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

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  • Robert Moffitt
  • David Ribar
  • Mark Wilhelm

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert Moffitt & David Ribar & Mark Wilhelm, 1996. "The Decline of Welfare Benefits in the U.S.: The Role of Wage Inequality," NBER Working Papers 5774, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5774 Note: PE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2001. "Group Loyalty and the Taste for Redistribution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 500-528, June.
    2. Fong, Christina, 2001. "Social preferences, self-interest, and the demand for redistribution," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 225-246, November.
    3. Lind, Jo Thori, 2007. "Fractionalization and the size of government," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(1-2), pages 51-76, February.
    4. Christina Fong, 2003. "Emphatic responsiveness: Evidence from a randomized experiment on giving to welfare recipients," Framed Field Experiments 00149, The Field Experiments Website.
    5. Yelowitz, Aaron S., 1998. "Why did the SSI-disabled program grow so much? Disentangling the effect of Medicaid," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(3), pages 321-349, June.
    6. Jo Thori Lind, 2005. "Why is there so little redistribution?," Nordic Journal of Political Economy, Nordic Journal of Political Economy, vol. 31, pages 111-125.
    7. International Monetary Fund, 2003. "Income Inequality and Redistributive Government Spending," IMF Working Papers 03/14, International Monetary Fund.
    8. Wei-Yin Hu, 1999. "Marriage and Economic Incentives: Evidence from a Welfare Experiment," JCPR Working Papers 83, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    9. Fabio Sabatini & Francesco Sarracino & Eiji Yamamura, 2014. "Social norms on rent seeking and preferences for redistribution," Econometica Working Papers wp55, Econometica.
    10. Alesina, Alberto & La Ferrara, Eliana, 2005. "Preferences for redistribution in the land of opportunities," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 897-931, June.
    11. Arnstein Aassve, 2003. "The impact of economic resources on premarital childbearing and subsequent marriage among young American women," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 40(1), pages 105-126, February.
    12. Thomas J. Nechyba, 2001. "Social Approval, Values, and AFDC: A Reexamination of the Illegitimacy Debate," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 637-666, June.
    13. Laura Tach & Alicia Eads, 2015. "Trends in the Economic Consequences of Marital and Cohabitation Dissolution in the United States," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 52(2), pages 401-432, April.
    14. Robert Moffitt, 1999. "Explaining Welfare Reform: Public Choice and the Labor Market," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 6(3), pages 289-315, August.
    15. Ho-Po Crystal Wong, 2015. "The Quantity and Quality Adjustment of Births when Having More is Not Subsidized: the Effect of the TANF Family Cap on Fertility and Birth Weight," Working Papers 15-04, Department of Economics, West Virginia University.
    16. Smith, Mark W, 1999. "Should we expect a race to the bottom in welfare benefits? Evidence from a multistate panel, 1979-1995," MPRA Paper 10125, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    17. Williamson Hoyne, Hilary, 1997. "Does welfare play any role in female headship decisions?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(2), pages 89-117, August.
    18. Robert A. Moffitt, 1999. "Demographic Change and Public Assistance Expenditures," NBER Working Papers 6995, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H72 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Budget and Expenditures
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs

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