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Abstract

Tax Elasticity of Labor Earnings for Older Individuals
by Abby Alpert and David Powell
WP 2012-272

This paper studies the impact of income and payroll taxes on intensive and extensive labor supply decisions for workers ages 55-74 using the Health and Retirement Study. The literature provides little guidance about the responsiveness of this population to tax incentives, though the tax code is potentially an important mechanism that can alter retirement incentives. We model labor force participation decisions and labor earnings as functions of taxes, and we use the intensive margin to inform estimation of the extensive margin equation. Our method accounts for selection into labor force participation with a plausibly exogenous shock to employment. We use the results of our intensive labor supply estimation to predict the after-tax labor earnings of every person in our sample, including those that do not work. This method allows us to generate consistent estimates of the impact of taxes on employment and retirement. We find large compensated elasticities on the intensive margin. These results are imprecise, but they are statistically significant for women. On the extensive margin, we find significant effects on labor force participation and, for men, retirement decisions. Our estimates suggest that an age-targeted tax reform that eliminates payroll taxes for older workers would decrease the percentage of workers dropping out of the labor force by 1 percentage point, a 4% decrease.

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