Three Essays on Labor Economics and Public Policy

Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Gary V. Engelhardt

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation comprises three essays on labor economics and public policy. Specifically, each chapter considers the labor market implications of American public policies targeting low-income individuals.

The first two chapters examine the spatial equilibrium and inequality effects of the minimum wage. The first chapter considers the theoretical implications of the minimum wage in a spatial equilibrium model and presents empirical evidence consistent with housing spillovers. Empirical evidence is estimated by exploiting state-by-year variation in the minimum wage, using reduced-form estimation and pooled event studies. A $1 increase in the minimum wage decreases monthly rents by 1.5% and low-skilled population shares by 1%. Out-migration and falling rents coincide with the model’s predictions under elastic low-skilled labor demand. The second chapter examines the minimum wage’s differential impact by race on female inequality across the hourly wage and earnings distributions. Raising the minimum wage disproportionately compresses the nonwhite distributions of hourly wages and earnings relative to their white analogs. A log point increase in the minimum wage also reduces the white-nonwhite wage gap by 1.5 log points at the 10th percentile of the wage distribution.

The final chapter offers a potential resolution to the lack of consensus regarding Medicaid’s implications for labor supply. Exploiting the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment’s random assignment of household Medicaid access by lottery, the third chapter tests static labor supply theory’s prediction of treatment effect heterogeneity. Quantile regression estimates the impact of Medicaid access and use across the earnings distribution. The effect of Medicaid participation on earnings is both positive and negative. Most estimates are negative and range between reductions of $520 to $1,400/year for individuals.


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