Understanding trends of rising inequality in the United States remains at the fore of both policy and research. As the figure makes clear, redistributive tax and transfer programs attenuate the level of inequality for families living in both urban and rural areas, but as recent evidence in Ziliak (DP2018-06) demonstrates, the U.S. social safety net and tax system levels out inequality more for households in rural communities than urban. 


Changes in the distribution of income among single mother families: Murphy Brown meets inequality

We document the demographic and economic forces underlying changes in income inequality among single mother families over the past three decades in the United States. Using decomposable measures of after-tax income-to-needs inequality, we examine within- and between-group inequality based on education attainment, age, past marital status, race, and employment status. We also conduct income factor decompositions to quantify the relative contributions of earnings, transfers, other income, and taxes to inequality. Our results from the March Current Population Survey show that income-to-needs inequality rose nearly 30 percent between 1979 and 2005. The demographic decompositions indicate that most of the change in inequality is occurring within groups, in part because of large, offsetting between-group changes in population shares and relative mean incomes. The most prominent economic factor underlying the rise in income inequality among single mother families is labor-market earnings, the latter of which was induced by rising variance of hourly wages.

High school peer networks and college success: Lessons from Texas

This paper uses administrative data from the University of Texas-Austin to examine whether high school peer networks at college entry influence college achievement, measured by grade point average (GPA) and persistence. For each freshman cohort from 1993 through 2003 we calculate the number and ethnic makeup of college freshmen from each Texas high school, which we use as a proxy for freshmen “peer network.” Empirical specifications include high school fixed effects to control for unobservable differences across schools that influence both college enrollment behavior and academic performance. Using an IV/fixed effects strategy that exploits the introduction and expansion of the Longhorn Scholars Program, which targeted low income schools with low college traditions we also evaluate whether “marginal” increases in peer networks influence college achievement. Results show that students with larger peer network upon entering college perform better than their counterparts with smaller networks at the beginning of their freshman year. Average effects of network size on college achievement are small, but a marginal increase in the size of same-race peer networks raises GPA by 0.1 point. We also find some suggestive evidence that minority students with large high school peer networks reap larger academic benefits than their white counterparts.


From Brown to Busing

An extensive literature debates the causes and consequences of the desegregation of American schools in the twentieth century. Despite the social importance of desegregation and the magnitude of the literature, we have lacked a comprehensive accounting of the basic facts of school desegregation. This paper uses newly assembled data to document when and how Southern school districts desegregated, as well as the extent of court involvement in the desegregation process over the two full decades after Brown vs. Board of Education. We also examine heterogeneity in the path to desegregation by district characteristics. The results suggest that the existing quantitative literature, which generally either begins in 1968 and focuses on the role of federal courts in larger urban districts or relies on highly aggregated data, often tells an incomplete story of desegregation.

Evidence about the potential role for Affirmative Action in higher education

In two recent cases involving the University of Michigan, the Supreme Court examined whether race should be allowed to play an explicit role in the admission decisions of schools. The primary argument in these court cases and others has been that racial diversity strengthens the quality of education offered to all students. Underlying this argument is the notion that educational benefits arise if interactions between students of different races improve preparation for life after college by, among other things, fostering mutual understanding and correcting misperceptions. Then, a fundamental condition necessary for the primary legal argument to be compelling is that the types of students who choose to enter college actually have incorrect beliefs about individuals from different races at the time of college entrance. In this paper we provide, to the best of our knowledge, the first direct evidence about this condition by taking advantage of unique new data that was collected specifically for this purpose.


Rhetoric and reality of the minimum wage: Implications for Kentucky

The minimum wage is among the more hotly debated public policies in the United States, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky is no exception. Supporters point to the anti-poverty and social justice benefits of the minimum wage, while opponents point to the costs of possible labor-market dislocation and undesirability of government intervention in private markets. As background for the ensuing discussion it is instructive to examine how the poorest Kentuckians and the typical Kentuckian have fared in recent years in terms of economic status. This leads to the following reality check: Poverty is on the rise and incomes are on the decline in Kentucky post 2000.

Public preschool and maternal labor supply: Evidence from the introduction of kindergartens in American public schools

Beginning in the mid-1960s, many state governments, particularly in the South and West, began to subsidize kindergartens for the first time. These initiatives generated wide variation across states over time in the supply of seats for five year olds in public schools. This paper uses the staggered timing and age-targeting of these preschool expansions to examine how the provision of universal child care through public schools affects maternal labor supply. I find that single women with five year olds but no younger children were more likely to be employed once kindergartens were available. The estimated effect is large, implying that three mothers entered the labor force for every ten children enrolled in public school. By contrast, I detect no significant labor supply response among other single women with eligible children or among married mothers of five year olds. These findings complement other research suggesting that preschools targeted toward at-risk populations, such as children in single-parent families, are more cost effective than universal programs.


The new promised land: Black-white convergence in the American South, 1940-2000

The black-white earnings gap has historically been larger in the South than in other regions of the United States. This paper shows that this regional gap has closed over time, and in fact reversed during the last decades of the twentieth century. Three proposed explanations for this trend focus on changing patterns of selective migration, reduced discrimination in Southern labor markets, and lower levels of school segregation and school resource disparities in the modern South relative to the North. Evidence suggests that reductions in Southern labor market discrimination explain rapid regional convergence in racial wage gaps between 1960 and 1980. The more recent decline and reversal of the regional difference appears to be related to narrower disparities in school quality and lower segregation levels in the South. Controlling for region of birth and region of residence, young adult blacks and whites who were educated in the South have the narrowest disparities in earnings and other socioeconomic outcomes.