This paper examines a series of high school-level interventions designed to encourage college attendance in a historically underperforming region, Appalachian Ohio. High schools received competitive grants to combat information frictions regarding postsecondary enrollment—through campus visits, college fairs, financial aid seminars, etc. I estimate the effect of competitive grants on postsecondary enrollment. Only Appalachian high schools were eligible for the program, and I exploit this policy-induced variation in treatment allocation to compare college attendance rates for high schools that received funding and similar, non-Appalachian high schools that were ineligible for the program using a difference-in-differences framework. Leveraging multiple datasets, treatment specifications, and control groups, I document two findings: i) while college attendance generally rose during treatment, no evidence indicates that the grants increased attendance relative to similar yet untreated schools and ii) there is no evidence that attendance patterns shifted to higher-quality institutions.

There is some agreement that a child's outcomes improve upon adoption relative to staying in foster care homes and that policies should facilitate that transition. The federal Adoption Tax Credit (ATC) can help offset the cost of adoption, yet it is unclear whether it has a positive impact on the number of adoptions or if it merely transfers resources to households who would have adopted anyway. The ATC has primarily been a nonrefundable tax credit, but in 2010 and 2011 the full amount (over $13,000) was available as a refundable tax credit, representing a substantial increase in the benefit to lower- and middle-income families—those with typically low tax liability. Using county-level data from Florida, we estimate an increase of 265 additional public adoptions over what would be expected at the end of 2011. Relative decreases in adoptions in the first months of 2012 suggest that much of this increase is due to retiming rather than new adoptions. The response appears to be concentrated in lower- and middle-income households living in higher-income, more populated areas.

Media coverage: Chalkbeat, CityLab, American Enterprise Institute, The New York Times, Fox News, BuzzFeed News

To combat the spread of COVID-19, many primary and secondary schools in the United States canceled classes and moved instruction online. This study examines an unexplored consequence of COVID-19 school closures: the broken link between child maltreatment victims and the number one source of reported maltreatment allegations—school personnel. Using current, county-level data from Florida, we estimate a counterfactual distribution of child maltreatment allegations for March and April 2020, the first two months in which Florida schools closed. While one would expect the financial, mental, and physical stress due to COVID-19 to result in additional child maltreatment cases, we find that the actual number of reported allegations was approximately 15,000 lower (27 percent) than expected for these two months. We leverage a detailed dataset of school district staffing and spending to show that the observed decline in allegations was largely driven by school closures. Finally, we discuss policy implications of our findings for the debate surrounding school reopenings and suggest a number of responses that may mitigate this hidden cost of school closures.

Working Papers

For seven decades, states have passed legislation either enabling or prohibiting prospective adoptive parents from compensating a matched birth mother for some of the costs incurred during the infant adoption process, namely medical, legal, and living costs. All else equal, adoption is a more feasible outcome for birth mothers if they are allowed to be compensated for relevant expenses. In 1940, no state codes contained provisions for adoption compensation. By the mid-1980s, nearly half of states had passed such legislation, and today, 45 states have such laws. Leveraging this variation in state adoption laws governing compensation, I estimate how the allowance of monetary transfers affects the number of infant adoptions in a difference-in-differences framework. Results indicate that the number of private infant adoptions is not affected by the passage of such laws, and estimates are robust across multiple specifications. The findings suggesting that non-fiscal concerns or uncertainty in the matching process may overshadow the potential availability of compensation.

We investigate the impact of targeted, federal spending in an economically depressed urban area by exploring the effects of the Los Angeles Promise Zone (LAPZ), one of the first-round designations of the Department for Housing and Urban Development’s Promise Zone program. The place-based program sought to identify and assist struggling areas by providing them with primary access to grants from multiple federal agencies. With an understanding that improvements in local conditions are likely capitalized in housing values, we leverage parcel-level property data and estimate the change in property values for property inside the LAPZ compared to nearby, similar properties just outside of the Promise Zone boundary. We find that property values within the LAPZ differentially increased by approximately 6-11 percent following the awarding of Promise Zone status in 2014, an increase of at least $50,000 on average. We show that this increase in property value stems from increases in land value, rather than through property improvements. In our discussion of the results, we explore potential mechanisms and consider welfare implications.

This article considers the biblical warnings of false balances and scales, relating the teachings to the currently pervasive notion of a “rigged” economy. It links this idea of a rigged economic system to an imbalance of power in the political process, vis-à-vis rent-seeking. The article then outlines how rent-seeking undermines notions of fairness and how the well-connected are able to differentially affect consequential policy decisions through access and influence. It suggests that rent-seeking exemplifies a modern-economy analogy to the use of improper scales. The paper then underlines the harm shared among the least-connected, examining the exploitation through a biblical lens. The article concludes with a call for consideration regarding the morality of rent-seeking – to what extent are practitioners morally responsible? It also provides a modest set of proposals to pursue which may remove the incentive to seek rents, and it suggests that Christian economists may link their faith to their research by promoting policies that may mitigate egregious rent-seeking offenses.

Conference and Seminar Presentations

  • “Information interventions and postsecondary enrollment: Evidence from Appalachian Ohio.”

      • Association for Education Finance and Policy Annual Conference—March 2020

      • Southern Economics Association Annual Meetings—November 2019

      • Florida Workshop in Applied and Theoretical Economics—October 2019

      • Urban Economics Association Annual Meeting—October 2019

      • APPAM 2019 Regional Student Conference—March 2019

  • "Who responds to changes to the federal adoption tax credit? Evidence from Florida." (with Luke P. Rodgers)

      • National Tax Association Annual Conference—November 2019

      • Calvin College Economics Departmental Seminar—February 2019

  • “Does allowing prospective adoptive parents to compensate birth mothers for adoption-related expenses affect the number of infant adoptions?”

      • Southern Economics Association Annual Meetings—November 2018