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Do In-Work Tax Credits Serve as a Safety Net?

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  • Marianne Bitler
  • Hilary Hoynes
  • Elira Kuka

Abstract

The cash and near cash safety net in the U.S. has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past fifteen years. Federal welfare reform has led to the "elimination of welfare as we know it" and several tax reforms have substantially increased the role of "in-work"' assistance. In 2010, we spent more than 5 dollars on the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for every dollar spent on cash benefits through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), whereas in 1994 on the eve of federal welfare reform these programs were about equal in size. In this paper, we evaluate and test whether the EITC satisfies a defining feature of a safety net program--that it responds to economic need. In particular, we explore how EITC participation and expenditures change with the business cycle. The fact that the EITC requires earned income leads to a theoretical ambiguity in the cyclical responsiveness of the credit. We use administrative IRS data to examine the relationship between business cycles and the EITC program. Our empirical strategy relies on exploiting differences in the timing and severity of economic cycles across states. The results show that higher unemployment rates lead to higher EITC recipients and total dollar amounts of credits for married couples. On the other hand, the effect of business cycles on the EITC is insignificant for single individuals, whether measured by recipients or expenditures. In sum, our results show that the EITC serves as an automatic stabilizer for married couples with children but not for the majority of recipients--single parents with children. The patterns we identify are consistent with the predictions of static labor supply theory, and with expectations about how economic shocks are likely to affect one versus two-earner households.

Suggested Citation

  • Marianne Bitler & Hilary Hoynes & Elira Kuka, 2014. "Do In-Work Tax Credits Serve as a Safety Net?," NBER Working Papers 19785, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19785
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    Cited by:

    1. Marianne Bitler & Hilary W. Hoynes & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2020. "The Social Safety Net in the Wake of COVID-19," NBER Working Papers 27796, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Kory Kroft & Kavan Kucko & Etienne Lehmann & Johannes Schmieder, 2020. "Optimal Income Taxation with Unemployment and Wage Responses: A Sufficient Statistics Approach," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 12(1), pages 254-292, February.
    3. Markowitz, Sara & Komro, Kelli A. & Livingston, Melvin D. & Lenhart, Otto & Wagenaar, Alexander C., 2017. "Effects of state-level Earned Income Tax Credit laws in the U.S. on maternal health behaviors and infant health outcomes," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 194(C), pages 67-75.
    4. David Splinter & Jeff Larrimore & Jacob Mortenson, 2017. "Whose Child Is This? Shifting of Dependents among EITC Claimants within the Same Household," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 70(4), pages 737-758, December.
    5. Hetschko, Clemens & Schöb, Ronnie & Wolf, Tobias, 2020. "Income support, employment transitions and well-being," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(C).
    6. Lim, Katherine & Michelmore, Katherine, 2018. "The EITC and self-employment among married mothers," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 98-115.
    7. Lisa Gennetian & Sharon Wolf & Heather Hill & Pamela Morris, 2015. "Intrayear Household Income Dynamics and Adolescent School Behavior," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 52(2), pages 455-483, April.
    8. Bradley Hardy & Timothy Smeeding & James P. Ziliak, 2018. "The Changing Safety Net for Low-Income Parents and Their Children: Structural or Cyclical Changes in Income Support Policy?," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 55(1), pages 189-221, February.
    9. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach & Michael R. Strain, 2021. "Employment Effects of the Earned Income Tax Credit: Taking the Long View," Tax Policy and the Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(1), pages 87-129.
    10. Jeff Larrimore & Jacob Mortenson & David Splinter, 2021. "Household Incomes in Tax Data: Using Addresses to Move from Tax-Unit to Household Income Distributions," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 56(2), pages 600-631.
    11. Marianne Bitler & Hilary Hoynes, 2016. "The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same? The Safety Net and Poverty in the Great Recession," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(S1), pages 403-444.
    12. Melanie Guldi & Lucie Schmidt, 2017. "Taxes, Transfers, and Women’s Labor Supply in the United States," Working Papers 2017-01, University of Central Florida, Department of Economics.
    13. Hoynes, Hilary & Rothstein, Jesse, 2016. "Tax Policy Toward Low-Income Families," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt87d6v10j, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
    14. Maggie R. Jones, 2014. "The EITC over the business cycle: Who benefits?," CARRA Working Papers 2014-15, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    15. Korenman, Sanders D. & Remler, Dahlia K., 2016. "Including health insurance in poverty measurement: The impact of Massachusetts health reform on poverty," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 27-35.
    16. Hilary W. Hoynes & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2018. "Safety Nets Investments in Children," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 49(1 (Spring), pages 89-150.
    17. David Neumark, 2016. "Policy levers to increase jobs and increase income from work after the Great Recession," IZA Journal of Labor Policy, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 5(1), pages 1-38, December.
    18. Maggie R. Jones, 2016. "A Loan by any Other Name: How State Policies Changed Advanced Tax Refund Payments," CARRA Working Papers 2016-04, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    19. Bruce D. Meyer & Derek Wu, 2018. "The Poverty Reduction of Social Security and Means-Tested Transfers," NBER Working Papers 24567, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    20. Maggie R. Jones, 2017. "Tax Preparers, Refund Anticipation Products, and EITC Noncompliance," CARRA Working Papers 2017-10, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    21. Brittany English & Diane Paulsell, "undated". "Income Supports and Work Requirement Policies: An Equity-Focused Policy Research Agenda," Mathematica Policy Research Reports b1c29c0e4a9944b8a9a15f830, Mathematica Policy Research.
    22. Jeff Larrimore & Jacob Mortenson & David Splinter, 2015. "Income and Earnings Mobility in U.S. Tax Data," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2015-61, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    23. Pascale Bourquin & Jonathan Cribb & Tom Waters & Xiaowei Xu, 2019. "Why has in-work poverty risen in Britain?," IFS Working Papers W19/12, Institute for Fiscal Studies.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty

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