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2017 Economic Commentaries

Since working paper no. 17-18 and related commentary on peer-to-peer lending were posted on our website on November 9, the authors have received several questions about the composition of the underlying data set they used in their analysis. In light of the comments received, the authors are currently revising their paper to further clarify the data sample they used in the study. Their revised paper will be posted as soon as it is completed.


  • Productivity Growth and Real Interest Rates in the Long Run


    Kurt G. Lunsford

    Abstract

    Despite the unemployment rate's return to low levels, inflation-adjusted or "real" interest rates have remained negative. One popular explanation for persistently negative real interest rates is that long-run productivity growth has slowed. I study the long-run relationship between real interest rates and productivity growth from 1914 to 2016 and find a negative correlation between these two variables. Hence, low productivity growth has been historically associated with high real interest rates. Since World War II, the correlation between these variables has been near zero. This suggests that slow long-run productivity growth is not driving real interest rates to be persistently negative. Read More

  • Do Foreign-Born Workers Cause Native-Born Workers to Move or Leave the Labor Force?


    Roberto Pinheiro Allan Dizioli

    Abstract

    This Commentary discusses how the presence of foreign-born workers in a local labor market affects the decisions of native-born workers to leave the labor force or move to another state. We analyze short panels obtained through the Current Population Survey and find that, in the short run, less-educated native-born workers react to a larger stock of foreign-born workers by either moving to a different state or dropping out of the labor force. In terms of magnitude, the effect is small but not insignificant. Read More

  • The 1970s Origins of Too Big to Fail


    George Nurisso Edward S. Prescott

    Abstract

    In 1972, bank regulators bailed out the $1.2 billion Bank of the Commonwealth partly because they viewed it as “too big to fail.” We describe this bailout and subsequent ones through that of Continental Illinois in 1984 and use the descriptions to draw lessons about too-big-to-fail policy. We argue that some of the same issues that motivated bailouts during this earlier period, particularly worries about banking concentration, are relevant today. Read More

  • When States Default: Lessons from Law and History


    O. Emre Ergungor

    Abstract

    This Commentary discusses how a severe fiscal crisis at the state level could impact the interests of the state’s public pension holders. Drawing lessons from the relevant laws, historical precedents, and the case of Arkansas after its default in 1933, I argue that in spite of the protections that exist, no public retirement system is completely immune to impairment if the money runs out. Read More

  • The Opioid Epidemic and the Labor Market


    Dionissi Aliprantis Anne Chen

    Abstract

    Drug overdoses now account for more deaths in the United States than traffic deaths or suicides, and most of the increase in overdose deaths since 2010 can be attributed to opioids--a class of drugs that includes both prescription pain relievers and illegal narcotics. We look at trends in drug use and overdose deaths to document how the opioid epidemic has evolved over time and to determine whether it could be large enough to impact the labor force. Read More

  • What’s Gone Wrong (and Right) in the Industrial Heartland?


    Mark E. Schweitzer

    Abstract

    <p>The historically Midwestern manufacturing region, sometimes referred to as the “Rust Belt,” faced another challenging period after 2000 when manufacturing employment declined by 1.2 million jobs. This Commentary investigates the relative economic performance of this region versus other US metropolitan areas during and following these job losses. The analysis shows that while unemployment rates have recovered in the metro areas of the industrial heartland, other economic indicators lag behind the manufacturing-intensive metro areas outside of the region.</p> Read More

  • Sizing Up Systemic Risk


    Joseph G. Haubrich Charlotte DeKoning

    Abstract

    Regulators now use a framework for identifying systemically important banking institutions that is based on five broad measures of bank structure. Though size is only one of these equally weighted measures, it seems to be the focus of most attention. This Commentary explores whether the other measures contribute unique information or whether size is all one needs to identify all the institutions whose failure could bring down the financial system. Read More

  • Warehousing: A Historical Lesson in Central Bank Independence


    Owen F. Humpage

    Abstract

    This Economic Commentary explains how warehousing—a seemingly innocuous institutional arrangement between the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury—came to threaten the Fed’s independence. Warehousing began as an arcane procedure designed to help the Treasury cover a specific type of foreign-exchange exposure. It then grew into a supplemental source of funding for the Treasury's foreign-exchange interventions. Eventually the procedure morphed into a sizeable off-budget source of funding for other Treasury activities and seemed an inappropriate subversion of the congressional appropriations process, a development that raised concerns within the Fed about its ability to conduct monetary policy free from political concerns. Read More

  • Measuring the True Impact of Job Loss on Future Earnings


    Pawel Krolikowski

    Abstract

    The effect of job displacement on future earnings losses has often been calculated by comparing the earnings of individuals who suffer a displacement at some point in their career with the earnings of those who never lose a job. I show this approach leads to an overstatement of the earnings losses following displacement and discuss an alternative that can ascertain the true effects of displacement in some instances. Read More

  • Merger Control in the Banking Sector


    Jan-Peter Siedlarek

    Abstract

    This Commentary discusses the implications of merger control policy on merger activity in the banking sector, drawing on an analysis of the European banking sector during a period in which stricter merger policies were being introduced. It identifies several changes to the bank mergers taking place after the introduction of the stricter policies that are consistent with higher expected returns for shareholders and more procompetitive transactions. The evidence suggests that the new merger policy was successful in preventing mergers that are excessively anticompetitive, while it also led to banks’ finding mergers that are expected to deliver greater efficiency. Read More

  • New Data on Wealth Mobility and Their Impact on Models of Inequality


    Daniel R. Carroll Nick Hoffman

    Abstract

    Using data on families' wealth over time, we calculate changes in relative wealth mobility; that is, how likely families are to move up or down the wealth distribution, relative to one another. We find families have become less likely to change their position in the wealth distribution over time, and those that do move are less likely to go very far. We also look at the savings behaviors that are associated with more mobile families and find that families that make large movements through the wealth distribution appear to be more likely to own some form of a risky asset. Read More

  • How Small Banks Deal with Large Shocks


    Kristle Cortés

    Abstract

    After a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, or flood, banks in the affected area experience a sharp rise in the demand for loans as property owners look to repair the damage. Recent research has focused on such events to study how small community banks adjust their typical way of doing business to respond to large shocks. The research finds that banks strategically adjust their business in three ways to meet the increased demand. Two adjustments increase the funds available for lending, while one shifts lending from areas unaffected by the disaster to the affected area, a strategy that extends the negative impact of large shocks to distant areas otherwise untouched by the disaster. Read More

  • The Federal Funds Market since the Financial Crisis


    Ben R. Craig Sara Millington

    Abstract

    Before the financial crisis, the federal funds market was a market in which domestic commercial banks with excess reserves would lend funds overnight to other commercial banks with temporary shortfalls in liquidity. What has happened to this market since the financial crisis? Though the banking system has been awash in reserves and the federal funds rate has been near zero, the market has continued to operate, but it has changed. Different institutions now participate. Government-sponsored enterprises such as the Federal Home Loan Banks loan funds, and foreign commercial banks borrow. Read More

  • Lingering Residual Seasonality in GDP Growth


    Kurt G. Lunsford

    Abstract

    Measuring economic growth is complicated by seasonality, the regular fluctuation in economic activity that depends on the season of the year. The Bureau of Economic Analysis uses statistical techniques to remove seasonality from its estimates of GDP, and, in 2015, it took steps to improve the seasonal adjustment of data back to 2012. I show that residual seasonality in GDP growth remains even after these adjustments, has been a longer-term phenomenon, and is particularly noticeable in the 1990s. The size of this residual seasonality is economically meaningful and has the ability to change the interpretation of recent economic activity. Read More

  • Trends in Revenues at US Colleges and Universities, 1987-2013


    Peter L. Hinrichs

    Abstract

    This Economic Commentary studies trends in inflated-adjusted revenues per student at US colleges and universities in broad revenue categories between 1987 and 2013. The findings show that, as is widely perceived, tuition revenue has risen over time at both public and private institutions. In recent years, tuition revenue at public institutions has been nearly as large a source of revenue as state and local government funding has been. Revenue from state and local governments has fluctuated at public institutions but has generally fallen over time, whereas funding from the federal government has risen. Investment returns are a large and highly variable source of revenue, especially for private institutions. Read More

  • Wage Growth after the Great Recession


    Roberto Pinheiro Meifeng Yang

    Abstract

    Nominal wage growth since the Great Recession has been sluggish. We show that the sluggishness is due mostly to weak growth in labor productivity, as well as lower-than-expected inflation. We also find that wage growth since late 2014 has actually been above what would be consistent with realized labor-productivity growth and inflation, and this trend in wages reflects an increase in labor's share of income. We show evidence that this increase in the labor share may be due to a reversal of the trend to replace labor with capital. Read More

  • Parental Proximity and the Earnings Consequences of Job Loss


    Patrick Coate Pawel Krolikowski Mike Zabek

    Abstract

    We find post-job-loss earnings recovery is faster for young adults who live near their parents than for young adults who live farther away. This positive effect diminishes gradually as the distance to one's parents increases. Most of the effect is driven by higher wages after job displacement, not by differences in the number of hours worked. The effect is not present for older workers, who may be caring for elderly parents. Read More

  • The State of States’ Unemployment in the Fourth District


    Murat Tasci Caitlin Treanor Christopher Vecchio

    Abstract

    Unemployment rates vary across individual US states at any point in time and respond to business-cycle fluctuations differently. Evaluating what constitutes a "normal" level for the unemployment rate at the state level is not easy, but it is an important issue for policymakers. We introduce a framework that enables us to calculate the normal unemployment rate for each of the four states in the Fourth District and compare that rate to the national normal rate. We conclude that these states and the District as a whole have very little labor market slack left from the Great Recession. Read More

  • Monetary Policy and Inequality


    Pedro S. Amaral

    Abstract

    This Commentary examines the link between monetary policy and income and wealth inequality by reviewing the theoretical channels that have been proposed and examining the empirical evidence on their importance. The analysis suggests that the magnitude of any redistributive consequences of conventional monetary policy seems to be small. Evidence that unconventional monetary policies have led to increases in inequality is still inconclusive. Read More