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Inequality and Household Finance during the Consumer Age

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  • Barry Z. Cynamon
  • Steven M. Fazzari

Abstract

One might expect that rising US income inequality would reduce demand growth and create a drag on the economy because higher-income groups spend a smaller share of income. But during a quarter century of rising inequality, US growth and employment were reasonably strong, by historical standards, until the Great Recession. This paper analyzes this paradox by disaggregating household spending, income, saving, and debt between the bottom 95 percent and top 5 percent of the income distribution. We find that the top 5 percent did indeed spend a smaller share of income, but demand drag did not occur because the spending share of the bottom 95 percent rose, accompanied by a historic increase in borrowing. The unsustainable rise in household leverage concentrated in the bottom 95 percent ultimately spawned the Great Recession. The demand drag of rising inequality could be one explanation for the stagnant recovery in the recession’s aftermath.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Levy Economics Institute in its series Economics Working Paper Archive with number wp_752.

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Date of creation: Feb 2013
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Handle: RePEc:lev:wrkpap:wp_752

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Keywords: Consumption; Saving; Inequality; Aggregate Demand;

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  1. van Treeck, Till & Sturn, Simon, 2012. "Income inequality as a cause of the Great Recession? : A survey of current debates," ILO Working Papers 470934, International Labour Organization.
  2. Nelson H. Barbosa-Filho & Codrina Rada von Arnim & Lance Taylor & Luca Zamparelli, 2008. "Cycles and trends in U.S. net borrowing flows," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 30(4), pages 623-648, July.
  3. Palley, Thomas I., 2009. "America's exhausted paradigm: Macroeconomic causes of the financial crisis and great recession," IPE Working Papers 02/2009, Berlin School of Economics and Law, Institute for International Political Economy (IPE).
  4. Martin Browning & Annamaria Lusardi, 1996. "Household Saving: Micro Theories and Micro Facts," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(4), pages 1797-1855, December.
  5. Jason DeBacker & Bradley Heim & Vasia Panousi & Ivan Vidangos, 2011. "Rising inequality: transitory or permanent? New evidence from a U.S. panel of household income 1987-2006," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2011-60, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  6. Jonathan Skinner, 2007. "Are You Sure You're Saving Enough for Retirement?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(3), pages 59-80, Summer.
  7. Christopher Brown, 2004. "Does income distribution matter for effective demand? Evidence from the United States," Review of Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 16(3), pages 291-307.
  8. Richard Peach & Charles Steindel, 2000. "A nation of spendthrifts? An analysis of trends in personal and gross saving," Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, vol. 6(Sep).
  9. Jonathan A. Parker, 1999. "Spendthrift in America? On Two Decades of Decline in the U.S. Saving Rate," NBER Working Papers 7238, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Aldo Barba & Massimo Pivetti, 2009. "Rising household debt: Its causes and macroeconomic implications--a long-period analysis," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 33(1), pages 113-137, January.
  11. Greninger, Sue A. & Hampton, Vickie L. & Kitt, Karrol A. & Achacoso, Joseph A., 1996. "Ratios and benchmarks for measuring the financial well-being of families and individuals," Financial Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 57-70.
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