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Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States

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  • Thomas Piketty
  • Emmanuel Saez
  • Gabriel Zucman

Abstract

This paper combines tax, survey, and national accounts data to estimate the distribution of national income in the United States since 1913. Our distributional national accounts capture 100% of national income, allowing us to compute growth rates for each quantile of the income distribution consistent with macroeconomic growth. We estimate the distribution of both pre-tax and post-tax income, making it possible to provide a comprehensive view of how government redistribution affects inequality. Average pre-tax national income per adult has increased 60% since 1980, but we find that it has stagnated for the bottom 50% of the distribution at about $16,000 a year. The pre-tax income of the middle class—adults between the median and the 90th percentile—has grown 40% since 1980, faster than what tax and survey data suggest, due in particular to the rise of tax-exempt fringe benefits. Income has boomed at the top: in 1980, top 1% adults earned on average 27 times more than bottom 50% adults, while they earn 81 times more today. The upsurge of top incomes was first a labor income phenomenon but has mostly been a capital income phenomenon since 2000. The government has offset only a small fraction of the increase in inequality. The reduction of the gender gap in earnings has mitigated the increase in inequality among adults. The share of women, however, falls steeply as one moves up the labor income distribution, and is only 11% in the top 0.1% today.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez & Gabriel Zucman, 2016. "Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States," NBER Working Papers 22945, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22945
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    1. Emmanuel Saez, 2017. "Taxing the Rich More: Preliminary Evidence from the 2013 Tax Increase," Tax Policy and the Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(1), pages 71-120.
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    1. Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States
      by maximorossi in NEP-LTV blog on 2017-02-07 23:39:55

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    Cited by:

    1. Raj Chetty & David Grusky & Maximilian Hell & Nathaniel Hendren & Robert Manduca & Jimmy Narang, 2016. "The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940," NBER Working Papers 22910, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Thomas Piketty & Li Yang & Gabriel Zucman, 2017. "Capital Accumulation, Private Property and Rising Inequality in China, 1978-2015," NBER Working Papers 23368, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Nora Lustig, 2018. "Measuring the Distribution of Household Income, Consumption and Wealth: State of Play and Measurement Challenges," Working Papers 1801, Tulane University, Department of Economics.
    4. repec:ucp:tpolec:doi:10.1086/691084 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Rolf Aaberge & Anthony B Atkinson & Jørgen Modalsli, 2016. "On the measurement of long-run income inequality. Empirical evidence from Norway, 1875-2013," Discussion Papers 847, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    6. Annette Alstadsæter & Niels Johannesen & Gabriel Zucman, 2017. "Tax Evasion and Inequality," NBER Working Papers 23772, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Kuhn, Moritz & Schularick, Moritz & Steins, Ulrike, 2017. "Income and Wealth Inequality in America, 1949-2013," CEPR Discussion Papers 12218, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    8. Emmanuel Saez, 2017. "Taxing the Rich More: Preliminary Evidence from the 2013 Tax Increase," Tax Policy and the Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(1), pages 71-120.
    9. Raj Chetty & John N. Friedman & Emmanuel Saez & Nicholas Turner & Danny Yagan, 2017. "Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility," Working Papers 2017-059, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    10. Facundo Alvaredo & Lucas Chancel & Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez & Gabriel Zucman, 2017. "Global Inequality Dynamics: New Findings from WID.world," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(5), pages 404-409, May.
    11. Robert J. Gordon, 2018. "Why Has Economic Growth Slowed When Innovation Appears to be Accelerating?," NBER Working Papers 24554, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Orsetta Causa & Mikkel Hermansen, 2018. "Income Redistribution Through Taxes and Transfers across OECD Countries," LIS Working papers 729, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    13. Javier Martín-Román & Luis Ayala & Juan Vicente, 2017. "Regional inequality in decentralized countries: a multi-country analysis using LIS," LIS Working papers 697, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    14. SeHyoun Ahn & Greg Kaplan & Benjamin Moll & Thomas Winberry & Christian Wolf, 2017. "When Inequality Matters for Macro and Macro Matters for Inequality," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2017, volume 32 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Hatgioannides, John & Karanassou, Marika & Sala, Hector, 2017. "Should the Rich Be Taxed More? The Fiscal Inequality Coefficient," IZA Discussion Papers 10978, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    16. Dominique Guellec & Caroline Paunov, 2017. "Digital Innovation and the Distribution of Income," NBER Chapters,in: Measuring and Accounting for Innovation in the 21st Century National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Bertrand Garbinti & Jonathan Goupille-Lebret & Thomas Piketty, 2017. "Income Inequality in France, 1900-2014: Evidence from Distributional National Accounts," Working Papers 201704, World Inequality Lab.
    18. Paul, Pascal, 2017. "Historical Patterns of Inequality and Productivity around Financial Crises," Working Paper Series 2017-23, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
    19. Annette Alstadsæter & Niels Johannesen & Gabriel Zucman, 2017. "Who Owns the Wealth in Tax Havens? Macro Evidence and Implications for Global Inequality," NBER Working Papers 23805, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    20. Emmanuel Saez & Stefanie Stantcheva, 2016. "A Simpler Theory of Optimal Capital Taxation," NBER Working Papers 22664, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    21. Thomas Piketty & Li Yang & Gabriel Zucman, 2018. "Capital Accumulation, Private Property and Rising Inequality in China, 1978-2015," HKUST IEMS Working Paper Series 2018-54, HKUST Institute for Emerging Market Studies, revised Mar 2018.
    22. Pawel Bukowski & Filip Novokmet, 2018. "Inequality in Poland: Estimating the whole distribution by g-percentile 1983-2015," LIS Working papers 731, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    23. Muendler, Marc-Andreas, 2017. "Trade, technology, and prosperity: An account of evidence from a labor-market perspective," WTO Staff Working Papers ERSD-2017-15, World Trade Organization (WTO), Economic Research and Statistics Division.
    24. Jeff Larrimore & Richard V. Burkhauser & Gerald Auten & Philip Armour, 2016. "Recent Trends in U.S. Top Income Shares in Tax Record Data Using More Comprehensive Measures of Income Including Accrued Capital Gains," NBER Working Papers 23007, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    25. Ulrike Steins & Moritz Schularick & Moritz Kuhn, 2017. "Wealth and Income Inequality in America, 1949-2013," 2017 Meeting Papers 931, Society for Economic Dynamics.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E01 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General - - - Measurement and Data on National Income and Product Accounts and Wealth; Environmental Accounts
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H5 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs

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