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The Rise of US Earnings Inequality: Does the Cycle Drive the Trend?

Author

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  • Jonathan Heathcote

    (Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis)

  • Fabrizio Perri

    (Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis)

  • Gianluca Violante

    (Princeton University)

Abstract

We document that declining hours worked are the primary driver of widening inequality in the bottom half of the male labor earnings distribution in the United States over the past 52 years. This decline in hours is heavily concentrated in recessions: hours and earnings at the bottom fall sharply in recessions and do not fully recover in subsequent expansions. Motivated by this evidence, we build a structural model to explore the possibility that recessions cause persistent increases in inequality; that is, that the cycle drives the trend. The model features skill-biased technical change, which implies a trend decline in low-skill wages relative to the value of non-market activities. With this adverse trend in the background, recessions imply a potential double-whammy for low skilled men. This group is disproportionately likely to experience unemployment, which further reduces skills and potential earnings via a scarring effect. As unemployed low skilled men give up job search, recessions generate surges in non-participation. Because non-participation is highly persistent, earnings inequality remains elevated long after the recession ends. (Copyright: Elsevier)

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Heathcote & Fabrizio Perri & Gianluca Violante, 2020. "The Rise of US Earnings Inequality: Does the Cycle Drive the Trend?," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 37, pages 181-204, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:issued:20-277
    DOI: 10.1016/j.red.2020.06.002
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    Cited by:

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    2. Titan Alon & Matthias Doepke & Jane Olmstead-Rumsey, 2020. "This Time It’s Different: The Role of Women’s Employment in a Pandemic Recession," Working Papers 2020-057, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    3. Misty L. Heggeness, 2020. "Estimating the immediate impact of the COVID-19 shock on parental attachment to the labor market and the double bind of mothers," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 18(4), pages 1053-1078, December.
    4. Christopher D. Carroll & Edmund Crawley & Jiri Slacalek & Matthew N. White, 2021. "Modeling the Consumption Response to the CARES Act," International Journal of Central Banking, International Journal of Central Banking, vol. 17(1), pages 107-141, March.
    5. Per Krusell & Toshihiko Mukoyama & Richard Rogerson & Ayşegül Şahin, 2017. "Gross Worker Flows over the Business Cycle," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(11), pages 3447-3476, November.
    6. Atolia, Manoj & Papageorgiou, Chris & Turnovsky, Stephen J., 2021. "Re-opening after the lockdown: Long-run aggregate and distributional consequences of COVID-19," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(C).
    7. Misty Heggeness, 2020. "Why Is Mommy So Stressed? Estimating the Immediate Impact of the COVID-19 Shock on Parental Attachment to the Labor Market and the Double Bind of Mothers," Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute Working Papers 33, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    8. Nicholas A. Ashford & Ralph P. Hall & Johan Arango-Quiroga & Kyriakos A. Metaxas & Amy L. Showalter, 2020. "Addressing Inequality: The First Step Beyond COVID-19 and Towards Sustainability," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(13), pages 1-43, July.
    9. Zens, Gregor & Böck, Maximilian & Zörner, Thomas O., 2020. "The heterogeneous impact of monetary policy on the US labor market," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 119(C).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Earnings losses upon displacement; Inequality; Non-participation; Recession; Skill-biased technical change; Zero earnings;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J64 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Unemployment: Models, Duration, Incidence, and Job Search

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