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How should unemployment benefits respond to the business cycle?

  • Michael T. Kiley

Unemployment insurance programs balance the benefits of consumption smoothing for unemployed workers against the disincentive effects of unemployment benefits. Such a balancing of benefits and costs is likely sensitive to the cyclical state of the economy, and hence the generosity of benefits should also respond to the cyclical state of the economy. The nature of such responses in an optimal unemployment insurance (UI) program is analyzed in a simple model. The results suggest that an optimal UI program would increase the initial level of benefits and probably extend higher benefits over time in response to a recessionary shock. A simple extension of benefits, such as exists automatically in the system in the United States, provides both poorer insurance and poorer incentives than the optimal program, and does so at a higher cost. Moreover, the current UI system in the U.S. provides a substantially higher level of welfare to workers who lose jobs during tight labor markets.

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Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series Finance and Economics Discussion Series with number 2003-01.

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Date of creation: 2003
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2003-01
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  1. Hopenhayn, Hugo A & Nicolini, Juan Pablo, 1997. "Optimal Unemployment Insurance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(2), pages 412-38, April.
  2. Acemoglu, D. & Shimer, R., 1997. "Efficient Unemployment Insurance," Working papers 97-9, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  3. David Card & Phillip B. Levine, 1998. "Extended Benefits and the Duration of UI Spells: Evidence from the New Jersey Extended Benefit Program," NBER Working Papers 6714, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Shavell, Steven & Weiss, Laurence, 1979. "The Optimal Payment of Unemployment Insurance Benefits over Time," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1347-62, December.
  5. Baily, Martin Neil, 1978. "Some aspects of optimal unemployment insurance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 379-402, December.
  6. Jonathan Gruber, 1994. "The Consumption Smoothing Benefits of Unemployment Insurance," NBER Working Papers 4750, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Phelan, Christopher & Townsend, Robert M, 1991. "Computing Multi-period, Information-Constrained Optima," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 58(5), pages 853-81, October.
  8. Bruce D. Meyer, 1988. "Unemployment Insurance And Unemployment Spells," NBER Working Papers 2546, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Atila Abdulkadiroglu & Burhanettin Kuruscu & Aysegul Sahin, 2002. "Unemployment insurance and the role of self-insurance," Discussion Papers 0102-27, Columbia University, Department of Economics.
  10. Martin Feldstein & James M. Poterba, 1984. "Unemployment Insurance and Reservation Wages," NBER Working Papers 1011, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Gruber, Jonathan, 1997. "The Consumption Smoothing Benefits of Unemployment Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(1), pages 192-205, March.
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