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Has State Redistribution Policy Grown More Conservative?

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  • Robert Moffitt

Abstract

It is well-known that real benefits in the major cash transfer program in the U.S. -- the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program -- have fallen drastically over the past twenty years. State legislatures, which set AFDC benefit levels, have failed to increase nominal benefits to keep up with inflation, resulting in a 25 percent decline in real benefits between 1960 and 1984. The most popular explanation for this decline is that state legislatures, reflecting the changing preferences of voters, have grown more conservative in their tastes for redistribution. The evidence presented in this paper is consistent instead with a different explanation, that legislatures have let federally-financed Food Stamps displace state-financed AFDC benefits. A similar displacement of AFDC by Medicaid benefits appears to have occurred. Aside from implying that preferences for redistribution have not in fact changed, the results also show that the total transfer benefit has increased, as should be expected from growing income levels. The findings also imply that neither the Food Stamp program nor, presumably, any other lump-sum transfer provided by Congress is likely to have any effect on the incomes of the poor female-head population. Instead, such programs will merely provide budget relief to the states.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 2516.

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Date of creation: Feb 1988
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Publication status: published as National Tax Journal, Vol.43. No.2, pp.123-142, June 1990.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2516

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  1. Megdal, Sharon Bernstein, 1987. "The Flypaper Effect Revisited: An Econometric Explanation," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 69(2), pages 347-51, May.
  2. Orr, Larry L, 1976. "Income Transfers as a Public Good: An Application to AFDC," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 66(3), pages 359-71, June.
  3. Hausman, Jerry A, 1985. "The Econometrics of Nonlinear Budget Sets," Econometrica, Econometric Society, Econometric Society, vol. 53(6), pages 1255-82, November.
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