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A "Second Opinion" on the Economic Health of the American Middle Class

  • Richard V. Burkhauser
  • Jeff Larrimore
  • Kosali I. Simon

Researchers considering levels and trends in the resources available to the middle class traditionally measure the pre-tax cash income of either tax units or households. In this paper, we demonstrate that this choice carries significant implications for assessing income trends. Focusing on tax units rather than households greatly reduces measured growth in middle class income. Furthermore, excluding the effect of taxes and the value of in-kind benefits further reduces observed improvements in the resources of the middle class. Finally, we show how these distinctions change the observed distribution of benefits from the tax exclusion of employer provided health insurance.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17164.

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Date of creation: Jun 2011
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Burkhauser, Richard V. & Larrimore, Jeff & Simon, Kosali I., 2012. "A "Second Opinion" On The Economic Health Of The American Middle Class," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 65(1), pages 7-32, March Cit.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17164
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Anthony B. Atkinson & Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2011. "Top Incomes in the Long Run of History," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(1), pages 3-71, March.
  2. Richard V. Burkhauser & Shuaizhang Feng & Stephen P. Jenkins & Jeff Larrimore, 2008. "Estimating Trends in US Income Inequality Using the Current Population Survey: The Importance of Controlling for Censoring," NBER Working Papers 14247, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Jeff Larrimore & Richard V. Burkhauser & Shuaizhang Feng & Laura Zayatz, 2008. "Consistent Cell Means for Topcoded Incomes in the Public Use March CPS (1976-2007)," NBER Working Papers 13941, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Robert J. Gordon, 2009. "Misperceptions About the Magnitude and Timing of Changes in American Income Inequality," NBER Working Papers 15351, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Bruce D. Meyer & James X. Sullivan, 2009. "Five Decades of Consumption and Income Poverty," Working Papers 0907, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  8. Richard V. Burkhauser & Kosali I. Simon, 2010. "Measuring the Impact of Health Insurance on Levels and Trends in Inequality," NBER Working Papers 15811, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Auten, Gerald & Gee, Geoffrey, 2009. "Income Mobility in the United States: New Evidence from Income Tax Data," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 62(2), pages 301-28, June.
  10. Lynn Karoly & Gary Burtless, 1995. "Demographic change, rising earnings inequality, and the distribution of personal well-being, 1959–1989," Demography, Springer, vol. 32(3), pages 379-405, August.
  11. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2003. "Income Inequality In The United States, 1913-1998," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(1), pages 1-39, February.
  12. Wankyo Chung, 2003. "Fringe Benefits and Inequality in the Labor Market," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 41(3), pages 517-529, July.
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