• <div class="header-image" style="background-image: url(/live/image/gid/4/1301_v3n9_header.jpg);">​</div><div class="header-background-color"> </div>

Briefs & Papers

Penn Wharton PPI publishes Issue Briefs once a month, tackling concerns that are varied but share one common thread: they are central to the economic health of the nation and the American people. These are nonpartisan, knowledge-driven documents written by Wharton and Penn faculty in their specific areas of expertise.

  • November 2015 Image preview
    New research reframes the debate about Social Security solvency and moves away from questions of who should bear the greater burden of fixing the system by offering a lump sum payment model as a way to encourage people to delay claiming their Social Security benefits. Under one of the lump sum alternatives presented in this brief, survey participants indicated a willingness to delay claiming Social Security by up to eight months, on average, compared to the status quo, and to continue working for four of them. Delayed claiming would mean additional months or years of Social Security payroll tax contributions, which could modestly improve the program’s solvency.
All Issue Briefs
  • November 2015 Image preview
    New research reframes the debate about Social Security solvency and moves away from questions of who should bear the greater burden of fixing the system by offering a lump sum payment model as a way to encourage people to delay claiming their Social Security benefits. Under one of the lump sum alternatives presented in this brief, survey participants indicated a willingness to delay claiming Social Security by up to eight months, on average, compared to the status quo, and to continue working for four of them. Delayed claiming would mean additional months or years of Social Security payroll tax contributions, which could modestly improve the program’s solvency.
  • October 2015 Image preview

    This Brief focuses on ways in which private firms are adopting tools that mirror public law instruments—such as internal carbon fees (similar to a public carbon tax) and private cap-and-trade schemes (like public emissions trading schemes)—to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change. These private case studies suggest that significant progress in reducing emissions can come from embedding emissions reduction programs into core business strategy. Moreover, these case studies indicate that climate change, as a global issue, requires public regulators to recognize the potential contributions of global multinational firms.

  • September 2015 Image preview

    With the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) trust fund on the verge of depletion, Congress must enact structural reforms to the SSDI program that address and counter the rapid growth in SSDI enrollments in recent years. This brief details a work incentive program for SSDI beneficiaries, called the Generalized Benefit Offset (GBO), which would help get SSDI recipients back into the labor force, enhancing their own economic welfare while increasing economic output on a societal level. 

  • August 2015 Image preview

    Perceptions of how illegal immigration affects native residents have shaped policies, but these policies are likely ineffective both in general and in their specific focuses, like in lowering crime and improving native employment. Policymakers should consider objectively the effects of past policies such as IRCA and 287(g), before instituting new, non-data driven mandates and legislation in response to public demand.

  • July 2015 Image preview
    Since the beginning of the global economic crisis, investors have flocked to bond funds, and especially corporate bond funds, viewing them as the “safest” vehicles for their capital. However, bond funds are subject to fragilities originating from the first-mover advantage problem: when investors cash out, the cost of compensating them amplifies the funds’ price decline, making it costlier for other investors to remain. Moreover, three other conditions—general market illiquidity, lower fund liquidity, and the prevalence of retail investors—accentuate the financial fragility of corporate bond funds. Academic research shows that when corporate bond fund managers have to trade illiquid corporate bonds after investors redeem shares en masse, the subsequent demand shock in the secondary bond market results predictably in significant negative effects to the real economy. This brief looks at the fragility of corporate bond funds and offers policy options to combat these conditions and mitigate their wider effects.

  • April 2015 Image preview

    The 113th Congress extended the research and development (R&D) tax credit through the end of 2014 by passing the Tax Increase Prevention Act (H.R. 5771), which President Obama signed into law on December 19, 2014. That the fate of this credit in 2015 remains unknown is not surprising. This brief explores the history, logistics, and policy implications of the temporary R&D tax credit, and offers recommendations for additional research that would help determine the merit of making the credit permanent. Using new, restricted-access IRS data and an instrumental variables strategy, the brief offers an unbiased estimation of the effectiveness of the R&D tax credit, showing that corporate research intensity—the ratio of R&D spending to sales—is indeed highly sensitive to the tax subsidy rate. When it gets cheaper for firms to spend on qualified R&D, they actually do spend more, as policymakers hope.

  • March 2015 Image preview

    Over the next five years, the effects of the ACA on employer-sponsored insurance will be modest. In the longer run, there is greater potential for disruption, depending on how firms respond to the subsidies available on the exchanges for low-wage workers. In all, only about 15% of the workforce likely will be affected. The impacts of the ACA on firms will vary widely based on three main factors: 1) the size of the firm, 2) the average compensation within the firm, and 3) the degree to which wages within the firm are homogenous or heterogeneous. Keeping in mind that employees pay for all their health insurance, group insurance is not intrinsically superior to private exchanges, and cost trumps choice for consumers, firms will choose the option that maximizes benefits to their workers, takes advantage of the best available subsidies while avoiding tax penalties, and results in the lowest administrative costs. Making all low-wage workers eligible for the same subsidies, whether they acquire coverage on the exchanges or in group plans, would be reasonable and involve less distortions.

  • March 2015 Image preview

    Momentum seemed to be escalating in early 2014 for the passage of a comprehensive reform package of the housing finance system in the U.S., but that was not to be, as neither political party fully supported its passage, derailing the progress made over the previous few years. 

    While consensus around the primary features of reform has grown, new research that questions these assumptions needs to be addressed and the inertia keeping the country mired in the current, uncertain system needs to be overcome. In this brief, we will discuss the progress made thus far en route to reform, analyze the disparate elements of the leading proposals, and incorporate new findings that will shape the additional research that must be done before policymakers can agree on the best path forward.

  • March 2015 Image preview

    Soon after the launch of HealthCare.gov, the exchange websites that formed the vanguard of the Affordable Care Act quickly became notorious for numerous bugs, crashes, and painfully slow loading times. Over a year later, the portals have reached a sufficient level of stability and core functionality on the back end. But what about the front end?  

  • September 2014 Image preview

    When the state and federal health insurance exchanges were introduced in 2013, much attention was paid to the logistics of their launch. Nearly a year later, policymakers should now be looking at a different question: how can we collect and use data from the exchanges to understand how consumers think about insurance choice, so as to make the exchanges function better?

  • August 2014 Image preview
    With regard to equity crowdfunding, too many policymakers and regulators are focusing their attention on the “funding” piece of crowdfunding, overlooking the fact that the true revolutionary power of crowdfunding lies instead in the crowd.
  • July 2014 Image preview
    The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) is set to expire at the end of 2014 and is currently under debate in Congress. Renewing TRIA may limit the amount of disaster relief the federal government would contribute after a terrorist attack, but the different options under which TRIA might be renewed carry implications for how losses from any attack would be spread between commercial policyholders, insurers, and taxpayers.
  • June 2014 Image preview

    In order for the U.S. to remain competitive in the 21st-century economy, more individuals are going to need to earn workforce credentials and college degrees. At the same time, however, state governments have been facing financial challenges wrought by chronic structural budget deficits and rising Medicaid expenses, translating into reduced support for higher education. Instead, families now are hard-pressed to shoulder more of the burden of paying for higher education. The current system for financing higher education is broken and needs to be fixed. 


  • May 2014 Image preview
    The Affordable Care Act calls for significant cuts in reimbursements to insurers providing Medicare Advantage (MA) coverage, which has been the most popular alternative to traditional fee-for-service Medicare. Opponents of these cuts argue that they carry serious negative repercussions for seniors, and have lobbied successfully to force their postponement. But research coming out of the Wharton School suggests that cuts to MA reimbursements actually are unlikely to harm consumer welfare.
  • April 2014 Image preview

    Credit card minimum payments can act as an “anchor” that causes consumers to pay less of their debt than they otherwise would, leading to higher balances and interest costs, lower credit card scores, increased bankruptcy risks, and in the aggregate, suboptimally high levels of debt in the macro-economy. Policy “nudges,” which aim to increase the monthly amount that individuals pay on their credit card debt, have had mixed results.

  • March 2014 Image preview

    It’s a tough time to be a renter. According to data from the U.S. Census, half of all renters, and 83 percent of renters with incomes under $20,000, paid more than 30 percent of their incomes in rent in 2011. One commonly-proposed policy solution to declining rent affordability is the construction and preservation of low-income housing.  But this will only ameliorate the situation temporarily.

  • February 2014 Image preview

    Over time, the Internet has become much larger and more diverse in terms of users, applications, technologies, and business relationships. These changes have called into question the idea of network neutrality (the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data equally), which has shaped Internet policy since the 1990s.

  • January 2014 Image preview

    Detroit filing for bankruptcy had significant implications for people beyond the residents of the city.  There were consequences for pension beneficiaries and bondholders that call into question the laws that protect pension and bond creditors during municipality financial distress.

  • December 2013 Image preview
    Although the military’s operations are largely exempt from environmental laws and regulations when those laws conflict with its national security mission, the military has important incentives to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and combat climate change. If nurtured properly, the military’s extensive undertaking to improve its sustainable energy use and reduce demand for fossil-fuel-derived energy has the potential to become one important tool in the environmental regulatory toolkit.
  • November 2013 Image preview
    The success of the new health insurance exchanges will depend greatly on the quality of the enrollment decisions that consumers make. Choosing the wrong insurance product can translate into billions of dollars in wasteful spending at the national level. Faculty at the University of Pennsylvania have contributed to several studies outlining important ways that the exchanges can be made to work better for consumers—and for the larger economy.
  • October 2013 Image preview
    The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA) significantly changed tax policy by cutting long-term capital gains tax rates and taxing dividend income at the same rates as long-term capital gains. Following the reduction in the tax disadvantage of dividends, investors gravitated toward dividend-paying investments—especially high-income investors who previously had faced the highest tax rates on dividends.  

    The behavior of investors before and after the passage of JGTRRA suggests that they divide into “clienteles” based on dividend payouts when the tax disadvantage of dividends varies across investors. Policymakers therefore need to build a proper appreciation of investor behavior, particularly among affluent households, into their thinking about any tax reform proposal affecting capital income. If dividend clientele effects are ignored, estimates of the revenue that can generated by changes in capital tax rates will be off-base.  

  • August 2013 Image preview
    Enrollment in the Social Security Disability Insurance program has risen significantly since the late 1980s; consequently, program expenditures have far outpaced revenues and the SSDI trust fund is projected to hit zero in 2016. Moreover, the SSDI program, as currently administered, discourages applicants and recipients of benefits from seeking and returning to work, thereby reducing federal tax revenues at a time when deficit reduction is critical. The SSDI program can and must be reformed.
  • July 2013 Image preview
    Currently, the rules of fuel taxation in the U.S., like the U.S. tax code more generally, is complex and riddled with inconsistencies. The tax rate applied to carbon-based fuels varies widely depending on the type of fuel, purpose of consumption, and identity of the user. These inconsistencies only invite tax evasion and result in fuel tax revenues that fall short of even covering the costs associated with fuel consumption.
  • June 2013 Image preview
    The Dodd-Frank Act requires that the Federal Reserve conduct an annual stress test on large bank holding companies (BHCs) to ensure they have sufficient capital to withstand losses from adverse economic conditions. Eighteen BHCs were subjected to a stress test this year.
  • May 2013 Image preview
    The “shale revolution,” spurred by the development of hydraulic fracturing, brings some of the best news to U.S. manufacturing employment in recent years, and gives the U.S. the potential to become a major energy exporter. And the potential of “fracking” to produce negative health and environmental effects is a grave concern. 
  • April 2013 Image preview
    The Dodd-Frank Act does not provide sufficient protection against another major financial crisis.  A better regulatory system would promote financial stability by correcting the key market failures that lead to excessive risk taking by Strategically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs).  Regulatory policies centered on contingent capital would offer a clearer and purer market signal when a SIFI is performing poorly and trigger steps to mitigate the financial risks.
  • March 2013 Image preview
    Increasingly, and particularly in response to the recent economic downturn, policy makers have pointed to regulation as a “job killer” and have called for regulatory reform to promote job creation and economic recovery.  The empirical research, although limited, reveals a more complex relationship between regulation and jobs, and fails to support the notion that regulation is either a major job killer or a significant job creator.  U.S. policy makers should not expect that the nation’s economic woes can be solved by reforming the regulatory process.
  • February 2013 Image preview
    One of the main arguments against raising capital income tax rates is that doing so discourages savings and investment and hinders economic growth. However, academic research on taxes and growth suggests that this argument has no real basis. And the primary alternatives to capital income taxation — labor income taxes and increased government borrowing — carry their own potentially adverse effects on growth.
  • January 2013 Image preview
    As U.S. legislators struggle to balance the fiscal budget, tax reform and business income tax, often emerges at the forefront of the discussion.  Not all business income is taxed the same, creating great challenges in the design of new tax policy.  The implications arising from the different ways in which corporate and non-corporate entities are taxed needs to be understood in order to anticipate how changes in tax policy could affect businesses and their tax obligations. 


  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p> <img width="130" height="118" alt="" data-caption-enabled="false" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p> <img width="180" height="180" alt="" data-caption-enabled="false" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p> <img width="100" height="100" alt="" data-caption-enabled="false" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p> <img width="180" height="43" alt="" data-caption-enabled="false" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p> <img width="155" height="200" alt="" data-caption-enabled="false" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p> <img width="180" height="124" alt="" data-caption-enabled="false" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul> <li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li> <li>Food Distribution Programs </li> <li>School Meals </li> <li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p> <strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" data-caption-enabled="false" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p> <img width="200" height="198" alt="" data-caption-enabled="false" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p> <strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" data-caption-enabled="false" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p> <strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" data-caption-enabled="false" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p> <a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>