Social Spending and Long-term Economic Performance in the US

Alfredo Marvão Pereira, Rui Manuel Pereira, Jiayong Lu


In this paper, we study the effects of social spending on long-term economic performance in the USA from 1949 to 2019 using vector auto-regressive models. We break down social spending into six programs to identify the economic effects of different social programs. Overall, social spending has a positive impact on private saving but an adverse effect on the unemployment rate. Due to its dominant distortionary impact on the labor market, social spending decreases GDP. However, these effects are minimal and are primarily short-term. The economic implications of the different social spending programs on the economy are similar but different in magnitude. The impact of social security and medical care spending on GDP is not significant. In turn, the adverse effects of veteran benefits and unemployment insurance on GDP are dominated by the short-term impact. In contrast, the effects of public assistance are more evenly distributed, and the adverse effects of other social assistance are exclusively long-term. Overall, the message is that although social spending adversely affects economic performance, these effects are small and primarily short-term. As such, the quest for increased social protection and improved social welfare does not seem to come at a significant economic cost. This attests to the sustainability of such policies.

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