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The Effects of Extended Unemployment Insurance over the Business Cycle: Evidence from Regression Discontinuity Estimates Over Twenty Years

  • Johannes F. Schmieder
  • Till M. von Wachter
  • Stefan Bender

One goal of extending the duration of unemployment insurance (UI) in recessions is to increase UI coverage in the face of longer unemployment spells. Although it is a common concern that such extensions may themselves raise nonemployment durations, it is not known how recessions would affect the magnitude of this moral hazard. To obtain causal estimates of the differential effects of UI in booms and recessions, this paper exploits the fact that, in Germany, potential UI benefit duration is a function of exact age which is itself invariant over the business cycle. We implement a regression discontinuity design separately for twenty years and correlate our estimates with measures of the business cycle. We find that the nonemployment effects of a month of additional UI benefits are, at best, somewhat declining in recessions. Yet, the UI exhaustion rate, and therefore the additional coverage provided by UI extensions, rises substantially during a downturn. The ratio of these two effects represents the nonemployment response of workers weighted by the probability of being affected by UI extensions. Hence, our results imply that the effective moral hazard effect of UI extensions is significantly lower in recessions than in booms. Using a model of job search with liquidity constraints, we also find that, in the absence of market-wide effects, the net social benefits from UI extensions can be expressed either directly in terms of the exhaustion rate and the nonemployment effect of UI durations, or as a declining function of our measure of effective moral hazard.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17813.

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Date of creation: Feb 2012
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as in Quarterly Journal of Economics. Volume 127, Issue 2, May 2012
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17813
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  1. Kiley Michael T., 2003. "How Should Unemployment Benefits Respond to the Business Cycle?," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 3(1), pages 1-22, July.
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  4. Wilke, Ralf A. & Lo, Simon M. S. & Arntz, Melanie, 2007. "Bounds Analysis of Competing Risks: A Nonparametric Evaluation of the Effect of Unemployment Benefits on Imigration in Germany," ZEW Discussion Papers 07-049, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
  5. Lalive, Rafael, 2006. "How do extended benefits affect unemployment duration? A regression discontinuity approach," Working Paper Series 2006:8, IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.
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  7. Jesse Rothstein, 2011. "Unemployment Insurance and Job Search in the Great Recession," NBER Working Papers 17534, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Marco Caliendo & Konstantinos Tatsiramos & Arne Uhlendorff, 2013. "Benefit Duration, Unemployment Duration And Job Match Quality: A Regression‐Discontinuity Approach," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 28(4), pages 604-627, 06.
  9. Raj Chetty, 2008. "Moral Hazard versus Liquidity and Optimal Unemployment Insurance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 116(2), pages 173-234, 04.
  10. Pavoni, Nicola, 2007. "On optimal unemployment compensation," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(6), pages 1612-1630, September.
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  12. Ralf A. Wilke, 2005. "New Extimates of the Duration and Risk of Unemployment for West-Germany," Schmollers Jahrbuch : Journal of Applied Social Science Studies / Zeitschrift für Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, vol. 125(2), pages 207-237.
  13. David S. Lee & David Card, 2006. "Regression Discontinuity Inference with Specification Error," NBER Technical Working Papers 0322, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Moffitt, Robert, 1985. "Unemployment insurance and the distribution of unemployment spells," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 85-101, April.
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