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Alex Smith Econ Economics Alexander Smith West Point USMA

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Alexander Apt Smith


United States Military Academy, West Point


alexander [dot] smith {at}



607 Cullum Road

West Point, NY 10996

I am an Associate Professor of Economics in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point and IZA Research Fellow.  For the 2023-2024 school year I will be on sabbatical as a visiting scholar at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.


I received my BA in Mathematics and Economics from Williams College and my PhD in Economics from the University of Virginia. My research interests lie in Labor and Public Economics, particularly in the long-run effects of policy interventions on outcomes related to social mobility.

NEW: NBER Summer Institute (Children) 2023 presentation of new work with Andrew Barr and Jonathan Eggleston, "Heterogeneous Effects of Universal Pre-K" (starts at 6:00:00).

Other profile pages: IZA  West Point




Investing in Infants:

The Lasting Effects of Cash Transfers to New Families

with  Andrew Barr (Texas A&M University) and Jonathan Eggleston (U.S. Census)

Quarterly Journal of Economics    Article   NBER Working Paper 

Draft  Draft    

We provide new evidence that cash transfers following the birth of a child can have large and long-lasting effects on child outcomes. We take advantage of the January 1 birthdate cutoff for U.S. child-related tax benefits, which results in families of otherwise similar children receiving substantially different refunds during the first year of life.  For the average low-income single-child family in our sample this difference amounts to roughly $1,300, or 10 percent of income. Using the universe of administrative federal tax data in selected years, we show that this transfer in infancy increases young adult earnings by at least 1 to 2 percent, with larger effects for males. These effects show up at earlier ages in terms of improved math and reading test scores and a higher likelihood of high school graduation. The observed effects on shorter-run parental outcomes suggest that additional liquidity during the critical window following the birth of a child leads to persistent increases in family income that likely contribute to the downstream effects on children’s outcomes. The longer-term effects on child earnings alone are large enough that the transfer pays for itself through subsequent increases in federal income tax revenue.  


Recorded Presentations: NBER SI 2021 Presentation   NBER Economics of Mobility 2021 Presentation   

                    Alliance for Early Success Presentation (General Audience)

Coverage:  NBER Digest   Institute for Research on Poverty Policy Brief   The Hill   The Guardian   CT Mirror

                    National Academies Consensus Study Report    European Expert Network 

   Brookings Institution Commentary   Stanford Social Innovation Review   The Hechinger Report

The Effect of Early Childhood Education on Adult Criminality: Evidence from the 1960s through 1990s

with John Anders (Trinity University) and Andrew Barr (Texas A&M University)

American Economic Journal: Economic Policy    Article   


We investigate the impact of early childhood education on adult criminal behavior, leveraging changes in policies that occurred over a number of decades. Using variation across birth cohorts generated by the rollout of Head Start (for those born in the 1960s and 1970s) and Smart Start (for those born in the 1980s and 1990s), along with administrative crime data that include the birth county of all individuals convicted of a crime in North Carolina, we find that improvements to early childhood education led to large (20 percent) reductions in the likelihood of a serious criminal conviction in adulthood. These reductions were concentrated in high poverty counties. While the benefits generated by each program in the form of crime reduction account for a large portion of the costs of the education provided, we find substantial relative gains from the targeting of funds to high poverty areas and to areas without existing access to subsidized care.

Coverage:  AEA Featured Chart   El Pais #1   El Pais #2   Rochester Beacon

Fighting Crime in the Cradle: The Effects of Early Childhood Access to Nutritional Assistance

with  Andrew Barr (Texas A&M University)


Journal of Human Resources     Article  


Despite the extraordinary social costs of crime, relatively little is known about the early life determinants of later criminal behavior. We explore the effect of access to nutritional assistance in early childhood. Using variation in the rollout of the Food Stamp Program (FSP) in the 1960s and 70s, combined with criminal conviction data from North Carolina, we find that FSP availability in early childhood leads to large reductions in later criminal behavior. Each additional year of FSP availability in early childhood reduces the likelihood of a criminal conviction in young adulthood by 2.5 percent. FSP availability has strong effects on the most costly crime types for society: violent and felony convictions. These effects are substantially larger for non-whites, consistent with the higher levels of FSP participation in this population. Analogous estimates derived from the FBIs Uniform Crime Report data suggest similar reductions in arrests for violent crime. These results reveal an important additional benefit of the FSP and suggest a potential link between childhood nutrition and later criminal behavior. Even under conservative assumptions, the discounted social benefits from the FSP's later crime reduction exceed the costs of the program over this time period.

Coverage:   #JHR_Threads Explainer

The Minimum Wage and Teen Educational Attainment


Labour Economics   Article   


Teen employment effects are central to the minimum wage debate, but important indirect effects on education receive relatively little attention. I investigate the effect of changes in the minimum wage on high school dropout
decisions. Consistently across two sources of variation and three individual-level datasets, I find that increases in the minimum wage substantially reduce the dropout likelihood of low-socioeconomic status (SES) teens but have no
effect on other teens.

Who Will Fight? The All-Volunteer Army after 9/11

with  Susan Carter (West Point) and Carl Wojtaszek (West Point)

AER Papers and Proceedings   Article   Online Appendix

Who fought the War on Terror? We find that as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan progressed, there was an increase in the fraction of active-duty Army enlistees who were white or from high-income neighborhoods and that these two groups selected combat occupations more often. Among men, we find an increase in deployment and combat injuries for white and Hispanic soldiers relative to black soldiers and for soldiers from high-income neighborhoods relative to those from low-income neighborhoods. This finding suggests that an all-volunteer force does not compel a disproportionate number of non-white and low socio-economic men to fight America's wars.

The Long-Run Effects of Universal Pre-K on Criminal Activity



While public prekindergarten access has expanded rapidly over the last two decades, there is little evidence on the long-run effects of state-run universal prekindergarten (UPK). I estimate the impact of Oklahoma’s UPK policy on the likelihood of criminal conviction in early adulthood using a regression discontinuity design that leverages the birthdate cutoff for UPK in the program’s first year of implementation. Using administrative criminal records from Oklahoma, I find that UPK reduces the likelihood of conviction in early adulthood by 1.3 percentage points (35%), with larger effects for black children.

The Effects of (Free) College on Earnings and Health Across the Life Cycle

with  Andrew Barr (Texas A&M University), Adam Roberts (Texas A&M University), and Jonathan Eggleston (U.S. Census)

Correlational evidence suggests that college graduates outperform their less educated peers in various measures of life success, including earnings and health. However, it is unclear the extent to which the observed correlations are driven by the endogenous selection of individuals into college. We will overcome endogeneity concerns by leveraging the elimination of the Social Security Student Benefit Program. We will use a large sample of  administrative Social Security records to precisely identify individuals impacted by the elimination of the program. Linking these individual records to Census Bureau survey data will allow us to estimate the long run effects of college
attainment on earnings and health and how these effects vary across the life course.


SS387 Public Economics

(Spring 2016, Fall 2016-2021)  Syllabus

SS489C Research Methods in Economics

(Fall 2019-2020, Spring 2021) Syllabus

SS498C Senior Thesis in Economics  

(Program Director 2019-2021) Syllabus

SS382 Microeconomics

(Spring 2019-2020) Syllabus

SS201 Principles of Economics

(Fall 2015, Spring 2017-2018)

U.S. Education Policy

(Fall 2013 at University of Virginia with James Wyckoff)


Causal Inference 

Notes, practice problems with data, and lecture videos


Example do files, basic intro videos, review slides, and other links

Research Tips

Ideas for finding data and searching literature


FAQs and examples of past thesis projects

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