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.
Press Releases | March 2022
Press Releases | February 2022
In the Media | November 2021
By Jean YungNew US Consumption Gauge To Include Unpaid Work, Housing
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will incorporate estimates of the value of unpaid household work and home ownership into a new measure of consumption, aiming for a more comprehensive view of living standards at a time when policymakers are increasingly concerned with addressing inequality.
Read more at: https://marketnews.com/homepage/mni-us-bls-to-develop-novel-consumption-measureAssociated Program:
Research Project Reports | April 2019
An Assessment of Care Deficits, Costs, and Impact on Employment, Gender Equality, and Fiscal ReturnsExpansion of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services for all is a matter of the choices made regarding the allocation of public resources. As such, it is as much an issue of children’s well-being and gender equality as it is an issue of economic policy and fiscal allocation. This study—authored by Institute scholars Ipek Ilkkaracan and Kijong Kim as a joint production of the Macroeconomic Team of the Economic Empowerment Section at UN Women and UN Women’s Country Team in Kyrgyz Republic—contributes to the policy debate on ECEC expansion in Kyrgyz Republic, particularly from a fiscal policy perspective that focuses on potential short-run economic returns.
Following in the footsteps of recent country policy studies, this research report estimates the required increase in public expenditures on ECEC centers according to different policy scenarios specific to Kyrgyz Republic. The report estimates short-run, demand-side economic returns regarding employment creation, the gender employment gap, and the fiscal sustainability of the initial outlay of expenditures through increased tax revenues. The simulation for ECEC service expansion is compared to the counterfactual scenario where fiscal expenditure of identical magnitude is allocated toward physical infrastructure and construction projects, a common target sector for public spending.Download:Associated Program(s):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):
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. 676 | July 2011
The quality of match for each of four statistical matches used in the LIMEW estimates for France for 1989 and 2000 is described. The first match combines the 1992 Enquête sur les Actifs Financiers with the 1989–90 Enquête Budget de Famille (BDF). The second match combines the 1998 General Social Survey (EDT) with the 1989–90 BDF. The third match combines the 2003–04 Enquête Patrimoine with the 2000–01 BDF. The fourth match combines the 1999 EDT with the 2000 BDF. In each case, the alignment of the two datasets is examined, after which various aspects of the match quality are described. In each case, the matches are of high quality, given the nature of the source datasets.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. 663 | March 2011
The quality of match of four statistical matches used in the LIMEW estimates for Great Britain for 1995 and 2005 is described. The first match combines the fifth (1995) wave of the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) with the 1995–96 Family Resources Survey (FRS). The second match combines the 1995 time-use module of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys Omnibus Survey with the 1995–96 FRS. The third match combines the 15th wave (2005) of the BHPS with the 2005 FRS. The fourth match combines the 2000 United Kingdom Time Use Survey with the 2005 FRS. In each case, the alignment of the two datasets is examined, after which various aspects of the match quality are described. In each case, the matches are of high quality, given the nature of the source datasets.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 618 | September 2010
The quality of match of four statistical matches used in the LIMEW estimates for the United States for 1992 and 2007 is described. The first match combines the 1992 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) with the 1993 March Supplement to the Current Population Survey, or Annual Demographic Supplement (ADS). The second match combines the 1985 American Use of Time Project survey (AUTP) with the 1993 ADS. The third match combines the 2007 SCF with the 2008 March Supplement to the CPS, now called the Annual Social and Economics Supplement (ASEC). The fourth match combines the 2007 American Time Use Survey with the 2008 ASEC. In each case, the alignment of the two datasets is examined, after which various aspects of the match quality are described. Also in each case, the matches are of high quality, given the nature of the source datasets.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 615 | September 2010The quality of match of four statistical matches used in the LIMEW estimates for Canada for 1999 and 2005 is described. The first match combines the 1999 Survey of Financial Security (SFS) with the 1999 Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID). The second match combines the 1998 General Social Survey (GSS) with the 1999 SLID. The third match combines the 2005 SFS with the 2005 SLID. The fourth match combines the 2005 GSS with the 2005 SLID. In each case, the alignment of the two datasets is examined, after which various aspects of the match quality are described. Also in each case, the matches are of high quality, given the nature of the source datasets.Download:Associated Program(s):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
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. 535 | May 2008
Theory and Application to the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being
This paper summarizes the background, type, logic, and working procedure of the statistical matching used in the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) project to combine the various data sets used to produce the synthetic data set with which the LIMEW is constructed. The authors use the match between the 2001 Survey of Consumer Finances and the Annual Demographic Survey of the Current Population Survey data sets to demonstrate the procedure and results of the matching. Challenges confronted in the use of this technique, such as the distribution of weights, are discussed in the conclusion.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Hyunsub Kum Thomas Masterson
Book Series | October 2007
Edited by Dimitri B. Papadimitriou
The results are in: we are aging—individually and collectively, nationally and globally. In the United States, as in most countries with an advanced economy, the aging of the population will be a primary domestic public policy issue in the coming decades. According to Census Bureau estimates, the proportion of the elderly in the total population will increase, while the proportion of the working-age population is projected to decline. These demographic changes imply a significant growth in the number of beneficiaries in federal entitlement programs. Existing program rules and rapidly escalating health care costs are expected to lead to fiscal pressures, and to pose significant challenges for economic growth.
Coping with an aging population requires action in the near term to forestall more difficult choices in the long term. This book provides an assessment of the forces that drive government spending on retirees and explores alternate means of financing the retirement and health care of older citizens. Probabilistic forecasts and comparative analyses are used to measure the potential impact of various reform proposals. Individual essays examine European welfare state regimes and their generosity toward the elderly, global demographic trends and their implications for social welfare systems, the differing retirement prospects for women and men, the changing role of employer pensions in the United States, the adequacy of retirement resources among the soon-to-retire, and the effects of wage growth on the long-term solvency of Social Security.
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):
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. 466 | August 2006
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):
Book Series | July 2006
Edited by Dimitri B. Papadimitriou
This book focuses on the distributional consequences of the public sector. It examines and documents, both theoretically and empirically, the effects of government spending and taxation on personal distribution, that is, on families and individuals. In addition, it investigates the relationship between the public sector and the functional distribution of national income. In this respect, three sides of government activity are encompassed: the beneficiaries of government expenditures such as schools, highways, and police and fire departments; the beneficiaries of government transfer programs; and the bearers of the tax burden.
The book also analyzes government activity on the federal level and looks at the distribution of both the costs and benefits of a single government program such as Social Security.
A key feature is the empirical studies of other countries, including countries of the European Union, Poland, Australia, and South Korea, as well as comparative studies among a set of countries.
The chapters of this volume were selected from papers delivered at Levy Institute seminars and conferences aimed at finding policy options to pressing economic problems.
Working Paper No. 447 | May 2006
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):
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):
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 2004
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.”
Published By: Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc.
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):
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 2003
*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. 342 | February 2002
Empirical studies of intertemporal dynamics of individual income, distribution of personal income, and growth and distribution of national income are all based on statistics that rely on some concept of income. The dominant one today appears to be the so-called Haig-Simons-Hicks (HSH) concept of income. I examine the foundations of this concept in Hicks? Value and Capital and conclude that there is nothing "Hicksian" about the HSH concept of income. Furthermore, I argue that Hicks? failure to distinguish between definition and calculation, and the consequent lack of adequate ex post concepts, make it impossible for his income definitions to serve as a basis for income accounting.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):