How Precise are Estimates of the Natural Rate of Unemployment?

58 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 1998 Last revised: 25 Sep 2000

See all articles by Douglas Staiger

Douglas Staiger

Dartmouth College - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

James H. Stock

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Mark W. Watson

Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: March 1996

Abstract

This paper investigates the precision of conventional and unconventional estimates of the natural rate of unemployment (the 'NAIRU'). The main finding is that the NAIRU is imprecisely estimated: a typical 95% confidence interval for the NAIRU in 1990 is 5.1% to 7.7%. This imprecision obtains whether the natural rate is modeled as a constant, as a slowly changing function of time, as an unobserved random walk, or as a function of various labor market fundamentals; it obtains using other series for unemployment and inflation, including additional supply shift variables in the Phillips curve, using monthly or quarterly data, and using various measures for expected inflation. This imprecision suggests caution in using the NAIRU to guide monetary policy.

Suggested Citation

Staiger, Douglas and Stock, James H. and Watson, Mark W., How Precise are Estimates of the Natural Rate of Unemployment? (March 1996). NBER Working Paper No. w5477. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3066

Douglas Staiger

Dartmouth College - Department of Economics ( email )

Hanover, NH 03755
United States
603-643-2979 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

James H. Stock

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-0502 (Phone)
617-496-5960 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Mark W. Watson (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs ( email )

Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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