Racial and ethnic inequality in consumption smoothing

Grant Type: academic

Grant Year: 2020

Grant Amount: $75,000

Grant description:

Forty-two percent of Americans report that they do not have savings that could be used to cover unexpected expenses, a staggeringly high number. And there are stark racial differences, with 38 percent of White households and 55 percent of Black households saying they don’t have money to cover an emergency expense—one manifestation of the Black-White wealth divide. Yet there is surprisingly little research on how typical month-to-month fluctuations in income affect consumption and even less evidence on how this consumption smoothing varies with wealth. Given how central consumption dynamics are for macroeconomics, it’s important to understand the sensitivity of consumption to income and how that might vary by race and wealth.

This project uses exciting new data to explore how income shocks may be passed through to consumption. By linking deidentified administrative bank data with self-reported race information from voter registration records, the authors will be able to identify the response of consumption by race with a large enough dataset (the analysis sample consists of 1.8 million matched bank-voter records) to identify racial differences credibly. Understanding how well households can smooth consumption, and how and why some groups—such as Black and Hispanic households who have lower-than-average wealth—may face greater challenges in doing so, is central for developing policy to address economic inequality and ensure vulnerable households achieve economic security.

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