Optimal welfare-to-work programs

Nicola Pavoni, G. L. Violante

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    A Welfare-to-Work (WTW) program is a mix of government expenditures on various labour market policies targeted to the unemployed (e.g. unemployment insurance (UI), job search monitoring (JM), social assistance (SA), wage subsidies). This paper provides a dynamic principal-agent framework suitable for analysing chief features of an optimal WTW program, such as the sequence and duration of the different policies, the dynamic pattern of payments along the unemployment spell, and the emergence of taxes/subsidies upon re-employment. The optimal program endogenously generates an absorbing policy of last resort ("social assistance") characterized by a constant lifetime payment and no active participation by the agent. Human capital depreciation is a necessary condition for policy transitions to be part of an optimal WTW program. The typical sequence of policies is quite simple: the program starts with standard UI, then switches into monitored search and, finally, into SA. The optimal benefits are decreasing during unemployment insurance and constant during both JM and SA. Whereas taxes (subsidies) can be either increasing or decreasing with duration during UI, they must decrease (increase) during a phase of JM. In a calibration exercise, we use our model to analyse quantitatively the features of the optimal program for the U.S. economy. With respect to the existing U.S. system, the optimal WTW scheme delivers sizeable welfare gains to unskilled workers because the incentives to search for a job can be retained even while delivering more insurance and using costly monitoring less intensively.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)283-318
    Number of pages36
    JournalReview of Economic Studies
    Volume74
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Jan 2007

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Economics and Econometrics

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