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America’s unreported economy: measuring the size, growth and determinants of income tax evasion in the U.S

  • Feige, Edgar L.
  • Cebula, Richard

Abstract This study empirically investigates the extent of noncompliance with the tax code and examines the determinants of federal income tax evasion in the U.S. Employing a refined version of Feige’s (1986; 1989) General Currency Ratio (GCR) model to estimate a time series of unreported income as our measure of tax evasion, we find that 18-23 % of total reportable income may not properly be reported to the IRS. This gives rise to a 2009 “tax gap” in the range of $390-$537 billion. As regards the determinants of tax noncompliance, we find that federal income tax evasion is an increasing function of the average effective federal income tax rate, the unemployment rate, the nominal interest rate, and per capita real GDP, and a decreasing function of the IRS audit rate. Despite important refinements of the traditional currency ratio approach for estimating the aggregate size and growth of unreported economies, we conclude that the sensitivity of the results to different benchmarks, imperfect data sources and alternative specifying assumptions precludes obtaining results of sufficient accuracy and reliability to serve as effective policy guides.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 34781.

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Date of creation: Sep 2011
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:34781
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  1. Cebula, Richard J. & Coombs, Christopher & Yang, Bill Z., 2009. "The Tax Reform Act of 1986: An Assessment in Terms of Tax Compliance Behavior," Economia Internazionale / International Economics, Camera di Commercio di Genova, vol. 62(2), pages 145-162.
  2. Edgar L. Feige & Ivica Urban, 2008. "Measuring Underground (Unobserved, Non-Observed, Unrecorded) Economies in Transition Countries: Can We Trust GDP?," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series wp913, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
  3. Sandmo, Agnar, 2005. "The Theory of Tax Evasion: A Retrospective View," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 58(4), pages 643-63, December.
  4. Feige, Edgar L., 2011. "New estimates of U.S. currency abroad, the domestic money supply and the unreported Economy," MPRA Paper 34778, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  5. James Andreoni & Brian Erard & Jonathan Feinstein, 1998. "Tax Compliance," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(2), pages 818-860, June.
  6. Naomi E. Feldman & Joel Slemrod, 2007. "Estimating tax noncompliance with evidence from unaudited tax returns," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(518), pages 327-352, 03.
  7. Joel Slemrod, 2007. "Cheating Ourselves: The Economics of Tax Evasion," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(1), pages 25-48, Winter.
  8. Feige, Edgar L., 1990. "Defining and estimating underground and informal economies: The new institutional economics approach," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 18(7), pages 989-1002, July.
  9. Frank A. Cowell, 1990. "Cheating the Government: The Economics of Evasion," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262532484, June.
  10. Falkinger, Josef, 1988. "Tax Evasion and Equity: A Theoretical Analysis," Public Finance = Finances publiques, , vol. 43(3), pages 388-95.
  11. Attiat Ott & Sheila Vegari, 2003. "Tax reform: Chasing the elusive dream," Atlantic Economic Journal, International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 31(3), pages 266-282, September.
  12. Mukhtar Ali & H. Cecil & James Knoblett, 2001. "The effects of tax rates and enforcement policies on taxpayer compliance: A study of self-employed taxpayers," Atlantic Economic Journal, International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 29(2), pages 186-202, June.
  13. Trevor Breusch, 2005. "Australia's Cash Economy: Are the Estimates Credible?," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 81(255), pages 394-403, December.
  14. Edgar L. Feige, 1986. "A Re-Examination of the "Underground Economy" in the United States: A Comment on Tanzi," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 33(4), pages 768-781, December.
  15. Edgar L. Feige, 2005. "The Underground Economy And The Currency Enigma," Macroeconomics 0502004, EconWPA.
  16. Pestieau, Pierre & Possen, Uri & Slutsky, Steve, 1994. "Optimal Differential Taxes and Penalties," Public Finance = Finances publiques, , vol. 49(Supplemen), pages 15-27.
  17. Edgar L. Feige, 2005. "Overseas Holdings Of U.S.Currency And The Underground Economy," Macroeconomics 0501022, EconWPA.
  18. Edgar L. Feige, 2004. "How Big IS the Irregular Economy?," Macroeconomics 0404005, EconWPA.
  19. Trevor Breusch, 2006. "Size, Causes and Consequences of the Underground Economy: An International Perspective Edited by Christopher Bajada and Friedrich Schneider," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 82(259), pages 492-494, December.
  20. Trevor Breusch, 2005. "Estimating the Underground Economy using MIMIC Models," Econometrics 0507003, EconWPA, revised 25 Jul 2005.
  21. Vito Tanzi, 1983. "The Underground Economy in the United States: Annual Estimates, 1930-80 (L'économie clandestine aux Etats-Unis: estimations annuelles, 1930-80) (La "economía subterránea" de Estados Unido," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 30(2), pages 283-305, June.
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