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Inequality and poverty in the United States: the aftermath of the Great Recession


  • Jeffrey P. Thompson
  • Timothy Smeeding


This paper explores trends in inequality and poverty using both market and after-tax and transfer income in the period during and after the Great Recession (through 2011). Using market income (or wages), inequality and poverty rose sharply between 2008 and 2010. The primary exception is measures for the top of the distribution; annual wage and income shares of the top one percent dipped in 2008 and 2009. Including taxes and transfers, broad-based inequality measures also fell, and the poverty increase was muted. Tax and transfer policies lowered inequality and poverty, but those policies were not equal across the population. Poverty declined among the elderly, changed little among children, and rose sharply among the working-age. Inequality fell across the total population, but was unchanged among working-age households. Since 2009, as the economy has grown slowly, inequality has risen for all groups, and poverty remains high for the working-age.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeffrey P. Thompson & Timothy Smeeding, 2013. "Inequality and poverty in the United States: the aftermath of the Great Recession," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2013-51, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2013-51

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Richard Burkhauser & Shuaizhang Feng & Stephen Jenkins & Jeff Larrimore, 2011. "Estimating trends in US income inequality using the Current Population Survey: the importance of controlling for censoring," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 9(3), pages 393-415, September.
    2. David R. Howell & Bert M. Azizoglu, 2011. "Unemployment benefits and work incentives: the US labour market in the Great Recession," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 27(2), pages 221-240.
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    4. N/A, 2009. "On the Recession," Local Economy, London South Bank University, vol. 24(3), pages 253-253, May.
    5. Daniel Feenberg & Elisabeth Coutts, 1993. "An introduction to the TAXSIM model," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(1), pages 189-194.
    6. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier & Nahid Tabatabai, 2010. "What the Stock Market Decline Means for the Financial Security and Retirement Choices of the Near-Retirement Population," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(1), pages 161-182, Winter.
    7. Yonatan Ben-Shalom & Robert A. Moffitt & John Karl Scholz, 2011. "An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Anti-Poverty Programs in the United States," NBER Working Papers 17042, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Jesse Rothstein, 2012. "The Labor Market Four Years into the Crisis: Assessing Structural Explanations," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 65(3), pages 467-500, July.
    9. Edward Wolff & Ajit Zacharias, 2009. "Household wealth and the measurement of economic well-being in the United States," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 7(2), pages 83-115, June.
    10. repec:eme:rleczz:s0147-9121(2011)0000032004 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Mark W. Frank, 2009. "Inequality And Growth In The United States: Evidence From A New State-Level Panel Of Income Inequality Measures," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 47(1), pages 55-68, January.
    12. 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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    Cited by:

    1. Marchand, J. & Smeeding, T., 2016. "Poverty and Aging," Handbook of the Economics of Population Aging, Elsevier.
      • Marchand, Joseph & Smeeding, Timothy, 2016. "Poverty and Aging," Working Papers 2016-11, University of Alberta, Department of Economics, revised 20 Nov 2016.

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