Lee studies income inequality and unemployment insurance policy

Nov. 13, 2020

Published in Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2020

Title: Growing Income Inequality in the United States and Other Advanced Economies

Abstract: This paper studies the contribution of both labor and non-labor income in the growth in income inequality in the United States and large European economies. The paper first shows that the capital to labor income ratio disproportionately increased among high-earnings individuals, further contributing to the growth in overall income inequality. That said, the magnitude of this effect is modest, and the predominant driver of the growth in income inequality in recent decades is the growth in labor earnings inequality. Far more important than the distinction between total income and labor income, is the way in which educational factors account for the growth in US labor and capital income inequality. Growing income gaps among different education groups as well as composition effects linked to a growing fraction of highly educated workers have been driving these effects, with a noticeable role of occupational and locational factors for women. Findings for large European economies indicate that inequality has been growing fast in Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, though not in France. Capital income and education don't play as much as a role in these countries as in the United States.

Authors: Hoffmann, Florian, David S. Lee, and Thomas Lemieux

Forthcoming in Journal of Labor Economics

Title: “Are Sufficient Statistics Necessary? Nonparametric Measurement of Deadweight Loss from Unemployment Insurance”

Abstract: Central to the welfare analysis of income transfer programs is the deadweight loss associated with possible reforms. To aid analytical tractability, its measurement typically requires specifying a simplified model of behavior. We employ a complementary “decomposition” approach that compares the behavioral and mechanical components of a policy’s total impact on the government budget to study the deadweight loss of two unemployment insurance policies. Experimental and quasi-experimental estimates using state administrative data show that increasing the weekly benefit is more efficient (with a fiscal externality of 53 cents per dollar of mechanical transferred income) than reducing the program’s implicit earnings tax.

Authors: David S. Lee, Pauline Leung, Christopher J. O'Leary, Zhuan Pei, Simon Quach