MEASURING CRACK COCAINE AND ITS IMPACT

Authors

  • ROLAND G. FRYER JR.,

    1. Fryer Jr.: Professor, Department of Economics, Harvard University, 1805 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138. Phone 1-617-495-9592, Fax 1-617-495-8570, E-mail rfryer@fas.harvard.edu
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  • PAUL S. HEATON,

    1. Heaton: Economist, Law, Business, and Regulation, RAND Corporation, 1776 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138. Phone 1-310-393-0411 x7526, Fax 1-310-260-8156, E-mail Paul_Heaton@rand.org
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  • STEVEN D. LEVITT,

    1. Levitt: Professor, Department of Economics, University of Chicago, 1126 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL 60637. Phone 1-773-834-1862, Fax 1-773-834-3040, E-mail SLevitt@UChicago.edu
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  • KEVIN M. MURPHY

    1. Murphy: Professor, Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, 5807 S Woodlawn Ave, Chicago, IL 60637. Phone 1-773-702-7280, Fax 1-773-834-8172, E-mail murphy@chicagobooth.edu
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    • We would like to thank Jonathan Caulkins, John Donohue, Lawrence Katz, Glenn Loury, Derek Neal, Bruce Sacerdote, Sudhir Venkatesh, and Ebonya Washington, and two anonymous referees for helpful discussions on this topic. Elizabeth Coston and Rachel Tay provided exceptional research assistance. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of Sherman Shapiro, the American Bar Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.


Abstract

Numerous social indicators turned negative for Blacks in the 1980s and rebounded a decade later. We explore whether crack cocaine explains these patterns. Absent a direct measure, we construct a crack prevalence index using multiple proxies. Our index reproduces spatial and temporal patterns described in ethnographic accounts of the crack epidemic. It explains much of the 1980s rise in Black youth homicide and more moderate increases in adverse birth outcomes. Although our index remains high through the 1990s, crack's deleterious social impact fades. Changes over time in behavior, crack markets, and the user population may have mitigated crack's damaging impacts. (JEL K42, J15, I30)

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