How does the pandemic-era U.S. economy compare with similar crisis points in history, and what lessons learned might guide a more fruitful future? Vellore Arthi, UCI economics assistant professor, studies long-term and intergenerational consequences of crises. Her work – which has covered previous pandemics, recessions, natural disasters, and the like – relies on historical data to analyze issues including human capital formation and cohort welfare, economic growth and inequality, and policy effectiveness. While information on local economic activity is central to analyzing questions like these, she’s found that systematic and high-quality data on local conditions is limited for much of the country’s history, leaving researchers to rely on a patchwork of often incomplete or insufficiently detailed datasets.

With a $116,000 grant from the National Science Foundation- part of a larger $491,000 collaborative NSF project joint with National Bureau of Economic Research co-principal investigators Katherine Eriksson, UC Davis, and Gary Richardson, UCI - she’s planning to fill this gap. Using annual bank deposit records of all households and firms dating back to the Civil War, Arthi and her research team will reconstruct the evolution of the American economy at a county level over a 155-year period. These new data, which will be made publicly available following the conclusion of the project, will help relieve research and policy evaluation bottlenecks in the social sciences. Arthi and her research team will also analyze these new data to shed light on a range of issues that help us better understand our past and present. These include the dynamics of regional business cycles, the local economic impact of banking regulations, the life-course and intergenerational impact of graduating during a recession, and the evolution of racial wealth gaps. Work on this project began in March and runs through February 2024, with findings to follow in leading academic journals.

Watch or listen online to learn more about Arthi’s research.


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