Essays in Poverty and Political Economy
Margitic, Juan Francisco
This dissertation consists of three chapters covering topics in poverty, inequality, and political economy. The first chapter Lifting the Floor? Economic Development, Social Protection, and the Developing World’s Poorest, co-authored with Martin Ravallion, provides the first assessment of the consumption floor (the lower bound of the distribution of real consumption) across countries. We find that higher mean incomes come with a higher floor. Social insurance (mainly public pensions) does the “heavy lifting” of the floor. Social assistance (mainly targeted cash-transfers) lifts the floor by only 1.5 cents per day on average or less than 10% of the mean spending on social assistance.In the second chapter Food Stamps and America’s Poorest, co-authored with Dean Jolliffe and Martin Ravallion, we provide the first assessment of America’s progress in lifting the floor and whether the country’s largest antipoverty program, SNAP (“food stamps”), helped do so. The paper proposes an operational method of estimating the floor and implements this on micro survey data spanning 30 years. We find that SNAP partially compensates the poorest and helps stabilize the floor. Nonetheless, the floor has been sinking over the last 30 years. SNAP’s efficiency in lifting the floor has declined over time, though the “SNAP stimulus” did help prevent a drop in the floor during the Global Financial Crisis. The paper also finds that complete coverage of the poorest would lift the floor appreciably.In the third chapter Polling Place Location and the Costs of Voting, co-authored with Gaurav Bagwe and Allison Stashko, we apply a geospatial border discontinuity design to find the causal effect of distance to a polling location on turnout for a dataset of approximately 15 million registered voters in both Pennsylvania and Georgia. Our results show that a mile increase in the distance to polling location reduces turnout up to 1.22 p.p. on average. When looking at heterogeneous effects, we find that older voters, non-independent voters, and those who take public transport to work respond more to changes in distance. The availability of no-excuse vote by mail may help attenuate the reduction in turnout caused by distance to polling place.
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