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Chapter 17 Income Distribution and Welfare Programs

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1 Chapter 17 Income Distribution and Welfare Programs
Jonathan Gruber Public Finance and Public Policy Aaron S. Yelowitz - Copyright 2005 © Worth Publishers

2 The moral hazard costs of welfare policy Moral hazard effects of a means-tested transfer system
Actual welfare benefits are related to program parameters through the following equation: Where B stands for actual benefits received, G is a benefit guarantee level, Τ is the benefit reduction rate, w is the hourly wage rate, and h is hours worked.

3 The moral hazard costs of welfare policy Moral hazard effects of a means-tested transfer system
Setting actual benefits equal to zero results in the “break-even formula” – the income level where welfare eligibility ends: Thus, with a guarantee of $300 and tax rate of 75%, earnings of $400 reduces the welfare benefit to zero and removes the person from welfare.

4 The moral hazard costs of welfare policy Moral hazard effects of a means-tested transfer system
In principle, setting G equal to the poverty line (with, say, J=1.00) would eliminate poverty. The Current Population Survey suggests that such a policy would cost $98 billion, a concept known as the poverty gap. Yet such an exercise does not account for the moral hazard effects of such a policy.

5 The moral hazard costs of welfare policy Moral hazard effects of a means-tested transfer system
Figure 3 considers the individual’s choice of leisure and consumption with such a grant and tax rate. There are dramatic work disincentives, especially for those mechanically eligible for welfare who earn less than the grant, G.

6 This is the budget constraint before welfare is introduced.
Figure 3 This is the budget constraint before welfare is introduced. Individuals make different choices based on preferences. $ of consumption per year A 25,000 20,000 Welfare is introduced with a $9,000 guarantee and a BRR of 100%. Z slope = -wage = Y 10,000 G = 9,000 B D Others are initially ineligible, but reduce their work effort, too. 5,000 X Some will be “mechanically” eligible and reduce hours of work. C Hours of leisure per year 400 1,200 1,280 1,600 2,000

7 The moral hazard costs of welfare policy Moral hazard effects of a means-tested transfer system
Thus, eliminating poverty is potentially much more expensive – perhaps three times as much: Those who are mechanically eligible for welfare stop working completely, costing the government more money. Some who are initially ineligible change their behavior by cutting back on work and getting onto welfare. By doing so, they give up some consumption, but get much more leisure.

8 The moral hazard costs of welfare policy Lowering the benefit reduction rate
A natural solution to the moral hazard problem here (the reduction in labor supply) is to lower the benefit reduction rate. This is illustrated in Figure 4.

9 Lowering the BRR changes the budget constraint.
Figure 4 $ of consumption per year A 25,000 Z1 18,000 Z2 Lowering the BRR changes the budget constraint. And person Z becomes eligible. B2 Y2 slope = -wage = slope = -net wage = -6.25 X2 Y1 G = 9,000 B1 D Hours also fall for person Y. X1 Hours of work fall for person X. C Hours of leisure per year 560 1,280 2,000

10 The moral hazard costs of welfare policy Lowering the benefit reduction rate
Although such a policy ameliorates the work disincentives relative to higher tax rates for some people, it potentially exacerbates the work disincentives for others. This is because the breakeven level to qualify for welfare goes up when the tax rate is lowered. The net impact depends on the relative sizes and preferences of the different consumers.

11 The moral hazard costs of welfare policy The “iron triangle” of redistributive programs
The iron triangle means that there is no way to change either the benefit reduction rate or benefit guarantee to simultaneously encourage work, redistribute more income, and lower costs. If the tax rate is lowered, work could be discouraged for some and costs could go up. If the guarantee is lowered, work increases and costs fall, but redistribution falls.

12 REDUCING THE MORAL HAZARD OF WELFARE
Are there other policy instruments that can overcome these moral hazard problems? Moving to categorical welfare payments Using ordeal mechanisms Increasing outside options

13 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Moving to categorical welfare payments
Moral hazard occurs because the benefits are not well targeted – the government cannot observe an individual’s earnings capacity. If the government could observe true earnings ability, it could simply give payments to those with low earnings ability.

14 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Moving to categorical welfare payments
Instead, the government observes earnings outcomes. Outcomes are related to ability, but not perfectly. A person may be poor either because: He or she is high ability but lazy He or she is low ability and working hard By targeting benefits to actual earnings, the government creates incentives for high ability people to be lazy.

15 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Moving to categorical welfare payments
There are some characteristics that are easy to verify, hard to change, and related to low earnings. For example, being blind limits a person’s job opportunities and individuals are unlikely to change their behavior to qualify. This type of targeting – categorical welfare payments – can overcome the iron triangle.

16 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Moving to categorical welfare payments
What characteristics make a good targeting mechanism? Characteristics that are unchangeable. Characteristics that target those with low earnings capacity. In reality, welfare programs target characteristics like blindness, age, disability, and single motherhood.

17 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Moving to categorical welfare payments
The last of these – single motherhood – seems on the surface to meet these two criteria. The second criterion, low earnings capacity, is clear: poverty rates for single parent families exceed 33%. The first criterion – whether single motherhood is unchangeable – is more debatable, however. Although theoretically women might become single mothers to qualify, in practice this does not seem to be very common. Figure 5 shows the time-series correlations.

18 While benefits have fallen.
Figure 5 While benefits have fallen. Single motherhood has increased over time.

19 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Moving to categorical welfare payments
Although single motherhood and welfare generosity rose together during the 1960s, welfare benefits fell thereafter while single motherhood continued to rise. This appears true for within-state comparisons over time. The consensus from existing research is that this effect is, at most, very small.

20 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Moving to categorical welfare payments
Despite the view of the existing academic studies, the possible negative effects of welfare on formation of stable families remains a major source of opposition. This opposition affected the targeting in the TANF program – which, in theory, removed the distinction between single parent families and other types. The potential moral hazard from such a policy must be weighed against the costs of expanding eligibility to a larger set of richer families.

21 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Using “ordeal mechanisms”
An alternative approach is to try get individuals to reveal themselves as less able through ordeal mechanisms. Ordeal mechanisms are features of welfare programs that make them unattractive, leading to self-selection of only the most needy recipients.

22 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Using “ordeal mechanisms”
Consider two types of individuals – hard-working but low-ability individuals, and lazy but high-ability individuals. Although some characteristics, like education, are correlated with ability but only imperfectly. If the system was set up such that high-ability, lazy individuals find the system unattractive, they self-select out of welfare.

23 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Using “ordeal mechanisms”
Work or training requirements of TANF are an example of such a mechanism – they impose a cost on lazy individuals who are just using welfare as a means of increasing their leisure. The provision of in-kind benefits rather than cash is another example. If the government gives away cash, then individuals who are not needy will pretend to be needy to qualify. If the government offers, instead, a somewhat run-down public housing project, those with high ability may not be interested in taking up the benefit.

24 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Using “ordeal mechanisms”
The efficiency problem is that non-needy individuals might masquerade as needy in order to qualify for benefits. If the government provides a benefit that is not attractive to the non-needy, they won’t pursue this masquerade and targeting will be more efficient. The paradox of ordeal mechanisms is therefore that apparently making the less able worse off actually makes them better off, because the government can make a fixed budget go further.

25 An example of ordeal mechanisms
Application Ordeal mechanisms suggest a rationale for “stigmatizing” welfare programs. For example: Food stamps that are redeemed in public at a supermarket. Waiting in lines at public welfare offices.

26 An example of ordeal mechanisms
Application Consider the following “soup kitchen” example. Imagine that there are two types, low (l) and high (h) ability, and they enjoy soup (S) but dislike waiting in line for it (W). The low ability person’s utility function is:

27 An example of ordeal mechanisms
Application The high ability person’s utility function is: Thus the high ability person gets less utility from each serving of soup, and more disutility from waiting in line.

28 An example of ordeal mechanisms
Application Further, imagine that the SWF is utilitarian, and that the government has 2 bowls of soup to allocate. If the waiting time was W=0, both would want the soup, and if it were divided evenly, societal welfare would be:

29 An example of ordeal mechanisms
Application If the waiting time was such that W=61, then the high ability person would not wait in line for 1 bowl of soup, but the low ability person would. Thus, both bowls of soup go to the low ability person, and societal welfare equals:

30 An example of ordeal mechanisms
Application Overall, social welfare has risen because those masquerading stop trying to collect the soup. Making the low-ability person wait in line raise both his utility and social welfare. This occurs because the gains from efficient targeting outweigh the costs of the ordeal mechanism in this case.

31 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Increasing outside options
The third approach to reducing moral hazard is to increase the outside options available so that it is no longer as attractive to be on welfare. Consider Figure 6, which raises wage rates.

32 And reduce the “breakeven” level for eligibility.
$ of consumption per year E 35,000 A slope = -wage = 25,000 slope = -wage = And reduce the “breakeven” level for eligibility. Y2 12,250 Y1 10,000 F G = 9,000 Higher wages rotate the budget constraint outward. B D Individuals will adjust their hours. Person Y no longer goes onto welfare. C Hours of leisure per year Figure 6 1,200 1,300 1,486 2,000

33 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Increasing outside options
There are five different approaches the government can take to increase outside opportunities for welfare recipients: Training Labor market subsidies Child care Child support Removing welfare lock

34 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Increasing outside options
The traditional approach to increasing outside opportunities is training welfare recipients. Most recipients have low skills. Empirical evidence suggests training programs lead to modest declines in welfare receipts and increase earnings. Yet they cannot induce sizable reductions in the welfare rolls.

35 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Increasing outside options
Another approach is to directly subsidize wages. One fairly expensive, broad approach is the Earned Income Tax Credit. An alternative is targeted wage subsidies to those on welfare. This runs into the problem that it does not help those who are reluctant to go on welfare, and could also have “entry” effects for those who did not intend to go on welfare.

36 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Increasing outside options
A third approach is to subsidize childcare costs. This raises the net wage in the previous figures. Regulation of quality of childcare providers usually goes hand-in-hand with subsidies, however. This could push individuals into unregulated forms of childcare, which may be detrimental to children.

37 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Increasing outside options
A fourth approach is fully enforcing child support obligations of absent fathers. Child support is a court-ordered payment from an absent parent to support the upbringing of their children. Only half of court-ordered payments are actually made. As a result, women are unable to leave welfare because they cannot finance consumption with their earnings alone. Child support rules have become much more stringent over time.

38 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Increasing outside options
The key problem is that many of these non-paying fathers are poor as well, so there is not much money that can be collected. In addition, the welfare system essentially taxes these payments at 100%, creating a disincentive for women on welfare to help track down deadbeat dads.

39 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Increasing outside options
Finally, cash welfare is often linked with other programs, most prominently, Medicaid health insurance. Until the mid-1980s, Medicaid was restricted to those on AFDC cash welfare. Leaving welfare entailed the entire loss of the health insurance. Figure 7 shows what the disincentive looked like.

40 Medicaid is offered on an “all-or-nothing” basis.
Figure 7 $ of consumption per year A 25,000 E 21,000 Medicaid is offered on an “all-or-nothing” basis. This creates a “notch” in the budget constraint. 18,000 slope = -net wage = -6.25 B slope = -net wage = -6.25 F slope = -wage = HI = $3,000 D 9,000 Cash = $9,000 C Hours of leisure per year 560 2,000

41 Reducing the moral hazard of welfare Increasing outside options
The discontinuous loss of Medicaid is known as the Medicaid “notch” – where the marginal tax rate on earnings is far in excess of 100%. Uncoupling health insurance from cash welfare could therefore lead to exits from cash welfare. Empirical evidence is mixed on the actual effects.

42 WELFARE REFORM Changes due to welfare reform
The 1996 legislation, PRWORA, made many changes to the welfare system. These include: Block grants to states rather than open ended entitlements. Greater freedom for states to experiment with program rules. Time limited benefits. Work requirements. New efforts to limit unwed motherhood.

43 Welfare reform Effects of the 1996 welfare reform
As illustrated earlier, welfare caseloads fell dramatically: On a national basis, caseloads fell more than 50%. Some states experienced reductions of more than 80%. Empirical evidence suggests one-third of the decline was from welfare reform, but other factors, like the growing economy, also played an important role.

44 Welfare reform Effects of the 1996 welfare reform
Welfare reform was a windfall to the states, because their block grant was based on welfare expenditure in 1994, when caseloads were very high. Some states used the windfall to subsidize pro-work policies, like subsidized childcare.

45 Welfare reform Effects of the 1996 welfare reform
A key question about welfare reform is how it affected the income and well being of single mothers. Most single mothers have not seen a drop in their consumption – there was a large increase in labor supply at the same time that caseloads were declining. Some subgroups, mainly low skilled single mothers, have suffered a decline, however.

46 Welfare reform Effects of the 1996 welfare reform
Was welfare reform a success? They have reduced the welfare rolls without lowering incomes of single mothers. Yet, success in the long run also depends on: The distribution of income, not just the average. The reduction in utility from reduced leisure. Whether the block grants will work well during recessions. The long run effects on children in these families.


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