Consumption and Income Poverty Over the Business Cycle

35 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2011 Last revised: 29 Aug 2014

See all articles by Bruce D. Meyer

Bruce D. Meyer

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

James X. Sullivan

University of Notre Dame - Department of Economics and Econometrics

Date Written: January 2011

Abstract

We examine the relationship between the business cycle and poverty for the period from 1960 to 2008 using income data from the Current Population Survey and consumption data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey. This new evidence on the relationship between macroeconomic conditions and poverty is of particular interest given recent changes in anti-poverty policies that have placed greater emphasis on participation in the labor market and in-kind transfers. We look beyond official poverty, examining alternative income poverty and consumption poverty, which have conceptual and empirical advantages as measures of the well-being of the poor. We find that both income and consumption poverty are sensitive to macroeconomic conditions. A one percentage point increase in unemployment is associated with an increase in the after-tax income poverty rate of 0.9 to 1.1 percentage points in the long-run, and an increase in the consumption poverty rate of 0.3 to 1.2 percentage points in the long-run. The evidence on whether income is more responsive to the business cycle than consumption is mixed. Income poverty does appear to be more responsive using national level variation, but consumption poverty is often more responsive to unemployment when using regional variation. Low percentiles of both income and consumption are sensitive to macroeconomic conditions, and in most cases low percentiles of income appear to be more responsive than low percentiles of consumption.

Suggested Citation

Meyer, Bruce D. and Sullivan, James X., Consumption and Income Poverty Over the Business Cycle (January 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w16751. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1751449

Bruce D. Meyer (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
(773) 702-2712 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

James X. Sullivan

University of Notre Dame - Department of Economics and Econometrics ( email )

Notre Dame, IN 46556
United States

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