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Why Does Oil Matter? Commuting and Aggregate Fluctuations

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Abstract: Oil price shocks are known to have a sizable macroeconomic impact, despite a relatively small fraction of total expenditures that is devoted to energy. Using micro data we document a significant effect of oil prices on labor supply and commuting distance, especially among low-skilled workers who face large commuting costs, relative to their wages. In addition, equity returns of firms in less skill-intensive industries are more sensitive to oil price fluctuations. Motivated by this empirical evidence, we employ a two-sector endogenous growth model with an oil-dependent commuting friction to examine the effect of oil shocks on employment, real wages, and growth, as well as equity prices. Negative oil supply shocks followed by oil price increases depress labor supply, especially in the less capital-intensive low-skill sector, where employment is most sensitive to the cost of commuting. As a result, output growth slows down in the medium run as innovation and capital are reallocated towards the less affected high-skill sector, resulting in subsequent rise in the skill premium.

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