Publications on Income distribution
Public Policy Brief No. 146, 2018 | 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 Programs:Author(s):
Policy Note 2017/1 | April 2017Since the 1980s, economic recoveries in the United States have been delivering the vast majority of income growth to the wealthiest households. This policy note updates the analysis in One-Pager No. 47 and Policy Note 2015/4 with the latest data through 2015, looking at the distribution of average income growth (with and without capital gains) between the bottom 90 percent and top 10 percent of households, and between the bottom 99 percent and top 1 percent of households.
Little has changed when considering the distribution of average income growth in the current recovery (up to 2015) between the bottom 90 percent and top 10 percent of families, with or without capital gains. Although average real income for the bottom 90 percent of households is no longer shrinking, these families still capture a historically small proportion of that growth—only between 18 percent and 22 percent. The growing economy continues to deliver the most benefits to the wealthiest families.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Policy Note 2015/4 | March 2015
Trends in US Income InequalityIn the postwar period, with every subsequent expansion, a smaller and smaller share of the gains in income growth have gone to the bottom 90 percent of families. Worse, in the latest expansion, while the economy has grown and average real income has recovered from its 2008 lows, all of the growth has gone to the wealthiest 10 percent of families, and the income of the bottom 90 percent has fallen. Most Americans have not felt that they have been part of the expansion. We have reached a situation where a rising tide sinks most boats. This policy note provides a broader overview of the increasingly unequal distribution of income growth during expansions, examines some of the changes that occurred from 2012 to 2013, and identifies a disturbing business cycle trend. It also suggests that policy must go beyond the tax system if we are serious about reversing the drastic worsening of income inequality.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 826 | January 2015
Following a methodology proposed by Jantzen and Volpert (2012), we use IRS Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) data for the United States (1921–2012) to estimate two Gini-like indices representing inequality at the bottom and the top of the income distribution. We also calculate the overall Gini index as a function of the parameters underlying the two indices. Our findings can be summarized as follows. First, we find that the increase in the Gini index from the mid 1940s to the late 1970s seems to be mostly explained by an increase in inequality at the bottom of the income distribution, which more than offsets the decrease in inequality at the top. The implication is that middle incomes gained relative to high incomes, but especially relative to low incomes. Conversely, it is rising inequality at the top that appears to drive the rise in the Gini index since 1981. Second, inequality at the top of the income distribution follows a U-shaped trajectory over time, similar to the pattern of the share of top incomes documented by Piketty and Saez (2003, 2006) and Atkinson, Piketty, and Saez (2011). Third, the welfare effects of the different forces behind an increasing Gini index can be evaluated in light of the Lorenz-dominance criterion proposed by Atkinson (1970): both top-driven and bottom-driven increases in the index appear not to imply strict Lorenz dominance by previous income distributions, and therefore are not associated with lower welfare in an absolute sense. In a relative sense, however, once average growth rates over the two periods are taken into account, the top-driven increase in inequality since 1981 appears to have been welfare reducing.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Markus P.A. Schneider Daniele Tavani
One-Pager No. 47 | October 2014In the postwar period, income growth has become more inequitably distributed with virtually every subsequent economic expansion. From 2009 to 2012, while the economy was recovering from one of the biggest economic downturns in recent memory, the top 1 percent took home 95 percent of the income gains. To reverse this pattern, Research Associate Pavlina R. Tcherneva recommends policy strategies to promote growth from the bottom up—to change the income distribution directly by funding employment opportunities in the public, nonprofit, or social entrepreneurial sector.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 814 | September 2014
The paper examines the long-run fluctuations in growth and distribution through the prism of wage-and profit-led growth. We argue that the relation between distribution of income and growth changes over time. We propose an endogenous mechanism that leads to fluctuations between wage- and profit-led periods. Our model is a linear version of Goodwin’s predator–prey model, but with a reversal of the roles for predator and prey: the growth rate acts as the predator and the distribution of income as the prey. These fluctuations need to be taken into account when someone estimates empirically the effect of a change in distribution on utilization and growth. We also examine our argument in relation to the double movement of Karl Polanyi, the Kuznets curve, and the theories of long swings proposed by Albert Hirschman and Michal Kalecki.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Policy Note 2014/4 | June 2014In the late 1990s low unemployment rates, increases in the minimum wage, and improvements in labor productivity contributed to a boost in wages, which translated into 12.4 percent cumulative growth in real wages from the late ‘90s until 2002. Real wages then stagnated despite continued growth in labor productivity. This period between 2002 and 2013 has become known as the decade of flat wages. However, over the same period there were significant changes in the composition of the labor market. In particular, the labor force has aged and become more educated. Increases in age, experience, and education could in fact be propping up observed real wages—meaning that wages of workers with a specific age and education profile may have actually declined over the decade. This is exactly what we uncover in this policy note: what appears to have been a decade of flat real wages was actually a decade of declining real wages within age/education worker profiles.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Fernando Rios-Avila Julie L. Hotchkiss
Working Paper No. 807 | June 2014
Recent research stresses the macroeconomic dimension of income distribution, but no theory has yet emerged. In this note, we introduce factor shares into popular growth models to gain insights into the macroeconomic effects of income distribution. The cost of modifying existing models is low compared to the benefits. We find, analytically, that (1) the multiplier is equal to the inverse of the labor share and is about 1.4; (2) income distribution matters mostly in the medium run; (3) output is wage led in the short run, i.e., as long as unemployment persists; (4) capacity expansion is profit led in the full-employment long run, but this is temporary and unstable.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 795 | April 2014
This paper contributes to the debate on income growth and distribution from a nonmainstream perspective. It looks, in particular, at the role that the degree of capacity utilization plays in the process of growth of an economy that is not perfectly competitive. The distinctive feature of the model presented in the paper is the hypothesis that the rate of capital depreciation is an increasing function of the degree of capacity utilization. This hypothesis implies analytical results that differ somewhat from those yielded by other Kaleckian models. Our model shows that, in a number of cases, the process of growth can be profit-led rather than wage-led. The model also determines the value to which the degree of capacity utilization converges in the long run.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Fabrizio Patriarca Claudio Sardoni
Working Paper No. 772 | August 2013
A Critical Assessment of Fiscal Fine-Tuning
The present paper offers a fundamental critique of fiscal policy as it is understood in theory and exercised in practice. Two specific demand-side stabilization methods are examined here: conventional pump priming and the new designation of fiscal policy effectiveness found in the New Consensus literature. A theoretical critique of their respective transmission mechanisms reveals that they operate in a trickle-down fashion that not only fails to secure and maintain full employment but also contributes to the increasing postwar labor market precariousness and the erosion of income equality. The two conventional demand-side measures are then contrasted with the proposed alternative—a bottom-up approach to fiscal policy based on a reinterpretation of Keynes’s original policy prescriptions for full employment. The paper offers a theoretical, methodological, and policy rationale for government intervention that includes specific direct-employment and investment initiatives, which are inherently different from contemporary hydraulic fine-tuning measures. It outlines the contours of the modern bottom-up approach and concludes with some of its advantages over conventional stabilization methods.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 755 | February 2013
Building an Argument for a Shared Society
This paper presents a review of the literature on the economics of shared societies. As defined by the Club de Madrid, shared societies are societies in which people hold an equal capacity to participate in and benefit from economic, political, and social opportunities regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, language, gender, or other attributes, and where, as a consequence, relationships between the groups are peaceful. Our review centers on four themes around which economic research addresses concepts outlined by the Club de Madrid: the effects of trust and social cohesion on growth and output, the effect of institutions on development, the costs of fractionalization, and research on the policies of social inclusion around the world.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Michael A. Valenti Olivier Giovannoni
Working Paper No. 746 | January 2013
A Kaleckian Perspective
This paper examines a major channel through which financialization or finance-dominated capitalism affects macroeconomic performance: the distribution channel. Empirical data for the following dimensions of redistribution in the period of finance-dominated capitalism since the early 1980s is provided for 15 advanced capitalist economies: functional distribution, personal/household distribution, and the share and composition of top incomes. Based on the Kaleckian approach to the determination of income shares, the effects of financialization on functional income distribution are studied in more detail. Some stylized facts of financialization are integrated into the Kaleckian approach, and by means of reviewing empirical and econometric literature it is found that financialization and neoliberalism have contributed to the falling labor income share since the early 1980s through three main Kaleckian channels: (1) a shift in the sectoral composition of the economy; (2) an increase in management salaries and rising profit claims of the rentiers, and thus in overheads; and (3) weakened trade union bargaining power.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 126, 2012 | November 2012
Why Time Deficits Matter for Poverty
We cannot adequately assess how much or how little progress we have made in addressing the condition of the most vulnerable in our societies, or provide accurate guidance to policymakers intent on improving each individual’s and household’s ability to reach a basic standard of living, if we do not have a reliable means of measuring who is being left behind. With the support of the United Nations Development Programme and the International Labour Organization, Senior Scholars Rania Antonopoulos and Ajit Zacharias and Research Scholar Thomas Masterson have constructed an alternative measure of poverty that, when applied to the cases of Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, reveals significant blind spots in the official numbers.Download:Associated Programs:The Levy Institute Measure of Time and Income Poverty The Distribution of Income and Wealth Gender Equality and the EconomyAuthor(s):
Strategic Analysis, April 2012 | April 2012
Though the economy appears to be gradually gaining momentum, broad measures indicate that 14.5 percent of the US labor force is unemployed or underemployed, not much below the 16.2 percent rate reached a full year ago. In this new report in our Strategic Analysis series, we first discuss several slow-moving factors that make it difficult to achieve a full and sustainable economic recovery: the gradual redistribution of income toward the wealthiest 1 percent of households; a failure to fully stabilize and reregulate finance; serious fiscal troubles for state and local governments; and detritus from the financial crisis that remains on household and corporate balance sheets. These factors contribute to a situation in which employment has not risen fast enough since the (supposed) end of the recession to significantly increase the employment-population ratio. Meanwhile, public investment at all levels of government fell from roughly 3.7 percent of GDP in 2008 to 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, helping to explain the weak economic picture.
For this report, we use the Levy Institute macro model to simulate the economy under the following three scenarios: (1) a private borrowing scenario, in which we find the appropriate amount of private sector net borrowing/lending to achieve the path of employment growth projected under current policies by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in a report characterized by excessive optimism and a bias toward deficit reduction; (2) a more plausible scenario, in which we assume that the federal government extends certain key tax cuts and that household borrowing increases at a more reasonable rate than in the previous scenario; and (3) a fiscal stimulus scenario, in which we simulate the effects of a fully “paid for” 1 percent increase in government investment.
The results show the importance of debt accumulation as a consideration in macro policymaking. The first scenario reproduces the CBO’s relatively optimistic employment projections, but our results indicate that this private-sector-led growth scenario quickly brings household and business debt to new all-time highs as percentages of GDP. We note that the CBO makes its projections using an orthodox model with several common, but fundamental, flaws. This makes possible the agency’s result that current policies will reduce the unemployment rate without a run-up in the private sector’s debt—“business as usual,” in the words of our report’s title.
The policies weighed in the second scenario do not perform much better, despite a looser fiscal stance. Finally, our third scenario illustrates that a small, tax-financed increase in government investment could lower the unemployment rate significantly—by about one-half of 1 percent. A stimulus package of this size might be within the realm of political possibility at this juncture. However, our results lead us to surmise that it would take a much more substantial fiscal stimulus to reduce unemployment to a level that most policymakers would regard as acceptable.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 706 | February 2012
An Augmented Minskyan-Kaleckian Model
This paper augments the basic Post-Keynesian markup model to examine the effects of different fiscal policies on prices and income distribution. This is an approach à la Hyman P. Minsky, who argued that in the modern era, government is both “a blessing and a curse,” since it stabilizes profits and output by imparting an inflationary bias to the economy, but without stabilizing the economy at or near full employment. To build on these insights, the paper considers several distinct functions of government: 1) government as an income provider, 2) as an employer, and 3) as a buyer of goods and services. The inflationary and distributional effects of each of these fiscal policies differ considerably. First, the paper examines the effects of income transfers to individuals and firms (in the form of unemployment insurance and investment subsidies, respectively). Next, it considers government as an employer of workers (direct job creation) and as a buyer of goods and services (indirect job creation). Finally, it modifies the basic theoretical model to incorporate fiscal policy à laMinsky and John Maynard Keynes, where the government ensures full employment through direct job creation of all of the unemployed unable to find private sector work, irrespective of the phase of the business cycle. The paper specifically models Minsky’s proposal for government as the employer of last resort (ELR), but the findings would apply to any universal direct job creation plan of similar design. The paper derives a fundamental price equation for a full-employment economy with government. The model presents a “price rule” for government spending that ensures that the ELR is not a source of inflation. Indeed, the fundamental equation illustrates that in the presence of such a price rule, at full employment inflationary effects are observed from sources other thanthe public sector employment program.
Working Paper No. 672 | May 2011
A Ricardo-Keynes Synthesis
The paper provides a novel theory of income distribution and achieves an integration of monetary and value theories along Ricardian lines, extended to a monetary production economy as understood by Keynes. In a monetary economy, capital is a fund that must be maintained. This idea is captured in the circuit of capital as first defined by Marx. We introduce the circuit of fixed capital; this circuit is closed when the present value of prospective returns from employing it is equal to its supply price. In a steady-growth equilibrium with nominal wages and interest rates given, the equation that closes the circuit of fixed capital can be solved for prices, implying a definitive income distribution. Accordingly, the imputation for fixed capital costs is equivalent to that of a money contract of equal length, which is the payment per period that will repay the cost of the fixed asset, together with interest. It follows that if capital assets remain in use for a period longer than is required to amortize them, their earnings beyond that period have an element of pure rent.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Nazim Kadri Ekinci
Working Paper No. 651 | February 2011
The Competitiveness Debate Again
Current discussions about the need to reduce unit labor costs (especially through a significant reduction in nominal wages) in some countries of the eurozone (in particular, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain) to exit the crisis may not be a panacea. First, historically, there is no relationship between the growth of unit labor costs and the growth of output. This is a well-established empirical result, known in the literature as Kaldor’s paradox. Second, construction of unit labor costs using aggregate data (standard practice) is potentially misleading. Unit labor costs calculated with aggregate data are not just a weighted average of the firms’ unit labor costs. Third, aggregate unit labor costs reflect the distribution of income between wages and profits. This has implications for aggregate demand that have been neglected. Of the 12 countries studied, the labor share increased in one (Greece), declined in nine, and remained constant in two. We speculate that this is the result of the nontradable sectors gaining share in the overall economy. Also, we construct a measure of competitiveness called unit capital costs as the ratio of the nominal profit rate to capital productivity. This has increased in all 12 countries. We conclude that a large reduction in nominal wages will not solve the problem that some countries of the eurozone face. If this is done, firms should also acknowledge that unit capital costs have increased significantly and thus also share the adjustment cost. Barring solutions such as an exit from the euro, the solution is to allow fiscal policy to play a larger role in the eurozone, and to make efforts to upgrade the export basket to improve competitiveness with more advanced countries. This is a long-term solution that will not be painless, but one that does not require a reduction in nominal wages.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Jesus Felipe Utsav Kumar
A Reassessment of the Use of Unit Labor Costs as a Tool for Competitiveness and Policy Analyses in India
Working Paper No. 624 | September 2010
We reinterpret unit labor costs (ULC) as the product of the labor share in value added, times a price adjustment factor. This allows us to discuss the functional distribution of income. We use data from India’s organized manufacturing sector and show that while India’s ULC displays a clear upward trend since 1980 (with a decline since the early 2000s), this is exclusively the result of the increase in the price deflator used to calculate the ULC. The labor share of India’s organized manufacturing sector has been on a downward trend, from 60 percent in 1980 to 26 percent in 2007. This means that the sector’s capital share increased from 40 to 74 percent over the same period. We also find that real wages have increased minimally during the period analyzed—well below labor productivity—while the real profit rate and unit capital costs have increased substantially. We conclude that if India’s organized manufacturing sector has lost any competitiveness, it is the result of the increase in unit capital costs. Our analysis questions policy recommendations that advocate wage moderation, which result from simply looking at the evolution of the ULC, and that blame the loss of competitiveness on high or increasing wages.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Jesus Felipe Utsav Kumar
Working Paper No. 568 | June 2009
A Microsimulation Approach
Over the last two decades, those at the bottom of the income scale have seen their incomes stagnate, while those at the top have seen theirs skyrocket; without intervention, the recession that began in December 2007 was likely to exacerbate this trend. Will the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) be able to keep the situation from getting worse for those at the bottom of the income scale? Will ARRA reverse the upward trend in inequality that we’ve seen in the recent past? The authors of this new working paper employ a microsimulation of ARRA to address these questions. They find that, despite a large amount of job creation, ARRA is likely to have little impact on overall income inequality, or on the income gaps between relatively advantaged and disadvantaged groups.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):