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Selected Publications

  • Effective Policy for Reducing Poverty and Inequality? The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Distribution of Income

    Journal of Human Resources 53:859-890, 2018; (Joint with Ankur Patel)

    We examine the effect of the EITC on the poverty and income of single mothers with children using a quasi-experiment approach that leverages variation in generosity due to policy expansions across tax years and family sizes. We find that the income increasing effects of the EITC are concentrated between 75% and 150% of income-to-poverty with little effect at the lowest income levels (50% poverty and below) and at levels of 250% of poverty and higher. Specifically, a policy-induced $1000 increase in the EITC leads to an 8.4 percentage point reduction in the share of families with after tax and transfer income below 100% poverty. These results are robust to a rich set of controls and whether we compare single women with and without children or compare women with one child versus women with two or more children. They are also robust to whether we limit our analysis to the sharp increase in the 1993 expansion or use the full period of policy expansion, back to the 1986 Tax Reform Act. Importantly, event study estimates show no evidence of differential pre-trends, providing strong evidence in support of our research design. We use these results to show that by capturing the indirect effects of the credit on earnings, static calculations of the anti-poverty effects of the EITC (such as those released based on the Supplemental Poverty Measure) may be underestimated by almost 50 percent. Ours is the first paper to simultaneously estimate the combined direct and indirect effects of the EITC, to quantify how much we miss by ignoring the behavior effect, and to estimate the effects across the income distribution. 

  • Pulling Out of Paris: Why the United States’ Withdrawal Will Not Much Matter

    The Article reviews the United States’ recent decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord and recounts some of the most prominent policy discussions surrounding this decision. The Article goes on to explain, that these policy discussions reject science in favor of short-term political gains. The Article reviews new scientific reports which indicates that sea level rise may be far worse than expected, due in large part to the fact that previous computer models never looked beyond the year 2100. As this Article highlights, our policy discussions have become so heavily focused on the near future that we have created a distorted perception of time that doesn’t mesh with reality. This Article urges policy-makers to take real action on climate now, before it is too late. 

  • Three years to safeguard our climate

    Christiana Figueres and colleagues set out a six-point plan for turning the tide of the world’s carbon dioxide by 2020. Three years to safeguard our climate

  • Sustainable Design of Communities

    Moving beyond a focus on solar roofs for single-family homes, ambitious projects are attempting to join blocks of buildings into sustainable units

  • Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar

    A number of analyses, meta-analyses, and assessments, including those performed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the International Energy Agency, have concluded that deployment of a diverse portfolio of clean energy technologies makes a transition to a low-carbon-emission energy system both more feasible and less costly than other pathways. In contrast, Jacobson et al. [Jacobson MZ, Delucchi MA, Cameron MA, Frew BA (2015) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 112(49):15060–15065] argue that it is feasible to provide “low-cost solutions to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of WWS [wind, water and solar power] across all energy sectors in the continental United States between 2050 and 2055”, with only electricity and hydrogen as energy carriers. In this paper, we evaluate that study and find significant shortcomings in the analysis. In particular, we point out that this work used invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors, and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions. Policy makers should treat with caution any visions of a rapid, reliable, and low-cost transition to entire energy systems that relies almost exclusively on wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. 

  • Child Poverty, the Great Recession, and the Social Safety Net in the United States

    Marianne Bitler, Hilary Hoynes and Elira Kuka (2017). Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol 36, Issue 2, pp. 358-389.

    In this paper, we comprehensively examine the effects of the Great Recession on child poverty, with particular attention to the role of the social safety net in mitigating the adverse effects of shocks to earnings and income. Using a state panel data model and data for 2000 to 2014, we estimate the relationship between the business cycle and child poverty, and we examine how and to what extent the safety net is providing protection to at-risk children. We find compelling evidence that the safety net provides protection; that is, the cyclicality of after-tax-and-transfer child poverty is significantly attenuated relative to the cyclicality of private income poverty. We also find that the protective effect of the safety net is not similar across demographic groups, and that children from more disadvantaged backgrounds, such as those living with non-Hispanic black or Hispanic, single, or particularly immigrant household heads-or immigrant spouses, experience larger poverty cyclicality than non-Hispanic white, married, or native household heads with native spouses. Our findings hold across a host of choices for how to define poverty. These include measures based on absolute thresholds or more relative thresholds. They also hold for measures of resources that include not only cash and near cash transfers net of taxes but also several measures of medical benefits.

  • Do In-Work Tax Credits Serve as a Safety Net?

    Marianne Bitler, Hilary Hoynes and Elira Kuka, 2017. Journal of Human Resources Vol 36, Issue 2, pp. 358-389.

    The cash and near cash safety net in the U.S. has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past fifteen years. Federal welfare reform has led to the “elimination of welfare as we know it” and several tax reforms have substantially increased the role of “in-work”' assistance. In 2012, we spent more than 7 dollars on the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for every dollar spent on cash benefits through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), whereas in 1994 on the eve of federal welfare reform these programs were about equal in size. In this paper, we evaluate and test whether the EITC demonstrates a defining feature of a safety net program—that it responds to economic need. In particular, we explore how EITC participation and expenditures change with the business cycle. The fact that the EITC requires earned income leads to a theoretical ambiguity in the cyclical responsiveness of the credit. We use administrative IRS data to examine the relationship between business cycles and the EITC program. Our empirical strategy relies on exploiting differences in the timing and severity of economic cycles across states. The results show that higher unemployment rates lead to an increase in EITC recipients and total dollar amounts of credits for married couples. On the other hand, the effect of business cycles on use of the EITC is insignificant for single individuals, whether measured by the number of recipients or expenditures. Estimates that further cut by education show that the protective effects of the EITC are concentrated among those with higher skills (and potential earnings). In sum, our results show that the EITC serves to mitigate the effects of income shocks for married couples with children and other groups likely to have moderate earnings, but does not do so for the majority of recipients—single parents with children. The patterns we identify are consistent with the predictions of static labor supply theory, which we confirm with an analysis of earnings, and with expectations about how economic shocks are likely to vary across family type and skill group.

  • Does Policy Analysis Matter? Exploring Its Effectiveness in Theory and Practice. Lee S. Friedman, Editor

    University of California Press (Oakland, CA: 2017).

    How well can democratic decision making incorporate the knowledge and expertise generated by public policy analysts? This book examines the historical development of policy analysis, as well as its use in legislative and regulatory bodies and in the federal executive branch. The essays show that policy-analytic expertise effectively improves governmental services only when it complements democratic decision making. When successful, policy analysis fosters valuable new ideas, better use of evidence, and greater transparency in decision processes.