Theses Doctoral

Essays in Public Economics

Coombs, Kyle

This dissertation consists of three essays in public economics. The three chapters focus on interactions between public and private economic decisions. The first two chapters focus on unemployment insurance (UI) policy in the United States. The third discusses public-private interactions in the education market.

The first chapter, a joint work with Arindrajit Dube, Calvin Jahnke, Raymond Kluender, Suresh Naidu, and Michael Stepner estimates the labor supply and spending responses to a large change in UI benefits during the pandemic. We examine the effects of the sudden withdrawal of expanded pandemic unemployment benefits in June 2021 using anonymized bank transaction data for 16,548 individuals receiving UI in April 2021. Comparing the difference in differences between states withdrawing and retaining expanded UI, we find that UI receipt falls 35 p.p. while employment rises by only 4.4 p.p. by early August. Average cumulative UI benefits fall by $1,385 while average cumulative earnings increase by only $93. Heterogeneity by unemployment duration implies that these effects are primarily driven by extensive margin expiration of benefits, rather than intensive margin reductions in the benefit level.

The second chapter examines the role of gifts and loans from friends and family during unemployment. These transfers play a largely unstudied informal insurance role in high-income countries, making it difficult to assess their implications for social insurance policy. I present new results on informal insurance paid via person-to-person (P2P) payment platforms using a survey-linked administrative bank transaction dataset covering 130,502 low-income users from the US who were unemployed at least once between July 2019 and September 2020. Event study estimates show average monthly inflows from all P2P platforms increase by $30, or 2% of lost earnings, one month after job loss before returning to baseline over 10 months. Single mothers and the long-term unemployed receive the largest increases, as do those living in high-income areas. I exploit three plausibly exogenous changes to federal pandemic unemployment insurance (UI) policy to estimate that UI benefits crowd out at most $0.04 of informal P2P transfers. Using the social insurance framework introduced in Chetty & Saz (2010), my crowd-out estimates indicate negligible welfare consequences for an additional dollar of benefits. Altogether these results imply that public UI benefits can raise welfare by pooling risk across networks without reducing within-network targeting of informal insurance.

The third chapter asks whether public school services fill in gaps left by private school failures. Specifically, it explores what type of schools enter the market and experience an increase in enrollment after reports of abuse by Catholic priests lead to Catholic Schools closures. I use a two-way fixed effects event study method to estimate a change in enrollments and number of different types of schools after a report of priest abuse within the same zip code, school district, or county. I find there are 0.2 fewer Catholic schools and Catholic school enrollment falls by 75 students after six years, which are offset by a 0.2 and 50-student increase in charter school counts and enrollments on average. These increases are unique to charter schools and is not observed in other public or non-Catholic private schools. Altogether, these results suggest that former Catholic schooled families show a preference for charter schools over other public schools, which may be due to the low-cost and similar emphasis on discipline and academic achievement.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Naidu, Suresh
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 19, 2023