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Effective Policy for Reducing Inequality? The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Distribution of Income

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  • Hilary W. Hoynes
  • Ankur J. Patel

Abstract

In this paper, we examine the effect of the EITC on the employment and income of single mothers with children. We provide the first comprehensive estimates of this central safety net policy on the full distribution of after-tax and transfer income. We use a quasi-experiment approach, using variation in generosity due to policy expansions across tax years and family sizes. Our results show that a policy-induced $1000 increase in the EITC leads to a 7.3 percentage point increase in employment and a 9.4 percentage point reduction in the share of families with after-tax and transfer income below 100% poverty. Event study estimates show no evidence of differential pre-trends, providing strong evidence in support of our research design. We find that the income increasing effects of the EITC are concentrated between 75% and 150% of income-to-poverty with little effect at the lowest income levels (50% poverty and below) and at levels of 250% of poverty and higher. By capturing the indirect effects of the credit on earnings, our results show that static calculations of the anti-poverty effects of the EITC (such as those released based on the Supplemental Poverty Measure, Short 2014) may be underestimated by as much as 50 percent.

Suggested Citation

  • Hilary W. Hoynes & Ankur J. Patel, 2015. "Effective Policy for Reducing Inequality? The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Distribution of Income," NBER Working Papers 21340, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21340
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bruce D. Meyer & Wallace K. C. Mok & James X. Sullivan, 2009. "The Under-Reporting of Transfers in Household Surveys: Its Nature and Consequences," NBER Working Papers 15181, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Daniel Feenberg & Elisabeth Coutts, 1993. "An introduction to the TAXSIM model," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(1), pages 189-194.
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    Cited by:

    1. Florian Buhlmann & Benjamin Elsner & Andreas Peichl, 2018. "Tax refunds and income manipulation: evidence from the EITC," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 25(6), pages 1490-1518, December.
    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. Lauren E. Jones & Kevin Milligan & Mark Stabile, 2019. "Child cash benefits and family expenditures: Evidence from the National Child Benefit," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 52(4), pages 1433-1463, November.
    4. Zachary Parolin & Christiaan Luigjes, 2018. "Incentive to Retrench? Institutional Moral Hazard among Federal & State Social Assistance Programs after Welfare Reform," Working Papers 1802, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    5. Kelli A Komro & Phenesse Dunlap & Nolan Sroczynski & Melvin D Livingston & Megan A Kelly & Dawn Pepin & Sara Markowitz & Shelby Rentmeester & Alexander C Wagenaar, 2020. "Anti-poverty policy and health: Attributes and diffusion of state earned income tax credits across U.S. states from 1980 to 2020," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 15(11), pages 1-18, November.
    6. Lim, Katherine & Michelmore, Katherine, 2018. "The EITC and self-employment among married mothers," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 98-115.
    7. Sandner, Malte, 2019. "Effects of early childhood intervention on fertility and maternal employment: Evidence from a randomized controlled trial," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 159-181.
    8. Hilary Hoynes & Jesse Rothstein, 2016. "Tax Policy Toward Low-Income Families," NBER Working Papers 22080, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Gordon B. Dahl & Lance Lochner, 2017. "The Impact of Family Income on Child Achievement: Evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(2), pages 629-631, February.
    10. Hilary Hoynes & Mark Stabile, 2019. "How Do the US and Canadian Social Safety Nets Compare for Women and Children?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(S2), pages 253-288.
    11. Luis Ayala & Milagros Paniagua, 2019. "The impact of tax benefits on female labor supply and income distribution in Spain," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 17(3), pages 1025-1048, September.
    12. 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.
    13. Parolin, Zachary & Luigjes, Christiaan, 2019. "Incentive to Retrench? Investigating the Interactions of State and Federal Social Assistance Programs after Welfare Reform," OSF Preprints s5fwr, Center for Open Science.
    14. Robert Hahn & Robert Metcalfe, 2021. "Efficiency and Equity Impacts of Energy Subsidies," Natural Field Experiments 00724, The Field Experiments Website.
    15. David Powell, 2020. "Does Labor Supply Respond to Transitory Income? Evidence from the Economic Stimulus Payments of 2008," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 38(1), pages 1-38.
    16. Otto Lenhart, 2019. "The effects of income on health: new evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 17(2), pages 377-410, June.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • J2 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor

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