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Does It Pay, At The Margin, To Work And Save? -- Measuring Effective Marginal Taxes On Americans' Labor Supply And Saving


  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff

    () (Boston University, Department of Economics and NBER)

  • David Rapson

    () (Boston University, Department of Economics)


Building on Gokhale, Kotlikoff, and Sluchynsky's (2002) study of Americans' incentives to work full or part time, this paper uses ESPlanner, a life-cycle financial planning program, in conjunction with detailed modeling of transfer programs to determine a) total marginal net tax rates on current labor supply, b) total net marginal tax rates on life-cycle labor supply, c) total net marginal tax rates on saving, and d) the tax-arbitrage opportunities available from contributing to retirement accounts. In seeking to provide the most comprehensive analysis to date of fiscal incentives, the paper incorporates federal and state personal income taxes, the FICA payroll tax, federal and state corporate income taxes, federal and state sales and excise taxes, Social Security benefits, Medicare benefits, Medicaid benefits, Foods Stamps, welfare (TAFCD) benefits, and other transfer program benefits. The paper offers four main takeaways. First, thanks to the incredible complexity of the U.S. fiscal system, it's impossible for anyone to understand her incentive to work, save, or contribute to retirement accounts absent highly advanced computer technology and software. Second, the U.S. fiscal system provides most households with very strong reasons to limit their labor supply and saving. Third, the system offers very high-income young and middle aged households as well as most older households tremendous opportunities to arbitrage the tax system by contributing to retirement accounts. Fourth, the patterns by age and income of marginal net tax rates on earnings, marginal net tax rates on saving, and tax-arbitrage opportunities can be summarized with one word -- bizarre.

Suggested Citation

  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff & David Rapson, 2006. "Does It Pay, At The Margin, To Work And Save? -- Measuring Effective Marginal Taxes On Americans' Labor Supply And Saving," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series WP2006-048, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:bos:wpaper:wp2006-048

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Alexi Sluchynsky, 2002. "Does It Pay to Work?," NBER Working Papers 9096, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Kristin J Forbes, 2002. "How Do Large Depreciations Affect Firm Performance?," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 49(Special i), pages 214-238.
    3. Laurence Kotlikoff & Ben Marx & Pietro Rizza, 2006. "Americans' Dependency on Social Security," Working Papers wp126, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    4. Feenberg, Daniel R. & Poterba, James M., 2004. "The Alternative Minimum Tax and Effective Marginal Tax Rates," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 57(2), pages 407-427, June.
    5. Diamond, Peter A, 1998. "Optimal Income Taxation: An Example with a U-Shaped Pattern of Optimal Marginal Tax Rates," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 83-95, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rupert Sausgruber & Jean-Robert Tyran, 2008. "Tax Salience, Voting, and Deliberation," Discussion Papers 08-21, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    2. Pender, John & Jo, Young & Miller, Cristina, 2015. "Economic Impacts of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Payments in Nonmetro vs. Metro Counties," 2015 AAEA & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, July 26-28, San Francisco, California 205626, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association;Western Agricultural Economics Association.
    3. Maria I. Marika Santoro & Chao D. Wei, 2008. "The Impact of Progressive Dividend Taxation on Investment Decisions: Working Paper 2008-03," Working Papers 19630, Congressional Budget Office.
    4. Alexander Gelber & Matthew Weinzierl, 2012. "Equalizing Outcomes vs. Equalizing Opportunities: Optimal Taxation when Children's Abilities Depend on Parents' Resources," Harvard Business School Working Papers 13-014, Harvard Business School, revised Mar 2014.
    5. Alexander M. Gelber & Matthew C. Weinzierl, 2012. "Equalizing Outcomes and Equalizing Opportunities: Optimal Taxation when Children's Abilities Depend on Parents' Resources," NBER Working Papers 18332, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Sausgruber, Rupert & Tyran, Jean-Robert, 2011. "Are we taxing ourselves?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(1), pages 164-176.
    7. Maria I. Marika Santoro & Chao D. Wei, 2008. "Taxation and Asset Pricing in a Production Economy: Working Paper 2008-10," Working Papers 20412, Congressional Budget Office.
    8. Timothy J. Bartik, 2013. "Social Costs of Jobs Lost Due to Environmental Regulations," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 13-193, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    9. Damon Jones, 2010. "Information, Preferences, and Public Benefit Participation: Experimental Evidence from the Advance EITC and 401(k) Savings," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 147-163, April.
    10. Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2010. "Economic Theory and the World of Practice: A Celebration of the ( S , s ) Model," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(1), pages 183-202, Winter.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H1 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H3 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents


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