Government Old-Age Support and Labor Supply: Evidence from the Old Age Assistance Program

Daniel K. Fetter, Lee M. Lockwood

NBER Working Paper No. 22132
Issued in March 2016, Revised in June 2017
NBER Program(s):AG, DAE, LS, PE

Many major government programs transfer resources to older people and implicitly or explicitly tax their labor. In this paper, we shed new light on the labor supply and welfare effects of such programs by investigating the Old Age Assistance Program (OAA), a means-tested and state-administered pension program created by the Social Security Act of 1935. Using newly available Census data on the entire US population in 1940, we exploit the large differences in OAA programs across states to estimate the labor supply effects of OAA. Our estimates imply that OAA reduced the labor force participation rate among men aged 65–74 by 5.8 percentage points, nearly half of its 1930–40 decline. However, both reduced-form evidence and an estimated structural model of labor supply imply that the welfare cost to recipients of the high tax rates implicit in OAA's earnings test were small. The evidence also suggests that Social Security could account for at least half of the large decline in late-life work from 1940 to 1960.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22132

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