The Impact of the Potential Duration of Unemployment Benefits on the Duration of Unemployment


This paper uses two data sets to examine the impact of the potential
duration of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits on the duration of
unemployment and the time pattern of the escape rate from unemployment in the
United States. The first part of the empirical work uses a large sample of
household heads to examine differences in the unemployment spell distributions
of UI recipients and nonrecipients. Sharp increases in the rate of escape
from unemployment both through recalls and new job acceptances are apparent
for UI recipients around the time when benefits are likely to lapse. The
absence of such spikes in the escape rate from unemployment for nonrecipients
strongly suggests that the potential duration of UI benefits affects firm
recall policies and workers’ willingness to start new jobs. The second part
of our empirical work uses accurate administrative data to examine the effects
of the level and length of UI benefits on the escape rate from unemployment of
UI recipients. The results indicate that a one week increase in potential
benefit duration increases the average duration of the unemployment spells of
UI recipients by 0.16 to 0.20 weeks. The estimates also imply that policies
that extend the potential duration of benefits increase the mean duration of
unemployment by substantially more than policies with the same predicted
impact on the total U1 budget that raise the level of benefits while holding
potential duration constant.

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Journal of Public Economics, Vol. 41, No.1, February, 1990.
Working Papers