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Incorporating nonmarket time into benefit-cost analyses of social programs: An application to the self-sufficiency project

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  • Greenberg, David H.
  • Robins, Philip K.

Abstract

Benefit-cost analysis is used extensively in the evaluation of social programs. Often, the success or failure of these programs is judged on the basis of whether the calculated net benefits to society are positive or negative. Almost all existing benefit-cost studies of social programs count entire increases in income accruing to participants in a social program as net benefits to society. However, economic theory implies that the conceptually appropriate measure of the impact of a government program on any group of individuals is the net change in their surplus (or economic rent), rather than the net change in their income. For example, if a social program causes increases in income by increasing work hours, then the lost nonmarket time that accompanies these increases has value that needs to be counted as a cost when assessing the merits of that program. In this paper, we develop a methodology for incorporating lost nonmarket time into benefit-cost analyses of social programs. We apply our methodology to the Self-Sufficiency Project (SSP), an experimental welfare-to-work program tested on a pilot basis in two provinces in Canada during the 1990s. We find that if losses in nonmarket time are ignored, SSP yields a substantial positive net benefit to society. However, if losses in nonmarket time are taken into account, the net societal benefits are greatly reduced, even becoming negative in certain instances. We conclude that future benefit-cost analyses of social programs must take effects on nonmarket time into account in order to give a more accurate picture of the net benefits of the program.

Suggested Citation

  • Greenberg, David H. & Robins, Philip K., 2008. "Incorporating nonmarket time into benefit-cost analyses of social programs: An application to the self-sufficiency project," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(3-4), pages 766-794, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:92:y:2008:i:3-4:p:766-794
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    1. Jeffrey Grogger, 2009. "Welfare Reform, Returns to Experience, and Wages: Using Reservation Wages to Account for Sample Selection Bias," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(3), pages 490-502, August.
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    3. Jeremy Lise & Shannon Seitz & Jeffrey Smith, 2003. "Equilibrium Policy Experiments and the Evaluation of Social Programs," Working Papers 1012, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
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    5. Rajeev H. Dehejia & Sadek Wahba, 2002. "Propensity Score-Matching Methods For Nonexperimental Causal Studies," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 84(1), pages 151-161, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Burt S. Barnow & Jeffrey Smith, 2015. "Employment and Training Programs," NBER Chapters,in: Economics of Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States, volume 2, pages 127-234 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Gautier, Pieter A. & Muller, Paul & van der Klaauw, Bas & Rosholm, Michael & Svarer, Michael, 2012. "Estimating Equilibrium Effects of Job Search Assistance," IZA Discussion Papers 6748, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Aidan R. Vining & David L. Weimer, 2013. "An assessment of important issues concerning the application of benefit–cost analysis to social policy," Chapters,in: Principles and Standards for Benefit–Cost Analysis, chapter 1, pages 25-62 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. Andrea Albanese & Bart Cockx & Yannick Thuy, 2015. "Working Time Reductions at the End of the Career. Do they prolong the Time Spent in Employment?," Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) 2015024, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
    5. Mihic, Marko M. & Todorovic, Marija Lj. & Obradovic, Vladimir Lj., 2014. "Economic analysis of social services for the elderly in Serbia: Two sides of the same coin," Evaluation and Program Planning, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 9-21.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • J08 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics Policies
    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply

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