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The Great Risk Shift Hacker ; revised and expanded in documented a major posts rise in family income instability and argued that it was one indicator of an increasing shift of economic risk from government and employers onto workers and their families.
This Briefing Paper updates, improves, and extends these earlier estimates of rising family income instability and discusses potential causes and implications of this trend.
Neither the nor the recessions were particularly deep, and inflation and unemployment have remained historically low.
Yet, as argued in The Great Risk Shift, these broadly stable and favorable aggregate indicators mask many signs of declining economic security among American families: Along with rising levels of family income volatility, these long-term trends point to serious and growing threats to the economic security of American families that aggregate statistics on growth, inflation, and unemployment largely obscure.
In the time since The Great Risk Shift was published, new data have become available and a number of complementary analyses have appeared, all of which confirm the basic finding of rising family income volatility. They also offer a chance to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the data used in studies of family income dynamics, as well as to suggest avenues for future research.
Some of these revised analyses appear in the expanded paperback edition of The Great Risk Shift Others were done expressly for this briefing paper. The main results reported in this brief are: The instability of family incomes has risen substantially over the last three decades.
Although the precise magnitude of the increase depends on the approach to measuring income variance that is used, we estimate that short-term family income variance essentially doubled from Much of the rise in income volatility occurred prior toand volatility dropped substantially in the late s.
It has, however, risen in recent years to exceed its s peak. The probability of large income drops varies predictably with the business cycle. Yet it has also trended strongly upward over time. For instance, the recession, which was mild in macroeconomic terms, was associated with a higher chance of large income drops than the recession of the early s, which was the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
There is an important distinction between family income total earnings, asset income, and transfer income for all members of a family and individual earnings.
This basic trend—a rise in earnings variability in the s, little clear trend from the early s to the late s, and an upswing in the early s—has been confirmed by numerous analyses, including a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office CBO.
Female earnings have, if anything, become more stable since the s. Male workers have experienced a larger and more sustained rise in earnings instability. In addition to the increase in male earnings variability, other likely causes of rising family income volatility include the growing variability of cash transfers and the limited cushioning effect of having a second earner in the household.
Although the evidence is limited, there is reason to believe that a second family earner is less of a benefit in terms of income protection today than it was prior to the s.
While less educated and poorer Americans have less-stable family incomes than their better-educated and wealthier peers, the increase in family income volatility affects all major demographic and economic groups.A collection of articles about 17 from The New Yorker, including news, in-depth reporting, commentary, and analysis.
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