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

  • Nada Eissa

    (University of California, Berkeley, NBER)

  • Hilary Williamson Hoynes

    (University of California, Berkeley, NBER)

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 EconWPA in its series Public Economics with number 9912001.

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Length: 72 pages
Date of creation: 16 Feb 2000
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwppe:9912001
Note: 72 pages
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://128.118.178.162

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Richard Blundell & Alan Duncan & Costas Meghir, 1998. "Estimating Labor Supply Responses Using Tax Reforms," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 66(4), pages 827-862, July.
  4. Thomas Mroz, . "The Sensitivity of an Empirical Model of Married Women's Hours of Work to Economic and Statistical Assumptions," University of Chicago - Population Research Center 84-8, Chicago - Population Research Center.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
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  8. Joshua D. Angrist & Guido W. Imbens, 1995. "Identification and Estimation of Local Average Treatment Effects," NBER Technical Working Papers 0118, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. V. Joseph Hotz, 2003. "The Earned Income Tax Credit," NBER Chapters, in: Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States, pages 141-198 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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, March.
  17. 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.
  18. Martin Feldstein, 1983. "Behavioral Simulation Methods in Tax Policy Analysis," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number feld83-2.
  19. 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.
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