Measuring Crack Cocaine and Its Impact

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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.

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Economic Inquiry