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Disability Insurance Benefits and Labor Supply

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  • Jonathan Gruber

Abstract

Disability Insurance (DI) is a public program that provides income support to persons unable to continue work due to disability. The difficulty of defining disability, however, has raised the possibility that this program may be subsidizing the early retirement of workers who are not truly disabled. A critical input for assessing the optimal size of the DI program is therefore the elasticity of labor force participation with respect to benefits generosity. Unfortunately, this parameter has been difficult to estimate in the context of the U.S. DI program, since all workers face an identical benefits schedule. I surmount this problem by studying the experience of Canada, which operates two distinct DI programs, for Quebec and the rest of Canada. The latter program raised its benefits by 36% in January, 1987, while benefits were constant in Quebec, providing exogenous variation in benefits generosity across similar workers. I study this relative benefits increase using both simple `difference-in-difference' estimators and more parameterized estimators that exploit the differential impact of this policy change across workers. I find that there was a sizeable labor supply response to the policy change; my central estimates imply an elasticity of labor force non-participation with respect to DI benefits of 0.25 to 0.32. Despite this large labor supply response, simulations suggest that there were welfare gains from this policy change under plausible assumptions about preference parameters.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Gruber, 1996. "Disability Insurance Benefits and Labor Supply," NBER Working Papers 5866, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5866 Note: HC LS PE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Parsons, Donald O, 1980. "The Decline in Male Labor Force Participation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(1), pages 117-134, February.
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    3. Jonathan Gruber & Alan B. Krueger, 1991. "The Incidence of Mandated Employer-Provided Insurance: Lessons from Workers' Compensation Insurance," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 5, pages 111-144 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Howard P. Marvel, 1982. "An Economic Analysis of the Operation of Social Security Disability Insurance," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 17(3), pages 393-412.
    5. Robin L. Lumsdaine & David A. Wise, 1994. "Aging and Labor Force Participation: A Review of Trends and Explanations," NBER Chapters,in: Aging in the United States and Japan: Economic Trends, pages 7-42 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    10. Jonathan Gruber & Jeffrey D. Kubik, 1994. "Disability Insurance Rejection Rates and the Labor Supply of Older Workers," NBER Working Papers 4941, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    12. Jonathan S. Leonard, 1985. "Labor Supply Incentives and Disincentives for the Disabled," NBER Working Papers 1744, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Martin Feldstein, 1999. "Tax Avoidance And The Deadweight Loss Of The Income Tax," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(4), pages 674-680, November.
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    JEL classification:

    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies

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