As summer temperatures soar across the northern hemisphere, tradition calls for the publication of holiday reading lists. Mostly, these are books to take to the beach, where we suspect they often lie neglected.
That challenge does not dissuade us from compiling our own list of worthy reads, albeit with an important caveat. Our selection is from recently submitted working papers to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which means they are neither paperbacks nor light reading. But our hope is that with the help of a few brief summaries, the odd paper below might capture the attention, inspire thought, or merely raise an eyebrow at the kinds of topics the economics profession considers these days.
The Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty and Public Assistance: Evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit by Nicardo S. McInnis, Katherine Michelmore and Natasha Pilkauskas
Economists have a long tradition discussing hysteresis—how outcomes can have enduring impacts over time. In this fascinating working paper, the authors look at a form of US ‘welfare’, namely the earned income tax credit, to see how supplemental after-tax income received in childhood affects recipients in their adult years. Empirically, they find that childhood recipients of EITC relief have a significantly lower probability of experiencing poverty or near-poverty in adulthood. The findings are reminiscent of those found in other ‘welfare’ and education (e.g., ‘head start’) programs, which appear to have long-lived benefits for recipients.
How Replaceable is a Low-Wage Job? By Evan K. Rose and Yotam Shem-Tov
The loss of low-wage jobs (those paying approximately $15/hour) has long been thought of as a transitory phenomenon, given the abundance of lower-paying administrative and labor-intensive jobs in the labor market, as well as the relative transferability of skills (at least compared to specialist, high-wage professions). In this intriguing and disturbing study, Rose and Shem-Tov discover that losses by workers of low-wage jobs leads to significant losses in expected earnings that last five years or longer. Partly, that is due to higher rates of unemployment by those losing low wage jobs, and partly to a decline in their labor force participation rates. The implied economic, social, and financial consequences are high.
The Rise in American Pain: The Importance of the Great Recession by Sneha Lamba and Robert A. Moffitt
Research in medicine shows a rising number of Americans are experiencing physical pain. In their paper, Lamba and Moffitt trace connections to rising pain levels during and after the Great Recession of 2008-2010. Disturbingly, however, measures of pain have not receded with the recovery of the economy and the restoration of full employment. While the authors note the need for future research, they also cite literature relating pain to social dislocations (e.g., divorce, social isolation, children born out of wedlock), which logically could have been exacerbated by high unemployment, incidents of foreclosure and personal bankruptcy experienced during the Great Recession, providing further potential examples of hysteresis.
The Confederate Diaspora by Samuel Bazzi, Andreas Ferrara, Martin Fizbein, Thomas P. Pearson and Patrick A. Testa
In a fascinating paper that traces white migration from the states of the Confederacy to other parts of the United States following the Civil War (from 1870-1900), the authors suggest that that ‘diaspora’ transmitted the Confederate culture rapidly and extensively to many other parts of the country. They note that the migration patterns account well for the dispersion of white supremacist organizations (e.g., the Ku Klux Klan) and patterns of racial discrimination, including racial violence (e.g., lynching). Their work not only tracks migration, but also the eventual acquisition of white migrants into positions of local authority (public administration, law, policing) that helped to entrench Confederate culture outside the South.
Accounting for the Widening Mortality Gap Between Adult Americans with and without a BA by Anne Case and Angus Deaton
Examining the period between 1992-2021 (which includes part of the Covid pandemic episode), Case and Deaton note a widening mortality gap among adult Americans between those that have completed college education (with a four-year degree) and those that have not. As they note, from 1992-2010 both groups saw declining mortality rates. From 2010-2019, however, a gap between the two opened, with college graduates still experiencing declining mortality, while those without a college degree suffered a rising death rate, including ‘deaths of despair’ (alcohol and drug abuse, suicide). During the pandemic, mortality rates rose for both groups, but much faster for those without college degrees. They note, as well, that the widening mortality gap cannot be ascribed to single factor, such as deaths due to types of cancer or cardiovascular disease. To quote: “Even though the mechanisms and stories are different for each disease, and sometimes different for men and women, the widening gap is almost always there.”