Births, Deaths, and New Deal Relief During the Great Depression
58 Pages Posted: 17 May 2005 Last revised: 26 Mar 2021
Date Written: April 2005
This paper examines the impact of New Deal relief programs on infant mortality, noninfant mortality and general fertility rates in major U.S. cities between 1929 and 1940. We estimate the effects using a variety of specifications and techniques for a panel of 114 cities for which data on relief spending during the 1930s were available. The significant rise in relief spending during the New Deal contributed to reductions in infant mortality, suicide rates, and some other causes of death, while contributing to increases in the general fertility rate. Estimates of the relationship between economic activity and death rates suggest that many types of death rates were pro-cyclical, similar to Ruhm's (2000) findings for the modern U.S.. Estimates of the relief costs associated with saving a life (adjusted for inflation) are similar to estimates found in studies of modern social insurance programs.
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