NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Informal Labor and the Efficiency Cost of Social Programs: Evidence from the Brazilian Unemployment Insurance Program

François Gerard, Gustavo Gonzaga

NBER Working Paper No. 22608
Issued in September 2016
NBER Program(s):PE

It is widely believed that the presence of a large informal sector increases the efficiency cost of social programs – transfer and social insurance programs – in developing countries. We evaluate such claims for policies that have been heavily studied in countries with low informality – increases in unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. We introduce informal work opportunities into a canonical model of optimal UI that specifies the typical tradeoff between workers' need for insurance and the efficiency cost from distorting their incentives to return to a formal job. We then combine the model with evidence drawn from comprehensive administrative data to quantify the efficiency cost of increases in potential UI duration in Brazil. We find evidence of behavioral responses to UI incentives, including informality responses. However, because reemployment rates in the formal sector are low to begin with, most beneficiaries would draw the UI benefits absent behavioral responses, and only a fraction of the cost of (longer) UI benefits is due to perverse incentive effects. As a result, the efficiency cost is relatively low, and in fact lower than comparable estimates for the US. We reinforce this finding by showing that the efficiency cost is also lower in labor markets with higher informality within Brazil. This is because formal reemployment rates are even lower in those labor markets absent behavioral responses. In sum, the results go against the conventional wisdom, and indicate that efficiency concerns may even become more relevant as an economy formalizes.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.

E-mail:

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22608

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Galiani, Hajj, Ibarrarán, Krishnaswamy, and McEwan w22588 Electoral reciprocity in programmatic redistribution: Experimental Evidence
Goldin and Katz w22607 Women Working Longer: Facts and Some Explanations
Lusardi and Mitchell w22606 Older Women’s Labor Market Attachment, Retirement Planning, and Household Debt
Caliendo, Casanova, Gorry, and Slavov w22609 The Welfare Cost of Retirement Uncertainty
Rothstein and von Wachter w22585 Social Experiments in the Labor Market
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Themes
Data
People
About

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us