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Welfare Reform, Returns to Experience, and Wages: Using Reservation Wages to Account for Sample Selection Bias

  • Jeffrey Grogger

Work was one of the central motivations for welfare reform during the 1990s. One important rationale for work was based on human capital theory: work today should raise experience tomorrow, which in turn should raise future wage offers and reduce dependency on aid. Despite the importance of the this notion, few studies have estimated the effect of welfare reform on wages. Furthermore, several recent analyses suggest that low-skill workers, such as welfare recipients, enjoy only meager returns to experience, undermining the link between welfare reform and wages. An important analytical obstacle is the sample selection problem. Since non-employment levels are high and workers are unlikely to represent a random sample from the population of former recipients, estimates that fail to account for sample selection could be seriously biased. In this paper, I propose a method to solve the selection problem based on the use of reservation wage data. Reservation wage data allow one to solve the problem using censored regression methods. Furthermore, the use of reservation wage data obviates the need for the controversial exclusion restrictions sometimes used to identify familiar two-step sample selection estimators. Correcting for sample selection bias matters a great deal empirically. Estimates from models that lack such corrections suggest that welfare recipients gain little from work experience. Estimates based on the reservation wage approach suggest that they enjoy returns similar to those estimated from other samples of workers. They also suggest that the particular reform program that I analyze may have raised wages modestly.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w11621.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11621.

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Date of creation: Sep 2005
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Publication status: published as Jeffrey Grogger, 2009. "Welfare Reform, Returns to Experience, and Wages: Using Reservation Wages to Account for Sample Selection Bias," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(3), pages 490-502, 02.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11621
Note: LS PE
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  1. David Card & Dean R. Hyslop, 2005. "Estimating the Effects of a Time-Limited Earnings Subsidy for Welfare-Leavers," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(6), pages 1723-1770, November.
  2. James J. Heckman, 1976. "The Common Structure of Statistical Models of Truncation, Sample Selection and Limited Dependent Variables and a Simple Estimator for Such Models," NBER Chapters, in: Annals of Economic and Social Measurement, Volume 5, number 4, pages 475-492 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Heckman, James, 2013. "Sample selection bias as a specification error," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 31(3), pages 129-137.
  4. Light, Audrey & Ureta, Manuelita, 1995. "Early-Career Work Experience and Gender Wage Differentials," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(1), pages 121-54, January.
  5. Hurd, M., 1999. "Anchoring and Acquiescence Bias in Measuring Assets in Households Surveys," Papers 99-02, RAND - Labor and Population Program.
  6. Newey, Whitney K., 1987. "Efficient estimation of limited dependent variable models with endogenous explanatory variables," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 36(3), pages 231-250, November.
  7. David Card & Charles Michalopoulos & Philip K. Robins, 2001. "The Limits to Wage Growth: Measuring the Growth Rate of Wages For Recent Welfare Leavers," NBER Working Papers 8444, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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