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Recent trends in top income shares in the USA: reconciling estimates from March CPS and IRS tax return data

  • Burkhauser, Richard V.
  • Feng, Shuaizhang
  • Jenkins, Stephen P.
  • Larrimore, Jeff

Although most US income inequality research is based on public-use March CPS data, a new wave of research using IRS tax-return data reports substantially faster inequality growth for recent years. We show that these apparently inconsistent estimates are largely reconciled when the income distribution and inequality are defined the same way. Using internal CPS data for 1967–2006, we show that CPS-based estimates of top income shares are similar to IRS data-based estimates reported by Piketty and Saez (2003). Our results imply that income inequality changes since 1993 are largely driven by changes in incomes of the top 1 percent.

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Paper provided by Institute for Social and Economic Research in its series ISER Working Paper Series with number 2009-27.

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Date of creation: 14 Sep 2009
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Publication status: published
Handle: RePEc:ese:iserwp:2009-27
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  1. Emmanuel Saez & Michael R. Veall, 2005. "The Evolution of High Incomes in Northern America: Lessons from Canadian Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(3), pages 831-849, June.
  2. Fichtenbaum, Rudy & Shahidi, Hushang, 1988. "Truncation Bias and the Measurement of Income Inequality," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 6(3), pages 335-37, July.
  3. Feenberg, D.R. & Poterba, J.M., 1992. "Income Inequality and the Incomes of Very High Income Taxpayers: Evidence from Tax Returns," Working papers 92-16, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  4. Stephen Jenkins & Richard Burkhauser & Shuaizhang Feng & Jeff Larrimore, 2009. "Measuring Inequality Using Censored Data: A Multiple Imputation Approach," Working Papers 09-05, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  5. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2006. "The Evolution of Top Incomes: A Historical and International Perspective," NBER Working Papers 11955, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Austan Goolsbee, 2000. "What Happens When You Tax the Rich? Evidence from Executive Compensation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(2), pages 352-378, April.
  7. Andrew Christie & Sarah Moritz, 2007. "Australia," Chapters, in: Innovation Without Patents, chapter 6 Edward Elgar.
  8. Burkhauser, Richard V. & Feng, Shuaizhang & Jenkins, Stephen P., 2007. "Using the P90/P10 Index to Measure US Inequality Trends with Current Population Survey Data: A View from Inside the Census Bureau Vaults," IZA Discussion Papers 2839, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  9. Andrea Brandolini & Anthony B. Atkinson, 2001. "Promise and Pitfalls in the Use of "Secondary" Data-Sets: Income Inequality in OECD Countries As a Case Study," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(3), pages 771-799, September.
  10. Burkhauser, Richard V. & Feng, Shuaizhang & Jenkins, Stephen P. & Larrimore, Jeff, 2008. "Estimating trends in US income inequality using the Current Population Survey: the importance of controlling for censoring," ISER Working Paper Series 2008-25, Institute for Social and Economic Research.
  11. Anthony B. Atkinson & Andrew Leigh, 2007. "The Distribution of Top Incomes in Australia," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 83(262), pages 247-261, 09.
  12. Peter Gottschalk & Timothy M. Smeeding, 1997. "Cross-National Comparisons of Earnings and Income Inequality," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(2), pages 633-687, June.
  13. Daniel S. Hamermesh & Stephen A. Woodbury, 1990. "Taxes, Fringe Benefits and Faculty," NBER Working Papers 3455, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Thomas Piketty, 2003. "Income Inequality in France, 1901-1998," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(5), pages 1004-1042, October.
  15. Edward N. Wolff & Ajit Zacharias, 2006. "Household Wealth and the Measurement of Economic Well-Being in the United States," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_447, Levy Economics Institute.
  16. A. B. Atkinson, 2005. "Top incomes in the UK over the 20th century," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 168(2), pages 325-343.
  17. Bishop, John A & Chiou, Jong-Rong & Formby, John P, 1994. "Truncation Bias and the Ordinal Evaluation of Income Inequality," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 12(1), pages 123-27, January.
  18. Joel Slemrod, 1996. "High-Income Families and the Tax Changes of the 1980s: The Anatomy of Behavioral Response," NBER Chapters, in: Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation, pages 169-192 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Andrew Leigh, 2007. "How Closely Do Top Income Shares Track Other Measures of Inequality?," CEPR Discussion Papers 562, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  20. Levy, Frank & Murnane, Richard J, 1992. "U.S. Earnings Levels and Earnings Inequality: A Review of Recent Trends and Proposed Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 1333-81, September.
  21. Richard V. Burkhauser & Kenneth A. Couch & Andrew Houtenville & Ludmila Rovba, 2004. "Income Inequality in the 1990s: Re-Forging a Lost Relationship?," Working papers 2004-11, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
  22. Jagadeesh Sivadasan & Joel Slemrod, 2006. "Tax Law Changes, Income Shifting and Measured Wage Inequality: Evidence from India," NBER Working Papers 12240, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. Edward N. Wolff, 1998. "Recent Trends in the Size Distribution of Household Wealth," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(3), pages 131-150, Summer.
  24. Stefan Bach & Giacomo Corneo & Viktor Steiner, 2009. "From Bottom To Top: The Entire Income Distribution In Germany, 1992-2003," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 55(2), pages 303-330, 06.
  25. Mary C. Daly & Robert G. Valletta, 2006. "Inequality and Poverty in United States: The Effects of Rising Dispersion of Men's Earnings and Changing Family Behaviour," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 73(289), pages 75-98, 02.
  26. Stephen P. Jenkins, 2009. "Distributionally-Sensitive Inequality Indices And The Gb2 Income Distribution," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 55(2), pages 392-398, 06.
  27. Fabien Dell, 2005. "Top Incomes in Germany and Switzerland Over the Twentieth Century," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(2-3), pages 412-421, 04/05.
  28. Feng, Shuaizhang & Burkhauser, Richard V. & Butler, J.S., 2006. "Levels and Long-Term Trends in Earnings Inequality: Overcoming Current Population Survey Censoring Problems Using the GB2 Distribution," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 24, pages 57-62, January.
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