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The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Labor Supply of Married Couples

  • N. Eissa
  • H. W. Hoynes

Over 18 million taxpayers are projected to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in tax year 1997, at a total cost to the federal government of about 25 billion dollars. The EITC is refundable, so any amount of the credit exceeding the family’s tax liability is returned in the form of a cash refund. Advocates of the credit argue that this redistribution occurs with much less distortion to labor supply than that caused by other elements of the welfare system. This popular view that the credit “encourages work effort” is unlikely to hold among married couples. Theory suggests that primary earners (typically men) would increase labor force participation, but secondary earners would reduce their labor supply in response to an EITC. We study the labor supply response of married couples to several EITC expansions between 1984 and 1996. Although our primary interest is the response to changes in the budget set induced by the EITC, our estimation strategy takes account of budget set changes caused by federal tax policy, and by cross-sectional variation in wages, income, and family size. We use both quasi-experimental and reduced-form labor supply models to estimate the impact of EITC-induced tax changes. The results suggest that EITC expansions between 1984 and 1996 increased married men’s labor force participation only slightly but reduced married women’s labor force participation by over a full percentage point. Overall, the evidence suggests that family labor supply and pre-tax family earnings fell among married couples. Our results imply that the EITC is effectively subsidizing married mothers to stay at home, and therefore have implications for the design of the program.

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Paper provided by University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty in its series Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers with number 1194-99.

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Handle: RePEc:wop:wispod:1194-99
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  1. Hoynes, Hilary Williamson, 1996. "Welfare Transfers in Two-Parent Families: Labor Supply and Welfare Participation under AFDC-UP," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(2), pages 295-332, March.
  2. Richard Blundell & Alan Duncan & Costas Meghir, 1995. "Estimating labour supply responses using tax reforms," IFS Working Papers W95/07, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  3. Moffitt, Robert, 1992. "Incentive Effects of the U.S. Welfare System: A Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(1), pages 1-61, March.
  4. Flood, Lennart & MaCurdy, Thomas, 1992. "Work disincentive effects of taxes: An empirical analysis of Swedish men," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 239-277, December.
  5. Blomquist, Soren, 1996. "Estimation methods for male labor supply functions How to take account of nonlinear taxes," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 70(2), pages 383-405, February.
  6. Mroz, Thomas A, 1987. "The Sensitivity of an Empirical Model of Married Women's Hours of Work to Economic and Statistical Assumptions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(4), pages 765-99, July.
  7. Bruce D. Meyer & Dan T. Rosenbaum, 2001. "Welfare, The Earned Income Tax Credit, And The Labor Supply Of Single Mothers," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(3), pages 1063-1114, August.
  8. Dickert-Conlin, Stacy & Houser, Scott, 1998. "Taxes and Transfers: A New Look at the Marriage Penalty," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 51(n. 2), pages 175-217, June.
  9. Martin Feldstein, 1983. "Behavioral Simulation Methods in Tax Policy Analysis," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number feld83-2.
  10. Browning, Edgar K., 1995. "Effects of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Income and Welfare," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 48(1), pages 23-43, March.
  11. Holtzblatt, Janet & McCubbin, Janet & Gillette, Robert, 1994. "Promoting Work Through the EITC," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 47(3), pages 591-607, September.
  12. V. Joseph Hotz & John Karl Scholz, 2001. "The Earned Income Tax Credit," NBER Working Papers 8078, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Imbens, Guido W & Angrist, Joshua D, 1994. "Identification and Estimation of Local Average Treatment Effects," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(2), pages 467-75, March.
  14. Robert K. Triest, 1990. "The Effect of Income Taxation on Labor Supply in the United States," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 25(3), pages 491-516.
  15. Nada Eissa & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 1995. "Labor Supply Response to the Earned Income Tax Credit," NBER Working Papers 5158, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Stacy Dickert & Scott Houser & John Karl Scholz, 1995. "The Earned Income Tax Credit and Transfer Programs: A Study of Labor Market and Program Participation," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 9, pages 1-50 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Thomas MaCurdy & David Green & Harry Paarsch, 1990. "Assessing Empirical Approaches for Analyzing Taxes and Labor Supply," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 25(3), pages 415-490.
  18. Barry Bosworth & Gary Burtless, 1992. "Effects of Tax Reform on Labor Supply, Investment, and Saving," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 6(1), pages 3-25, Winter.
  19. Saul D. Hoffman & Laurence S. Seidman, 1990. "The Earned Income Tax Credit," Books from Upjohn Press, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, number eitc, November.
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