Consumption Smoothing During the Financial Crisis: The Effect of Unemployment on Household Spending

43 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2016 Last revised: 13 Jan 2017

See all articles by Michael D. Hurd

Michael D. Hurd

RAND Corporation; State University of New York at Stony Brook - College of Arts and Science - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Susann Rohwedder

RAND Corporation

Date Written: October 1, 2016

Abstract

Because of data limitations, the quantification of consumption smoothing in response to economic shocks has been challenging to investigate empirically. We used monthly data on total household spending, income, and labor force participation to estimate the effects of unemployment on household spending. The data come from the RAND American Life Panel, a standing survey sample that is representative of the United States adult population. We compare monthly spending and income of households prior to unemployment with spending and income following unemployment for up to 40 months. We compare spending and income following re-employment with spending and income while unemployed. We find that by month two of unemployment total household spending per month declined to about 83 percent of pre-unemployment spending. At about 14 months of unemployment, spending began to decline further, reaching 70 percent of pre-unemployment spending by month 30. Income declined much more sharply to 37 percent of its pre-unemployment level by month two of unemployment, with little change after that as the duration of unemployment increased. Thus, consumption does not decline as much as income, so that it is somewhat smoothed relative to income; yet, particularly over long-duration unemployment the decline is substantial.

On re-employment, income increased rapidly, spending much less rapidly. As of the third month, high-frequency spending was about 9 percent above its value in the last month of unemployment. It continued to increase until it was about 20 percent higher. Just as with an income drop, spending is somewhat smoothed when income increases.

Keywords: unemployment, household spending, consumption smoothing, Great Recession, re-employment

Suggested Citation

Hurd, Michael D. and Rohwedder, Susann, Consumption Smoothing During the Financial Crisis: The Effect of Unemployment on Household Spending (October 1, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2888017 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2888017

Michael D. Hurd (Contact Author)

RAND Corporation ( email )

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State University of New York at Stony Brook - College of Arts and Science - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Susann Rohwedder

RAND Corporation ( email )

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Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138
United States

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