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The Decline of Welfare Benefits in the U.S.: The Role of Wage Inequality

  • Robert Moffitt
  • David Ribar
  • Mark Wilhelm

Welfare benefits in the U.S. have experienced a much-studied secular decline since the mid-1970s. We explore a new hypothesis for this decline related to the increase in wage inequality in the labor market and the decline of real wages at the bottom of the distribution: we posit that voters prefer benefits which are tied to low-skilled wages. We test the hypothesis using a 1969-1992 panel of state-level data. An additional contribution of" our analysis is the use of General Social Survey data on voter preferences for welfare which we combine with Current Population Survey data to determine the voter in each state who has the median preferred welfare benefit level. Our analysis reveals considerable evidence in support of a role for declining real wages in the decline of welfare benefits.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5774.

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Date of creation: Sep 1996
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Publication status: published as Journal of Public Economics 68 (1998) 421-452
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5774
Note: PE
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  2. Moffitt, Robert, 1990. "Has State Redistribution Policy Grown More Conservative?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 43(2), pages 123-42, June.
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  4. Atkinson, A B, 1987. "On the Measurement of Poverty," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(4), pages 749-64, July.
  5. Moffitt, Robert A., 1984. "The effects of grants-in-aid on state and local expenditures : The case of AFDC," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 279-305, April.
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  8. Holtz-Eakin, Douglas, 1992. " Elections and Aggregation: Interpreting Econometric Analyses of Local Governments," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 74(1), pages 17-42, July.
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  10. Shroder, Mark, 1995. "Games the States Don't Play: Welfare Benefits and the Theory of Fiscal Federalism," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 77(1), pages 183-91, February.
  11. Moffitt, Robert, 1993. "Identification and estimation of dynamic models with a time series of repeated cross-sections," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 59(1-2), pages 99-123, September.
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  16. Topel, Robert H, 1994. "Regional Labor Markets and the Determinants of Wage Inequality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(2), pages 17-22, May.
  17. Plotnick, Robert D, 1986. "An Interest Group Model of Direct Income Redistribution," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 68(4), pages 594-602, November.
  18. Kristov, L. & Lindert, P. & Mcclelland, R., 1990. "Pressure Groups And Redistribution," Papers 66, California Davis - Institute of Governmental Affairs.
  19. Edward M. Gramlich & Henry J. Aaron & Michael C. Lovell, 1982. "An Econometric Examination of the New Federalism," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 13(2), pages 327-370.
  20. Atkinson, A.B., 1987. "Income maintenance and social insurance," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 13, pages 779-908 Elsevier.
  21. Walter W. McMahon, 1991. "Geographical Cost of Living Differences: An Update," Real Estate Economics, American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, vol. 19(3), pages 426-450.
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