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Income and Wealth Distribution


 
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Debt in America (Research Report)
Caroline Ratcliffe, Brett Theodos, Signe-Mary McKernan, Emma Kalish, Additional Authors

Debt can be constructive, allowing people to build equity in homes or finance education, but it can also burden families into the future. Total debt is driven by mortgage debt; both are highly concentrated in high-cost housing markets, mostly along the coasts. Among Americans with a credit file, average total debt was $53,850 in 2013, but was substantially higher for people with a mortgage ($209,768) than people without a mortgage ($11,592). Non-mortgage debt, in contrast, is more spatially dispersed. It ranges from a low of $14,532 in the East South Central division to a high of $17,883 in New England.

Posted to Web: July 29, 2014Publication Date: July 29, 2014

Delinquent Debt in America (Research Report)
Caroline Ratcliffe, Signe-Mary McKernan, Brett Theodos, Emma Kalish, Additional Authors

Roughly 77 million Americans, or 35 percent of adults with a credit file, have a report of debt in collections. These adults owe an average of $5,178 (median $1,349). Debt in collections involves a nonmortgage bill—such as a credit card balance, medical or utility bill—that is more than 180 days past due and has been placed in collections. 5.3 percent of people with a credit file have a report of past due debt, indicating they are between 30 and 180 days late on a nonmortgage payment. Both debt in collections and debt past due are concentrated in the South.

Posted to Web: July 29, 2014Publication Date: July 29, 2014

1 in 3 Americans with a Credit File Has Debt Reported in Collections (Press Release)
Urban Institute

Thirty-five percent of adults have a debt in collections reported in their credit files, an Urban Institute study shows. Nevada, hit hard by the housing crisis, tops the list of states: 47 percent of people with a credit file have reported debt in collections. The state also has the highest average collections debt. Twelve other states (11 in the South) and the District of Columbia top 40 percent.

Posted to Web: July 29, 2014Publication Date: July 29, 2014

Wealth in America: Policies to Support Mobility (Research Brief)
Signe-Mary McKernan, Caleb Quakenbush, Caroline Ratcliffe, C. Eugene Steuerle

What role can policymakers play in helping families rebuild their balance sheets after the Great Recession and in helping young families, families of color, and those with less education who were falling behind even prior to it? This brief, based on a convening of nearly 25 national wealth-building experts, presents the facts and identifies four promising policy reforms: (1) providing universal children’s savings accounts; (2) reforming the mortgage interest deduction to better target incentives; (3) expanding access to retirement accounts and automatic enrollment; and (4) promoting emergency savings while addressing barriers such as asset tests in safety net programs.

Posted to Web: July 22, 2014Publication Date: July 22, 2014

Flattening Tax Incentives for Retirement Saving (Research Report)
Barbara Butrica, Benjamin H. Harris, Pamela Perun, C. Eugene Steuerle

Under current law, a large share of tax benefits for retirement saving accrues to high-income employees. We simulate the short- and long-term effect of three policy options for flattening tax incentives and increasing retirement savings for low- and middle-income workers. Our results show that reducing 401(k) contribution limits increases taxes for high-income taxpayers; expanding the saver's credit raises saving incentives and lower taxes for low- and middle-income taxpayers; and replacing the exclusion for retirement saving contributions with a 25 percent refundable credit benefits primarily low- and middle-income taxpayers, and raises taxes and reduces retirement assets for high-income taxpayers.

Posted to Web: June 30, 2014Publication Date: June 30, 2014

Do Racial Disparities in Private Transfers Help Explain the Racial Wealth Gap?: New Evidence From Longitudinal Data (Research Report)
Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, Margaret Simms, Sisi Zhang

How do private transfers differ by race and ethnicity, and do such differences explain the racial and ethnic disparity in wealth? Using panel data and a family-level fixed-effect model, we find that African Americans and Hispanics (immigrant and nonimmigrant) receive less in both financial support and large gifts and inheritances than whites. Large gifts and inheritances, but not net financial support received, are related to wealth increases for African American and white families. Overall, we estimate that the African American shortfall in large gifts and inheritances accounts for 12 percent of the white-black racial wealth gap.

Related Publications

Does Financial Support and Inheritance Contribute to the Racial Wealth Gap?

Private Transfers, Race, and Wealth



Posted to Web: May 28, 2014Publication Date: May 20, 2014

Self-Employment, Family-Business Ownership, and Economic Mobility (Research Report)
Elizabeth Brown, Austin Nichols

Surprisingly little is known about whether self-employment and family businesses promote mobility, despite a recurring theme in the policy discourse of families achieving upward economic and social mobility through entrepreneurship. The rewards of entrepreneurship can be great for those who succeed, but the risks are also greater. Looking over numerous decades of panel data on Americans, we document that family-business owners have more upward mobility and less downward mobility than wage-and-salary workers, but that the self-employed do not outperform other workers.

Posted to Web: May 28, 2014Publication Date: May 28, 2014

Disparities in Wealth Accumulation and Loss from the Great Recession and Beyond (Research Report)
Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, C. Eugene Steuerle, Sisi Zhang

And here's the abstract for the published version, which can be included on it’s own landing page with the publication link under it's published title: Using over two decades of Survey of Consumer Finances data and a pseudo-panel technique, we measure the impact of the Great Recession on US family wealth relative to the counterfactual of what wealth would have been given wealth accumulation trajectories. Our synthetic cohort-level models find that the Great Recession reduced average family wealth by 28.5 percent–nearly double the magnitude of previous pre-post mean descriptive estimates and double the magnitude of any previous recession since the 1980s. The housing market was only part of the story; all major wealth components fell as a result of the Great Recession.

Posted to Web: May 01, 2014Publication Date: May 01, 2014

Impact of the Great Recession and Beyond: Disparities in Wealth Building by Generation and Race (Occasional Paper)
Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, C. Eugene Steuerle, Sisi Zhang

This paper uses over two decades of Survey of Consumer Finances data and a pseudo-panel technique to measure the impact of the Great Recession on wealth relative to the counterfactual of what wealth would have been given wealth accumulation trajectories. Our regression-adjusted synthetic cohort-level models find that the Great Recession reduced the wealth of American families by 28.5 percent—nearly double the magnitude of previous pre-post mean descriptive estimates and double the magnitude of any previous recession since the 1980s. The housing market was only part of the story; all major wealth components fell as a result of the Great Recession.

Posted to Web: April 22, 2014Publication Date: April 22, 2014

Educational Attainment and Earnings Inequality among US-Born Men: A Lifetime Perspective (Research Report)
Josh Mitchell

This report tracks the lifetime earnings of men born in the U.S. between 1940 and 1974, focusing on how earnings differences by educational attainment, age, and year of birth have evolved. Both annual and lifetime earnings inequality increased dramatically for men born in the mid-1950s onward. That increase reflects both absolute earnings gains to highly educated workers (especially those with more than a four-year college degree) and absolute earnings losses to less educated workers. Earnings inequality also increases substantially among those with the same level of educational attainment, complicating standard assumptions about the lifetime value of a college degree.

Posted to Web: April 08, 2014Publication Date: April 08, 2014

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