Paper # Author Title
The last three recessions in the United States were followed by jobless recoveries: while labor productivity recovered, unemployment remained high. In this paper, we show that countercyclical unemployment benefit extensions lead to jobless recoveries. We augment the standard Mortensen-Pissarides model to incorporate unemployment benefits expiration and state-dependent extensions of unemployment benefits. In the model, an extension of unemployment benefits slows down the recovery of vacancy creation in the aftermath of a recession. We calibrate the model to US data and show that it is quantitatively consistent with observed labor market dynamics, in particular the emergence of jobless recoveries after 1990. Furthermore, counterfactual experiments indicate that unemployment benefits are quantitatively important in explaining jobless recoveries. Download Paper
This paper evaluates the macroeconomic and distributional effects of government bailout guarantees for Government Sponsored Enterprises (such as Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac) in the mortgage market. In order to do so we construct a model with heterogeneous, in finitely lived households and competitive housing and mortgage markets. Households have the option to default on their mortgages, with the consequence of having their homes foreclosed. We model the bailout guarantee as a government provided and tax- financed mortgage interest rate subsidy. We fi nd that eliminating this subsidy leads to substantially lower equilibrium mortgage origination and increases aggregate welfare, but has little eff ect on foreclosure rates and housing investment. The interest rate subsidy is a regressive policy: eliminating it benefi ts low-income and low-asset households who did not own homes or had small mortgages, while lowering the welfare of high-income, high-asset households. Download Paper
We study the optimal provision of unemployment insurance (UI) over the business cycle. We use an equilibrium search and matching model with aggregate shocks to labor productivity, incorporating risk-averse workers, endogenous worker search effort decisions, and unemployment benefit expiration. We characterize the optimal UI policy, allowing both the benefit level and benefit duration to depend on the history of past aggregate shocks. We find that the optimal benefit is decreasing in current productivity and decreasing in current unemployment. Following a drop in productivity, benefits initially rise in order to provide short-run relief to the unemployed and stabilize wages, but then fall significantly below their pre-recession level, in order to speed up the subsequent recovery. Under the optimal policy, the path of benefits is pro-cyclical overall. As compared to the existing US UI system, the optimal history-dependent benefits smooth cyclical fluctuations in unemployment and deliver substantial welfare gains. Download Paper
Bankruptcy laws govern consumer default on unsecured credit. Foreclosure laws regulate default on secured mortgage debt. I investigate to what extent differences in foreclosure and bankruptcy laws can jointly explain variation in default rates across states. I construct a general equilibrium model where heterogeneous infinitely-lived households have access to unsecured borrowing and can finance housing purchases with mortgages. Households can default separately on both types of debt. The model is calibrated to match national foreclosure and bankruptcy rates and aggregate statistics related to household net worth and debt. The model can account for 83% of the variation in bankruptcy rates due to differences in bankruptcy and foreclosure law. I find that more generous homestead exemptions raise the cost of unsecured borrowing. Households in states with high exemptions therefore hold less unsecured and more mortgage debt compared to low exemption states, which leads to lower bankruptcy rates but higher foreclosure rates. The model also predicts recourse results in higher bankruptcy rates and a higher coincidence of foreclosure and bankruptcy. I use the model to evaluate how proposed and implemented changes to bankruptcy policy affect default rates and welfare. The 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act yields large welfare gains (1% consumption equivalent variation) but results in increases in both foreclosure and bankruptcy rates. I find that implementing the optimal joint foreclosure and bankruptcy policy, which is characterized by no-recourse mortgages and a homestead exemption equal to one quarter of median income, yields modest welfare gains (0.3% consumption equivalent variation). Download Paper
We study the optimal provision of unemployment insurance (UI) over the business cycle. We consider an equilibrium Mortensen-Pissarides search and matching model with risk-averse workers and aggregate shocks to labor productivity. Both the vacancy creation decisions of firms and the search effort decisions of workers respond endogenously to aggregate shocks as well as to changes in UI policy. We characterize the optimal history-dependent UI policy. We find that, all else equal, the optimal benefit is decreasing in current productivity and decreasing in current unemployment.  Optimal benefits are therefore lowest when current productivity is high and current unemployment is high. The optimal path of benefits reacts non-monotonically to a productivity shock. Following a drop in productivity, benefits initially rise in order to provide short-run relief to the unemployed and stabilize wages, but then fall significantly below their pre-recession level, in order to speed up the subsequent recovery. Under the optimal policy, the path of benefits is pro-cyclical overall. As compared to the existing US UI system, the optimal history-dependent benefits smooth cyclical fluctuations in unemployment and deliver non-negligible welfare gains. Download Paper