Working Paper

Social Transfers and Spatial Distortions

Abstract: US social transfer programs vary substantially across states, incentivizing households to locate in states with more generous transfer programs. Further, transfer formulas often decrease in income, therefore rewarding low-income households for living in low-paying cities. We quantify these distortions by combining a spatial equilibrium model with a detailed model of transfer programs in the US. The current system leads to locational inefficiency of 4.38% of total transfer spending. A reform that both harmonizes transfer policies across states and indexes household income to local average earnings reduces this inefficiency by over 85 percent while still preserving the programs' means-tested nature.

Keywords: Social transfers; Local labor markets; Spatial equilibrium;

JEL Classification: R13; I38; H21;

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Bibliographic Information

Provider: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Part of Series: Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute Working Papers

Publication Date: 2021-11-17

Number: 54