Rethinking the Welfare State


The U.S. spends non trivially on non-medical transfers for its working-age population in a wide range of programs that support low and middle-income households. How valuable are these programs for U.S. households? Are there simpler, welfare-improving ways to transfer resources that are supported by a majority? What are the macroeconomic effects of such alternatives? We answer these questions in an equilibrium, life-cycle model with single and married households who face idiosyncratic productivity risk, in the presence of costly children and potential skill losses of females associated with non-participation. Our findings show that a potential revenue-neutral elimination of the welfare state generates large welfare losses in the aggregate, although most households support the move as losses are concentrated among a small group. We find that a Universal Basic Income program does not improve upon the current system. If instead per-person transfers are implemented alongside a proportional tax, a Negative Income Tax experiment, it becomes feasible to improve upon the current system. Providing per-person transfers to all households is costly, and reducing tax distortions helps providing for resources to expand redistribution.