Abstract: [+]

More than a quarter of working-age households in the United States do not have sufficient savings to cover their expenditures after a month of unemployment. Recent proposals suggest giving workers early access to a small portion of their future Social Security benefits to finance their consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic. We empirically analyze their impact. Relying on data from the Survey of Consumer Finances, we build a measure of households’ expected time to cash shortfall based on the incidence of COVID-induced unemployment. We show that access to 1% of future benefits allows 75% of households to maintain their current consumption for three months in case of unemployment. We then compare the efficacy of access to Social Security benefits to already legislated approaches, including early access to retirement accounts, stimulus relief checks, and expanded unemployment insurance.

Abstract: [+]

This paper quantifies the aggregate effects of financing constraints. We start from a standard dynamic model of investment with collateral constraints. In contrast to the existing quantitative literature, our estimation does not target the mean leverage ratio to identify the scope of financing frictions. Instead, we use a reduced-form coefficient from the recent corporate finance literature that connects exogenous shocks to debt capacity to corporate investment. We embed the estimated model in a simple general equilibrium framework and find that, relative to a frictionless benchmark, collateral constraints induce output losses of 7.1%, and TFP (misallocation) losses of 1.4%. We show that these estimated economic losses tend to be more robust to misspecification than estimates obtained by targeting leverage.

  • Countercyclical Labor Income Risk and Portfolio Choices over the Life Cycle  [pdf]
    Review of Financial Studies, 2022
Abstract: [+]

I structurally estimate a life-cycle model of portfolio choices that incorporates the relationship between stock market returns and the skewness of idiosyncratic income shocks. The cyclicality of skewness can explain (i) low stock market participation among young households with modest financial wealth and (ii) why the equity share of participants slightly increases until retirement. With an estimated relative risk aversion of 6 and yearly participation cost of $250, the model matches the evolution of wealth, of participation and of the conditional equity share over the life-cycle. Nonetheless, I find that cyclical skewness increases the equity premium by at most 0.5%.


  • Keeping Options Open: What Motivates Entrepreneurs? [pdf]
    Journal of Financial Economics, 2022
    Editor’s Choice April 2022
Abstract: [+]

Using French administrative data on job-creating entrepreneurs, I estimate a life-cycle model in which risk-averse individuals can start businesses and return to paid employment. Then, I use the dynamic model to value the option of returning to the labor market in case of failure. For new entrepreneurs, this option is worth 6.4x the average net wage in the country, which represented 136,000 euros in 2018. This option value is explained by the unobserved heterogeneity in entrepreneurial abilities and the random-walk component of productivity. Estimated unobserved benefits of entrepreneurship represent 38.6% of the average net wage pre-tax per year (some 15% of profits), or 8,250 euros in 2018. Unobserved benefits add up to 90,700 euros over the average entrepreneurial spell. Together, unobserved benefits and the option value of returning to paid employment explain 42% of firm creations.



Working papers:

  • The Distributional Effects of Student Loan Forgiveness [pdf]
    with Constantine Yannelis
    R&R at the Journal of Financial Economics
Abstract: [+]

We study the distributional consequences of student debt forgiveness in present value terms, accounting for differences in repayment behavior across the earnings distribution. Full or partial forgiveness is regressive because high earners took larger loans, but also because, for low earners, balances greatly overstate present values. Consequently, forgive- ness would benefit the top decile as much as the bottom three deciles combined. Blacks and Hispanics would also benefit substantially less than balances suggest. Enrolling house- holds who would benefit from income-driven repayment is the least expensive and most progressive policy we consider.

Presented at: NBER Corporate Finance, North American Summer Meeting of the Econometric Society

Scheduled presentations: American Economic Association, Midwest Finance Association

Abstract: [+]

Using Swedish administrative panel data on individual’s wages and portfolio holdings, we show that countercyclical labor income downside risk reduces households’ willingness to invest in financial market. We start by computing the cross-sectional variance and skewness of wage growth by occupation and year from 2001 to 2013. Then, we show that occupations for which these measures of labor income risk correlate with stock market fluctuations have lower participation rates and invest a smaller share of their financial wealth in risky asset. In line with theoretical predictions, these effects are stronger for individuals with modest financial wealth. Finally, we also show that households invest less in assets whose returns negatively correlates with downside risk in their profession.



Presented at: Labor & Finance Group, SFS Cavalcade (NA), MFA, FIRS, European Finance Association, China Meeting of the Econometric Society


  • Social Security and Trends in Wealth Inequality [pdf]
    with Max Miller and Natasha Sarin
    Best Paper – Red Rock Finance Conference
    Best Asset Pricing Paper – SFS Cavalcade
Abstract: [+]

Recent influential work finds large increases in inequality in the U.S., based on measures of wealth concentration that notably exclude the value of social insurance programs. This paper revisits this conclusion by incorporating Social Security retirement benefits into measures of wealth inequality. Wealth inequality has not increased in the last three decades when Social Security is accounted for. When discounted at the risk-free rate, real Social Security wealth increased substantially from $5.6 trillion in 1989 to just over $42.0 trillion in 2016. When we adjust for systematic risk coming from the covariance of Social Security returns with the market portfolio, this increase remains sizable, growing from over $4.6 trillion in 1989 to $34.0 trillion in 2016. Consequently, by 2016, Social Security wealth represented 57% of the wealth of the bottom 90% of the wealth distribution. Redistribution through programs like Social Security increases the progressivity of the economy, and it is important that our estimates of wealth concentration reflect this.

Distribution of Wealth by Age (1989-2016)



Presented at: NBER Public Economics, NBER SI (Wealth and Income), WFA, NBER SI (Inequality and the Macroeconomy), Red Rock Finance Conference (Best Paper Award), ASU Winter Finance Conference, CEPR Household Finance Conference, SFS Cavalcade, (Best Paper in Asset Pricing), Chicago Booth Household Finance Conference, Northern Finance Association, Public Finance Seminar

  • Labor Market Risk and the Private Value of Social Security [pdf]
Abstract: [+]

Social Security provides insurance against idiosyncratic income risk but exposes workers to systematic risk because benefits are indexed to the evolution of aggregate earnings. I calibrate a life-cycle model to compare workers’ certainty equivalent valuation of Social Security to its net present value discounted at the risk-free rate. I show that, overall, labor market risk reduces current workers’ private value of Social Security by 46%. This adjustment sums up to $11.4 trillions on the national scale and the equity premium is its main determinant. For workers under 30, the certainty equivalent of Social Security is negative. Exposure to systematic risk through Social Security peaks relatively late in the life-cycle.

Presented at: LBS Finance Symposium, CEAR-RSI Household Finance Workshop