The Distribution of Income and Wealth
Economic inequality has been a prominent and perennial concern in economics and public policy. The rise in inequality that occurred during the 1970s and early 1980s stimulated interest in the study of its causes and consequences. Experience from the 1990s suggests that economic growth and prosperity no longer dramatically reduce economic inequality. The persistent inequalities within nations and across nations raise several key issues that demand scholarship and innovative policies to aid in their resolution.
Recognizing this, the Levy Institute has maintained, since its inception, an active research program on the distribution of earnings, income, and wealth. Research in this area includes studies on the economic well-being of the elderly, public and private pensions, well-being over the life course, the role of assets in economic well-being, and the determinants of the accumulation of wealth.
It is widely recognized that existing official measures of economic well-being need to be improved in order to generate accurate cross-sectional and intertemporal comparisons. The picture of economic well-being can vary significantly depending on the measure used. Alternative measures are also crucially important for the formulation and evaluation of a wide variety of social and economic policies. The Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being and related research is aimed at bridging this gap.
One-Pager No. 57 | September 2018The Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) was designed to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the changes affecting household living standards. Ajit Zacharias, Thomas Masterson, and Fernando Rios-Avila summarize their latest research on the trends in economic well-being for US households. They reveal historic stagnation in LIMEW growth over the 2000–13 period, as well as a major shift in the composition of well-being. The post-2000 period can be characterized as one of a growing dependence on the government to sustain living standards, with rising net government expenditures offsetting a sharp drop in base income.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 146 | August 2018
Post-2000 Trends in the United StatesAjit Zacharias, Thomas Masterson, and Fernando Rios-Avila update the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) for US households for the period 2000–13. The LIMEW—which comprises base income, income from wealth, net government expenditures, and the value of household production—is aimed at achieving a more comprehensive understanding of trends in living standards. This policy brief analyzes developments during this period at all levels of the LIMEW distribution, with a particular focus on the significant role played by net government expenditures. The overall trend for 2000–13 was one of historic stagnation in the growth of economic well-being for US households, but an examination of the different components of the measure reveals significant shifts taking place behind this headline trend.
A companion document, the Supplemental Tables, features additional data referenced in the policy brief.
Details about the sources of data and methods used to construct the estimates in this policy brief are discussed in Levy Institute Working Paper No. 912.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Policy Note 2018/4 | May 2018
Some Lessons from Ghana and TanzaniaIn this policy note, Thomas Masterson and Ajit Zacharias address the nexus between wage employment, consumption poverty, and time deficits in the context of Ghana and Tanzania. Based on a recently completed research project supported by the Hewlett Foundation, the authors apply the Levy Institute Measure of Time and Consumption Poverty (LIMTCP) to estimate whether the jobs that are likely to be available to potential employment-seeking, working-age individuals in consumption-poor households—who are predominantly female in both countries—can serve as vehicles of “economic empowerment.” They investigate this question using two indicators of empowerment, asking (1) whether the individual would be able to move their household to at least a minimal level of consumption via the additional earnings from their new job and (2) whether the individual would be deprived of the time required to meet the minimal needs of care for themselves (personal care), their homes, and their dependents.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 901 | March 2018
A Critical AssessmentDuring the period leading up to the recession of 2007–08, there was a large increase in household debt relative to income, a large increase in measured consumption as a fraction of GDP, and a shift toward more unequal income distribution. It is sometimes claimed that these three developments were closely linked. In these stories, the rise in household debt is largely due to increased borrowing by lower-income households who sought to maintain rising consumption in the face of stagnant incomes; this increased consumption in turn played an important role in maintaining aggregate demand. In this paper, I ask if this story is consistent with the empirical evidence. In particular, I ask five questions: How much household borrowing finances consumption spending? How much has monetary consumption spending by households increased? How much of the rise in household debt-income ratios is attributable to increased borrowing? How is household debt distributed by income? And how has the distribution of consumption spending changed relative to the distribution of income? I conclude that the distribution-debt-demand story may have some validity if limited to the housing boom period of 2002–07, but does not fit the longer-term rise in household debt since 1980.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):J. W. MasonRelated Topic(s):
Policy Note 2017/4 | November 2017The predominant framework for measuring poverty rests on an implicit assumption that everyone has enough time available to devote to household production or enough resources to compensate for deficits in household production by purchasing market substitutes. Senior Scholar Ajit Zacharias argues that this implicit bias in our official poverty statistics threatens to undermine the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The SDGs include the following targets: (1) reduce the incidence of poverty by 50 percent by 2030, and (2) recognize and provide support to the unpaid provision of domestic services and care of persons undertaken predominantly by women in their households. This policy note suggests that a closer link exists between poverty reduction and support for household production activities than is commonly acknowledged. Failure to recognize the link in policy design can contribute to failure on both fronts. To obtain a more accurate assessment of poverty, time deficits in household production must be taken into account.
Download:Associated Program(s):The Levy Institute Measure of Time and Income Poverty Gender Equality and the Economy The Distribution of Income and WealthAuthor(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 885 | February 2017
This paper presents the quality analysis of the statistical matching conducted for a research study on household consumption behavior, household indebtedness, and inequality for Turkey. The match has been done for four years (2005, 2008, 2009, and 2012) of Household Budget Surveys (HBS) and the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC). The aim of the statistical matching is to transfer household expenditure data from the HBS to the SILC to create synthetic data sets that have information on household consumption expenditures as well as household income and indebtedness. We are following the methodology of constrained statistical matching, using estimated propensity scores developed in Kum and Masterson (2010) to produce the synthetic data sets that we need. The analysis shows that the match is of high quality.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Özlem Albayrak Thomas MastersonRelated Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 880 | January 2017
Evidence from Measures of Economic Well-Being
The Great Recession had a tremendous impact on low-income Americans, in particular black and Latino Americans. The losses in terms of employment and earnings are matched only by the losses in terms of real wealth. In many ways, however, these losses are merely a continuation of trends that have been unfolding for more than two decades. We examine the changes in overall economic well-being and inequality as well as changes in racial economic inequality over the Great Recession, using the period from 1989 to 2007 for historical context. We find that while racial inequality increased from 1989 to 2010, during the Great Recession racial inequality in terms of the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) decreased. We find that changes in base income, taxes, and income from nonhome wealth during the Great Recession produced declines in overall inequality, while only taxes reduced between-group racial inequality.Download:Associated Program(s):The Distribution of Income and Wealth Gender Equality and the Economy The State of the US and World EconomiesAuthor(s):Related Topic(s):Distribution of income Distribution of wealth Great Recession Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-being (LIMEW) Race United StatesRegion(s):United States
Working Paper No. 879 | December 2016
This paper presents a methodological discussion of two recent “endogeneity” critiques of the Kaleckian model and the concept of distribution-led growth. From a neo-Keynesian perspective, and following Kaldor (1955) and Robinson (1956), the model is criticized because it treats distribution as quasi-exogenous, while in Skott (2016) distribution is viewed as endogenously determined by a series of (exogenous) institutional factors and social norms, and therefore one should focus on these instead of the functional distribution of income per se. The paper discusses how abstraction is used in science and economics, and employs the criteria proposed by Lawson (1989) for what constitutes an appropriate abstraction. Based on this discussion, it concludes that the criticisms are not valid, although the issues raised by Skott provide some interesting directions for future work within the Kaleckian framework.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 873 | September 2016
This document presents a description of the quality of match of the statistical matches used in the LIMTCP estimates prepared for Ghana and Tanzania. For Ghana, the statistical match combines the Living Standards Survey Round 6 (GLSS6) with the Ghana Time Use Survey (GTUS) 2009, and for Tanzania it combines the Household Budget Survey (THBS) 2012 with the time-use data obtained from the Integrated Labor Survey Module (ILFS) 2006. In both cases, the alignment of the two datasets is examined, after which various aspects of the match quality are described. Despite the differences in the survey years, the quality of match is high and the synthetic dataset appropriate for the time poverty analysis.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 871 | August 2016
New methodology for producing employment microsimulations is introduced, with a focus on farms and household nonfarm enterprises. Previous simulations have not dealt with the issue of reduced production in farm and nonfarm household enterprises when household members are placed in paid employment. In this paper, we present a method for addressing the tradeoff between paid employment and the farm and nonfarm business activities individuals may already be engaged in. The implementation of the simulations for Ghana and Tanzania is described and the quality of the simulation results is assessed.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):