July 2021

IZA DP No. 14601: Welfare Effects of Unemployment Benefits When Informality Is High

We analyze for the first time the welfare effects of unemployment benefits (UBs) in a context of high informality, exploiting matched administrative and survey data with individual-level information on UB receipt, formal and informal employment, wages and consumption. Using a difference-in-differences approach, we find that dismissal from a formal job causes a large drop in consumption, which is between three to six times larger than estimates for developed economies. This is generated by a permanent shift of UB recipients towards informal employment, where they earn substantially lower wages. We then exploit a kink in benefits and show that more generous UBs delay program exit through a substitution of formal with informal employment. However, the disincentive effects are small and short-lived. Because of the high insurance value and the low efficiency costs, welfare effects from increasing UBs are positive for a range of values of the coefficient of relative risk aversion.