The Wilder View

The Saving Rate Paradox

Edward Harrison at Credit Writedowns is theorizing why the saving rate is falling when it should be rising, as households scram to deleverage their balance sheets. My reaction to this is twofold: first this is a meaningless exercise; but second, and worse yet, there’s likely something very “unhealthy” going on here.

Meaningless: The BEA conducts a comprehensive revision of the NIPA tables every five years. The saving rate is usually revised upward, and by a fair amount, as was the case for most of the 2000s.


So in “roughly” 5 years from 2009 (it’s not uniformly 5 years between each revision), you will see a higher saving rate than you do today. As I said in July, the

“BEA has “found” that households have been in fact saving roughly 1% more of their disposable income per quarter since 1995, 0.9% per quarter in 2008.”

They will “find” it again.

Unhealthy: But even if they don’t “find” much more than an average +1% a year, there’s probably something a bit more sinister and non-economic (i.e., in addition to the wealth, income, or substitution effects – see Edward Harrison’s post on this point) going on here: non-market activity is rising. I haven’t seen a study to this point – if you have, please send me the link; I am very interested – but I wouldn’t be surprised if non-market income has crept up lately, i.e., through the informal labor force.

With an employment-to-population ratio a shocking 58.5% in February (it was 63.4% as recently as March 2007), there’s got to be a growing supply of labor that is “working under the table” just to get by. This non-market income would flow through the spending accounts but not the income accounts. Therefore, you have official consumption going up with official income (doesn’t include non-market income) stalling, which reduces the saving rate.

Now go back and read Marshall Auerback’s push for government as ELR (appropriate credit is given in this report)!

Originally published at News N Economics and reproduced here with the author’s permission. 

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