Jim Crow and Black Economic Progress After Slavery

Lukas Althoff (Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research)
Wed, Jan 24 2024, 3:30pm - 5:00pm PST
Landau Lucas A

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This paper studies the long-run effects of slavery and restrictive Jim Crow institutions on Black Americans’ economic outcomes. We trace each Black family’s linked census and administrative records between 1850 and 2000. We show that Black families whose ancestors were enslaved until the Civil War have considerably lower education, income, and wealth today than Black families whose ancestors were free before the Civil War. The disparities between the two groups have persisted, not because of slavery per se, but because most families enslaved until the Civil War lived in states with strict Jim Crow regimes after slavery ended. In a regression discontinuity design based on ancestors’ enslavement location, we show that states’ Jim Crow institutions sharply reduced Black families’ economic progress in the long run, largely by limiting their access to education. Using quasi-experimental variation, we show that gaining school access closed 75 percent of the loss in human capital caused by exposure to strict Jim Crow regimes.