What Have Workers Done with the Time Freed up by Commuting Less?
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way Americans spend their time. One of the most enduring shifts has occurred in the workplace, with millions of employees making the switch to work from home. Even as the pandemic has waned, more than 15 percent of full-time employees remain fully remote and an additional 30 percent work in hybrid arrangements (Barrero, Bloom, and Davis). These changes have substantially reduced time spent commuting to work; in the aggregate, Americans now spend 60 million fewer hours traveling to work each day. In this post, we investigate how people spend ...
Understanding Permanent and Temporary Income Shocks
The earnings of 200 million U.S. workers change each year for various reasons. Some of these changes are anticipated while others are more unexpected. Although many of these changes may be due to pleasant surprises?such as receiving salary raises and promotions?others involve disappointments?such as falling into unemployment. Arguably, some of these factors have rather short-lived effects on an individual?s earnings, whereas others may have permanent effects. Many labor economists have been interested in these various shocks to earnings. How big are the more permanent shocks to earnings? How ...
Black and White Differences in the Labor Market Recovery from COVID-19
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the various measures put in place to contain it caused a rapid deterioration in labor market conditions for many workers and plunged the nation into recession. The unemployment rate increased dramatically during the COVID recession, rising from 3.5 percent in February to 14.8 percent in April, accompanied by an almost three percentage point decline in labor force participation. While the subsequent labor market recovery in the aggregate has exceeded even some of the most optimistic scenarios put forth soon after this dramatic rise, the recovery has been ...
Approximating Grouped Fixed Effects Estimation via Fuzzy Clustering Regression
We propose a new, computationally-efficient way to approximate the “grouped fixed-effects” (GFE) estimator of Bonhomme and Manresa (2015), which estimates grouped patterns of unobserved heterogeneity. To do so, we generalize the fuzzy C-means objective to regression settings. As the regularization parameter m approaches 1, the fuzzy clustering objective converges to the GFE objective; moreover, we recast this objective as a standard Generalized Method of Moments problem. We replicate the empirical results of Bonhomme and Manresa (2015) and show that our estimator delivers almost identical ...
Not Just “Stimulus” Checks: The Marginal Propensity to Repay Debt
Households frequently use stimulus checks to pay down existing debt. In this post, we discuss the empirical evidence on this marginal propensity to repay debt (MPRD), and we present new findings using the Survey of Consumer Expectations. We find that households with low net wealth-to-income ratios were more prone to use transfers from the CARES Act of March 2020 to pay down debt. We then show that standard models of consumption-saving behavior can be made consistent with these empirical findings if borrowers’ interest rates rise with debt. Our model suggests that fiscal policy may face a ...
The Reluctance of Firms to Interview the Long-Term Unemployed
Estimates from the Current Population Survey show that the probability of finding a job declines the longer one is unemployed. Is this due to a loss of skills from being unemployed, employer discrimination against the long-term unemployed, or are there characteristics of workers in this segment of the workforce that lower their probability of finding a job? Studies that send out fictitious resumes find that employers do consider the length of unemployment in deciding whom to interview. Our recent work examines how such employer screening based on unemployment duration ultimately affects ...
Whither Labor Force Participation?
Halting a nearly decade-long downward trend, the U.S. labor force participation rate (LFPR) has flattened since 2016, fluctuating within a narrow range a little below 63 percent. What role has the economy played in this change and what can we expect for the future? In this post, we investigate the extent to which the recent flattening of participation can be attributed to the simultaneous robust improvement in the labor market. We also assess the future path of participation in the medium run should labor market conditions improve further.
Who’s Ready to Spend? Constrained Consumption across the Income Distribution
Spending on goods and services that were constrained during the pandemic is expected to grow at a fast pace as the economy reopens. In this post, we look at detailed spending data to track which consumption categories were the most constrained by the pandemic due to social distancing. We find that, in 2019, high-income households typically spent relatively more on these pandemic-constrained goods and services. Our findings suggest that these consumers may have strongly reduced consumption during the pandemic and will likely play a crucial role in unleashing pent-up demand when pandemic ...
Stimulus through Insurance: The Marginal Propensity to Repay Debt
Using detailed micro data, we document that households often use “stimulus” checks to pay down debt, especially those with low net wealth-to-income ratios. To rationalize these patterns, we introduce a borrowing price schedule into an otherwise standard incomplete markets model. Because interest rates rise with debt, borrowers have increasingly larger incentives to use an additional dollar to reduce debt service payments rather than consume. Using our calibrated model, we then study whether and how this marginal propensity to repay debt (MPRD) alters the aggregate implications of fiscal ...
Expecting the Unexpected: Job Losses and Household Spending
Unemployment risk constitutes one of the most significant sources of uncertainty facing workers in the United States. A large body of work has carefully documented that job loss may have long-term effects on one’s career, depressing earnings by as much as 20 percent after fifteen to twenty years. Given the severity of a job loss for earnings, an important question is how much such an event affects one’s standard of living during a spell of unemployment. This blog post explores how unemployment and expectations of job loss interact to affect household spending.