Kevin Lewis

October 20, 2020

Minimum Wages and Racial Inequality
Ellora Derenoncourt & Claire Montialoux
Quarterly Journal of Economics, forthcoming


The earnings difference between white and black workers fell dramatically in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This paper shows that the expansion of the minimum wage played a critical role in this decline. The 1966 Fair Labor Standards Act extended federal minimum wage coverage to agriculture, restaurants, nursing homes, and other services which were previously uncovered and where nearly a third of black workers were employed. We digitize over 1,000 hourly wage distributions from Bureau of Labor Statistics industry wage reports and use CPS microdata to investigate the effects of this reform on wages, employment, and racial inequality. Using a cross-industry difference-in-differences design, we show that earnings rose sharply for workers in the newly covered industries. The impact was nearly twice as large for black workers as for white. Within treated industries, the racial gap adjusted for observables fell from 25 log points prereform to zero afterwards. We can rule out significant disemployment effects for black workers. Using a bunching design, we find no aggregate effect of the reform on employment. The 1967 extension of the minimum wage can explain more than 20% of the reduction in the racial earnings and income gap during the Civil Rights Era. Our findings shed new light on the dynamics of labor market inequality in the United States and suggest that minimum wage policy can play a critical role in reducing racial economic disparities.

The Increasing Effect of Neighborhood Racial Composition on Housing Values, 1980-2015
Junia Howell & Elizabeth Korver-Glenn
Social Problems, forthcoming


Beginning in the 1930s, neighborhood racial composition was an explicit determining factor in the evaluation of U.S. home values. This deliberate practice was outlawed in the 1960s and 1970s, but the correlation between neighborhood racial composition and home values persists. Using Census Bureau data from 1980 to 2015, the present study investigates the changing relationship between neighborhood racial composition and home appraisals, as well as the mechanisms that drive it. Contrary to what is often presumed, neighborhood racial composition was a stronger determinant of appraised values in 2015 than it was in 1980. Results suggest this is primarily due to contemporary appraising practices. Specifically, the use of the sales comparison approach has allowed historical racialized appraisals to influence contemporary values and appraisers' racialized assumptions about neighborhoods to drive appraisal methods. These findings provide strong evidence that persistent racial inequality is driven in part by perpetual devaluing of communities of color and they suggest further regulation is required to foster equity.

We Built This: Consequences of New Deal Era Intervention in America's Racial Geography
Jacob Faber
American Sociological Review, October 2020, Pages 739-775


The contemporary practice of homeownership in the United States was born out of government programs adopted during the New Deal. The Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) - and later the Federal Housing Administration and GI Bill - expanded home buying opportunity, although in segregationist fashion. Through mechanisms such as redlining, these policies fueled white suburbanization and black ghettoization, while laying the foundation for the racial wealth gap. This is the first article to investigate the long-term consequences of these policies on the segregation of cities. I combine a full century of census data with archival data to show that cities HOLC appraised became more segregated than those it ignored. The gap emerged between 1930 and 1950 and remains significant: in 2010, the black-white dissimilarity, black isolation, and white-black information theory indices are 12, 16, and 8 points higher in appraised cities, respectively. Results are consistent across a range of robustness checks, including exploitation of imperfect implementation of appraisal guidelines and geographic spillover. These results contribute to current theoretical discussions about the persistence of segregation. The long-term impact of these policies is a reminder of the intentionality that shaped racial geography in the United States, and the scale of intervention that will be required to disrupt the persistence of segregation.

Threat, emboldenment, or both? The effects of political power on violent hate crimes
Laura Dugan & Erica Chenoweth
Criminology, forthcoming


How do expressions of support or opposition by the U.S. federal government, influence violent hate crimes against specific racial and ethnic minorities? In this article, we test two hypotheses derived from Blalock's (1967) conceptualization of intergroup power contests. The political threat hypothesis predicts that positive government attention toward specific groups would lead to more hateful violence directed against them. The emboldenment hypothesis predicts that negative government attention toward specific groups would also lead to more hateful violence directed against them. Using combined data on U.S. government actions and federal hate crime statistics from 1992 through 2012, vector autoregression models provide support for both hypotheses, depending on the protected group involved. We conclude that during this period, African Americans were more vulnerable to hate crimes motivated by political threat, and Latinx persons were more vulnerable to hate crimes motivated by emboldenment.

Firearms and Violence Under Jim Crow
Michael Makowsky & Patrick Warren
Clemson University Working Paper, October 2020


We assess firearm access in the U.S. South by measuring the fraction of suicides committed with firearms. Black residents of the Jim Crow South were disarmed, before re-arming themselves during the Civil-Rights Era. We find that lynchings decrease with greater Black firearm access. During the Civil-Rights Movement, both the relative Black homicide and Black "accidental death by firearm" rates decrease with Black firearm access, indicating frequent misclassification of homicides as accidents. In the contemporary era, greater firearm access correlates with higher Black death rates. We find that firearms offered an effective means of Black self-defense in the Jim Crow South.

The Federal Effort to Desegregate Southern Hospitals and the Black-White Infant Mortality Gap
Mark Anderson, Kerwin Kofi Charles & Daniel Rees
NBER Working Paper, October 2020


In 1966, Southern hospitals were barred from participating in the Medicare program unless they discontinued their long-standing practice of racial segregation. Using data from five Deep South states and exploiting county-level variation in Medicare certification dates, we find that gaining access to an ostensibly integrated hospital had no effect on the Black-White infant mortality gap, although it may have discouraged small numbers of Black mothers from giving birth at home attended by a midwife. These results are consistent with descriptions of the federal hospital desegregation campaign as producing only cosmetic changes and illustrate the limits of anti-discrimination policies imposed upon reluctant actors.

The Costs of Employment Segregation: Evidence from the Federal Government under Wilson
Abhay Aneja & Guo Xu
NBER Working Paper, September 2020


We link personnel records of the federal civil service to census data for 1907-1921 to study the segregation of the civil service by race under President Woodrow Wilson. Using a difference-in-differences design to compare the black-white wage gap around Wilson's presidential transition, we find that the introduction of employment segregation increased the black wage penalty by 7 percentage points. This gap increases over time and is driven by a reallocation of already-serving black civil servants to lower paid positions. Our results thus document significant costs borne by minorities during a unique episode of state-sanctioned discrimination.

Congressional Representation by Petition: Assessing the Voices of the Voteless in a Comprehensive New Database, 1789-1949
Maggie Blackhawk et al.
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


For much of American political history, the electoral franchise was restricted to only a portion of the population. By contrast, the right to petition was considered universal and enshrined in the First Amendment, giving voice to the voteless. Petitioning thus served as a fundamental mechanism of representation. Still, fundamental questions remain: How was petitioning used, how did Congress respond to petitions, and did the petition allow for partial representation of the marginalized and unenfranchised? We address these questions by analyzing the Congressional Petitions Database (CPD), an original endeavor tracking virtually every petition introduced to Congress from 1789 to 1949. Our analyses document how (1) two important groups of unenfranchised constituents - Native Americans and women - petitioned regularly and (2) Congress's initial treatment of Natives' and women's petitions was similar to that of all others, thus offering systematic evidence highlighting the petition's role as a mechanism for representation among otherwise unenfranchised groups.


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