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The nature of countercyclical income risk

Author

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  • Fatih Guvenen
  • Serdar Ozkan
  • Jae Song

Abstract

This paper studies the nature of business cycle variation in individual earnings risk using a dataset from the U.S. Social Security Administration, which contains (uncapped) earnings histories for millions of anonymous individuals. The base sample is a nationally representative panel containing 10 percent of all U.S. males from 1978 to 2010. We use these data to decompose individual earnings growth during recessions into "between-group" and "within-group" components. We begin with the behavior of within-group shocks. Contrary to past research, we do not find the variance of idiosyncratic earnings shocks to be countercyclical. Instead, it is the left-skewness of shocks that is strongly countercyclical. That is, during recessions, the upper end of the shock distribution collapses--large upward earnings movements become less likely--whereas the bottom end expands--large drops in earnings become more likely. Thus, while the dispersion of shocks does not increase, shocks become more left skewed and, hence, riskier during recessions. Second, to study between-group differences, we group individuals based on several observable characteristics at the time a recession hits. One of these characteristics--the average earnings of an individual at the beginning of a business cycle episode--proves to be an especially good predictor of fortunes during a recession: prime-age workers that enter a recession with high average earnings suffer substantially less compared with those who enter with low average earnings (such "asymmetry" is not evident in expansions). Finally, we find that the cyclical nature of earnings risk is dramatically different for the top 1 percent compared with all other individuals--even relative to those in the top 2 to 5 percent.

Suggested Citation

  • Fatih Guvenen & Serdar Ozkan & Jae Song, 2013. "The nature of countercyclical income risk," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2013-25, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2013-25
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Serdar Ozkan & Jae Song & Fatih Karahan & Fatih Guvenen, 2013. "What Do Data on Millions of U.S. Workers Say About Labor Income Risk?," 2013 Meeting Papers 1271, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    2. Constantinides, George M & Duffie, Darrell, 1996. "Asset Pricing with Heterogeneous Consumers," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(2), pages 219-240, April.
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    4. Giesecke, Matthias & Bönke, Timm & Lüthen, Holger, 2011. "The Dynamics of Earnings in Germany: Evidence from Social Security Records," Annual Conference 2011 (Frankfurt, Main): The Order of the World Economy - Lessons from the Crisis 48692, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    5. Sam Schulhofer-Wohl, 2011. "Heterogeneity and Tests of Risk Sharing," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 119(5), pages 925-958.
    6. R. Anton Braun & Tomoyuki Nakajima, 2012. "Uninsured Countercyclical Risk: An Aggregation Result And Application To Optimal Monetary Policy," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 10(6), pages 1450-1474, December.
    7. Almut Balleer & Thijs van Rens, 2013. "Skill-Biased Technological Change and the Business Cycle," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(4), pages 1222-1237, October.
    8. Rui Castro & Daniele Coen-Pirani, "undated". "Why Have Aggregate Skilled Hours," GSIA Working Papers 2006-E27, Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business.
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    13. Fatih Guvenen & Fatih Karahan & Serdar Ozkan & Jae Song, 2013. "What Do Data on Millions of U.S. Workers Say About Life Cycle Income Risk?," Working Papers wp302, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    14. Kjetil Storesletten & Chris I. Telmer & Amir Yaron, 2004. "Cyclical Dynamics in Idiosyncratic Labor Market Risk," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(3), pages 695-717, June.
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    16. Sabelhaus, John & Song, Jae, 2010. "The great moderation in micro labor earnings," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(4), pages 391-403, May.
    17. Wojciech Kopczuk & Emmanuel Saez & Jae Song, 2010. "Earnings Inequality and Mobility in the United States: Evidence from Social Security Data Since 1937," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(1), pages 91-128.
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    More about this item

    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
    • E44 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Financial Markets and the Macroeconomy
    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials

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