Measuring Inequality in Real Time
U.S. unemployment due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic was widespread, as was U.S. economic insecurity. In terms of consumption, aggregate retail sales fell by 16 percent in April 2020, the largest fall on record. While retail spending recovered by mid-July, spending on services remained significantly depressed. In contrast to aggregate spending and U.S. labor market data, there is little real-time data on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on consumer spending inequality. This project will use a new transaction-level, real-time dataset from Earnest Research to measure consumer spending inequality in the United States and assess the impact of the pandemic on consumption inequality. The dataset contains information on a panel of 6 million households and is updated with a delay of just 1 week. Abdelwahed and Robbins will be able to study the outflows of spending, as well as the inflows of payments from wages and salaries, stimulus payments, and other government transfers into the households’ accounts, allowing them to construct a series on various ratios of spending between the top and bottom percentiles in order to study changes in consumer spending inequality along the distribution. They will also measure the effects of the pandemic on consumption of those who lost their jobs or experienced lower incomes and will compare them to individuals who retained their jobs. Abdelwahed and Robbins will estimate the impact of government stimulus payments and Unemployment Insurance on consumer spending inequality and consumption patterns. The data will be released publicly at the aggregate level at both the state and county levels, and the two researchers plan to release quarterly reports, providing other researchers and policymakers with a valuable new data source.