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Three Essays on Housing and Labor Economics


These essays contribute towards our understanding of housing and labor economics. This dissertation is composed of three chapters.

In the first chapter, I explore the impact of negative housing equity on households’ geo- graphical mobility using data from Panel Study of Income Dynamics. The empirical analysis implies that addressing the endogeneity nature of homeowners’ underwater mortgage status is crucial. Even with comprehensive controls for households’ demographic characteristics and macro-level factors, omitted variable bias such as homeowners’ attitudes towards their financial responsibility may still generate estimation bias that is quite large. After proper instrumenting for homeowners’ underwater mortgage status using local shocks from housing and labor markets, the estimation results show that having underwater mortgages is associated with an average decline in mobility rate of about 17 percentage points.

The second chapter investigates the role of housing choice and mortgage on employment transitions when there are uncertainties regarding income and house prices. Motivated by the empirical evidence on large employment-transition disparities between homeowners and renters, I develop and estimate a structural model in which mortgage obligations motivate homeowners to exert greater job-search efforts during unemployment spells. The model is used to understand individuals’ response to housing and labor market shocks. I find that while the decline in house prices creates negative labor market externalities for renters, tightening mortgage constraints result in greater job search incentives for homeowners. With concurrent negative labor market shocks, the probability of transitioning out of unemployment for both renters and homeowners declines. Two policy experiments are conducted. The first shows that lower refinance cost discourages housing equity accumulation and is associated with a decline in the average employment rate. The second demonstrates that a lower down payment requirement encourages the transition into home ownership, which has positive labor market implications, especially for younger individuals.

The first two chapters explore the relation between underwater mortgage and geographical mobility and impacts of mortgage debt obligation on employment incentives. Both analyses are based on individual-level data. The last chapter investigates the mysteries of regional housing market disparities from a macro perspective. This chapter shows that local economic conditions are correlated with deviations between house prices and rents in a price-rent model framework, suggesting that the demand for credit and housing is greater when a variety of local economic conditions are more supportive. Several different measures of local economic conditions are considered in this chapter: local unemployment rates, local unemployment rates relative to the natural rate of unemployment, local inflation rates, and measures of local perceptions of the cost of credit. This chapter attempts to offer explanations not as how or why house prices increased, but rather, given the myriad of national factors making home purchase easier and cheaper, where house prices increased. This approach also resolves a bit of a puzzle as to why the housing bubble was so pronounced in some areas and not others.

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