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On the Distribution of the Welfare Losses of Large Recessions

Author

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  • Krueger, Dirk
  • Mitman, Kurt
  • Perri, Fabrizio

Abstract

How big are the welfare losses from severe economic downturns, such as the U.S. Great Recession? How are those losses distributed across the population? In this paper we answer these questions using a canonical business cycle model featuring household income and wealth heterogeneity that matches micro data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). We document how these losses are distributed across households and how they are affected by social insurance policies. We find that the welfare cost of losing one's job in a severe recession ranges from 2% of lifetime consumption for the wealthiest households to 5% for low-wealth households. The cost increases to approximately 8% for low-wealth households if unemployment insurance benefits are cut from 50% to 10%. The fact that welfare losses fall with wealth, and that in our model (as in the data) a large fraction of households has very low wealth, implies that the impact of a severe recession, once aggregated across all households, is very significant (2.2% of lifetime consumption). We finally show that a more generous unemployment insurance system unequivocally helps low-wealth job losers, but hurts households that keep their job, even in a version of the model in which output is partly demand determined, and therefore unemployment insurance stabilizes aggregate demand and output.

Suggested Citation

  • Krueger, Dirk & Mitman, Kurt & Perri, Fabrizio, 2016. "On the Distribution of the Welfare Losses of Large Recessions," CEPR Discussion Papers 11413, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:11413
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Mariacristina De Nardi, 2015. "Quantitative Models of Wealth Inequality: A Survey," NBER Working Papers 21106, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Jess Benhabib & Alberto Bisin & Shenghao Zhu, 2011. "The Distribution of Wealth and Fiscal Policy in Economies With Finitely Lived Agents," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(1), pages 123-157, January.
    3. Marcus Hagedorn & Iourii Manovskii & Kurt Mitman, 2015. "The Impact of Unemployment Benefit Extensions on Employment: The 2014 Employment Miracle?," NBER Working Papers 20884, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Kindermann, Fabian & Krueger, Dirk, 2014. "High Marginal Tax Rates on the Top 1%? Lessons from a Life Cycle Model with Idiosyncratic Income Risk," CEPR Discussion Papers 10208, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    5. Krueger, D. & Mitman, K. & Perri, F., 2016. "Macroeconomics and Household Heterogeneity," Handbook of Macroeconomics, Elsevier.
    6. Mariacristina De Nardi & Eric French & John B. Jones, 2010. "Why Do the Elderly Save? The Role of Medical Expenses," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(1), pages 39-75, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Krueger, D. & Mitman, K. & Perri, F., 2016. "Macroeconomics and Household Heterogeneity," Handbook of Macroeconomics, Elsevier.
    2. repec:red:issued:18-178 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    Keywords

    great recession; Social Insurance; Wealth Inequality;

    JEL classification:

    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • J65 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Unemployment Insurance; Severance Pay; Plant Closings

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