Job Market Paper
Progressive tax and transfer schedules serve a redistributive role by transferring from high-income to low-income individuals, but they also serve an insurance role by transferring from the high-income years to the low-income years within each person's lifespan. This paper examines how the design of the tax and transfer system provides insurance against income risks by studying the two largest economic shocks faced by working-age households: layoffs and illness. Using 1.6 million layoffs and 1.2 million hospital stays linked to Canadian tax records, I first show that both events cause persistent declines in earnings lasting more than six years. The full tax and transfer system provides substantial insurance against these risks, shrinking the percentage of income lost post-layoff by 40% and post-hospitalization by 60%, which I estimate to be worth 7-10% of total post-event consumption. But less than half of this social insurance comes from the unemployment and disability insurance programs that formally insure these risks. The progressive shape of taxes and transfers provides the majority of social insurance, and is especially important for reducing the risk of catastrophic income losses and mitigating inequality in the income risks of layoffs and hospitalizations. Using a dynamic model, I find that the insurance value of redistributive taxes and transfers is considerable across the entire income distribution, and is more than twice as large at the bottom of the income distribution than at the top.
This paper shows that employer-provided short-term disability insurance (STDI) increases long-term disability insurance (LTDI) take-up and imposes a negative fiscal externality on the government budget. Expanding private STDI has been touted as a way to lower public LTDI costs by giving employers a financial incentive to provide workplace accommodations. But private STDI can also raise public LTDI costs, since STDI generates moral hazard by providing benefits during the waiting period for LTDI. Using variation in private STDI coverage caused by Canadian firms ending their plans, I find that the moral hazard effect dominates and private STDI raises two-year flows onto LTDI by 0.07 percentage points (33%). Extrapolating to Canada's entire population, private STDI generated 18,300 LTDI recipients and CA$230 million dollars (5%) of public LTDI spending in 2015. The efficient Pigouvian tax on Canadian private STDI that internalizes this externality is approximately CA$35 per insured worker.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (2016), Vol. 315, No. 14.
International Journal of Epidemiology (2018), Vol. 47, No. 3.
Canadian Medical Association Journal (2019), Vol. 191, No. 1.
Medical Care (forthcoming).