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May 1981

Transfers, Taxes and the NAIRU

by Daniel S. Hamermesh

Daniel Hamermesh presents a detailed examination of the effects of individual tax and transfer programs on the unemployment rate (specifically, on the nonaccelerating inflation rate of unemployment, NAIRU), labor supply, and employment. He argues that this microeconomic approach, building up from a study of individual programs, is likely to be more reliable than an aggregate or macroeconomic approach that ignores the programs’ complexities. While Hamermesh concludes that the net effect of tax and transfer programs on the NAIRU is approximately zero, he finds they have a significant effect on labor supply, noting that all the programs he examines are likely to decrease labor supply on net. Hamermesh concludes that we cannot ease program eligibility and raise benefits without inducing changes in labor supply and employment, which further raise the costs associated with the various transfer programs. He suggests raising the eligibility age for Old Age and Survivors Insurance benefits back to its previous level and preventing the evolution of Disability Insurance into a retirement program.