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The Wealth of the Unemployed: Adequacy and Implications for Unemployment Insurance

  • Jonathan Gruber

While there has been considerable discussion of the adequacy of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits as a form of income replacement, there is little evidence on the other resources that the unemployed have to finance their unemployment spells. In this paper I focus on focus on one form of resources, own wealth holdings. I find that the median worker has financial assets sufficient to finance roughly two-thirds of the income loss from an unemployment spell, but that there is tremendous heterogeneity in wealth holdings; almost one-third of workers can't even replace 10% of their income loss. Most strikingly, ex-ante wealth holdings decline precipitously with realized unemployment durations, both absolutely and (especially) relative to ex-post income loss, suggesting that adequacy could be increased if UI benefits were targeted to those with longer spells. I also find strong evidence that individuals who are eligible for more generous UI draw down their wealth more slowly during unemployment spells. This demonstrates that wealth is used as a consumption smoothing device alongside UI to cope with the income loss from unemployment.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7348.

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Date of creation: Sep 1999
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Publication status: published as Jonathan Gruber, 2001. "The Wealth of the unemployed," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, ILR School, Cornell University, vol. 55(1), pages 79-94, October.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7348
Note: LS PE
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  1. Rebecca M. Blank & David Card, 1989. "Recent Trends in Insured and Uninsured Unemployment: Is There an Explanation?," NBER Working Papers 2871, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Steven Shavell & Laurence Weiss, 1978. "The Optimal Payment of Unemployment Insurance Benefits over Time," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 503, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  3. Christopher J. O'Leary, 1996. "The Adequacy of Unemployment Insurance Benefits," Book chapters authored by Upjohn Institute researchers, in: Advisory Council on Unemployment Compensation: Background Papers, volume 3, pages EE1-EE60 W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
  4. Martin Browning & Thomas Crossley, 1999. "Unemployment Insurance Benefit Levels and Consumption Changes," CEPR Discussion Papers 405, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  5. Eric M. Engen & Jonathan Gruber, 1995. "Unemployment Insurance and Precautionary Saving," NBER Working Papers 5252, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. R. Glenn Hubbard & Jonathan Skinner & Stephen P. Zeldes, 1994. "Precautionary Saving and Social Insurance," NBER Working Papers 4884, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Jonathan Gruber & Julie Berry Cullen, 1996. "Spousal Labor Supply as Insurance: Does Unemployment Insurance Crowd Outthe Added Worker Effect?," NBER Working Papers 5608, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Woodbury, Stephen A & Spiegelman, Robert G, 1987. "Bonuses to Workers and Employers to Reduce Unemployment: Randomized Trials in Illinois," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 513-30, September.
  9. Topel, Robert H, 1983. "On Layoffs and Unemployment Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(4), pages 541-59, September.
  10. Baily, Martin Neil, 1978. "Some aspects of optimal unemployment insurance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 379-402, December.
  11. Elizabeth T. Powers, 1995. "Does means-testing welfare discourage saving? Evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Women," Working Paper 9519, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
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