Essays on Development and Labor Economics

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This dissertation presents three essays on topics that lie at the intersection of development and labor economics. The essays relate to poverty and inequality in the United States and internationally, focusing on labor markets, housing markets, and human capital. The first essay sheds light on how land use regulation affects local economic development, operating through local housing and labor markets. I study this topic in the context of federally recognized American Indian reservations, where land tenure categories include fee simple land, which is free from transaction restrictions, and trust land, which is held in trust by the US federal government and associated with restrictions on transactions. Drawing on a range of hard-to-access microdata products, my analysis indicates that land use regulation lowers local wages and employment but that it is possible to foster economic development without changing the status of the land. In fact, land use regulation increases the likelihood that the local population benefits from demand-driven, place-based policies. Using casino adoption on reservations as local labor demand shocks, I find that reservations with a larger share of land in trust experience larger increases in real wages following economic shocks. The second essay paints a picture of poverty in rural America with a particular focus on relating the Black-White wealth differential to the Black-White human capital differential. Using a low-asset subgroup of the rural population, I show that when the wealth gap narrows, we are less likely to observe racial heterogeneity in rates of high school completion and teenage motherhood. This essay establishes two important insights that help explain the observed race gaps in cities: (i) Black-White differences in wealth are much larger in urban areas than rural areas, and (ii) household income may not accurately reflect poverty. The third essay turns to poverty in low-income countries, focusing on labor market frictions and employment outcomes in South Africa. In this essay, I describe the design and implementation of a large-scale field experiment that tests whether an online professional networking platform changes the labor market engagement of youth. Specifically, my co-authors and I test whether training young work-seekers to use LinkedIn improves their employment outcomes. We find that the LinkedIn treatment rapidly increases employment at the extensive margin.







Wheeler, Laurel (2019). Essays on Development and Labor Economics. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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