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How Have Households Used Their Stimulus Payments and How Would They Spend the Next?
In this post, we examine how households used economic impact payments, a large component of the CARES Act signed into law on March 27 that directed stimulus payments to many Americans to help offset the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. An important question in evaluating how much this part of the CARES Act stimulated the economy concerns what share of these payments households used for consumption—what economists call the marginal propensity to consume (MPC). There also is interest in learning the extent to which the payments contributed to the sharp increase in the U.S. ...
Latent Heterogeneity in the Marginal Propensity to Consume
We estimate the distribution of marginal propensities to consume (MPCs) using a novel clustering approach that generalizes the fuzzy C-means algorithm to regression settings. We apply the estimator to the 2008 stimulus payments, exploiting the randomized timing of disbursements, and find considerable heterogeneity in MPCs that varies by consumption good. We document observable determinants of this heterogeneity, without imposing ex ante assumptions on such relationships; MPCs correlate positively with income and the average propensity to consume, but much heterogeneity remains unexplained. ...
What would you do with $500? Spending responses to gains, losses, news, and loans
We use survey questions about spending to investigate features of propensities to consume that are useful for distinguishing between consumption theories. Asking households about their intended spending under various scenarios, we find that 1) responses to unanticipated gains are vastly heterogeneous (either zero or substantially positive), 2) responses to losses are much larger and more widespread than responses to gains, and 3) even those with large responses to gains do not respond to news about future gains. These three findings suggest that limited access to disposable resources is an ...
Heterogeneity in the Marginal Propensity to Consume: Evidence from Covid-19 Stimulus Payments
We identify 16,016 recipients of Covid-19 Economic Impact Payments in anonymized transaction-level debit card data from Facteus. We use an event study framework to show that in the two weeks following a sudden $1,200 payment from the IRS, consumers immediately increased spending by an average of $577, implying a marginal propensity to consume (MPC) of 48%. Consumer spending falls back to normal levels after two weeks. Stimulus recipients who live paycheck-to-paycheck spend 68% of the stimulus payment immediately, while recipients who save much of their monthly income spend 23% of the stimulus ...
Balance-Sheet Households and Fiscal Stimulus: Lessons from the Payroll Tax Cut and Its Expiration
Balance-sheet repair drove the response of a significant fraction of households to fiscal stimulus following the Great Recession. By combining survey, behavioral, and time-series evidence on the 2011 payroll tax cut and its expiration in 2013, this papers identifies and analyzes households who smooth debt repayment. These "balance-sheet households" are as prevalent as "permanent-income households," who smooth consumption in response to the temporary tax cut, and outnumber "constrained households," who temporarily boost spending. The asymmetric spending response of balance-sheet ...
Estimating the marginal propensity to consume using the distributions of income, consumption and wealth
Recent studies of economic inequality almost always separately examine income, consumption, and wealth inequality and, hence, miss the important synergy among the three measures explicit in the life-cycle budget constraint. Using Panel Study of Income Dynamics data from 1999 through 2013, we examine whether these changes are more dramatic at higher or lower levels of wealth and find that the marginal propensity to consume is lower at higher wealth quintiles. This suggests that low-wealth households cannot smooth consumption as much as other households do, which further implies that increasing ...