Was the “Arsenal of Democracy” an Engine of Mobility?

Publication Date


Grant Type

Early Career Research Award


In the middle of the 20th-century, places with more manufacturing jobs had higher rates of upward mobility. This project examines how regions with high-wage manufacturing employment opportunities causally impact economic mobility by studying the construction of larger, government-funded manufacturing plants during World War II in locations in which private firms would not invest. We find that plant sitings during World War II significantly expanded high-wage manufacturing employment throughout the postwar decades. In our ongoing work, we use novel longitudinally linked data sources to study how plant sitings impacted the adult earnings of individuals who lived nearby prior to the War as children. Early results show that plant sitings causally increased rates of upward mobility. Our proposed work will use data on the demographics and adult employers to assess whether opportunities to work in high-paying manufacturing plants directly account for the increases in earnings we find in our work to date, or whether increases in human capital acquisition boost adult earnings regardless of the sector of employment. These proposed analyses will enable us to relate these findings to modern place-based policy proposals.