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Essays on Private Consumption Smoothing Mechanisms

  • Author(s): Herkenhoff, Kyle
  • Advisor(s): Ohanian, Lee E
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation studies the interaction between private consumption smoothing mechanisms and labor markets. Chapter 1 studies the growth in credit card access among the unemployed over the last 40 years and how this credit growth has impacted labor markets. I begin by developing a general equilibrium business cycle model with search in both the labor market and in the credit market. Calibrating to the observed path of credit between 1974 and 2012, I find that growth in credit card access can lead to deeper and longer recessions as well as moderately slower recoveries. Chapter 2, which is co-authored with Lee E. Ohanian, looks at the impact of foreclosure protection on unemployment during the 2007-2009 financial crisis. Through a purely positive lens, we study and document the growing trend of mortgagors who skip mortgage payments as an extra source of ``informal'' unemployment insurance during the 2007 recession and the subsequent recovery. In a dynamic model, we capture this behavior by treating both delinquency and foreclosure not as one period events, but rather as protracted and potentially reversible episodes that influence job search behavior and wage acceptance decisions. After calibrating, we find that the observed foreclosure delays increase the unemployment rate by an additional 1/3%-3/4%. And finally, Chapter 3, which is co-authored with Lee E. Ohanian, Kris Gerardi, and Paul Willen, looks at the empirical determinants of default and provides a new suggestive measure of strategic default. In sharp contrast to prior studies that proxy for individual unemployment status using regional unemployment rates, we find that individual unemployment is the strongest predictor of default. We also find that only 13.9% of defaulters have both negative equity and enough liquid or illiquid assets to make 1 month's mortgage payment. This suggests that ``ruthless,'' or ``strategic'' default during the 2007-2009 recession is relatively rare, and suggests that policies designed to promote employment, such as payroll tax cuts, are most likely to stem defaults in the long run rather than policies that temporarily modify mortgages.

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