Research


Above: Petra, Jordan, 2012.



Working Papers:


"Can the Unemployed Borrow? Implications for Public Insurance," Joint with J. Carter Braxton, and Gordon Phillips. 
(First draft: January 2018)
Abstract:  We show that individuals maintain significant access to credit following job loss. Unconstrained workers who lose their jobs borrow, while constrained workers who lose their jobs default and delever. Both default and borrowing allow unemployed workers to smooth consumption, and they pay an interest rate premium to do so, i.e. the credit market acts as a limited private unemployment insurance market. We show theoretically that a credit-registry and long-term credit relationships allow credit markets to serve as a market for private unemployment insurance, despite adverse selection. We then ask, given current U.S. credit access, what is the optimal provision of public unemployment insurance? We find that the optimal provision of public insurance is unambiguously lower as credit access expands. The median individual in our simulated economy would prefer to have the income replacement rate from public unemployment insurance lowered from the current US policy of 42% to 38%. However, a utilitarian planner would actually prefer to raise public unemployment insurance relative to current US levels, even in the presence of well-developed credit markets.


"Worker Mobility and the Diffusion of Knowledge," Joint with Jeremy Lise, Guido Menzio, and Gordon Phillips. 
(First draft: June 2017, previously titled "Knowledge Diffusion Within and Across Firms")
Abstract:  We develop a theory of teams to measure the way knowledge diffuses across workers. We build a frictional sorting framework which allows for workers to influence each other's knowledge. We estimate the model using matched employer-employee data for the U.S. Our estimates imply strong peer effects. With strong peer effects, both the decentralized economy and planner optimally pair low human capital workers with high human capital workers.  We show that at least 16% of measured ``mismatch'' (pairing high and low types) in the U.S. economy is due to peer effects. Lastly, peer effects and worker mobility are equally important determinants of output, with each factor accounting for roughly 1/6 of U.S. GDP.


"Patent Disclosure," Joint with Deepak Hegde and Chenqi Zhu. 
(First draft: January 2015)
Abstract:  How does the disclosure of technical knowledge through patents affect knowledge diffusion, follow-on invention, and patenting? We study this by analyzing the American Inventor's Protection Act (AIPA), which required U.S. patent applications filed after November 28, 2000 to be published 18 months after filing, rather than at grant, and advanced the disclosure of most U.S. patents by about two years. We estimate AIPA’s causal effect by using a counterfactual sample of identical European “twins” (of U.S. patents) which were not affected by the U.S. policy change and find that AIPA (i) increased the rate and magnitude of knowledge diffusion associated with U.S. patents (ii) increased overlap between technologically distant patents and decreased overlap between similar patents. Patent abandonments and scope decreased, while patent clarity improved, after AIPA. The findings are consistent with the predictions of our theoretical framework which models AIPA as provisioning current information about related technologies to inventors. The information, in turn, reduces follow-on inventors’ R&D and patenting costs. Patent disclosure promotes knowledge diffusion and clearer property rights while reducing R&D duplication.


"Tarnishing the Golden and Empire States: Land-Use Regulations and the U.S. Economic Slowdown," Joint with Lee E. Ohanian and Edward C. Prescott (Forthcoming at JME).

Abstract:  This paper studies the impact of state-level land-use restrictions on U.S. economic activity,  focusing on how these restrictions have depressed macroeconomic activity since 2000. We use a variety of state-level data sources, together with a general equilibrium spatial model of the United States to systematically construct a panel dataset of state-level land-use restrictions between 1950 and 2014. We show that these restrictions have generally tightened over time, particularly in California and New York. We use the model to analyze how these restrictions affect economic activity and the allocation of workers and capital across states. Counterfactual experiments show that deregulating existing urban land from 2014 regulation levels back to 1980 levels would have increased US GDP and productivity roughly to their current trend levels. California, New York, and the Mid-Atlantic region expand the most in these counterfactuals, drawing population out of the South and the Rustbelt. General equilibrium effects, particularly the reallocation of capital across states, account for much of these gains. 


"The Impact of Consumer Credit Access on Employment, Earnings and Entrepreneurship," Joint with Gordon Phillips and Ethan Cohen-Cole (Submitted).
(First Draft: February 2016) 

Abstract:  We examine how consumer credit access impacts job flows, earnings, and entrepreneurship using individual and entrepreneur tax records linked to credit reports.   We examine individuals in the overall population and following bankruptcy flag removal.   With better credit and after bankruptcy flag removal, new entrants into self-employment earn more, borrow significantly and are more likely to hire their first employee.  After bankruptcy flag removal, individuals who own an employer firm borrow on average $40k more, a 33% increase.  After flag removal, non-employed and self-employed individuals are also more likely to find unemployment-insured ``formal'' jobs at larger firms that pay greater wages.



"How Credit Constraints Impact Job Finding Rates, Sorting & Aggregate Output," Joint with Gordon Phillips and Ethan Cohen-Cole, 2016 (Submitted). 
(First Draft: March 2015)  

Abstract:  How does consumer credit access affect job search and the allocation of workers to firms? We show that an increase in credit limits worth 10% of prior annual earnings allows individuals to take .33 to 2.67 weeks longer to find a job. Conditional on finding a job, they earn more and work at more productive firms. We develop a labor sorting model with credit to provide structural estimates of the impact of credit on employment outcomes, which we find are similar to our empirical estimates. We use the model to understand the impact of consumer credit on the macroeconomy. We find that if credit limits tighten during a downturn, employment recovers quicker, but output and productivity remain depressed as low-asset, low-productivity displaced workers are less able to self-insure. The results are consistent with displaced workers searching less thoroughly and taking more accessible jobs at less productive firms.



"The Impact of Consumer Credit Access on Unemployment," Job Market Paper, 2017 revision. (2nd round Resubmitted at RESTUD)
(First Draft: February 2013.  [Online Appendix])

Awarded UCLA Welton Prize, Best Paper in Macroeconomics, 2013-2014
  

Abstract:  Unemployed households' access to unsecured revolving credit (credit cards) nearly quadrupled from about 12 percent to about 45 percent over the last three decades. This paper analyzes how this large increase in revolving credit has impacted the business cycle. The paper develops a general equilibrium business cycle model with search in both the labor market and in the credit market. This generates a very rich and empirically plausible level of heterogeneity in work and credit histories while at the same time permitting a tractable model solution. Calibrating to the observed path of credit use between 1974 and 2012, I find that the large growth in credit access leads to deeper and longer recessions as well as moderately slower recoveries. Relative to an economy with credit fixed at 1970s levels, employment reaches its trough about 1 quarter later and remains depressed by up to .8 percentage points three years after the typical recession in this time period (e.g. employment is depressed by 2.8% rather than 2%). The mechanism is that when borrowing opportunities are easy to find, households optimally search for better-paying but harder-to-find jobs knowing that if the job search fails they can obtain credit to smooth consumption. Despite longer recessions and slower recoveries, increased credit card use enhances welfare by reducing consumption volatility and improving job-match quality. 


Notes: Previously titled and circulated as "The Supply Side of Jobless Recoveries"  


"The Impact of Foreclosure Delay on U.S. Employment," with Lee E. Ohanian.  NBER Working Paper No. 21532, 2015. (2nd round at RED) 
(Retitled and previously circulated as "Foreclosure delay and US unemployment" Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Working Paper 2012-017A, First Draft: December, 2011.) [Washington Center for Equitable Growth, EconTalk]

Abstract:  This paper documents that the time required to initiate and complete a home foreclosure rose from about 9 months on average prior to the Great Recession to an average of 15 months during the Great Recession and afterward. We refer to these changes as foreclosure delay. We also document that many borrowers who are in foreclosure ultimately exit foreclosure and keep their homes by making up for missed mortgage payments. We analyze the impact of foreclosure delay on the U.S. labor market as an implicit credit line from a lender to a borrower (mortgagor) within a search model. In the model, foreclosure delay provides unemployed mortgagors with additional time to search for a high-paying job. We find that foreclosure delay decreases mortgagor employment by about 0.75 percentage points,   nearly doubles the stock of delinquent mortgages,  increases the rate of homeownership by about 0.3 percentage points, and increases job match quality, as mortgagors search longer.   Severe foreclosure delays, such as those observed in Florida and New Jersey, can depress mortgagor employment by up to 1.3 percentage points.  The model results are consistent with PSID and SCF data that show that employment rates rise for delinquent mortgagors once the mortgagor is in the foreclosure process. 


"Can't Pay or Won't Pay? Unemployment, Negative Equity, and Strategic Default,” with Kris Gerardi, Lee E. Ohanian, and Paul Willen,  NBER Working Paper No. 21630, 2015. (Forthcoming at RFS) 
 (Retitled and Previously Circulated as Atlanta Fed Working Paper "Unemployment, negative equity, and strategic default" and Ziman Center Working Paper "What Actually Causes, Defaults, Redefaults, and Modifications." First Draft: February, 2012).  [VoxEUUrban InstituteCalculated Risk , AroundTheFedJournalistResource

Additional Files: Online Appendix, and Replication Files: [Codes and Data] [Weights: PSID-CRISM mortgage weights.doPSID-CRISM mortgage weights.dta]

Abstract: This paper uses new data from the PSID to quantify the relative importance of negative equity versus ability to pay, in driving mortgage defaults between 2009 and 2013. These data allow us to construct household budgets sets that provide better measures of ability to pay. Changes in ability to pay have large estimated effects. Job loss has an equivalent effect on the propensity to default as a 35 percent decline in equity. Strategic motives are also found to be quantitatively important, as we estimate more than 38 percent of households in default could make their mortgage payments without reducing consumption.



"Informal Unemployment Insurance and Labor Market Dynamics,"  Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Working Paper 2012-057, First Draft: December, 2011. [Uses Equifax Data, Includes Partial Default Evidence and Theory]

Abstract:  How do job losers use default --- a phenomenon 6X more prevalent than bankruptcy --- as a type of ``informal'' unemployment insurance, and more importantly, what are the social costs and benefits of this behavior? To this end, I establish several new facts: (i) job loss is the main reason for default, not negative equity (ii) people default because they are credit constrained and cannot borrow more, and (iii) the value of debt payments is a significant fraction of a defaulter's earnings. Using these facts, I calibrate a general equilibrium model with a frictional labor market similar to  Menzio and Shi (2009, 2011) and  individually priced debt along the lines of Eaton and Gersovitz (1981) and Chatterjee et al. (2007). After proving the existence of a Block Recursive Equilibrium, I find that the extra self-insurance job losers obtain by defaulting  outweighs the subsequent increase in the cost of credit, and as a result, protectionist policies such as the Mortgage Servicer Settlement of 2012 or the CARD Act of 2009  improve overall welfare by .1%.  The side effect of the policies, however, is a .2-.5% higher unemployment rate during recessions that persists throughout the recovery.





Publications:


"Labor Market Dysfunction During the Great Recession," with Lee E. Ohanian. Cato Papers on Public Policy, edited by Jeffrey Miron, Volume 1, 2011.[ Wall Street Journal Article, Economist Recommendation



Abstract: This paper documents the abnormally slow recovery in the labor market during the Great Recession, and analyzes how mortgage modification policies contributed to delayed recovery. By making modifications means-tested by reducing mortgage payments based on a borrower's current income, these programs change the incentive for households to relocate from a relatively poor labor market to a better labor market. We .find that modifications raise the unemployment rate by about 0.5 percentage points, and reduce output by about 1 percent, reflecting both lower employment and lower productivity, which is the result of individuals losing skills as unemployment duration is longer.


Why the U.S. Economy Has Failed to Recover and What Policies Will Promote Growth,” with Lee E. Ohanian, Government Policies and the Delayed Economic Recovery, edited by Lee E. Ohanian, John B. Taylor, and Ian Wright, 2012.

Abstract: This study examines the recovery from the 2008-2009 recession from the perspective of the neoclassical growth model, thus extending Ohanian's (2010) neoclassical analysis of the downturn phase of this recession. This paper documents the characteristics and features of the recovery, identifies the sources of economic weakness, discusses the possible impact of economic policies on the recovery, and provides an assessment of what types of policies may help accelerate the speed of the recovery and restore prosperity.




Discussion slides:

Discussion Slides for ``Business Cycles and Household Formation'' by Sebastian Dyrda, Greg Kaplan, Jose-Victor Rios-Rull.

Discussion Slides for ``Aggregate Recruiting Intensity'' by Alessandro Gavazza, Simon Mongey, Giovanni L. Violante.

Discussion Slides for  ``The Effect of Debt on Consumption and Delinquency: Evidence from Housing Policy in the Great Recession''  by Peter Ganong and Pascal Noel.

Discussion Slides for  ``Bad Credit, No Problem? Credit and Labor Market Consequences of Bad Credit Reports" by Dobbie, Goldsmith-Pinkham, Mahoney, Song.

Discussion Slides for ``Time Consistent Fiscal Policy in a Debt Crisis''  by Neele Balke and Morten Ravn