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New measures of the costs of unemployment: Evidence from the subjective well-being of 3.3 million Americans

  • John F. Helliwell
  • Haifang Huang

Using two large US surveys, we estimate the effects of unemployment on the subjective well-being of the unemployed and the rest of the population. For the unemployed, the non-pecuniary costs of unemployment are several times as large as those due to lower incomes, while the indirect effect at the population level is fifteen times as large. For those who are still employed, a one percentage point increase in local unemployment has an impact on well-being roughly equivalent to a four percent decline in household income. We also find evidence indicating that job security is an important channel for the indirect effects of unemployment.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w16829.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16829.

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Date of creation: Feb 2011
Date of revision:
Publication status: Forthcoming, Economic Inquiry.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16829
Note: EFG LS PE
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  1. Andreas Knabe & Steffen Rätzel, 2007. "Quantifying the Psychological Costs of Unemployment: The Role of Permanent Income," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 32, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  2. Justin Wolfers, 2003. "Is Business Cycle Volatility Costly? Evidence from Surveys of Subjective Wellbeing," NBER Working Papers 9619, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Robert J. MacCulloch & Rafael Di Tella & Andrew J. Oswald, 2001. "Preferences over Inflation and Unemployment: Evidence from Surveys of Happiness," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 335-341, March.
  4. Mavridis, Dimitris, 2010. "Can subjective well-being predict unemployment length ?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5293, The World Bank.
  5. Clark, Andrew E. & Frijters, Paul & Shields, Michael A., 2007. "Relative Income, Happiness and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," IZA Discussion Papers 2840, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Winkelmann, Liliana & Winkelmann, Rainer, 1998. "Why Are the Unemployed So Unhappy? Evidence from Panel Data," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(257), pages 1-15, February.
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