NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Multilevel "General Policy Equilibria": Evidence from the American Unemployment Insurance Tax Ceiling

Daniel S. Hamermesh, David Scoones

NBER Working Paper No. 5578
Issued in May 1996
NBER Program(s):   LS

In a large variety of multilevel political systems changes imposed by a higher authority alter the equilibrium panoply of lower- level policies. The new equilibrium depends on the type of change imposed and on the relative strengths of and differences among interested parties at the lower level. As an example we describe how the equilibrium parameters of American states' unemployment insurance (UI) systems are changed when the federal government raises the minimum annual earnings on which employers are taxed to finance UI benefits. Even though benefits determine total taxes at a point in time within state systems, bargaining among the interested parties alters the equilibrium level of benefits and taxes. We estimate a `difference-in-differences' model describing total system costs in those states where federal increases in 1972, 1978 and 1983 forced increases in the tax ceiling. Holding constant changes in interstate differences in unemployment, where the federal constraint was binding costs rose roughly 20 percent above where they would have been. The increase was larger in those states where unionism, a measure of workers' legislative power, was greater. The theoretical model and the implied empirical analysis suggest themselves as examples for future research on a variety of topics in labor economics, public finance and international trade.

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Published: "Policy Equilibria in a Federal System: The Effects of Higher Tax Ceilings for Unemployment Insurance" Hamermesh, D. S.; Scoones, W. D.; Journal of Public Economics, November 1999, v. 74, iss. 2, pp. 191-213

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