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 December 2017
NBER Program(s):Economics of Aging, Development of the American Economy, Labor Studies, Public Economics

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 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 8.5 percentage points, more than half of its 1930-40 decline. But both reduced-form evidence and an estimated structural model of labor supply suggest 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

Published: Daniel K. Fetter & Lee M. Lockwood, 2018. "Government Old-Age Support and Labor Supply: Evidence from the Old Age Assistance Program," American Economic Review, vol 108(8), pages 2174-2211. citation courtesy of

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