The current state of U.S. household balance sheets
The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System is responsible for two of the most widely used datasets containing information about U.S. household balance sheets: the quarterly macro-level Financial Accounts of the United States (FA, formerly known as the Flow of Funds Accounts) and the triennial microlevel Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF). The FA is very timely, but the data can be used only to describe the household sector as a whole. The SCF provides the micro-level detail needed to capture heterogeneity in household finances, but the data are available only with a long lag. The ...
Which Households Have Negative Wealth?
At some point in its life a household?s total debt may exceed its total assets, in which case it has ?negative wealth.? Even if this status is temporary, it may affect the household?s ability to save for durable goods, restrict access to further credit, and may require living in a state of limited consumption. Detailed analysis of the holdings of negative-wealth households, however, is a topic that has received little attention. In particular, relatively little is known about the characteristics of such households or about what drives negative wealth. A better understanding of these factors ...
Have amenities become relatively more important than firm productivity advantages in metropolitan areas?
We analyze patterns of compensating differentials to determine whether a region's bundle of site characteristics has a greater net effect on household location decisions relative to firm location decisions in U.S. metropolitan areas over time. We estimate skill-adjusted wages and attribute-adjusted rents using hedonic regressions for 238 metropolitan areas in 1990 and 2000. Within the framework of the standard Roback model, we classify each metropolitan area based on whether amenities or firm productivity advantages dominate and analyze the extent to which these classifications change between ...
Housing busts and household mobility
Using two decades of American Housing Survey data from 1985 to 2005, we estimate the influence of negative home equity and rising mortgage interest rates on household mobility. We find that both factors lead to lower, not higher, mobility rates over time. The effects are economically large -- mobility is almost 50 percent lower for owners with negative equity in their homes. This finding does not imply that current concerns over defaults and homeowners having to relocate are entirely misplaced. It does indicate that, in the past, the mortgage lock-in effects of these two factors were dominant ...
Using home maintenance and repairs to smooth variable earnings
Recent research indicates that the marked increase in U.S. income inequality over the last twenty-five years has not been matched by a similar increase in consumption inequality. This paper examines the role of saving/dissaving in a house as a vehicle for consumption smoothing. Data from the American Housing Survey show that expenditures on home maintenance and repairs are economically significant, amounting to roughly $1,750 per household each year. This figure is comparable to the labor literature estimates that put households' average annual transitory income variance at about $2,200. Our ...
Inflation inequality in the United States
Inflation is often assumed to affect all people in the same way. In practice, differences in spending patterns across households and differences in price increases across goods and services lead to unequal levels of inflation for different households. In this paper, we measure the degree of inequality in inflation across U.S. households for the period 1987-2001. ; Our results suggest that the inflation experiences of U.S. households vary significantly. Most of the differences can be traced to changes in the relative prices of education, health care, and gasoline. We find that cost of living ...
Banks, markets, and efficiency
In this paper, we address the question whether increasing households' financial market access improves welfare in a financial system in which there is intense competition among banks for private households' funds. Following earlier work by Diamond and by Fecht, we use a model in which the degree of liquidity insurance offered to households through banks' deposit contracts is restrained by households' financial market access. However, we also assume spatial monopolistic competition among banks. Because monopoly rents are assumed to bring about inefficiencies, improved financial market access ...
Racial profiling or racist policing? bounds tests in aggregate data
State-wide reports on police traffic stops and searches summarize very large populations, making them potentially powerful tools for identifying racial bias, particularly when statistics on search outcomes are included. But when the reported statistics conflate searches involving different levels of police discretion, standard tests for racial bias are not applicable. This paper develops a model of police search decisions that allows for non-discretionary searches and derives tests for racial bias in data that mixes different search types. Our tests reject unbiased policing as an explanation ...
Why do education vouchers fail at the ballot box?
We compare a uniform voucher regime against the status quo mix of public and private education, focusing on the distribution of welfare gains and losses across house- holds by income. We argue that the topping-up option available under uniform vouchers is not sufficiently valuable for the poorer households, so the voucher regime is defeated at the polls. Our result depends critically on the opting-out feature in the current system.
This paper considers an optimal taxation environment where household income is private information, and the government randomly audits and punishes households found to be underreporting. We prove that the optimal mechanism derived using standard mechanism design techniques has a bad equilibrium (a tax riot) where households underreport their incomes, precisely because other households are expected to do so as well. We then consider three alternative approaches to designing a tax scheme when one is worried about bad equilibria.