete-choice model of new vehicle purchases, an econometric analysis of the marginal emissions from electricity, and the AP2 air pollution model to estimate the environmental benefit of electric vehicles. First, we find considerable variation in the environmental benefit, implying a range of second-best electric vehicle purchase subsidies from $3025 in California to -$4773 in North Dakota, with a mean of -$742. Second, over ninety percent of local environmental externalities from driving an electric vehicle in one state are exported to others, implying that electric vehicles may be subsidized locally, even though they may lead to negative environmental benefits overall. Third, geographically differentiated subsidies can reduce deadweight loss, but only modestly. Fourth, the current federal purchase subsidy of $7500 has greater deadweight loss than a no-subsidy policy.

Research & Studies
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