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

Author

Listed:
  • 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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    8. James Bootsma & Thomas J. Carter & Xin Scott Chen & Christopher Hajzler & Argyn Toktamyssov, 2020. "2020 US Neutral Rate Assessment," Discussion Papers 2020-12, Bank of Canada.
    9. 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.
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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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