Public Investment, Manufacturing Work Opportunity, and Upward Mobility in Midcentury America: Evidence from World War II

Grant Type: academic

Grant Year: 2021

Grant Amount: $40,353

Grant description:

Manufacturing jobs in the United States were widely considered to provide an important opportunity for less-educated workers to climb the U.S. economic ladder by offering high pay and stable careers. Research shows that the decline in manufacturing jobs since the 1970s coincided with a decline in upward mobility: Children born in the 1980s are less likely to grow up to earn as much as their parents than children born in the 1950s were, particularly in the post-industrial heartland. This project examines how increases in high-wage manufacturing work opportunity affected individual opportunity following the industrial mobilization for World War II. Garin and Rothbaum will exploit the fact that the siting of new plants was based on idiosyncratic short-run strategic considerations, leading to the construction of massive new publicly financed manufacturing plants in places that would not have been chosen by private firms. This historical dynamic gives rise to an ideal laboratory for studying how public investments that create high-wage employment impact upward mobility in the long run. The authors have digitized data on the locations of World War II manufacturing facilities using the War Production Board data books. Focusing on children who grew up in those areas in the 1940s, the two researchers will then trace those individuals’ income trajectories using the later-20th century Current Population Survey data linked to Social Security Administration-based income histories to examine mobility rates.

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