The Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being
The Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) is informed by the view that three key institutions—the market, state, and household—mediate the access of the members of the household to the goods and services produced in a modern market economy. The magnitude of the access that can be exercised by the household is approximated by a well-being measure that reflects the resources that the household can command for facilitating current consumption or acquiring physical or financial assets. The three institutions form interdependent parts of an organic entity, and household economic well-being is fundamentally shaped by the complex functioning of this entity.
The LIMEW has two crucial characteristics. First, its focus is limited to components that can be converted into money equivalents. Second, it is a household-level measure that can be evaluated for households in different economic and demographic groups, such as those in different percentiles of the income distribution or those in different racial groups.
The LIMEW is constructed as the sum of the following components: base money income (gross money income less government cash transfers and property income), the value of certain employer-provided in-kind benefits, income from wealth, net government expenditures (transfers and public consumption net of taxes), and the value of household production. In the absence of an ideal, unified database to measure household economic well-being, the LIMEW is built using mainly information from income and employment surveys (e.g., the Annual Demographic Supplement of the Current Population Survey conducted by the US Census Bureau), other surveys on wealth and time use, National Income and Product Accounts, and government agencies.
Research Project Reports | July 2021
Evidence from sub-Saharan AfricaGender disparity in the division of responsibilities for unpaid care and domestic work (household production) is a central and pervasive component of inequalities between men and women and boys and girls. Reducing disparity in household production figures as one element of the goal of gender equality enshrined in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and feminist scholars and political activists have articulated that the redistribution of household production responsibilities from females to males is important for its own sake, as well as for achieving gender equality in labor market outcomes. A cursory examination of available cross-country data indicates that higher per capita GDP—the neoliberal panacea for most societal malaise—provides little bulwark against the gender inequality in household production.
Ajit Zacharias, Thomas Masterson, Fernando Rios-Avila, and Abena D. Oduro contribute to the literature on the intrahousehold distribution of household production by placing the question within a framework of analyzing deprivation, applying that framework to better understand the interactions between poverty and the gendered division of labor in four sub-Saharan African nations: Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa, and Tanzania. Central to their framework is the notion that attaining a minimal standard of living requires command over an adequate basket of commodities and sufficient time to be spent on home production, where meeting those requirements produces benefits for all—including those beyond the household.
Their findings motivate questions regarding the feasibility and effectiveness of redistribution of household responsibilities to alleviate time deficits and their impoverishing effects. By developing a framework to assess the mechanics of redistribution among family members and applying it to gender-based redistribution, they derive the maximum extent to which redistribution—either among all family members, between sexes, or between husbands and wives—can lower the incidence of time deficits. The conclude with a discussion of alternative principles of distributing household production responsibilities among family members and examine their impact on the Levy Institute Measure of Time and Income Poverty (LIMTCP) and discuss some policy questions in light of their findings.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
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):
Working Paper No. 914 | September 2018This paper describes the quality of the statistical matching between the March 2014 supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the 2013 American Time Use Survey (ATUS) and Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), which are used as the basis for the 2013 Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) estimates for the United States. In the first part of the paper, the alignment of the datasets is examined. In the second, various aspects of the match quality are described. The results indicate that the matches are of high quality, with some indication of bias in specific cases.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 912 | August 2018This paper documents the sources of data used in the construction of the estimates of the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Wellbeing (LIMEW) for the years 1959, 1972, 1982, 1989, 1992, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010, and 2013. It also documents the methods used to combine the various sources of data into the synthetic dataset used to produce each year’s LIMEW estimates.Download:Associated Program: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):
Press Releases | December 2017
Working Paper No. 798 | May 2014
This paper describes the quality of the statistical matching between the March 2011 supplement to the Current Population Survey and the 2010 American Time Use Survey and Survey of Consumer Finances, which are used as the basis for the 2010 LIMEW estimates for the United States. In the first part of the paper, the alignment of the datasets is examined. In the second, various aspects of the match quality are described. The results indicate that the matches are of high quality, with some indication of bias in specific cases.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
In the Media | February 2012
By Rachel Mendleson
Huffington Post Canada, February 3, 2012. Copyright © 2012 TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. All rights reserved.
As debate about income inequality mounts, a new study [see Working Paper No. 703] underscores how important public investment in social programs like education and health care is in narrowing the rich-poor divide.
At a time when Ottawa prepares to beat back the deficit with public spending cuts, the findings also show that the effect of Canada’s social safety net on narrowing the income gap waned in the early 2000s.
“There seems to be a decline in the role of transfers on inequality in Canada,” says Andrew Sharpe, director of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards in Ottawa, and co-author of the study by the New York–based Levy Institute of Bard College.
Efforts to quantify the rich-poor divide often focus on basic income—namely, how much households earn in a given year. But in their comparison of income inequality in the U.S. and Canada, the authors of the working paper, released in January, endeavour to take a more comprehensive approach.
According to Sharpe, the aim is to “go beyond standard measures of income” to include other factors that play a role in household wealth: taxes and transfers; government expenditures on goods and services, such as housing, education and health care; time spent on household tasks; and the value of major assets.
Including these other elements when calculating income inequality tends to have a narrowing effect, he explains, “because everybody gets government services and everybody does household work.”
The vast amount of data required to make such comparisons limited the scope of the study somewhat—to 1999 and 2005 in Canada, and 2000 and 2004 in the U.S.—but the snapshots give some indication of how much these other factors have been affecting inequality in recent years.
The authors calculated inequality using two different measures. The first, dubbed Money Income (MI), only takes into account gross income and government transfers. However, the second, called the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW), also includes the effect of the other factors outlined by Sharpe, many of which are related to the strength of public services and programs.
On both sides of the border, the gap, measured with the Gini coefficient, the standard unit used to gauge inequality, was significantly narrowed when these other sources of wealth were taken into account.
In Canada in 1999, for instance, when inequality was calculated using the LIMEW, the Gini coefficient was 17 per cent lower; in 2005, meanwhile, it was 13 per cent lower.
The findings show that factors besides income (such as government spending on education and health care) do a better job at smoothing out inequality in Canada than in the U.S. But they also demonstrate that, from 1999 to 2005, this package of benefits became less effective at levelling the playing field.
This likely came as little surprise to Sharpe, who recently advocated for greater government investment as a means of curbing income inequality.
In a a report on reducing disparities published in November by Canada 2010—a think-tank established to “create an environment of social and economic prosperity”—Sharpe was among a group of public policy experts and economists who called on Ottawa to “analyze and consider the longer term effects of income polarization, and consider the strategic policy reforms to head off a looming problem.”
Among other fixes, the report suggests addressing the growing gap by imposing an inheritance tax, enhancing child benefits and increasing investment in post-secondary education.
“Public services are . . . an essential element of the redistributive effort of government,” Sharpe wrote. “Erosion of public services will thus tend to increase inequality, something that is not often at the forefront of discussion when cuts are proposed."
Working Paper No. 703 | January 2012
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. 680 | July 2011
This report presents estimates of the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) for a representative sample of Canadian households in 1999 and 2005. The results indicate that there was only modest growth in the average Canadian household’s total command over economic resources in the six years between 1999 and 2005. Although inequality in economic well-being increased slightly over the 1999–2005 period, the LIMEW was more equally distributed across Canadian households than more common income measures (such as after-tax income) in both 1999 and 2005. The median household’s economic well-being was lower in Canada than in the United States in both years.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Andrew Sharpe Alexander Murray Benjamin Evans Elspeth HazellRelated Topic(s):