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Presented By: Department of Economics

Social, Behavioral & Experimental Economics (SBEE): Wealth, Race, and Consumption Smoothing of Typical Income Shocks

Damon Jones, The University of Chicago

Econ Umich Econ Umich
Econ Umich
Abstract:
We study the consumption response to typical labor income shocks and investigate how these vary by wealth and race. First, we estimate the elasticity of consumption with respect to income using an instrument based on firm-wide changes in monthly pay. While much of the consumption-smoothing literature uses variation in unusual windfall income, this instrument captures the temporary income variation that households typically experience. In addition, because it can be constructed for every worker in every month, it allows for more
precision than most previous estimates. We implement this approach in administrative bank account data and find an average elasticity of 0.23, with a standard error of 0.01. This increased precision also allows us
to address an open question about the extent of heterogeneity by wealth in the elasticity. We find a much lower consumption response for high-liquidity households, which may help discipline structural consumption
models.
Second, we use this instrument to study how wealth shapes racial inequality. An extensive body of work documents a substantial racial and ethnic wealth gap. However, less is known about how this gap translates
into differences in welfare on a month-to-month basis. We combine our instrument for typical income volatility with a new dataset linking bank account data with race and Hispanicity. We find that black (Hispanic) households cut their consumption 50 (20) percent more than white households when faced with a similarly-sized income shock. Nearly all of this differential pass-through of income to consumption is explained in a statistical sense by differences in liquid wealth. Combining our empirical estimates with a model, we show that temporary income volatility has a substantial welfare cost for all groups. Because of racial disparities in consumption smoothing, the cost is at least 50 percent higher for black households and 20 percent higher for Hispanic households than it is for white households.

For information on how to watch this lecture and sign up for the SBEE mailing list to receive notice of upcoming events, please visit the SBEE website:
https://umbee.github.io/SBEE_Seminars

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March 17, 2021 (Wednesday) 1:00pm
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