Paul Niekamp

Assistant Professor of Economics | Ball State University


"Economic Conditions and Sleep". Health Economics. 2018;1-6.

The Relationship between In-Person Voting and COVID-19: Evidence from the Wisconsin Primary, with Chad Cotti, Bryan Engelhardt, Joshua Foster, and Erik Nesson (Forthcoming at Contemporary Economic Policy)
On April 7, 2020, Wisconsin held its presidential primary election, and news reports showed long lines of voters due to fewer polling locations. We use county-level variation in voting patterns and weekly county-level COVID test data to examine whether in-person voting increased COVID-19 cases. We find a statistically significant association between in-person voting density and the spread of COVID-19 two to three weeks after the election. In our main results, a 10% increase in in-person voters per polling location is associated with an 18.4% increase in the COVID-19 positive test rate two to three weeks later.

College Student Contribution to Local COVID-19 Spread:Evidence from University Spring Break Timing, with Daniel Mangrum (Forthcoming at Journal of Urban Economics: Insights)
We present evidence that travel by college students, identified by the timing of university spring breaks, contributed to the local spread of COVID-19. Due to the timing of university closures, students at universities with earlier spring breaks traveled and subsequently returned to campus while students at universities with later spring breaks effectively had their breaks canceled. We collect spring break dates for traditional four-year universities and link these universities to smartphone location data. To study the effect of spring break travel on the evolution of confirmed COVID-19 cases and mortality, we use a difference-in-differences identification strategy. Our estimates imply that counties with more early spring break students had higher confirmed case growth rates than counties with fewer early spring break students. We find that the increase in case growth rates peaked two weeks after students returned to campus. Consistent with secondary spread to more vulnerable populations, we find an increase in mortality growth rates that peaked four to five weeks after students returned. We trace destinations and modes of travel for university students and find that students who traveled through airports, to New York City, and to popular Florida destinations contributed more to the spread of COVID-19 than the average early spring break student. Our results suggest that universities have a unique capacity to reduce local COVID-19 spread by altering academic calendars to limit university student travel.

Media coverage: ABC News, Forbes, Inside Higher Ed, New York Times, People

Working Papers

Good Bang for the Buck: Effects of Rural Gun Use on Crime
This paper provides the first estimates of the effect of rural recreational gun use on crime. Each year, more than 10 million Americans, comprising 18% of all American gun owners, use firearms to hunt deer during restricted dates. Hunting proponents argue that long guns are not positively associated with violent crime, while the sheer magnitude of hunter activity requires this hypothesis be tested to inform gun policy design. My empirical strategy exploits variation across states in opening dates of firearm-based deer hunting seasons, which create larger increases in gun use than any other policy in existence. Combining daily crime data with deer hunting seasons spanning 20 years and 21 states, I estimate that the start of firearm season is associated with a 300% increase in long gun prevalence. Despite this enormous increase in gun use, I find no evidence of an increase in violent crime. I estimate the elasticity of violent crime with respect to recreational long gun use to be between -0.01 and +0.0003. Moreover, I estimate that alcohol-related arrests of juvenile males fall by 22% and narcotic offenses fall by 15% at the start of hunting season, suggesting that firearm hunting may have positive externalities via reducing risky juvenile male behavior.

“Bakken Out of Education to Toil in Oil”
Using novel datasets from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) and North Dakota University System (NDUS), I study the effects of the North Dakota oil boom on high school graduation rates and post-graduation outcomes of seniors in North Dakota high schools using an event-study design. The oil boom sharply increased wages and employment in core-oil counties. Surprisingly, high school graduation rates of schools in core-oil counties did not decrease relative to schools in non-oil counties for either males or females. However, high school seniors responded to the oil boom by decreasing 4-year college enrollment rates by 23%. Notably, college enrollment rates also decreased for females. Estimates suggest that males and females became more likely to enter the workforce while male military enrollment rates decreased.

Work in Progress

"Deer in the Headlights: The Consequences of Hunting Regulations on Car Accidents"