Monday, January 14, 2008

CBO rebuts Hacker

Peter Orszag reports:

Substantial interest has arisen recently regarding how much household income and workers’ earnings bounce around from year to year, prompted in part by the work of Jacob Hacker at Yale University. This topic is important not only to understand potential sources of household anxiety, but also in designing social insurance systems and the tax code.

In previous work released in 2007, CBO examined the volatility of workers’ earnings. That report concluded that earnings were surprisingly volatile, but had been roughly as volatile since the early 1980s — in other words, earnings volatility had not increased....

CBO has now examined the volatility of household income (rather than workers’ earnings volatility, the subject of our study in 2007). The preliminary results suggest that household income is much less volatile than individual worker’s earnings, and that household income volatility has not increased over time — and perhaps even declined slightly. Some other recent studies relying on other data sources have suggested increases in household and family income volatility, but various problems in the surveys used in those studies may be contaminating those results.