Direct Estimation of Hidden Earnings: Evidence from Russian Administrative Data

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We employ unique administrative data from Moscow to obtain a direct estimate of hidden incomes. Our approach is based on comparing employer-reported earnings to market values of cars owned by the corresponding individuals and their households. We detect few hidden earnings in most foreign-owned firms and larger firms, especially state-owned enterprises in heavily regulated industries. The same empirical strategy indicates that up to 80 percent of earnings of car owners in the private sector are hidden, especially in smaller companies and industries such as trade and services, where cash flows are easier to manipulate. We also find considerable hidden earnings in government services. Our approach sheds new light on the decline in the gross domestic product (GDP) in Russia after the collapse of communism and subsequent recovery; in particular, we argue that a good deal of these changes might represent changes in income reporting rather than actual changes in GDP.

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