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Pro-cyclical Unemployment Benefits? Optimal Policy in an Equilibrium Business Cycle Model

  • Kurt Mitman

    ()

    (Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Stanislav Rabinovich

    ()

    (Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania)

We study the optimal provision of unemployment insurance (UI) over the business cycle. We use an equilibrium search and matching model with aggregate shocks to labor productivity, incorporating risk-averse workers, endogenous worker search effort decisions, and unemployment benefit expiration. We characterize the optimal UI policy, allowing both the benefit level and benefit duration to depend on the history of past aggregate shocks. We find that the optimal benefit is decreasing in current productivity and decreasing in current unemployment. Following a drop in productivity, benefits initially rise in order to provide short-run relief to the unemployed and stabilize wages, but then fall significantly below their pre-recession level, in order to speed up the subsequent recovery. Under the optimal policy, the path of benefits is pro-cyclical overall. As compared to the existing US UI system, the optimal history-dependent benefits smooth cyclical fluctuations in unemployment and deliver substantial welfare gains.

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Paper provided by Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania in its series PIER Working Paper Archive with number 11-023.

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Length: 43 pages
Date of creation: 07 Aug 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:pen:papers:11-023
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  1. Baily, Martin Neil, 1978. "Some aspects of optimal unemployment insurance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 379-402, December.
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  3. Makoto Nakajima, 2011. "Quantitative Analysis of Unemployment Benefit Extensions," 2011 Meeting Papers 328, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  4. Michael Kiley, 2002. "How Should Unemployment Benefits Respond to the Business Cycle?," Computing in Economics and Finance 2002 167, Society for Computational Economics.
  5. Arthur J. Hosios, 1990. "On The Efficiency of Matching and Related Models of Search and Unemployment," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 57(2), pages 279-298.
  6. 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.
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  10. Robert Shimer, 2005. "The Cyclical Behavior of Equilibrium Unemployment and Vacancies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 25-49, March.
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  13. Andersen, Torben M. & Svarer, Michael, 2009. "Business cycle dependent unemployment insurance," Kiel Working Papers 1498, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
  14. Hopenhayn, Hugo A & Nicolini, Juan Pablo, 1997. "Optimal Unemployment Insurance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(2), pages 412-38, April.
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  17. Camille Landais & Pascal Michaillat & Emmanuel Saez, 2010. "A Macroeconomic Theory of Optimal Unemployment Insurance," NBER Working Papers 16526, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Fredriksson, Peter & Holmlund, Bertil, 1998. "Optimal Unemployment Insurance in Search Equilibrium," Working Paper Series 1998:2, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
  19. Bruce D. Meyer, 1988. "Unemployment Insurance And Unemployment Spells," NBER Working Papers 2546, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Acemoglu, D. & Shimer, R., 1997. "Efficient Unemployment Insurance," Working papers 97-9, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  21. Adrian Masters & Melvyn Coles, 2004. "Optimal Unemployment Insurance in a Matching Equilibrium," Discussion Papers 04-12, University at Albany, SUNY, Department of Economics.
  22. Wouter J. den Haan & Garey Ramey & Joel Watson, 1997. "Job Destruction and Propagation of Shocks," NBER Working Papers 6275, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  24. Fishe, Raymond P H, 1982. "Unemployment Insurance and the Reservation Wage of the Unemployed," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 64(1), pages 12-17, February.
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