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The Incidence of a Firm-Varying Payroll Tax: The Case of Unemployment Insurance

  • Patricia M. Anderson
  • Bruce D. Meyer

In this paper we theoretically and empirically examine the common, but previously unexamined, case of a firm-varying tax which is used to finance a fringe benefit. While we use data from the experience-rated unemployment insurance (UI) system, it is important to realize that differential treatment of firms (such as special considerations for small business) under mandated benefits laws leads to costs which vary across firms and are analogous to experience-rated taxes. We present a theoretical model which highlights the importance of considering this variation in taxes or costs both within and across markets. We examine annual changes in either firm average earnings and employment or individual worker earnings at the same firm. This method removes unmeasured firm and worker characteristics, and thus avoids the omitted variable bias that has plagued past work on incidence and compensating differentials. Our results suggest that most of the market level tax is borne by the worker. However, this does not imply that there are no employment effects of the tax. Rather, we find that individual firms can only pass on a small share of the within market differences in the tax they face, leading to substantial employment reallocation across firms.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5201.

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Date of creation: Aug 1995
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Publication status: published as Journal of Public Economics as "The effects of firm-specifictaxes and government mandates with an application to the u.s. unemploymentinsurance program", Vol. 65 (August 1997): 119-145.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5201
Note: LS PE
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  1. Topel, Robert H, 1984. "Experience Rating of Unemployment Insurance and the Incidence of Unemployment," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(1), pages 61-90, April.
  2. Topel, Robert H, 1984. "Equilibrium Earnings, Turnover, and Unemployment: New Evidence," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 2(4), pages 500-522, October.
  3. Jonathan Gruber & Alan Krueger, 1990. "The Incidence of Mandated Employer-Provided Insurance: Lessons from Workers' Compensations Insurance," Working Papers 659, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  4. Robert S. Smith & Ronald G. Ehrenberg, 1983. "Estimating Wage-Fringe Trade-Offs: Some Data Problems," NBER Chapters, in: The Measurement of Labor Cost, pages 347-370 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Arleen Leibowitz, 1983. "Fringe Benefits in Employee Compensation," NBER Chapters, in: The Measurement of Labor Cost, pages 371-394 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Patricia M. Anderson & Bruce D. Meyer, 1994. "The Effects of Unemployment Insurance Taxes and Benefits on Layoffs Using Firm and Individual Data," NBER Working Papers 4960, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Rosen, Sherwin, 1987. "The theory of equalizing differences," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & R. Layard (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 12, pages 641-692 Elsevier.
  8. John Abowd & Orley Ashenfelter, 1980. "Anticipated Unemployment, Temporary Layoffs and Compensating Wage Differentials," Working Papers 517, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  9. Topel, Robert H, 1983. "On Layoffs and Unemployment Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(4), pages 541-59, September.
  10. Montgomery, Edward & Shaw, Kathryn & Benedict, Mary Ellen, 1992. "Pensions and Wages: An Hedonic Price Theory Approach," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 33(1), pages 111-28, February.
  11. Summers, Lawrence H, 1989. "Some Simple Economics of Mandated Benefits," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(2), pages 177-83, May.
  12. Besley, Timothy & Case, Anne, 2000. "Unnatural Experiments? Estimating the Incidence of Endogenous Policies," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 110(467), pages F672-94, November.
  13. Lawrence F. Katz & Bruce D. Meyer, 1988. "Unemployment Insurance, Recall Expectations, And Unemployment Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 2594, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Brown, Charles, 1980. "Equalizing Differences in the Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 94(1), pages 113-34, February.
  15. Dixit, Avinash K, 1986. "Comparative Statics for Oligopoly," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 27(1), pages 107-22, February.
  16. Baker, Jonathan B. & Bresnahan, Timothy F., 1988. "Estimating the residual demand curve facing a single firm," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 283-300.
  17. Stephen A. Woodbury & Wei-Jang Huang, 1991. "The Tax Treatment of Fringe Benefits," Books from Upjohn Press, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, number ttfb, December.
  18. David Card & Phillip B. Levine, 1992. "Unemployment Insurance Taxes and the Cyclical and Seasonal Properties of Unemployment," NBER Working Papers 4030, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Anderson, Patricia M & Meyer, Bruce D, 1993. "Unemployment Insurance in the United States: Layoff Incentives and Cross Subsidies," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 11(1), pages S70-95, January.
  20. Medoff, James L, 1979. "Layoffs and Alternatives under Trade Unions in U.S. Manufacturing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(3), pages 380-95, June.
  21. Shapiro, Carl, 1989. "Theories of oligopoly behavior," Handbook of Industrial Organization, in: R. Schmalensee & R. Willig (ed.), Handbook of Industrial Organization, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 6, pages 329-414 Elsevier.
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