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Inequality and Household Finance during the Consumer Age

Author

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  • Barry Z. Cynamon
  • Steven M. Fazzari

Abstract

One might expect that rising US income inequality would reduce demand growth and create a drag on the economy because higher-income groups spend a smaller share of income. But during a quarter century of rising inequality, US growth and employment were reasonably strong, by historical standards, until the Great Recession. This paper analyzes this paradox by disaggregating household spending, income, saving, and debt between the bottom 95 percent and top 5 percent of the income distribution. We find that the top 5 percent did indeed spend a smaller share of income, but demand drag did not occur because the spending share of the bottom 95 percent rose, accompanied by a historic increase in borrowing. The unsustainable rise in household leverage concentrated in the bottom 95 percent ultimately spawned the Great Recession. The demand drag of rising inequality could be one explanation for the stagnant recovery in the recession’s aftermath.

Suggested Citation

  • Barry Z. Cynamon & Steven M. Fazzari, 2013. "Inequality and Household Finance during the Consumer Age," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_752, Levy Economics Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:lev:wrkpap:wp_752
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Jonathan A. Parker, 2000. "Spendthrift in America? On Two Decades of Decline in the U.S. Saving Rate," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1999, Volume 14, pages 317-387 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Palley, Thomas I., 2009. "America's exhausted paradigm: Macroeconomic causes of the financial crisis and great recession," IPE Working Papers 02/2009, Berlin School of Economics and Law, Institute for International Political Economy (IPE).
    3. Jonathan Skinner, 2007. "Are You Sure You're Saving Enough for Retirement?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(3), pages 59-80, Summer.
    4. Jason DeBacker & Bradley Heim & Vasia Panousi & Ivan Vidangos, 2011. "Rising inequality: transitory or permanent? New evidence from a U.S. panel of household income 1987-2006," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2011-60, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    5. Richard Peach & Charles Steindel, 2000. "A nation of spendthrifts? An analysis of trends in personal and gross saving," Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, vol. 6(Sep).
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    9. Nelson H. Barbosa-Filho & Codrina Rada von Arnim & Lance Taylor & Luca Zamparelli, 2008. "Cycles and trends in U.S. net borrowing flows," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 30(4), pages 623-648, July.
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    11. Greninger, Sue A. & Hampton, Vickie L. & Kitt, Karrol A. & Achacoso, Joseph A., 1996. "Ratios and benchmarks for measuring the financial well-being of families and individuals," Financial Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 57-70.
    12. Aldo Barba & Massimo Pivetti, 2009. "Rising household debt: Its causes and macroeconomic implications--a long-period analysis," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 33(1), pages 113-137, January.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Alberto Cardacci & Francesco Saraceno, 2017. "Inequality and Imbalances : a Monetary Union Agent-Based Model," Sciences Po publications 30, Sciences Po.
    2. Alberto Cardaci & Francesco Saraceno, 2015. "Inequality, Financialisation and Economic Crisis : an Agent-Based Model," Documents de Travail de l'OFCE 2015-27, Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE).
    3. Laura Carvalho & Corrado Di Guilmi, 2014. "Income inequality and macroeconomic instability: a stock-flow consistent approach with heterogeneous agents," CAMA Working Papers 2014-60, Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
    4. Jakob Kapeller & Bernhard Schütz, 2015. "Conspicuous Consumption, Inequality and Debt: The Nature of Consumption-driven Profit-led Regimes," Metroeconomica, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 66(1), pages 51-70, February.
    5. Fernando Rios-Avila, 2015. "A Decade of Declining Wages: From Bad to Worse," Economics Policy Note Archive 15-3, Levy Economics Institute.
    6. Alberto Cardaci & Francesco Saraceno, 2017. "Inequality and Imbalances : a Monetary Union Agent-Based Model," Documents de Travail de l'OFCE 2017-30, Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE).
    7. Thomas Goda & Özlem Onaran & Engelbert Stockhammer, 2014. "A case for redistribution? Income inequality and wealth concentration in the recent crisis," DOCUMENTOS DE TRABAJO CIEF 012186, UNIVERSIDAD EAFIT.
    8. Alberto Russo & Luca Riccetti & Mauro Gallegati, 2016. "Increasing inequality, consumer credit and financial fragility in an agent based macroeconomic model," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 26(1), pages 25-47, March.
    9. Hein, Eckhard, 2017. "Financialisation and tendencies towards stagnation: The role of macroeconomic regime changes in the course of and after the financial and economic crisis 2007-9," IPE Working Papers 90/2017, Berlin School of Economics and Law, Institute for International Political Economy (IPE).
    10. Nina Dodig & Eckhard Hein & Daniel Detzer, 2016. "Financialisation and the financial and economic crises: theoretical framework and empirical analysis for 15 countries," Chapters,in: Financialisation and the Financial and Economic Crises, chapter 1, pages 1-41 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    11. Nadja König & Ingrid Größl, 2014. "Catching up with the Joneses and Borrowing Constraints: An Agent-based Analysis of Household Debt," Macroeconomics and Finance Series 201404, Hamburg University, Department Wirtschaft und Politik.
    12. Cardaci, Alberto & Saraceno, Francesco, 2016. "Inequality, Financialisation and Credit Booms - a Model of Two Crises," SEP Working Papers 2016/2, LUISS School of European Political Economy.
    13. Hein, Eckhard, 2018. "Inequality and growth: Marxian and post-Keynesian/Kaleckian perspectives on distribution and growth regimes before and after the Great Recession," IPE Working Papers 96/2018, Berlin School of Economics and Law, Institute for International Political Economy (IPE).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Consumption; Saving; Inequality; Aggregate Demand;

    JEL classification:

    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth

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