Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

David Frisvold


This thesis considers how potentially vulnerable populations are affected by various economic and policy shocks. In the first chapter, I investigate the impact of natural resource booms on crime by estimating the effect of the coal boom and bust of the 1970s and 1970s on reported crime rates. I begin by demonstrating that changes in the value of coal reserves affected local economic conditions and population composition, both of which have theoretical and empirical links to crime. The net effect is theoretically ambiguous. The estimates suggest that the immediate impact of increasing the value of natural resources is to depress crime rates, primarily through changes in property crime, but these changes erode over time. My findings are consistent with an initial change in criminal activity in response to local labor market conditions that is subsequently offset by selective migration.

Individuals who are charged with committing a crime often find themselves behind bars while their case is adjudicated. In the United States, over 400,000 individuals are in jail each day waiting for their criminal cases to be resolved. The majority of these individuals are detained pretrial due to the inability to post low levels of bail (less than $3,000). In chapter 2, my coauthor and I estimate the impact of being detained pretrial on the likelihood of an individual being convicted or pleading guilty, and their sentence length, using data on nearly a million misdemeanor and felony cases in New York City from 2009 to 2013. Causal effects are identified using variation across arraignment judges in their propensities to detain defendants. We find that being detained increases the probability of conviction by over seven percentage points by causing individuals to plead guilty more often. Because pretrial detention is driven by failure to post bail, these adverse effects disproportionately hurt low-income individuals.

While some public policies create burdens that fall most heavily on low-income people and households, the public safety net is comprised of programs intended to protect and support this vulnerable population. In chapter three, my coauthors and I examine whether programs that provide vouchers to households can continue to influence behavior even after the household leaves the program. Using detailed scanner data, we test whether benefit vouchers received through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) change household purchasing decisions and whether these changes continue to persist even after households are no longer eligible to participate in the program. In 2009, the package of goods available through WIC vouchers changed to include additional items and place nutritional restrictions on other items. Examining variation due to this package change, we show that the WIC vouchers change purchasing decisions consistent with the nutritional guidelines of the program. However, we find evidence of limited persistence post-eligibility, and that households exposed longer to the revised package are generally not more likely to continue to purchase these items after eligibility ends.


crime, natural resources, pretrial detention, WIC


x, 89 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 86-89).


Copyright © 2017 Emily Catherine Leslie

Included in

Economics Commons