# THE EFFECTIVE LABOUR TAX WEDGE

Following Layard, Nickell and Jackman (1991, page 209), the total wage wedge “is the gap between the real labour costs of the firm, on the one hand, and the real, post- tax consumption wage of the worker, on the other”. Disregarding the effects of the real price of imports38, the tax wedge arises because labour income is first taxed through social security contributions; then, workers have to pay income taxes on the remaining income, which in turn, once direct taxes have been deducted, will be subject to indirect taxes when consumed. In other terms, the tax wedge on labour is the difference between the gross wage deflated by the producer's price (real producer wage -wp) and the gross wage net of social security contributions and personal income taxes on labour income deflated by the consumer's price (the real consumer wage - wc). Therefore, we can define:

wedg = (wp-wc)/wp (29)

If Pp and Pc are respectively the producer price and the consumer price, and tc is the

consumption tax rate39, the following relationships can obtained:

wp= Wp/Pp (30)

wc= Wc/Pc (31)

and

1 – tc= Pp/Pc (32)

38Layard, Nickell and Jackman (1991) define the wedge as non-wage labour costs plus personal income taxes plus the difference between the consumer and the producer prices. This latter difference depends not only consumption taxes but also on the real price of imports times the share of imports. We focus here on the tax components of the wedge and exclude external effects.

39The consumption tax rate is calculated here as the difference between the consumer price and the producer price expressed in terms of the former.

The relationship between the nominal gross wage (Wp) and the nominal consumer wage (Wc) is:

Wc= (1-ti) (Wp– ssc) (33)

ti being the personal income tax, and ssc being the total of social security contributions paid per unit of labour. Since ssc can be expressed in terms of the nominal gross wage as -see (6)-

nwlc = ssc/Wp (34)

the tax wedge can be calculated as:

wedge = 1 – (1 – nwlc)(1 – ti) (1 – tc) (35)

The macroeconomic counterpart of (35), i.e. in terms of effective tax rates, can be calculated as

WEDG = 1 – (1-NWLC)(1 – PITR)(1 – CITR) (36)

NWLC, PITR and CITR have been defined in (6), (21) and (27) respectively. If one considers that the whole income of the self-employed is a capital income, so that wage income is only the income of the employed, the tax wedge for employed labour can be calculated as:

TWEL = 1 – (1-NWEL) (1 – PITR)(1 – CITR) (37) where NWEL is defined in (9).

When a part of the income of the self-employed (the imputed wage) is considered as labour income, total taxes on labour, thus including the incidence of indirect taxes, represent more than half the gross wage in both the euro area and the EU (table 6). This strongly contrasts with the figures for our main trade partners, where the tax wedge on labour in 1999 was slightly higher than 30%. The total burden on labour income in the Member States is not lower than in the US. In the UK, and, to a lesser extent, in Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Greece, the figure is well below the EU average. However, in Denmark and Sweden, the tax wedge represents more than 60% of the gross wage bill. Relatively high taxes (50-60%) are also borne by labour in Belgium, France, Austria, and Finland.

Indeed, the evolution of the tax wedge in the last three decades is the mirror image of that of its components. Overall, consumption taxes have contributed by little, while the changes observed in the tax wedge have been driven by changes in non-wage labour costs and in personal income taxes. In the seventies and the nineties, both rates contributed by comparable amounts. However, the bulk of the increase recorded by the tax wedge was due to the surge in social security contributions. According to Commission’s 2000 Spring Forecast, the labour tax wedge is projected to fall by 1 percentage point in both the euro area and the EU. As shown in PFR2000 such a fall is due to tax reform in the field of personal income taxes rather than to cuts in non- wage labour costs or in consumption taxes. The only country where a significant increase in the tax wedge is anticipated for the 1999-2001 period is Portugal (1.5%), where both the effective tax rate on labour and the effective tax rate on consumption

are projected to increase by 1 percentage point. At the opposite extreme, albeit for different reasons, the tax wedge is expected to fall by more than 2 percentage points in the Netherlands and Sweden. In the latter country, significant reductions in indirect and personal income taxes will be partially offset by the rise in non-wage labour costs. However, in the Netherlands the fall in the tax wedge is explained by a simultaneous reduction in social security contributions and in personal taxes. Germany, France, Ireland and Denmark are also countries where the tax wedge is projected to decrease significantly (by more than 1%) between 1999 and 2001.

Table 6. Total tax wedge on labour (WEDG)

1970 1980 1990 1998 1999* 2000* 2001* 70-79 80-89 90-98 99-01* B 44.9 49.0 52.5 56.3 56.1 55.8 55.3 5.6 3.0 3.8 -0.8 D 42.9 49.0 49.3 53.3 54.0 53.8 52.7 5.9 1.6 4.0 -1.3 E 22.3 29.3 38.9 41.5 42.3 42.6 42.8 5.8 9.9 2.6 0.5 F 43.9 49.8 53.6 55.9 56.8 55.8 55.7 5.0 3.8 2.3 -1.0 IRL 28.4 35.1 41.3 41.6 43.0 42.1 41.7 3.4 6.7 0.3 -1.2 I 33.7 38.0 46.7 50.3 50.3 50.0 50.0 2.5 8.1 3.6 -0.3 L 31.9 42.6 46.3 49.0 48.8 48.9 49.0 9.4 3.7 2.7 0.2 NL 41.1 47.5 48.8 47.8 49.2 48.7 46.5 6.3 1.9 -1.0 -2.7 A 45.8 50.0 50.9 54.7 54.5 54.2 54.0 3.6 0.6 3.8 -0.6 P 25.1 31.4 36.9 41.4 44.1 45.1 45.7 3.6 6.3 4.5 1.5 FIN 40.2 49.1 57.5 57.4 57.2 57.1 57.0 8.5 7.3 -0.1 -0.2 EUR-11 39.7 45.3 48.8 51.8 52.4 52.0 51.5 5.0 3.9 3.0 -0.9 DK 49.6 53.1 58.2 60.1 61.1 60.2 59.9 2.7 7.0 2.0 -1.2 GR 28.0 30.0 35.4 42.4 43.5 43.7 44.1 2.6 3.0 7.0 0.6 S 50.0 59.9 66.4 64.3 64.9 63.2 62.5 9.6 6.6 -2.0 -2.4 UK 40.2 39.8 38.6 39.0 38.7 38.6 38.6 -1.8 -1.7 0.3 -0.2 EU-15 40.3 45.0 48.0 50.1 50.5 49.9 49.5 4.1 3.1 2.1 -1.0 US 26.7 28.2 29.2 30.8 31.1 30.9 30.8 1.5 1.1 1.7 -0.3 JP 22.5 26.5 33.1 31.8 31.1 31.6 32.1 3.2 4.5 -1.3 1.0

Source: AMECO (DG ECFIN) and OECD Revenue Statistics

* Estimates on the basis of 1997/98 data

The exclusion of the imputed wage of the self-employed from the tax base does not change the conclusions above (see table BI.10).