Associate Professor and Associate Director
School of Public Policy
334 Bexell Hall
Oregon State University
Phone: (541) 737-6628
Economics of Education
My current work focuses on education reform in the Gambia, youth unemployment in South Africa, and the effect of Mexican immigration on labor markets in the U.S.
“Prospective Analysis of a Wage Subsidy for Cape Town Youth” (with James Levinsohn)
Persistently high youth unemployment is one of the most pressing problems in South Africa. We prospectively analyze an employer wage subsidy targeted at youth, a policy recently enacted by the South African government to address the issue. Recognizing that a credible estimate of the policy's impact requires a model of the labor market that itself generates high unemployment in equilibrium, we estimate a structural search model that incorporates both observed heterogeneity and measurement error in wages. Using the model to simulate the policy, we find that a R1,000/month wage subsidy paid to employers leads to an increase of R571 in mean accepted wages and a decrease of 12 percentage points in the share of youth experiencing long-term unemployment.
IZA Journal of Labor and Development, 2014
As an alternative to traditional academic schooling, vocational schooling in South Africa may serve as a safety valve for students encountering difficulty in the transition from school to work. Yet if ineffective, vocational schooling could also be a sinkhole, offering little chance for success on the labor market. After defining the terms “safety valve” and “sinkhole” in a model of human capital investment with multiple schooling types, I test for evidence of these characteristics using a panel of urban youth in South Africa. I find support for the safety valve role of vocational schooling, with a small increase in vocational enrollment in response to grade failure, compared to a decline of 38 percentage points for academic enrollment. In contrast, I find no evidence that vocational schooling is a sinkhole, with wage and employment returns at least as large as those for academic schooling. The results suggest that vocational schooling plays an important role in easing difficult school to work transitions for South African youth.
“Incentives for Teacher Relocation: Evidence from the Gambian Hardship Allowance” (with Elizabeth Schroeder)
We evaluate the impact of the Gambian hardship allowance, which provides a salary premium of 30-40% to primary school teachers in remote locations, on the distribution and characteristics of teachers across schools. A geographic discontinuity in the policy’s implementation and the presence of common pre-treatment trends between hardship and non-hardship schools provide sources of identifying variation. We find that the hardship allowance increased the share of qualified (certified) teachers by 10 percentage points. The policy also reduced the pupil-qualified teacher ratio by 27, or 61% of the mean, in recipient schools close to the distance threshold. Further analysis suggests that these gains were not merely the result of teachers switching from non-hardship to hardship schools. With similar policies in place in more than two dozen other developing countries, our study provides an important piece of evidence on their effectiveness.
Re-enrollment in school following a period of dropout is a common feature of the South African school to work transition that has been largely ignored in both the literature on South Africa and the wider literature on sequential schooling choice. In this paper, I quantify the importance of the option to re-enroll in the school to work transition of South African youth. I estimate a structural model of schooling choice in South Africa using a panel dataset that contains the entire schooling and labor market histories of sampled youth. Estimates of the model’s structural parameters confirm the hypothesis that enrollment choices reflect dynamic updating of the relative returns to schooling versus labor market participation. In a policy simulation under which re-enrollment prior to high school completion is completely restricted, the proportion completing at least 12 years of schooling rises 6 percentage points, as youth who would have dropped out under unrestricted re-enrollment reconsider the long-term consequences of doing so. The results suggest that the option to re-enroll is an important component of the incentives South African youth face when making schooling decisions.
We provide the first evidence on the causal effect of border enforcement on the full spatial distribution of Mexican immigrants to the United States. We address the endogeneity of border enforcement with an instrumental variables strategy based on administrative delays in budgetary allocations for border security. We find that 1,000 additional border patrol officers assigned to prevent unauthorized migrants from entering a state decreases that state's share of Mexican immigrants by 21.9\%. Our estimates imply that border enforcement alone accounted for declines in the share of Mexican immigrants locating in California and Texas of 11 and 6 percentage points, respectively, over the period 1994-2011, with all other states experiencing gains or no change.
We evaluate the impact of the Gambian hardship allowance, which provides a salary premium of 30-40% to primary school teachers in remote locations, on student performance. A geographic discontinuity in the policy’s implementation provides identifying variation. We
find no effects of the hardship allowance on average student performance. These null average effects hide important heterogeneity, with learning gains for students at the top of the distribution and losses for those at the bottom. With over two dozen developing countries implementing similar policies to increase teacher compensation in rural schools, this study offers important evidence on their effectiveness.
WORK IN PROGRESS
“The Impact of Mexican Immigration on U.S. Natives: Evidence from Migrant Flows Driven by Rainfall Shocks” (with Dean Yang)
"The Economic and Health Effects of Hurricanes in Mexico" (with Dean Yang)
“The Effect of Free Schooling for Girls on Student Learning: Evidence from the Gambia (with Moussa Blimpo and Ousman Gajigo)