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Moral Hazard versus Liquidity and Optimal Unemployment Insurance

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  • Raj Chetty

Abstract

This paper presents new evidence on why unemployment insurance (UI) benefits affect search behavior and develops a simple method of calculating the welfare gains from UI using this evidence. I show that 60 percent of the increase in unemployment durations caused by UI benefits is due to a "liquidity effect" rather than distortions on marginal incentives to search ("moral hazard") by combining two empirical strategies. First, I find that increases in benefits have much larger effects on durations for liquidity-constrained households. Second, lump-sum severance payments increase durations substantially among constrained households. I derive a formula for the optimal benefit level that depends only on the reduced-form liquidity and moral hazard elasticities. The formula implies that the optimal UI benefit level exceeds 50 percent of the wage. The "exact identification" approach to welfare analysis proposed here yields robust optimal policy results because it does not require structural estimation of primitives. (c) 2008 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

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  • Raj Chetty, 2008. "Moral Hazard versus Liquidity and Optimal Unemployment Insurance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 116(2), pages 173-234, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:116:y:2008:i:2:p:173-234
    DOI: 10.1086/588585
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Zeldes, Stephen P, 1989. "Consumption and Liquidity Constraints: An Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(2), pages 305-346, April.
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    4. Yolanda Kodrzycki, 1998. "Effects of employer-provided severance benefits on reemployment outcomes," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Nov, pages 41-68.
    5. Hansen, Gary D & Imrohoroglu, Ayse, 1992. "The Role of Unemployment Insurance in an Economy with Liquidity Constraints and Moral Hazard," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(1), pages 118-142, February.
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