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A Historical Welfare Analysis of Social Security: Whom Did the Program Benefit?

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  • William B. Peterman
  • Kamila Sommer

Abstract

A well-established result in the literature is that Social Security tends to reduce steady state welfare in a standard life cycle model. However, less is known about the historical effects of the program on agents who were alive when the program was adopted. In a computational life cycle model that simulates the Great Depression and the enactment of Social Security, this paper quantifies the welfare effects of the program's enactment on the cohorts of agents who experienced it. In contrast to the standard steady state results, we find that the adoption of the original Social Security tended to improve these cohorts' welfare. In particular, we estimate that the original program benefited households alive at the time of the program's adoption with a likelihood of over 80 percent, and increased these agents' welfare by the equivalent of 5.9% of their expected future lifetime consumption. The welfare benefit was particularly large for poorer agents and agents who were near retirement age when the program was enacted. Through a series of counterfactual experiments we demonstrate that the difference between the steady state and transitional welfare effects is primarily driven by a slower adoption of payroll taxes and a quicker adoption of benefit payments during the program's phase-in. Overall, the opposite welfare effects experienced by agents in the steady state versus agents who experienced the program's adoption might offer one explanation for why a program that potentially reduces welfare in the steady state was originally adopted.

Suggested Citation

  • William B. Peterman & Kamila Sommer, 2015. "A Historical Welfare Analysis of Social Security: Whom Did the Program Benefit?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2015-92, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2015-92
    DOI: 10.17016/FEDS.2015.092r1
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. William B. Peterman & Kamila Sommer, 2019. "How Well Did Social Security Mitigate The Effects Of The Great Recession?," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 60(3), pages 1433-1466, August.
    2. Juan Carlos Conesa & Sagiri Kitao & Dirk Krueger, 2009. "Taxing Capital? Not a Bad Idea after All!," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(1), pages 25-48, March.
    3. Contreras, Juan & Sinclair, Sven, 2008. "Labor supply response in macroeconomic models: Assessing the empirical validity of the intertemporal labor supply response from a stochastic overlapping generations model with incomplete markets," MPRA Paper 10533, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Susumu Imai & Michael P. Keane, 2004. "Intertemporal Labor Supply and Human Capital Accumulation," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 45(2), pages 601-641, May.
    5. William B. Peterman, 2016. "Reconciling Micro And Macro Estimates Of The Frisch Labor Supply Elasticity," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 54(1), pages 100-120, January.
    6. Luigi Pistaferri, 2003. "Anticipated and Unanticipated Wage Changes, Wage Risk, and Intertemporal Labor Supply," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(3), pages 729-754, July.
    7. Hong, Jay H. & Rios-Rull, Jose-Victor, 2007. "Social security, life insurance and annuities for families," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 118-140, January.
    8. Storesletten, Kjetil & Telmer, Chris I. & Yaron, Amir, 1999. "The risk-sharing implications of alternative social security arrangements," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 213-259, June.
    9. Imrohoroglu, Ayse & Imrohoroglu, Selahattin & Joines, Douglas H, 1995. "A Life Cycle Analysis of Social Security," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 6(1), pages 83-114, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Daniel Harenberg & Alexander Ludwig, 2019. "Idiosyncratic Risk, Aggregate Risk, And The Welfare Effects Of Social Security," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 60(2), pages 661-692, May.
    2. Caliendo, Frank N. & Findley, T. Scott, 2020. "Dynamic Consistency and Regret," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 173(C), pages 342-364.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Social Security; Recessions; Great Depression; Overlapping Generations;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions

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