June 4, 2013
Earnings Growth: Better at the Top
U.S. inequality can be measured two ways – by wealth or by earnings. Either way, most working Americans are losing out.
It’s the 1920s again for the richest 1 percent of Americans, and a recent analysis of the wealth gap illustrates why they’re able to live like the fictional Jay Gatsby, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the new movie, “The Great Gatsby.”
The value of their wealth rises and falls with the stock market. But since the 1960s, they have consistently held 33 percent to 39 percent of the wealth owned by all Americans, including their stock, mansions, commercial real estate, and businesses, according to economist Edward Wolff at New York University. In 2010, the last year examined by Wolff, the richest 1 percent’s share was 35 percent – that was before the Dow flew past 15,000.
The U.S. wealth gap is enormous, partly because most Americans have little wealth to speak of. Most people instead gauge their financial well-being by the size of their paychecks, and income inequality is rising sharply.
Between 1993 and 2011, the earnings of the top 1 percent of U.S. earners grew by nearly 58 percent, after adjusting for inflation. Earnings include salaries, bonuses, stock options, dividends, and capital gains on stock portfolios. That far outpaced the 6 percent rise for the rest of U.S. workers during the same 18-year period, according to a new analysis by economist Emmanuel Saez at the University of California, Berkeley. …Learn More
May 30, 2013
Layoffs After 50 Cause Severe Losses
For the average older worker who loses his job, his income a decade later is 15 percent lower than if he had escaped the layoff.
It gets worse: His pension wealth is worth 20 percent less, and his financial assets are 30 percent smaller.
The enormous financial hit delivered to older workers who experienced a layoff sometime during the 1990s was reported recently by researchers at the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog. First, the researchers pinpointed all workers in the data set who were over age 50 and lost a job between 1992 and 2000. They then examined their financial outcomes – earnings and assets – a decade later and compared them with outcomes for those who avoided layoffs during that time.
If the financial fallout during the 1990s was that dramatic for unemployed older workers, it will be even worse for many of the 3.2 million jobless baby boomers at the peak of the Great Recession, the longest downturn in post-war U.S. history.
The Great Recession hit just as members of the biggest demographic bulge ever were either hitting retirement age or lining up on the runway. Record numbers of them sustained severe hits to their financial security, because the jobless rate for older workers reached record highs.
The research suggests that the recession’s effects may last into old age for many boomers. One key reason for their grim prospects is that older workers have more difficulty snaring new jobs than do young adults. Many boomers never found employment and are being forced to retire grudgingly, simply because they lack options. …Learn More
April 25, 2013
Student Debt Binge: How Will It End?
This recent Huffington Post headline captured the march of shocking data about our growing societal burden: “12 Student Loan Debt Numbers That Will Blow Your Mind.”
Here’s a sample:
- The student debt balance has hit $1 trillion and is still rising – it is now exceeded only by mortgage balances, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York;
- Student debt is held by 26 percent of households headed by someone between the ages of 35 and 44, and 44 percent of under-35 households, and it’s concentrated in poorer households, according to the Pew Research Center;
- 80 percent of bankruptcy lawyers said student loans were driving more clients through their doors for relief.
It remains unclear where this era of student debt is taking society. Sure, college graduates will bring in another $1 million in earnings over a lifetime. But anyone who’s thought about it can’t help worrying this nationwide borrowing binge may end badly.
To help those grappling with how to pay for the fall semester, feeling the emotional fallout of debt, or trying to understand the larger issues, Squared Away pulled together some relevant blog posts published over the past 18 months.
Click “Learn More” below to read more. …Learn More
March 28, 2013
Store, Online Browsing Can Be Dangerous
Impulse purchases – new spring clothes or an expensive dinner out – can create a rush. But a few minutes of pleasure can blow a hole in the budget for a month. If it’s chronic, it can eat into savings for a down payment or retirement.
The reason for these rash decisions is obvious: see it, want it. But for people who want to better understand – and prevent – their impulse buys and remain on budget, FinCapDev, which is hosting an online competition for a financial literacy app, recently posted a reading list of three research papers that explain why we can’t resist buying stuff.
- One study has confirmed that store browsers actually are vulnerable to impulsive purchases, because the act of browsing through a store’s merchandise produces positive feelings. “It is a state of high energy, full concentration, and pleasant engagement,” researchers wrote in a 1998 paper that is probably relevant to online browsing. Can you relate? …
March 12, 2013
Feeling Poorer? Blame the House!
The American psyche gets a lot of credit for fueling the boom in U.S. home prices, which ended in 2006. As houses increased in value, homeowners felt richer, and they spent more. Similarly, falling house prices led to declines in consumer spending as households found themselves poorer and less able to access credit, according to a new paper, “Wealth Effects Revisited: 1975-2012,” by economists Karl Case, the late John Quigley and Robert Shiller.
In this interview, Case explains this “wealth effect.”
Q: Why were our spending decisions influenced by our psychology during the housing boom?
Case: The increase in house prices was like magic. They went from the 1950s until 2006 without ever falling nationally. The numbers are astonishing. If you look at the Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds Accounts, the value of the owner-occupied housing stock in the United States increased from $14 trillion to $24 trillion. All of a sudden the collective balance sheet of U.S. households had $10 trillion worth of assets that it didn’t have before. That’s a very big number.
The first thing I asked myself is, How did I behave? I bought a house in Wellesley [Massachusetts] for $56,000 in 1976. When I sold it in 1991, it was a $240,000 asset. I know my behavior changed. I was in my 40s, and I found myself with a quarter million dollars that I didn’t know I had. It made me feel wealthier, and I spent more and saved less than I otherwise would have. Home equity loans and second mortgages made it possible for homeowners to withdraw their newly acquired equity to finance a higher level of spending and/or a new or bigger home.
Q: How do we decide we’re feeling richer?
Case: Household wealth is made of many things: houses, cars, and financial assets. The value of any asset, including housing, is determined by what people are willing to pay for it. What determines that? Our expectation of whether it will go up in the future. If you have a house I think is going to go up 10 percent per year, I’m willing to pay more for it than if I think it’s not going up at all. That’s how psychology drives the housing market.
In annual surveys for another paper, we asked 5,000 people going forward 10 years, what do you expect the average annual increase to be in the value of your house? They said 8-10-12 percent per year. They were feeling better because their house was worth more. That leads to more spending.
Q: Is it fair to say the housing market was one of the primary influences on the economy?
Case: Absolutely. Our finding has been very controversial. Some people say housing’s wealth effect doesn’t exist. Our own earlier work suggested that it works when the housing market is on the way up but not on the way down. We now have evidence that it works in both directions. …Learn More
February 26, 2013
Millennials in Debt: Is It a Big Deal?
Young adults, when asked if they have college loans, often just sigh or groan quietly.
But how much does this debt really matter to their lives? Conflicting trends make this difficult to answer. College graduates have ample time – decades of employment – to pay off their student loans, economists argue, and they’ll bring in more earnings to pay them back. A college education is worth $1 million in extra earnings over a lifetime.
Behind the student-loan sigh is anxiety that the post-Great Recession job market makes it tougher for many graduates to earn what they need to pay their loans back. Indeed, the rate of delinquencies has risen in tandem with increased borrowing. Payments on half of all student loan accounts are now being deferred, the consumer credit firm TransUnion reported last week, and these deferrals are the first step to still more delinquencies.
Some researchers are warning about the additional financial risks facing graduates with large loan balances. “That didn’t happen in previous generations,” said Ohio State University’s Lucia Dunn, whose study published last month in Economic Inquiry found that young adults are on a path to having far more credit card debt in middle age than did their baby boomer parents. Credit cards, student loans – debt of all kinds – she said, “is just an overwhelming burden for many young people.” …
February 14, 2013
Women in Debt Less Likely to Marry
Women with large student loan balances are less likely to marry than their girlfriends who’ve graduated debt-free, new research shows.
Men, in contrast, are immune to this impact. Their marriage prospects are the same regardless of how much they owe for their education, according to Fenaba Addo, who studied the effect of college and credit card debt in the “marriage market.”
As U.S. college debt outstanding has surpassed the $1 trillion mark, the fallout is widening. Recent graduates complain that paying off their student loans affects their ability to take critical steps to improve their future finances, such as buying a house or saving for retirement. But there are psychological effects too: young adults who carry a lot of debt, for example, are more stressed, even depressed.
It was only a matter of time before student loans started messing with their love lives.
Addo, now a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Population Health Sciences, became interested in the topic as she watched her girlfriends taking on “crazy amounts of debt” to finish college or complete graduate degrees… Learn More