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Race, Ethnicity, and Retirement Security in the United States  

Dania V. Francis and Christian E. Weller

U.S. workers need to save substantial amounts to supplement Social Security, a near-universal but basic public retirement benefit. Yet wealth inequality is widespread by race and ethnicity, so that households of color often have less wealth than White households. This wealth inequality is reflected in a massive retirement savings gap by race and ethnicity, so that households of color often have less wealth than White households. In 2016 Black households had a median retirement savings account balance of $23,000, compared to $67,000 for White households. Many people of color will face substantial and potentially harmful cuts to their retirement spending. They may, for example, find it more difficult to pay for housing or healthcare. This retirement gap is the result of several factors. Households of color, especially Black and Latino households, are less likely to receive large financial gifts and inheritances from their families. They have less wealth decades and often centuries of discrimination and exploitation in society. They thus have to save more for retirement on their own. Yet Black, Latino, and many Asian American workers face greater obstacles in saving for retirement than is the case for White workers. These obstacles are especially pronounced in retirement savings accounts. People of color have less access to these retirement benefits through their employers, contribute less due to greater concurrent economic risks, and build less wealth over time due to less stable earnings and more career disruptions. As a result, people of color often use home equity as a form of retirement savings, but they also face more financial risks associated with homeownership. In addition, many people of color face higher costs during retirement, especially higher healthcare costs and more widespread caregiving and financial responsibilities for family members. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many of the obstacles and risks associated with retirement saving for people of color, who experienced sharper increases in unemployment and more widespread healthcare challenges due to greater exposure to the virus. Many Black, Latino, and Asian families had to rely more heavily on their own savings during the pandemic than was the case for White households. A range of public policies have been proposed or implemented, especially at the state level, to address some of the obstacles that people of color face in saving for retirement. Retirement researchers will need to investigate whether and how the pandemic has affected racial differences in retirement security as well as analyze how new policy efforts could shrink the racial differences in retirement wealth.

Article

Religiosity and Development  

Jeanet Sinding Bentzen

Economics of religion is the application of economic methods to the study of causes and consequences of religion. Ever since Max Weber set forth his theory of the Protestant ethic, social scientists have compared socioeconomic differences across Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, and Christians, and more recently across different intensities of religiosity. Religiosity refers to an individual’s degree of religious attendance and strength of beliefs. Religiosity rises with a growing demand for religion resulting from adversity and insecurity or a surging supply of religion stemming from increasing numbers of religious organizations, for instance. Religiosity has fallen in some Western countries since the mid-20th century, but has strengthened in several other societies around the world. Religion is a multidimensional concept, and religiosity has multiple impacts on socioeconomic outcomes, depending on the dimension observed. Religion covers public religious activities such as church attendance, which involves exposure to religious doctrines and to fellow believers, potentially strengthening social capital and trust among believers. Religious doctrines teach belief in supernatural beings, but also social views on hard work, refraining from deviant activities, and adherence to traditional norms. These norms and social views are sometimes orthogonal to the general tendency of modernization, and religion may contribute to the rising polarization on social issues regarding abortion, LGBT rights, women, and immigration. These norms and social views are again potentially in conflict with science and innovation, incentivizing some religious authorities to curb scientific progress. Further, religion encompasses private religious activities such as prayer and the particular religious beliefs, which may provide comfort and buffering against stressful events. At the same time, rulers may exploit the existence of belief in higher powers for political purposes. Empirical research supports these predictions. Consequences of higher religiosity include more emphasis on traditional values such as traditional gender norms and attitudes against homosexuality, lower rates of technical education, restrictions on science and democracy, rising polarization and conflict, and lower average incomes. Positive consequences of religiosity include improved health and depression rates, crime reduction, increased happiness, higher prosociality among believers, and consumption and well-being levels that are less sensitive to shocks.

Article

The Role of Uncertainty in Controlling Climate Change  

Yongyang Cai

Integrated assessment models (IAMs) of the climate and economy aim to analyze the impact and efficacy of policies that aim to control climate change, such as carbon taxes and subsidies. A major characteristic of IAMs is that their geophysical sector determines the mean surface temperature increase over the preindustrial level, which in turn determines the damage function. Most of the existing IAMs assume that all of the future information is known. However, there are significant uncertainties in the climate and economic system, including parameter uncertainty, model uncertainty, climate tipping risks, and economic risks. For example, climate sensitivity, a well-known parameter that measures how much the equilibrium temperature will change if the atmospheric carbon concentration doubles, can range from below 1 to more than 10 in the literature. Climate damages are also uncertain. Some researchers assume that climate damages are proportional to instantaneous output, while others assume that climate damages have a more persistent impact on economic growth. The spatial distribution of climate damages is also uncertain. Climate tipping risks represent (nearly) irreversible climate events that may lead to significant changes in the climate system, such as the Greenland ice sheet collapse, while the conditions, probability of tipping, duration, and associated damage are also uncertain. Technological progress in carbon capture and storage, adaptation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency are uncertain as well. Future international cooperation and implementation of international agreements in controlling climate change may vary over time, possibly due to economic risks, natural disasters, or social conflict. In the face of these uncertainties, policy makers have to provide a decision that considers important factors such as risk aversion, inequality aversion, and sustainability of the economy and ecosystem. Solving this problem may require richer and more realistic models than standard IAMs and advanced computational methods. The recent literature has shown that these uncertainties can be incorporated into IAMs and may change optimal climate policies significantly.

Article

Shared Prosperity: Concepts, Data, and Some Policy Examples  

Francisco H. G. Ferreira, Emanuela Galasso, and Mario Negre

“Shared prosperity” is a common phrase in current development policy discourse. Its most widely used operational definition—the growth rate in the average income of the poorest 40% of a country’s population—is a truncated measure of change in social welfare. A related concept, the shared prosperity premium—the difference between the growth rate of the mean for the bottom 40% and the growth rate in the overall mean—is similarly analogous to a measure of change in inequality. This article reviews the relationship between these concepts and the more established ideas of social welfare, poverty, inequality, and mobility. Household survey data can be used to shed light on recent progress in terms of this indicator globally. During 2008–2013, mean incomes for the poorest 40% rose in 60 of the 83 countries for which we have data. In 49 of them, accounting for 65% of the sampled population, it rose faster than overall average incomes, thus narrowing the income gap. In the policy space, there are examples both of “pre-distribution” policies (which promote human capital investment among the poor) and “re-distribution” policies (such as targeted safety nets), which when well-designed have a sound empirical track record of both raising productivity and improving well-being among the poor.

Article

The Spatial Dimension of Health Systems  

Elisa Tosetti, Rita Santos, Francesco Moscone, and Giuseppe Arbia

The spatial dimension of supply and demand factors is a very important feature of healthcare systems. Differences in health and behavior across individuals are due not only to personal characteristics but also to external forces, such as contextual factors, social interaction processes, and global health shocks. These factors are responsible for various forms of spatial patterns and correlation often observed in the data, which are desirable to include in health econometrics models. This article describes a set of exploratory techniques and econometric methods to visualize, summarize, test, and model spatial patterns of health economics phenomena, showing their scientific and policy power when addressing health economics issues characterized by a strong spatial dimension. Exploring and modeling the spatial dimension of the two-sided healthcare provision may help reduce inequalities in access to healthcare services and support policymakers in the design of financially sustainable healthcare systems.

Article

Tax Audits, Economics, and Racism  

Francine J. Lipman

Since 2010, Congress has significantly cut the annual budget of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) while requiring the IRS to manage more responsibilities, including last-minute comprehensive tax reform, health care, broad-based antipoverty relief, and a variety of economic stimulus provisions. As a result, the IRS has sustained across-the-board decreases in staffing, with the most significant decreases in tax enforcement personnel. The IRS has fewer auditors than at any time since World War II, despite an explosion of concentrated income and wealth. Predictably, the tax gap, the difference between what taxpayers owe and what taxpayers pay, has skyrocketed to almost $1 trillion a year. Economists have estimated that funding the IRS will pay for itself severalfold, raising more than a trillion dollars of uncollected tax revenues over a decade. Despite evidence that funding will remedy budget shortfalls severalfold, Congress continues to defund the IRS. While the bulk of the tax gap is due to unreported income by high-income individuals, the audit rate of these households has dropped precipitously. By comparison, the lowest income wage earners are being audited five times more often than all other taxpayers. Given centuries of racist policies in the United States, households of color are disproportionately impoverished and white households are disproportionately wealthy. Accordingly, lower income working families of color, especially in the South, are audited at rates higher than their white northern counterparts. Moreover, because these households and the IRS have limited resources, many of these audits result in taxpayers losing antipoverty benefits that they have properly claimed. This discriminatory treatment is counter to Congressional intent to support these families and exacerbates existing racial income and wealth gaps. With President Biden’s 2021 executive order on advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities through the federal government, the U.S. Treasury, IRS, and Congress have been charged to “recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.” Properly funding the IRS is a necessary step to advancing racial equity.

Article

The Economics of Identity and Conflict  

Subhasish M. Chowdhury

Conflicts are a ubiquitous part of our life. One of the main reasons behind the initiation and escalation of conflict is the identity, or the sense of self, of the engaged parties. It is hence not surprising that there is a consistent area of academic literature that focuses on identity, conflict, and their interaction. This area models conflicts as contests and focuses on the theoretical, experimental, and empirical literature from economics, political science, and psychology. The theoretical literature investigates the behavioral aspects—such as preference and beliefs—to explain the reasons for and the effects of identity on human behavior. The theoretical literature also analyzes issues such as identity-dependent externality, endogenous choice of joining a group, and so on. The applied literature consists of laboratory and field experiments as well as empirical studies from the field. The experimental studies find that the salience of an identity can increase conflict in a field setting. Laboratory experiments show that whereas real identity indeed increases conflict, a mere classification does not do so. It is also observed that priming a majority–minority identity affects the conflict behavior of the majority, but not of the minority. Further investigations explain these results in terms of parochial altruism. The empirical literature in this area focuses on the various measures of identity, identity distribution, and other economic variables on conflict behavior. Religious polarization can explain conflict behavior better than linguistic differences. Moreover, polarization is a more significant determinants of conflict when the winners of the conflict enjoy a public good reward; but fractionalization is a better determinant when the winners enjoy a private good reward. As a whole, this area of literature is still emerging, and the theoretical literature can be extended to various avenues such as sabotage, affirmative action, intra-group conflict, and endogenous group formation. For empirical and experimental research, exploring new conflict resolution mechanisms, endogeneity between identity and conflict, and evaluating biological mechanisms for identity-related conflict will be of interest.

Article

Unintended Fertility: Trends, Causes, Consequences  

Christine Piette Durrance and Melanie Guldi

Unintended fertility occurs when an individual, who did not intend to, becomes pregnant or gives birth. Most measures of unintended fertility account for whether the pregnancy (birth) was wanted and whether it occurred at a desired time. Economic models of fertility provide a framework for understanding an individual’s desire to have children (or not), the number of children to have alongside the quality of each child, and the timing of childbirth. To study fertility intendedness, researchers often classify pregnancies or births as unintended using self-reported retrospective (or prospective) survey responses. However, since survey information on the intendedness of pregnancies and births is not always available, the research on unintended fertility using survey data is necessarily limited to the population surveyed. Consequently, to broaden the population studied, researchers also often rely on reported births, abortions, and miscarriages (fetal deaths) to estimate intendedness. However, other factors (such as laws restricting access or financial hurdles to overcome) may restrict access to the methods used to control reproduction, and these restrictions in turn may influence realized (observed) pregnancies, births, and abortions. Furthermore, abortion and miscarriages are not consistently reported and, when reported, they exhibit more measurement error than births. Despite these research challenges, the available data have allowed researchers to glean information on trends in unintendedness and to study the relationship between fertility-related policies and unintendedness. Over the last 2 decades, unintended fertility has declined in many countries and fewer births are happening “too soon.” There are multiple factors underlying these changes, but changes in access to and quality of reproductive technologies, changes in macroeconomic conditions, and socioeconomic characteristics of fertility-aged individuals appear to be crucial drivers of these changes.

Article

Urban Sprawl and the Control of Land Use  

Alex Anas

Urban sprawl in popular sources is vaguely defined and largely misunderstood, having acquired a pejorative meaning. Economists should ask whether particular patterns of urban land use are an outcome of an efficient allocation of resources. Theoretical economic modeling has been used to show that more not less, sprawl often improves economic efficiency. More sprawl can cause a reduction in traffic congestion. Job suburbanization can generally increase sprawl but improves economic efficiency. Limiting sprawl in some cities by direct control of the land use can increase sprawl in other cities, and aggregate sprawl in all cities combined can increase. That urban population growth causes more urban sprawl is verified by empirically implemented general equilibrium models, but—contrary to common belief—the increase in travel times that accompanies such sprawl are very modest. Urban growth boundaries to limit urban sprawl cause large deadweight losses by raising land prices and should be seen to be socially intolerable but often are not. It is good policy to use corrective taxation for negative externalities such as traffic congestion and to implement property tax reforms to reduce or eliminate distortive taxation. Under various circumstances such fiscal measures improve welfare by increasing urban sprawl. The flight of the rich from American central cities, large lot zoning in the suburbs, and the financing of schools by property tax revenues are seen as causes of sprawl. There is also evidence that more heterogeneity among consumers and more unequal income distributions cause more urban sprawl. The connections between agglomeration economies and urban sprawl are less clear. The emerging technology of autonomous vehicles can have major implications for the future of urban spatial structure and is likely to add to sprawl.