Is Social Security Part of the Social Safety Net?

40 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2009

See all articles by Jeffrey R. Brown

Jeffrey R. Brown

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Finance; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); University of Illinois College of Law; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA); University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Economics

Julia Lynn Coronado

Barclays Capital

Don Fullerton

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Finance; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: April 1, 2009

Abstract

Building on the existing literature that examines the extent of redistribution in the Social Security system as a whole, this paper focuses more specifically on how Social Security affects the poor. This question is important because a Social Security program that reduces overall inequality by redistributing from high income individuals to middle income individuals may do nothing to help the poor; conversely, a program that redistributes to the poor may nonetheless be regressive according to broader measures if it also redistributes from middle to upper income households. We have four major findings. First, as we expand the definition of income to use more comprehensive measures of well-being, we find that Social Security becomes less progressive. Indeed, when we use an "endowment" defined by potential labor earnings at the household level, rather than actual earnings at the individual level, we find that Social Security has virtually no effect on overall inequality. Second, we find that this result is driven largely by the lack of redistribution across the middle and upper part of the income distribution, so it masks some small positive net transfers to those at the bottom of the lifetime income distribution. Third, in cases where redistribution does occur, we find it is not efficiently targeted: many high income households receive positive net transfers, while many low income households pay net taxes. Finally, the redistributive effects of Social Security change over time, and these changes depend on the income concept used to classify someone as "poor".

JEL Classification: H23, H55

Suggested Citation

Brown, Jeffrey R. and Coronado, Julia Lynn and Fullerton, Don, Is Social Security Part of the Social Safety Net? (April 1, 2009). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 2610. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1379121

Jeffrey R. Brown

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Finance ( email )

1206 South Sixth Street
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) ( email )

Urbana, IL 61801
United States

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Economics ( email )

410 David Kinley Hall
1407 W. Gregory
Urbana, IL 61801
United States

Julia Lynn Coronado

Barclays Capital ( email )

200 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10166
United States

Don Fullerton (Contact Author)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Finance ( email )

1206 South Sixth Street
Champaign, IL 61820
United States
(217) 244-3621 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

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