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How Precise are Estimates of the Natural Rate of Unemployment?

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  • Douglas Staiger
  • James H. Stock
  • Mark W. Watson

Abstract

This paper investigates the precision of conventional and unconventional estimates of the natural rate of unemployment (the 'NAIRU'). The main finding is that the NAIRU is imprecisely estimated: a typical 95% confidence interval for the NAIRU in 1990 is 5.1% to 7.7%. This imprecision obtains whether the natural rate is modeled as a constant, as a slowly changing function of time, as an unobserved random walk, or as a function of various labor market fundamentals; it obtains using other series for unemployment and inflation, including additional supply shift variables in the Phillips curve, using monthly or quarterly data, and using various measures for expected inflation. This imprecision suggests caution in using the NAIRU to guide monetary policy.

Suggested Citation

  • Douglas Staiger & James H. Stock & Mark W. Watson, 1996. "How Precise are Estimates of the Natural Rate of Unemployment?," NBER Working Papers 5477, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5477
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    JEL classification:

    • E6 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook

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