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Welfare, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Labor Supply of Single Mothers


  • Bruce D. Meyer
  • Dan T. Rosenbaum


During 1984-96, welfare and tax policy changed dramatically. The Earned Income Tax Credit was expanded, welfare benefits were cut, welfare time limits were added and cases were terminated, Medicaid for the working poor was expanded, training programs were redirected, and subsidized or free child care was expanded. Many of the program changes were intended to encourage low income women to work. During this same time period there were unprecedented increases in the employment and hours of single mothers, particularly those with young children. In this paper, we first document these large changes in policies and employment. We then examine if the policy changes are the reason for the large increases in single mothers' labor supply. We find evidence that a large share of the increase in work by single mothers can be attributed to the EITC, with smaller shares for welfare benefit reductions, welfare waivers, changes in training programs, and child care expansions. We also find that most of these policies increased hours worked. Our results indicate that financial incentives through the tax and welfare systems have substantial effects on single mothers' labor supply decisions.

Suggested Citation

  • Bruce D. Meyer & Dan T. Rosenbaum, 1999. "Welfare, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Labor Supply of Single Mothers," NBER Working Papers 7363, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7363
    Note: LS PE CH

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Anthony Pellechio & Gordon Goodfellow, 1983. "Individual Gains and Losses from Social Security before and after the 1983 Amendments," Cato Journal, Cato Journal, Cato Institute, vol. 3(2), pages 417-442, Fall.
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    3. Ronald Lee & Shripad Tuljapurkar, 1997. "Death and Taxes: Longer life, consumption, and social security," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 34(1), pages 67-81, February.
    4. Steven Caldwell & Melissa Favreault & Alla Gantman & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Thomas Johnson & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1999. "Social Security's Treatment of Postwar Americans," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 13, pages 109-148 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Boskin, Michael J. & Kotlikoff, Lawrence J. & Puffert, Douglas J. & Shoven, John B., 1986. "Social Security: A Financial Appraisal Across and Within Generations," CEPR Publications 244432, Stanford University, Center for Economic Policy Research.
    6. Julia Lynn Coronado & Don Fullerton & Thomas Glass, 1999. "Distributional Impacts of Proposed Changes to the Social Security System," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 13, pages 149-186 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Michael D. Hurd & John B. Shoven, 1985. "The Distributional Impact of Social Security," NBER Chapters,in: Pensions, Labor, and Individual Choice, pages 193-222 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Peter Diamond & Jonathan Gruber, 1997. "Social Security and Retirement in the U.S," NBER Working Papers 6097, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    JEL classification:

    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs

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