Consumption

  • Luigi Pistaferri

Leader: Luigi Pistaferri

The study of poverty and inequality has long privileged measures of income over those of consumption. Does this lead us awry? The purpose of the Consumption RG, which the CPI has founded only recently, is to monitor trends in consumption-based poverty and inequality and to understand the sources of those trends. The analyses within this RG will focus on the individual components of consumption because they are not always moving in lockstep. For example, inequality in the ownership of major durables has been declining, whereas inequality in nondurables, services, and food consumption has been increasing. The trends in food consumption are further complicated, however, because coloric intake is not growing more unequal, partly as a result of assistance provided by SNAP. The main rationale for setting up this RG is that patterns of consumption, especially among the poor, appear to be changing in complicated ways that require careful study and documenting. Although in principle the well-being of households may be better assessed with consumption than income, a consumption-based approach is thus complicated by the very different trends across the components of consumption and by difficulties in knowing the value assigned to the quality of goods that are consumed.

Consumption - CPI Research

Title Author Media
$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America Kathryn Edin, Luke Shaefer

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Author: Kathryn Edin, Luke Shaefer
Publisher: Boston MA: Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt
Date: 09/2015

Jessica Compton’s family of four would have no cash income unless she donated plasma twice a week at her local donation center in Tennessee. Modonna Harris and her teenage daughter Brianna in Chicago often have no food but spoiled milk on weekends. After two decades of brilliant research on American poverty, Kathryn Edin noticed something she hadn’t seen since the mid-1990s — households surviving on virtually no income. Edin teamed with Luke Shaefer, an expert on calculating incomes of the poor, to discover that the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to 1.5 million American households, including about 3 million children. Where do these families live? How did they get so desperately poor? Edin has “turned sociology upside down” (Mother Jones) with her procurement of rich — and truthful — interviews. Through the book’s many compelling profiles, moving and startling answers emerge. The authors illuminate a troubling trend: a low-wage labor market that increasingly fails to deliver a living wage, and a growing but hidden landscape of survival strategies among America’s extreme poor. More than a powerful exposé, $2.00 a Day delivers new evidence and new ideas to our national debate on income inequality.

Jessica Compton’s family of four would have no cash income unless she donated plasma twice a week at her local donation center in Tennessee. Modonna Harris and her teenage daughter Brianna in Chicago often have no food but spoiled milk on weekends - See more at: http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/200-a-Day/9780544303188#sthash.U75TC8CS.dpu

essica Compton’s family of four would have no cash income unless she donated plasma twice a week at her local donation center in Tennessee. Modonna Harris and her teenage daughter Brianna in Chicago often have no food but spoiled milk on weekends. 

 

After two decades of brilliant research on American poverty, Kathryn Edin noticed something she hadn’t seen since the mid-1990s — households surviving on virtually no income. Edin teamed with Luke Shaefer, an expert on calculating incomes of the poor, to discover that the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to 1.5 million American households, including about 3 million children. 

 

Where do these families live? How did they get so desperately poor? Edin has “turned sociology upside down” (Mother Jones) with her procurement of rich — and truthful — interviews. Through the book’s many compelling profiles, moving and startling answers emerge. 

 

The authors illuminate a troubling trend: a low-wage labor market that increasingly fails to deliver a living wage, and a growing but hidden landscape of survival strategies among America’s extreme poor. More than a powerful exposé, $2.00 a Day delivers new evidence and new ideas to our national debate on income inequality. 

- See more at: http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/200-a-Day/9780544303188#sthash.U75TC8CS....

About the Authors
Excerpts
Reviews
  • A revelatory account of poverty in America so deep that we, as a country, don’t think it exists 

    Jessica Compton’s family of four would have no cash income unless she donated plasma twice a week at her local donation center in Tennessee. Modonna Harris and her teenage daughter Brianna in Chicago often have no food but spoiled milk on weekends. 

     

    After two decades of brilliant research on American poverty, Kathryn Edin noticed something she hadn’t seen since the mid-1990s — households surviving on virtually no income. Edin teamed with Luke Shaefer, an expert on calculating incomes of the poor, to discover that the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to 1.5 million American households, including about 3 million children. 

     

    Where do these families live? How did they get so desperately poor? Edin has “turned sociology upside down” (Mother Jones) with her procurement of rich — and truthful — interviews. Through the book’s many compelling profiles, moving and startling answers emerge. 

- See more at: http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/200-a-Day/9780544303188#sthash.U75TC8CS....

About the Authors
Excerpts
Reviews
  • A revelatory account of poverty in America so deep that we, as a country, don’t think it exists 

    Jessica Compton’s family of four would have no cash income unless she donated plasma twice a week at her local donation center in Tennessee. Modonna Harris and her teenage daughter Brianna in Chicago often have no food but spoiled milk on weekends. 

     

    After two decades of brilliant research on American poverty, Kathryn Edin noticed something she hadn’t seen since the mid-1990s — households surviving on virtually no income. Edin teamed with Luke Shaefer, an expert on calculating incomes of the poor, to discover that the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to 1.5 million American households, including about 3 million children. 

     

    Where do these families live? How did they get so desperately poor? Edin has “turned sociology upside down” (Mother Jones) with her procurement of rich — and truthful — interviews. Through the book’s many compelling profiles, moving and startling answers emerge. 

- See more at: http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/200-a-Day/9780544303188#sthash.U75TC8CS....

Consumption and the Great Recession Luigi Pistaferri, Ivaylo Petev

Consumption and the Great Recession

Author: Luigi Pistaferri, Ivaylo Petev
Publisher:
Date: 10/2012

The particular trauma of severe downturns is that declining consumer spending, itself a reaction to the economy's contraction, also undermines the prospects for recovery. Consumption is, in other words, a fundamental determinant of business cycles - a kind of litmus test of economic health. But it's not just an important determinant of future economic performance. We also look to consumption as an omnibus measure of the set of socioeconomic conditions that underlie consumer behavior, such as job opportunities, price fluctuations, access to credit, and financial security. In this recession brief, we offer an interpretation of recent consumption data in order to determine the extent of the economic damage and its unequal distribution across the American populace.

Disability, Earnings, Income and Consumption Bruce D. Meyer and Wallace K. C. Mok

Disability, Earnings, Income and Consumption

Author: Bruce D. Meyer and Wallace K. C. Mok
Publisher:
Date:
Rising Inequality? Changes in the Distribution of Income and Consumption in the 1980's Cutler, David M. and Lawrence F. Katz

Rising Inequality? Changes in the Distribution of Income and Consumption in the 1980's

Author: Cutler, David M. and Lawrence F. Katz
Publisher: American Economic Review
Date:
Conspicuous Consumption and Expenditure Visibility: Measurement and Application Ori Heffetz

Conspicuous Consumption and Expenditure Visibility: Measurement and Application

Author: Ori Heffetz
Publisher:
Date:

Consumption - Other Research

Title Author Media
Consumption and Income Inequality and the Great Recession Bruce D. Meyer , James X. Sullivan

Consumption and Income Inequality and the Great Recession

Author: Bruce D. Meyer , James X. Sullivan
Publisher: American Economic Review
Date: 05/2013

We examine changes in consumption and income inequality between 2000 and 2011. During the most recent recession, unemployment rose and asset values declined sharply. We investigate how the recession affected inequality while addressing concerns about underreporting in consumption data. Income inequality rose throughout the period from 2000 to 2011. The 90/10 ratio was 19 percent higher at the end of this period than at the beginning. In contrast, consumption inequality rose during the first half of this period but then fell after 2005. By 2011, the 90/10 ratio for consumption was slightly lower than it was in 2000.

Consumption and Income Inequality in the U.S. Since the 1960s Bruce D. Meyer, James X. Sullivan

Consumption and Income Inequality in the U.S. Since the 1960s

Author: Bruce D. Meyer, James X. Sullivan
Publisher: University of Chicago manuscript
Date: 04/2013

Official income inequality statistics indicate a sharp rise in inequality over the past four decades. These statistics, however, may not accurately reflect inequality in well-being for a number of reasons. Income is likely to be poorly measured, particularly in the tails of the distribution. Also, current income may differ from permanent income, failing to capture the enjoyment of past and future income through borrowing and saving and the consumption of durables such as houses and cars. This paper examines inequality in economic well-being in the U.S. since the 1960s using consumption and income based measures of inequality. We advance the literature on inequality by constructing improved measures of consumption over a long time period. We examine income inequality between 1963 and 2011 using data from the Current Population Survey and consumption inequality between 1960 and 2011 using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey. We investigate inequality patterns in different parts of the distribution by reporting ratios of percentiles, focusing on the 90/10, 90/50, and 50/10 ratios. In general, accounting for taxes considerably reduces the rise in income inequality since 1963, while accounting for non-cash benefits has only a small effect on changes in income inequality. Consumption
inequality is less pronounced than income inequality, particularly for the bottom half of the distribution. Income inequality fell in the 1960s while consumption inequality rose. In the 1980s, inequality for both measures rose, but the increase was much greater for income than for consumption. After 2005 these measures moved in opposite directions as income inequality rose sharply while consumption inequality fell. Over the period from 1980 to 2011, both income and consumption inequality rose, but the rise was much more noticeable for income (45 percent) than for consumption (19 percent). Furthermore, until 2005 differences
between the two are only apparent in the bottom half of the distribution.
 

Disability, Earnings, Income and Consumption Bruce D. Meyer, Wallace K.C. Mok

Disability, Earnings, Income and Consumption

Author: Bruce D. Meyer, Wallace K.C. Mok
Publisher: The National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 18869
Date: 03/2013

Using longitudinal data for 1968-2009 for male household heads, we determine the prevalence of pre-retirement age disability and its association with a wide range of outcomes, including earnings, income, and consumption. We then employ some of these quantities in the optimal social insurance framework of Chetty (2006) to study current compensation for the disabled. Six of our findings stand out. First, disability rates are high. We divide the disabled along two dimensions based on the persistence and severity of their work-limiting condition. We estimate that a person reaching age 50 has a 36 percent chance of having been disabled at least temporarily once during his working years, and a 9 percent chance that he has begun a chronic and severe disability. Second, the economic consequences of disability are frequently profound. Ten years after disability onset, a person with a chronic and severe disability on average experiences a 79 percent decline in earnings, a 35 percent decline in after-tax income, a 24 percent decline in food and housing consumption and a 22 percent decline in food consumption. Third, economic circumstances differ sharply across disability groups. The outcome decline for the chronically and severely disabled is often more than twice as large as that for the average disabled head. Fourth, our findings show the partial and incomplete roles that individual savings, family support and social insurance play in reducing the consumption drop that follows disability. Fifth, time use and detailed consumption data further indicate that disability is associated with a decline in well-being. Sixth, using the quantities we have estimated, we provide the range of behavioral elasticities and preference parameters consistent with current disability compensation being optimal within the Chetty framework.

The Validity of Consumption Data: Are the Consumer Expenditure Interview and Diary Surveys Informative? Adam Bee, Bruce D. Meyer, James X. Sullivan

The Validity of Consumption Data: Are the Consumer Expenditure Interview and Diary Surveys Informative?

Author: Adam Bee, Bruce D. Meyer, James X. Sullivan
Publisher: The National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 18308
Date: 08/2012

This paper examines the quality of data collected in the Consumer Expenditure (CE) Survey, which is the source for the Consumer Price Index weights and is the main source of U.S. consumption micro data. We compare reported spending on a large number of categories of goods and services to comparable national income account data. We do this separately for the two components of the CE—the Interview Survey and the Diary Survey—rather than a combination that has been used in past comparisons. We find that most of the largest categories of consumption are measured well in the Interview Survey as the ratio to the national account data is close to one and has not declined appreciably over time. Several other large categories are reported at a low rate or have seen the ratio to the national accounts decline over time. The results are less encouraging for the Diary Survey. There is no large Diary category that is both measured well and reported at a higher rate than in the Interview Survey. We also compare the ownership of and the value of durables, such as homes and cars, in the CE to other sources. This evidence suggests the CE performs fairly well. Based on observable characteristics, the CE Survey appears to be fairly representative, although there is strong evidence of under representation at the top of the income distribution and under-reporting of income and expenditures at the top. We then examine the precision of the two surveys and the frequency of no spending overall or for a given spending category. In the Diary Survey, we find much greater dispersion in spending and the dispersion relative to the Interview Survey varies across goods and over time. Diary respondents are much more likely to report zero spending for a consumption category, and a high and increasing fraction of respondents reporting zero for all categories. These results suggest that using Diary data to assess inequality trends and other distributional outcomes is likely to lead to biased and misleading results. Our results have important implications for interpreting and properly using CE data and how best to redesign the CE.

Identifying the Disadvantaged: Official Poverty, Consumption Poverty, and the New Supplemental Poverty Measure Bruce D. Meyer, James X. Sullivan

Identifying the Disadvantaged: Official Poverty, Consumption Poverty, and the New Supplemental Poverty Measure

Author: Bruce D. Meyer, James X. Sullivan
Publisher: Journal of Economic Perspectives
Date: 06/2012

We discuss poverty measurement, focusing on two alternatives to the current official measure: consumption poverty, and the Census Bureau's new Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) that was released for the first time last year. The SPM has advantages over the official poverty measure, including a more defensible adjustment for family size and composition, an expanded definition of the family unit that includes cohabitors, and a definition of income that is conceptually closer to resources available for consumption. The SPM's definition of income, though conceptually broader than pre-tax money income, is difficult to implement given available data and their accuracy. Furthermore, income data do not capture consumption out of savings and tangible assets such as houses and cars. A consumption-based measure has similar advantages but fewer disadvantages. We compare those added to and dropped from the poverty rolls by the alternative measures relative to the current official measure. We find that the SPM adds to poverty individuals who are more likely to be college graduates, own a home and a car, live in a larger housing unit, have air conditioning, health insurance, and substantial assets, and have other more favorable characteristics than those who are dropped from poverty. Meanwhile, we find that a consumption measure compared to the official measure or the SPM adds to the poverty rolls individuals who are more disadvantaged than those who are dropped. We decompose the differences between the SPM and official poverty and find that the most problematic aspect of the SPM is the subtraction of medical out-of-pocket expenses from SPM income. Also, because the SPM poverty thresholds change in an odd way over time, it will be hard to determine if changes in poverty are due to changes in income or changes in thresholds. Our results present strong evidence that a consumption-based poverty measure is preferable to both the official income-based poverty measure and to the Supplemental Poverty Measure for determining who are the most disadvantaged.

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