Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States
This paper combines tax, survey, and national accounts data to estimate the distribution of national income in the United States since 1913. Our distributional national accounts capture 100% of national income, allowing us to compute growth rates for each quantile of the income distribution consistent with macroeconomic growth. We estimate the distribution of both pre-tax and post-tax income, making it possible to provide a comprehensive view of how government redistribution affects inequality. Average pre-tax national income per adult has increased 60% since 1980, but we find that it has stagnated for the bottom 50% of the distribution at about $16,000 a year. The pre-tax income of the middle class—adults between the median and the 90th percentile—has grown 40% since 1980, faster than what tax and survey data suggest, due in particular to the rise of tax-exempt fringe benefits. Income has boomed at the top: in 1980, top 1% adults earned on average 27 times more than bottom 50% adults, while they earn 81 times more today. The upsurge of top incomes was first a labor income phenomenon but has mostly been a capital income phenomenon since 2000. The government has offset only a small fraction of the increase in inequality. The reduction of the gender gap in earnings has mitigated the increase in inequality among adults. The share of women, however, falls steeply as one moves up the labor income distribution, and is only 11% in the top 0.1% today.
We thank Tony Atkinson, Oded Galor, David Johnson, Arthur Kennickell, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, John Sabelhaus, David Splinter, and numerous seminar and conference participants for helpful discussions and comments. Antoine Arnoud, Kaveh Danesh, Sam Karlin, Juliana Londono-Velez, Carl McPherson provided outstanding research assistance. We acknowledge financial support from the Center for Equitable Growth at UC Berkeley, the Institute for New Economic Thinking, the Laura and John Arnold foundation, NSF grant SES-1559014, the Russell Sage foundation, the Sandler foundation, and the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme, ERC Grant Agreement No. 340831. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez & Gabriel Zucman, 2018. "Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States*," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol 133(2), pages 553-609. citation courtesy of