Josh Morris-Levenson

I am a PhD Candidate in Economics at the University of Chicago. I am an applied macroeconomist specializing in economic geography. My research interests extend to environmental economics and innovation. I am on the job market in 2021-22.

Prior to graduate school I was a Research Assistant at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Here is my CV.

Working Papers

Job Market Paper: The Origins of Regional Specialization, with Marta Prato

[Link to paper]

Why do US states specialize in different sectors? We document that employment specialization is highly persistent, which suggests that specialization may deviate from natural advantage, and reallocation could increase aggregate output. We develop a quantitative spatial model in which workers move across state-by-sector labor markets in response to exogenous changes in local fundamentals, as well as mobility frictions and labor market-specific idiosyncratic skills. We quantify the model with historical Census microdata that tracks workers' joint regional and sectoral mobility, which yield novel estimates of regional and sectoral mobility frictions as well as new evidence that workers carry state-, sector-, and pair-specific skills. We find limited scope for aggregate misallocation, but substantial idiosyncratic misallocation due to mobility frictions. Migration costs are the main barrier to workers' reallocation, but the benefit of lower frictions comes from new sector-specific opportunities.

Work in Progress

City Blocks and Neighborhood Function

[Link to summary]

What is the optimal size of a city block? It has been argued that small blocks make for more pleasant neighborhoods because they provide more diverse pathways for pedestrians to access retail establishments. I evaluate this conjecture empirically. I develop a block-level measure of pedestrian market access (PMA), equal to the length of block edges within walking distance of each block, normalized for block size. Using data from New York City, I find that higher PMA is associated with smaller block size and greater density of restaurants. This relationship is robust to block area, population, building height, and other characteristics. This result suggests that the structure of city blocks influences the function of urban neighborhoods, with implications for residents’ welfare. While smaller blocks support consumption amenities, larger blocks accommodate greater density. Future research will relate block size to productivity and traffic congestion with the goal of quantifying the tradeoff between these outcomes.

Operative Team Familiarity and Specialization at an Academic Medical Center, with Hunter D.D. Witmer, Çağla Keçeli, Ankit Dhiman, Dan Adelman, and Kiran Turaga

Pre-doctoral work

Does Tighter Bank Regulation Affect Mortgage Originations?, with Robert Sarama and Christoph Ungerer

[Link to paper on SSRN]

Financial regulation can affect both the size and composition of markets, and understanding those effects is critical to determine the extent to which such regulation hinders credit availability. In this paper, we study the effect of tighter banking regulation on the US residential mortgage market: a market characterized by lenders subject to different degrees of regulation. We disentangle the impact of tighter banking regulation from confounding factors related to the underlying business cycle by exploiting cross-sectional heterogeneity in the exposure of different lenders and different geographies to the policy change. We find that the regulation has resulted in a change in the composition of the market - less regulated banks and non-bank mortgage companies now have a larger share of the origination market. However, since the tightening of the bank regulations, the counties most dependent on lending from the most heavily regulated banks have not experienced significantly slower aggregate origination or house price growth than less dependent counties.