Edward N. Wolff
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):
Working Paper No. 703 | January 2012
A Comparison of Inequality and Living Standards in Canada and the United States Using an Expanded Measure of Economic Well-BeingView More View Less
We use the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-being (LIMEW), the most comprehensive income measure available to date, to compare economic well-being in Canada and the United States in the first decade of the 21st century. This study represents the first international comparison based on LIMEW, which differs from the standard measure of gross money income (MI) in that it includes noncash government transfers, public consumption, income from wealth, and household production, and nets out all personal taxes.
We find that, relative to the United States, median equivalent LIMEW was 11 percent lower in Canada in 2000. By 2005, this gap had narrowed to 7 percent, while the difference in median equivalent MI was only 3 percent. Inequality was notably lower in Canada, with a Gini coefficient of 0.285 for equivalent LIMEW in 2005, compared to a US coefficient of 0.376—a gap that primarily reflects the greater importance of income from wealth in the States. However, the difference in Gini coefficients declined between 2000 and 2005. We also find that the elderly were better off relative to the nonelderly in the United States, but that high school graduates did better relative to college graduates in Canada.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 679 | July 2011
We construct estimates of the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being for France for the years 1989 and 2000. We also estimate the standard measure of disposable cash income (DI) from the same data sources. We analyze overall trends in the level and distribution of household well-being using both measures for France as a whole and for subgroups of the French population. The average French household experienced a slower rate of growth in LIMEW than DI over the period. A substantial portion of the growth in well-being for the middle quintile was a result of increases in net government expenditures and income from wealth. We also found that the well-being of families headed by single females relative to married couples deteriorated much more, while the well-being of households headed by the elderly relative to households headed by the nonelderly improved much more than indicated by the standard measure of disposable income. The conventional measure indicates that a steep decline in economic inequality took place between 1989 and 2000, while our measure indicates no such change. We argue that these outcomes can be traced to the difference in the treatment of the role of wealth in shaping economic inequality. Our measure also indicates that, on balance, government expenditures and taxes did not have an inequality-reducing effect in France for both years. This is, again, contrary to conventional wisdom.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 667 | April 2011
We construct estimates of the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being for Great Britain for the years 1995 and 2005. We also produce estimates of the official British measures HBAI (from the Department for Work and Pensions annual report titled “Households below Average Income”) and ROI (from the Office of National Statistics Redistribution of Income analysis). We analyze overall trends in the level and distribution of household well-being using all three measures for Great Britain as a whole and for subgroups of the British population. Gains in household economic well-being between 1995 and 2005 vary by the measure used, from 23 percent (HBAI) to 32 percent (LIMEW) and 35 percent (ROI). LIMEW shows that much of the middle class’s gain in well-being was as a result of increases in government expenditures. LIMEW also marks a greater increase in economic well-being among elderly households due to the increase in their net worth. The redistributive effect of net government expenditures decreased notably between 1995 and 2005 according to the official measures, primarily due to the change in the distributive impact of government expenditures.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 589 | March 2010
Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze—an Update to 2007View More View LessI find here that the early and mid-aughts (2001 to 2007) witnessed both exploding debt and a consequent “middle-class squeeze.” Median wealth grew briskly in the late 1990s. It grew even faster in the aughts, while the inequality of net worth was up slightly. Indebtedness, which fell substantially during the late 1990s, skyrocketed in the early and mid-aughts; among the middle class, the debt-to-income ratio reached its highest level in 24 years. The concentration of investment-type assets generally remained as high in 2007 as during the previous two decades. The racial and ethnic disparity in wealth holdings, after stabilizing throughout most of the 1990s, widened in the years between 1998 and 2001, but then narrowed during the early and mid-aughts. Wealth also shifted in relative terms, away from young households (particularly those under age 45) and toward those in the 55–74 age group. Projections to July 2009, made on the basis of changes in stock and housing prices, indicate that median wealth plunged by 36 percent and there was a fairly steep rise in wealth inequality, with the Gini coefficient advancing from 0.834 to 0.865.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
LIMEW Reports | November 2009Reports of a postracial society may be premature. Studies continue to show wide racial gaps in income and, especially, wealth; although there is some evidence that income gaps have shrunk over the past half century, wealth inequality is large and persistent.
In this report, the authors examine trends in economic well-being between 1959 and 2007 based on the race/ethnicity of households. Using the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being, they find that changes in household wealth and net government expenditure are the key elements in the story that unfolds about racial differences.
LIMEW Reports | April 2009
In this latest LIMEW report, the authors present new evidence on the pattern of economic inequality in the United States that indicates higher inequality in 2004 than in 1959. According to the LIMEW, there was a surge in inequality between 1989 and 2000 that reflects the large increase in income from wealth for the top rungs of the economic ladder; the principal factor behind the official measures was base income (consisting mainly of labor income). The authors’ findings suggest a rather bleak picture for the lower and middle classes in terms of sharing the economic pie.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
LIMEW Reports | February 2009
Over the last half century, government policy has had an important hand in alleviating disparities among population subgroups in the United States; for example, special tax treatment for families with children has meant an improvement in the well-being of single mothers, and Medicare and Social Security have been the driving force in improving well-being among the elderly. Thus, the measure of economic well-being used is critical in assessing changes in disparities between groups.
The Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) is a comprehensive measure that not only includes estimates of public consumption and household production but also factors in the long-run benefits of wealth ownership. In this report, the authors examine long-term trends in economic well-being in the United States between 1959 and 2004 within various population subgroups based on the following household characteristics: race/ethnicity, age, education, and marital status. With the exception of income from wealth, they find that the gap between nonwhite and white households narrowed between 1959 and 2004, and public consumption increasingly favored nonwhites. Relative well-being for those 65 and older improved significantly, and was 9 percent higher than the average nonelderly household in 2000 (a finding at odds with official measures of economic well-being). In contrast, the under-35 age group experienced a sizable deterioration in relative well-being, as did less educated groups relative to college graduates. The gap between families with a single, female head of household and families with a married head of household also widened further over time.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
LIMEW Reports | February 2009
The Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) is a more comprehensive measure than either gross money income or extended income because it includes estimates of public consumption and household production, as well as the long-run benefits from the ownership of wealth. As a result, it provides a picture of economic well-being in the United States that is very different from the official measures.
The authors find that median household well-being grew rather sluggishly over the 1959–2004 period compared to the annual growth rate of per capita GDP. They note the crucial role of net government expenditures, and therefore call for the Obama administration’s fiscal stimulus package to improve the broader economic well-being of the poor and the middle class, while also creating jobs.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Working Paper No. 556 | January 2009
Long-Term Trends in the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW), United States, 1959–2004View More View Less
The motivation to construct the LIMEW in lieu of relying on the official measures of well-being is to provide a more comprehensive measure of economic inequality that will also show the disparities among key demographic groups. The authors of this new working paper show that the LIMEW provides a perspective on disparities among population subgroups that differs from the official measures, as well as differing time trends. For example, according to the LIMEW, there has been an almost continuous improvement in the relative well-being of the elderly, which were 9 percent better off than the nonelderly in 2000 because of greater income from wealth. Moreover, the principle factor behind the increase in inequality over the 1959–2004 period was the rising contribution of income derived from nonhome wealth.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 502 | June 2007
Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze
I find here that the early 2000s witnessed both exploding debt and the middle-class squeeze. While median wealth grew briskly in the late 1990s, it fell slightly between 2001 and 2004, while the inequality of net worth increased slightly. Indebtedness, which fell substantially during the late 1990s, skyrocketed in the early 2000s. Among the middle class, the debt-to-income ratio reached its highest level in 20 years. The concentration of investment-type assets generally remained as high in 2004 as during the previous two decades. The racial and ethnic disparity in wealth holdings, after stabilizing during most of the 1990s, widened in the years between 1998 and 2001, but then narrowed during the early 2000s. Wealth also shifted in relative terms, away from young households (particularly those under age 35) and toward those in the 55–64 age group.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
LIMEW Reports | April 2007
A New Perspective
Given the aging of the American population and the widening gap between rich and poor—not to mention the controversy surrounding the future viability of Social Security—the economic welfare of the elderly is an extremely topical issue. This report provides a new look at America’s elderly, and shows that the official measures drastically understate their level of economic well-being.
The conventional measures of well-being do not adequately reflect income from wealth and net government expenditures. Moreover, in the period from 1989 to 2001, there was an extraordinary increase in income from nonhome wealth, as well as a widening gap in net government expenditures between the elderly and nonelderly. Thus, on the basis of the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being, which is a more comprehensive measure of income, the economic disadvantage of the elderly relative to the nonelderly appears to be less severe. Nevertheless, inequality has continued to widen within both groups.
The results suggest that government policies and programs that favor the elderly over the nonelderly are misdirected. Rather than cutting back on these programs or redirecting policy, however, the authors advocate the extension of similar programs to the nonelderly, such as universal health care, as well as more generous provisions for the nonelderly in existing social welfare programs.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Working Paper No. 487 | January 2007
Existing empirical schemas of class structure do not specify the capitalist class in an adequate manner. We propose a schema in which the specification of capitalist households is based on wealth thresholds. Individuals in noncapitalist households are assigned class locations based on their position in the labor process. The schema is designed to address the question of the relationship between class structure and overall economic inequality. Our analysis of the US data shows that class divisions among households, especially the large gaps between capitalist households and everyone else, contribute substantially to overall inequality.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Book Series | December 2006
Edited by Edward N. Wolff
The contributors to this comprehensive book compile and analyze the latest data available on household wealth using, as case studies, the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Finland during the 1990s and into the 21st century. The authors show that in the United States, trends are highlighted in terms of wealth holdings among the low-income population, along with changes in wealth polarization, racial differences in wealth holdings, and the dynamics of portfolio choices.
The consensus between the authors is that wealth inequality has generally risen among the OECD countries since the early 1980s, although Germany stands out as an exception. In the case of the United States, it is also noted that wealth holdings have generally failed to improve among low-income families and the racial wealth gap widened during the late 1980s.
International Perspectives on Household Wealth also contains new results on a number of topics, including measures and changes of wealth polarization in the United States, measurement and changes of portfolio span in the United States, asset holdings of low-income household in the United States, and the effects of parental resources on asset holdings in Chile.
Academic, government, and public policy economists in OECD countries, as well as those in the so-called middle-income countries around the world, will find much to engage them within this book. It will also appeal to academics and researchers of international and welfare economics and other social scientists interested in the issues of inequality.
LIMEW Reports | December 2006
Who’s at the Top of the Economic Ladder?
This report argues that wealth is an integral aspect of economic well-being. The authors combine income and net worth to demonstrate the importance of wealth inequalities in shaping overall economic inequality and defining the disparities among population subgroups.
Conventional measures of household economic well-being do not adequately reflect the advantages of asset ownership or the disadvantages of financial liabilities. The authors find that the picture of economic well-being in the United States is quite different if the yardstick is their wealth-adjusted income measure (WI) rather than the standard income measure.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Working Paper No. 472 | August 2006
A central issue confronting soon-to-retire workers (those aged 47–64) is whether they will have command over enough resources (both private and public) to maintain a decent standard of living in retirement. Typically, the adequacy of projected retirement income is judged in relation to some absolute standard (for example, the poverty threshold) and preretirement income (“replacement rate”). Using data from the Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances for 1983, 1989, and 2001, I find that expected retirement income grew robustly from 1989 to 2001 (by 38 percent in real terms) and the share with expected retirement income less than twice the poverty line fell by 5 percentage points. The percentage-point decline was even greater for minority households (11.6) and single females (5.7). The change in the share with replacement rates over 50 percent was 4.5 percentage points, though in this case much lower for minorities (0.9 percentage points) and single females (1.8 percentage points). However, percentage point changes for minorities and single females were much smaller, at 75 percent and a 100 percent replacement rates, respectively. Moreover, retirement wealth is very unevenly distributed. Whites and married couples had substantially larger wealth accumulations than their respective counterparts.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 466 | August 2006
Net Government Expenditures and the Economic Well-Being of the Elderly in the United States, 1989–2001View More View Less
We examine the economic well-being of the elderly, using the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW). Compared to the conventional measures of income, the LIMEW is a comprehensive measure that incorporates broader definitions of income from wealth, government expenditures, and taxes. It also includes the value of household production. We find that the elderly are much better off, relative to the nonelderly, according to our broader measure of economic well-being than by conventional income measures. The main reason for the higher relative LIMEW of the elderly is the much higher values of income from wealth and net government expenditures for the elderly than the nonelderly. There are pronounced differences in well-being among the population subgroups within the elderly. The older elderly are worse off than the younger elderly, nonwhites are worse off than whites, and singles are worse off than married couples. We also find that the degree of inequality in the LIMEW is substantially higher among the elderly than among the nonelderly. In contrast, inequality in the most comprehensive measure of income published by the Census Bureau is virtually identical among the elderly and nonelderly. The main factor behind the degree of inequality, as the decomposition analysis reveals, is the greater size and concentration of income from nonhome wealth in the LIMEW compared to extended income (EI).Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Working Paper No. 447 | May 2006View More View Less
Why Today's International Financial System Is Unsustainable
The standard official measure of household economic well-being in the United States is gross money income. The general consensus is that such measures are limited because they ignore other crucial determinants of well-being. We modify the standard measure to account for one such determinant: household wealth. We then analyze the level and distribution of economic well-being in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s, using the standard measure and a measure that differs from the standard in that income from wealth is calculated as the sum of lifetime annuity from nonhome wealth and imputed rental-equivalent for owner-occupied homes. Our findings indicate that the level and distribution of economic well-being is substantially altered when money income is adjusted for wealth. Over the 1989–2000 period, median well-being appears to increase faster when these adjustments are made than when standard money income is used. This adjustment also widens the income gap between African Americans and whites, but increases the relative well-being of the elderly. Adding imputed rent and annuities from household wealth to household income considerably increases measured inequality and the share of income from wealth in inequality. However, both measures show about the same rise in inequality over the period. Our results contradict the assertion that the "working rich" have replaced the rentiers at the top of the economic ladder.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
LIMEW Reports | May 2005
The Effects of Government Deficits and the 2001–02 Recession on Well-BeingThis interim report compares the LIMEW and official measures of economic well-being for 1989–2002, a period marked by the economic boom of the late 1990s and a mild recession in 2001–02. All measures show that the well-being of the average American household was significantly higher in 2000 than in 1989, with most of the improvement occurring in the latter half of the 1990s. In contrast, while the official measures show deterioration in well-being of 2–3 percent for the average household in the period 2000–02, the LIMEW shows a hefty increase of more than 5 percent. Nevertheless, inequality was higher in 2002 than in 1989 according to all measures of well-being.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Working Paper No. 420 | March 2005
Retirement wealth is often viewed as a great equalizer, offsetting the inequality in standard household net worth. One of the most dramatic changes in the retirement income system over the last two decades has been a decline in traditional Defined Benefit (DB) pension plans and a sharp rise in Defined Contribution (DC) pensions. Using data from the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances, I find that retirement wealth (the sum of pension and Social Security wealth) has a considerably weaker offsetting effect on wealth inequality in 2001 than in 1983. Whereas standard net worth inequality increased modestly between 1983 and 2001, the inequality of augmented wealth (the sum of retirement wealth and net worth) surged from 1983 to 2001, very much in line with income inequality. Moreover, whereas median net worth climbed substantially from 1983 to 2001, median augmented wealth actually fell over this period.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
LIMEW Reports | March 2005This report analyzes regional aspects of economic well-being according to four regions identified by the United States Census Bureau: the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West. Using the official measures and the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW), the authors examine how the average American household fared from 1989 to 2001 and discuss disparities in well-being among population subgroups and across regions. In light of the 2004 presidential election, the report also examines patterns of well-being in the “red” and “blue” states, where the electoral majority favored George W. Bush and John Kerry, respectively.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Working Paper No. 416 | January 2005
Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we investigate occupational and industrial mobility of individuals over the 1969–80 and 1981–93 periods in the United States. We find that workers changed both occupations and industries more frequently in the later period. For example, occupational mobility for men ranged from 15 to 20 percent per year during the first period and from 20 to 25 percent per year over the second. We also find that, for men, occupational and industrial changes are associated with lower earnings, though this effect has lessened somewhat over time, while for women the results are mixed. Our results also indicate that older and less educated workers are less likely to shift occupation or industry, as are better paid men but not better paid women.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
LIMEW Reports | December 2004
This report supplements previous findings of the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) research project within our program on the distribution of income and wealth. Some readers have questioned the sensitivity of our estimates in view of our imputation techniques. Therefore, the authors explore the sensitivity of their key findings to changes in the set of assumptions that they use to impute public consumption, which is a major component of the LIMEW.
The authors consider alternative assumptions regarding three components of public consumption: general public consumption, highways, and schooling. New calculations for 1989 and 2000 show that their initial major findings remain intact using alternative estimation procedures: there is a positive correlation between public consumption and the LIMEW, overall inequality is higher in 2000 than 1989, and public consumption reduces inequality. The results show that their measure of economic well-being is robust under alternative assumptions of public consumption. They conclude that government provisioning of amenities plays an important role in sustaining living standards and should be included in a measure of economic well-being.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
LIMEW Reports | September 2004
Alternative Measures of Income from Wealth
Economic well-being refers to the command or access by members of a household over the goods and services produced in a modern market economy during a given period of time.The Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) is a comprehensive measure that is constructed as the sum of the following components: base money income (gross money income minus property income and government cash transfers), employer contributions for health insurance, income from wealth, net government expenditures (transfers and public consumption, net of taxes), and the value of household production.
Our previous work provided estimates of the LIMEW and its components for households in the United States, estimates of the LIMEW for some key demographic groups, and estimates of overall economic inequality. These estimates were compared with those based on the official measures (see Wolff, Zacharias, and Caner 2004 for more information regarding our concepts, sources, and methods). Some readers have questioned the sensitivity of our estimates to the particular types of imputation techniques that we use. This document explores the sensitivity of the LIMEW to the underlying assumptions on imputing income from wealth, a major component of the LIMEW. We provide new calculations for 1989 and 2000 that show that our initial major findings using the LIMEW hold up, generally, using alternative estimation procedures: mean income from wealth increases by decile, the share of mean income from wealth rises between 1989 and 2000, and inequality is higher in 2000 than 1989.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Book Series | June 2004View More View Less
Edited by Edward N. WolffThroughout the 1990s the United States expanded its lead over other advanced industrial nations in terms of conventionally measured per capita income. However, it is not clear that welfare levels in America have grown concomitantly with per capita income, nor that Americans are necessarily better off than citizens of other advanced countries. The contributors to this volume investigate the extent to which welfare has increased in the United States over the post-WWII period and provide a rigorous examination of conventional measures of the standard of living, as well as more inclusive indices.
The chapters cover such topics as race, home ownership, and family structure; the status of children; the consumer price index; a historical perspective on the standard of living; and worker rights and labor strength in advanced economies. In addition, they explore two economic systems for delivering goods: the free enterprise system of the United States and the European social welfare state. They then present international comparisons and highlight the relative advantages and disadvantages of these two systems.
Wolff has included essays by Dimitri B. Papadimitriou; Ajit Zacharias; David S. Johnson; Christopher Jencks, Susan E. Mayer, and Joseph Swingle; Dean Baker; Lars Osberg and Andrew Sharpe; Timothy M. Smeeding and Lee Rainwater; William J. Collins and Robert A. Margo; Seymour Spilerman and Florencia Torche; Richard H. Steckel; Thomas L. Hungerford and Maria S. Floro; Robert Buchele and Jens Christiansen; and Daphne T. Greenwood.
This provocative and accessible volume answers the intriguing question posed by the title and will be of interest to economists, sociologists, policymakers, and policy analysts, as well as students of these fields.
The publication of this collection of essays is the direct outgrowth of a 2001 Levy Institute conference organized by Wolff under the Institute's distribution of income and wealth program. The purpose of the conference was to better understand the many economic aspects of well-being that help define the “quality of life.”
LIMEW Reports | May 2004
United States, 1989, 1995, 2000, and 2001
This report presents the latest findings of the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) research project within our program on the distribution of income and wealth. It enhances previous findings about economic well-being and inequality in the United States by extending our analysis to include additional years, 1995 and 2001, and by comparing our results with the Census Bureau's most comprehensive measure of a household's command over commodities, which we refer to as extended income (EI).Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Working Paper No. 407 | May 2004
I find that despite slow growth in income over the 1990s, there have been marked improvements in the wealth position of average families. Both mean and median wealth grew briskly in the late 1990s. The inequality of net worth leveled off even though income inequality continued to rise over this period. Indebtedness also fell substantially during the late 1990s. However, the concentration of investment type assets generally remained as high in 2001 as during the previous two decades. The racial disparity in wealth holdings, after stabilizing during most of the 1990s, widened in the years between 1998 and 2001, and the wealth of Hispanics actually declined in real terms between 1998 and 2001. Wealth also shifted in relative terms away from young households (under age 45) toward elderly ones (age 65 and over).Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief Highlights No. 76A | April 2004
Its Persistence in an Expansionary EconomyEconomic growth and a rising stock market in the 1990s gave the impression that everyone was accumulating wealth and asset poverty rates were declining. The impression was supported by the official, income-based poverty measure, which exhibited a sharp decline. According to Senior Scholar Edward N. Wolff and Research Scholar Asena Caner, poverty measures should include wealth as well as income. Their study of asset poverty in the United States between 1984 and 1999 focuses on the lower end of the wealth distribution and shows that asset poverty rates did not decline during the period studied, and that the severity of poverty increased. It also shows that asset poverty is much more persistent than income poverty.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 76 | April 2004
Its Persistence in an Expansionary Economy
Economic growth and a rising stock market in the 1990s gave the impression that everyone was accumulating wealth and asset poverty rates were declining. The impression was supported by the official, income-based poverty measure, which exhibited a sharp decline. According to Senior Scholar Edward N. Wolff and Research Scholar Asena Caner, poverty measures should include wealth as well as income. Their study of asset poverty in the United States between 1984 and 1999 focuses on the lower end of the wealth distribution and shows that asset poverty rates did not decline during the period studied, and that the severity of poverty increased. It also shows that asset poverty is much more persistent than income poverty.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
LIMEW Reports | February 2004
Concept Measurement and Findings: United States, 1989 and 2000
The Levy Economics Institute has, since its inception, maintained an active research program on the distribution of earnings, income, and wealth. Experience from the 1990s suggests that economic growth alone cannot dramatically reduce economic inequality. Because we are concerned with the improvement of well being, we have initiated a research project, the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW), within the program on distribution of income and wealth. This project seeks to assess policy options and to provide guidance toward improving the distribution of economic well-being in the United States, and it gives us the opportunity to track the progress of economic well-being using a comprehensive measure. Our expectation is that the LIMEW will become a useful tool for policymakers to assess programs and to design policies that will ensure improvement in economic well-being.
LIMEW Reports | December 2003
United States, 1989 and 2000
The Levy Economics Institute has, since its inception, maintained an active research program on the distribution of earnings, income, and wealth. Experience from the 1990s suggests that economic growth alone cannot dramatically reduce economic inequality. Because we are concerned with the improvement of well being, we have initiated a research project, the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW), within the program on distribution of income and wealth. This project seeks to assess policy options and to provide guidance toward improving the distribution of economic well-being in the United States, and it gives us the opportunity to track the progress of economic well-being using a comprehensive measure. Our expectation is that the LIMEW will become a useful tool for policymakers to assess programs and to design policies that will ensure improvement in economic well-being.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Working Paper No. 386 | September 2003View More View Less
*Preliminary draft. Please do not quote or cite without permission.
Standard official measures of economic well-being are based on money income. The general consensus is that such measures are seriously flawed because they ignore several crucial determinants of well-being. We examine two such determinants--household wealth and public consumption--in the context of the United States. Our findings suggest that the level and distribution of economic well-being is substantially altered when money income is adjusted for wealth or public consumption.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 372 | February 2003
Our measure of economic well-being is motivated by the conviction that there is substantial room for improving existing official measures of the level and distribution of household economic well-being. The definition of the scope of our measure is guided by an extended concept of income that fundamentally reflects the resources that a household can command for facilitating current consumption or acquiring financial and physical assets. In the contemporary United States, three main institutions--markets, the government, and the household--mediate such command. The measure therefore attempts to integrate the following components: money income, wealth, noncash transfers from the business and government sectors, some forms of public consumption, and household production. We discuss conceptual issues relevant to each of the components and outline an approach for combining them.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 356 | October 2002
Evidence from the Panel Study of Income Dynamic
Using PSID data for the years 1984 to 1999, we estimate the level and severity of asset poverty. Our results indicate that the share of asset-poor households remained almost the same and the severity of poverty increased during this period, despite the growth in the economy and the financial markets. The race, age, education, and marital status of the household head, and homeownership, are important determinants of asset poverty. There seems to be a downward trend in the contribution to asset poverty of being a college graduate, a married elderly or a black head of household, a single mother, or a married person with children. The contributions of not having a college degree, being a 35-to-49 year-old household head, being a childless nonelderly couple, or being an unmarried elderly person seem to have increased. The contribution to net worth poverty of being a homeowner also went up. Descriptive statistics suggest that changes in the value of assets are more effective in transitions into and out of asset poverty than are changes in debt. Some lifetime events, such as changes in marital, homeownership, or business ownership status, are also correlated with the transitions.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief Highlights No. 66A | November 2001
Is the Gap Closing?Despite decades of policies aimed at improving the economic position of African Americans in terms of relative income and earnings, they remain substantially behind whites. The research presented in this brief indicates that the wealth gap is even more staggering. Following families over time in order to understand racial differences in the sources and patterns of wealth accumulation, Senior Scholar Edward N. Wolff finds that African Americans would have gained significant ground relative to whites in the past 30 years if they had inherited similar amounts, comparable levels of family income, and more similar portfolio compositions. Therefore, even if the income gap between whites and African Americans were immediately eliminated, it may take another two generations for the wealth gap to close. However, certain policies could help speed up the process.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 66 | November 2001
Is the Gap Closing?
Despite decades of policies aimed at improving the economic position of African Americans in terms of relative income and earnings, they remain substantially behind whites. The research presented in this brief indicates that the wealth gap is even more staggering. Following families over time in order to understand racial differences in the sources and patterns of wealth accumulation, Senior Scholar Edward N. Wolff finds that African Americans would have gained significant ground relative to whites in the past 30 years if they had inherited similar amounts, comparable levels of family income, and more similar portfolio compositions. Therefore, even if the income gap between whites and African Americans were immediately eliminated, it may take another two generations for the wealth gap to close. However, certain policies could help speed up the process.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 331 | May 2001
Using both time-series and pooled cross-section, time-series data for 44 industries in the United States over the period 1947–97, the authors find no evidence to support the idea that the growth of skills or educational attainment had any statistically significant effect on growth of earnings. However, earnings growth is found to be positively related to overall productivity growth and equipment investment, while computerization and international trade both had a retardant effect on earnings.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 330 | May 2001
Recent work has documented a rising degree of wealth inequality in the United States between 1983 and 1998. In this paper we look at another dimension of the distribution: polarization. Using techniques developed by Esteban and Ray (1994) and extended by D'Ambrosia (2001), we examine whether a similar pattern exists with regard to trends in wealth polarization over this period. The approach followed provides a decomposition method, based on counterfactual distributions, that allows one to monitor which factors modified the entire distribution and precisely where on the distribution these factors had an effect. An index of polarization is provided, as are summary statistics of the observed movements and of distance and divergence among the estimated and the counterfactual distributions. The decomposition method is applied to US data on the distribution of wealth between 1983 and 1998. We find that polarization between homeowners and tenants and among different educational groups continuously increased from 1983 to 1998, while polarization by income class continuously decreased. In contrast, polarization by racial group increased from 1983 to 1989 and then declined from 1989 to 1998, while polarization by age group followed the opposite pattern. We also find that most of the observed variation in the overall wealth density over the 1983-98 period can be attributed to changes in the within-group wealth densities rather than changes in household characteristics.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Conchita D’Ambrosio Edward N. Wolff
Working Paper No. 311 | August 2000
Is the Gap Closing?
A vast literature in economics has examined the economic progress of African Americans during this century. Most of these studies have focused on income--or on even narrower measures of economic well-being, such as earnings--to assess the extent to which any gains made relative to other racial groups can be attributed to such factors as declining racial discrimination, affirmative action policies, changes in industrial composition, or a narrowing gap between the educational levels of African Americans and the rest of the population. However, studies of earnings and income, while important for assessing the extent to which labor market discrimination exists and the ability of African Americans to move closer to whites in terms of acquiring the skills and connections that are currently rewarded by the markets, provide an incomplete picture. This paper therefore explores how African Americans have fared in terms of wealth, a less well-known factor and an important measure of economic well-being.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Maury Gittleman Edward N. Wolff
Working Paper No. 300 | May 2000
Using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances, I find that wealth inequality continued to rise in the United States after 1989, though at a reduced rate. The share of the wealthiest 1 percent of households rose by 3.6 percentage points from 1983 to 1989 and by another 0.7 percentage points from 1989 to 1998. Between 1983 and 1998, 53 percent of the total growth in net worth accrued to the top 1 percent of households and 91 percent to the top 20 percent. Another disturbing trend is that median net worth (in constant dollars), after growing by 7 percent from 1983 to 1989, increased by only another 4 percent by 1998. Indeed, the average wealth of the poorest 40 percent fell by 76 percent between 1983 and 1998 and by 1998 was only $1,100. Moreover, the financial resources accumulated by families in the bottom three income quintiles were very meager and dwindled between 1989 and 1998. The new figures also point to the growing indebtedness of the American family, with the overall debt-equity ratio climbing from 0.151 in 1983 to 0.176 in 1998. The ownership of investment assets was still highly concentrated in the hands of the rich in 1998. About 90 percent of the total value of stocks, bonds, trusts, and business equity were held by the top 10 percent. Despite the widening ownership of stock (48 percent of households owned stock shares either directly or indirectly in 1998), the richest 10 percent still accounted for 78 percent of their total value. With regard to racial and ethnic differences, the results show that over the period 1983 to 1998 non-Hispanic African American households made some gains relative to whites in median net worth and home ownership but remained the same in terms of mean net worth. Hispanic households made significant gains on non-Hispanic white households in terms of mean net worth and home ownership but not in terms of median wealth.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 297 | March 2000
Profitability in the United States has been rising since the early 1980s and by 1997 was at its highest level since its postwar peak in the mid 1960s, and the profit share, by one definition, was at its highest point. In this paper I examine the role of the change in the profit share and capital intensity, as well as structural change, on movements in the rate of profit between 1947 and 1997. Its recent recovery is traced to a rise in the profit share in national income, a slowdown in capital-labor growth on the industry level, and employment shifts to relatively labor-intensive industries.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Notes on the U.S. Trade and Balance of Payments Deficits
If the United States’s balance of trade does not improve, the country could eventually find itself in a “debt trap,” the author says. The aim of this paper, the second in a series offering Godley’s strategic analysis, is to display what seems reasonably likely to happen if world output recovers but otherwise past trends, policies, and relationships continue. The potential usefulness of the exercise is to warn policymakers of dangers that may exist and to help them think out what policy instruments are, or should be made, available to deal with worst cases, should they arise.Published By:Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief Highlights No. 41A | July 1998
How Technological Change Increases the Duration of UnemploymentWhy does a dynamic growing economy have a persistent long-term unemployment problem? Research Associates Baumol and Wolff have isolated one cause. Although technological change, the engine of growth and economic progress, may not affect or may even increase the total number of jobs available, the fact that it creates a demand for new skills and makes other skills obsolete can cause an increase in the overall rate of unemployment and the length of time during which an unemployed worker is between jobs. It goes without saying that society will not choose to slow technical innovation, but the task for policy is to find ways to offset the problems caused by this rising level and duration of unemployment.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 41 | July 1998
How Technological Change Increases the Duration of Unemployment
Why does a dynamic growing economy have a persistent long-term unemployment problem? Research Associates Baumol and Wolff have isolated one cause. Although technological change, the engine of growth and economic progress, may not affect or may even increase the total number of jobs available, the fact that it creates a demand for new skills and makes other skills obsolete can cause an increase in the overall rate of unemployment and the length of time during which an unemployed worker is between jobs. It goes without saying that society will not choose to slow technical innovation, but the task for policy is to find ways to offset the problems caused by this rising level and duration of unemployment.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 237 | May 1998
The mean duration of unemployment approximately doubled in the United States between the early 1950s and the mid-1990s, with most of the increase occurring since the early 1970s. Using a simple model linking the average duration of unemployment with the speed of technical change, and aggregate time-series data, the authors find strong evidence that both the rate of total-factor productivity growth and investment in office, computing, and accounting equipment (OCA) per employee have a significant positive effect on mean unemployment duration. Moreover, literally all of the two-thirds rise in mean unemployment duration between 1971 and 1994 (two similar points in the business cycle) can be attributed to increases in OCA investment.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 186 | March 1997View More View Less
In their study of industry wage premia, Research Associates Judith Fields of Lehman College, City University of New York, and Edward N. Wolff of New York University find that gender wage differentials can be explained only in part by the distribution of women and men in different industries, and that other factors, such as discrimination, play a role as well. They make the case that focused antidiscrimination policy can be effective in reducing the gender gap.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Judith Fields Edward N. Wolff
Working Paper No. 179 | December 1996
In this working paper, Research Associates William Baumol and Edward N. Wolff, both of New York University, explore the effects of the rate of technological progress on unemployment. They hypothesize that the sunk costs associated with a worker's training will depend on his or her previous training and education and the current pace of technological change. The faster the pace of change, the greater the sunk training costs, although education moderates the magnitude of those costs. A firm weighs wage and sunk training costs against a worker's marginal revenue yield. These factors combine to the disadvantage of the poorly educated, who will be forced to accept either a low wage or a longer duration of unemployment. A faster pace of technological change exacerbates this disadvantage.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 153 | December 1995
In this working paper Research Associate Edward N. Wolff documents changes during the period 1950–90 in aggregate skill levels of the workplace. Wolff investigates skill trends at the sectoral level, paying special attention to changes in skill requirements in service and goods-producing sectors, and examines the role of technological change in changing the demand for skills. He reports the results of a regression analysis in which he relates changes in skill indexes to various measures of technological activity.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Book Series | December 1993
Edited by Dimitri B. Papadimitriou and Edward N. Wolff
The fact that levels of poverty and inequality showed an unprecedented rise in the 1980s in the United States despite a sustained expansion beginning in 1983 raises concerns about appropriate policy actions needed to offset these developments. The papers in this volume explore manifestations of this inequality, including unexpectedly high poverty rates, shrinkage of the middle class, a growing intergenerational wage gap, a growing earnings gap between college and high school graduates, and increasing dispersion of the distribution of family income even with increased participation of female household members in the labor force. Measurement issues explored include the use of earnings capacity, health status, and indicators of living conditions to define poverty status. Contributors to this volume include Robert B. Avery, Rebecca M. Blank, Alan S. Blinder, David Bloom, Sheldon Danziger, William T. Dickens, Greg Duncan, Richard B. Freeman, Robert Haveman, Christopher Jencks, Susan E. Mayer, Timothy M. Smeeding, Barbara Wolfe, and Edward N. Wolff.
Working Paper No. 58 | July 1991
Distributional and Tax Implications
The division of social security (OASI) benefits into an annuity portion and a transfer portion has been well documented. I have discussed this issue extensively in previous work (1987b, 1988, 1990, and forthcoming), as did Burkhauser and Warlick (1981) previously. My methodology is quite similar to theirs. The annuity portion is defined as the benefit level the worker would receive on the basis of his(her) contributions into the social security system (OASI) if the system were actuarially fair. The calculation is based on the worker's estimated earnings history and actual social security tax rates. The transfer portion is the difference between the actual social security benefit received and the actuarially fair annuity equivalent. As we shall see below, it has been uniformly positive for workers who have retired on or before 1983.
Burkhauser and Warlick examined the relative proportions of annuity versus transfer benefits by income class and age group. However, they did not conduct an extensive examination of the overall distributional implications of who social security transfer portion. Nor did they consider the tax implications of treating social security transfers as taxable income. These are the principal subjects of the current paper. With regard to the distributional implications of the social security system, I will examine three sets of issue. First, I will consider what the relative magnitudes have been of the annuity and transfer portions of social security income. Since I have data for three years, a related issue is whether the relative proportions have changed over time. Second, I will consider how the social security transfer portion has affected the distribution of income among elderly households. Has the transfer component been neutral or has it tended to redistribute income toward lower income elderly households? Third, the same issue can be addressed with regard to household wealth, in which social security benefit flows are transformed (capitalized) into wealth equivalents.
From a policy point of view, the more interesting issue is how do the total taxes of the elderly change with the removal of the exclusion of social security transfer income -- that is, when social security transfer income is treated as taxable income. There are three questions of interest. First, how does the change in tax treatment affect the post-tax distribution of income. Second, which groups of elderly are most affected by the change in tax treatment. Third, what is the total challge in the magnitude of tax revenues.
As a final point of policy interest, I will also consider whether the extra revenues generated by the new tax treatment of social security income can serve as a "social security capital fund" to reduce the growing wealth gap among age groups in the U.S. As will become apparent in the analysis, the social security system has been quite generous to today's elderly, providing them with benefits far in excess of their contributions into the system. Moreover, young families have fared rather poorly over the last several decades in regard to their income and wealth accumulation. I will propose a policy vehicle below, called a "social security capital fund", which can serve as an additional source of capital for today's young workers. The source of the funding can potentially come from the extra tax revenues from elderly households. It is thus also of interest to analyze whether the additional tax revenues are large or small relative to the wealth holdings of young households and whether such a fund can make a significant difference in the well-being of younger families.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):