The Time-Varying NAIRU and its Implications for Economic Policy

Robert J. Gordon

NBER Working Paper No. 5735 (Also Reprint No. r2120)
Issued in August 1996
NBER Program(s):Economic Fluctuations and Growth

This paper estimates the NAIRU (standing for the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment) as a parameter that varies over time. The NAIRU is the unemployment rate that is consistent with a constant rate of inflation. Its value is determined in an econometric model in which the inflation rate depends on its own past values ( inertia ), demand shocks proxied by the difference between the actual unemployment rate and the estimated NAIRU, and a set of supply shock variables. The estimated NAIRU for the U.S. economy differs somewhat for alternative measures of the inflation rate. The NAIRU estimated for the GDP deflator varies over the past forty years within the narrow range of 5.7 to 6.4 percent; its estimated value for the most recent quarter (1996:Q1) is 5.7 percent. In that quarter a lower NAIRU of 5.3 percent is obtained for the chain-weighted PCE deflator. Recent research claiming that there is a three-percentage-point range of uncertainty about the NAIRU is rejected as inconsistent with the behavior of the American economy in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5735

Published: Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 11-32, Winter 1997. citation courtesy of

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