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The Unequal Impact of Inflation

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The Unequal Impact of Inflation

July 14, 2021

Income and wealth inequality has been rising since the 1980s. But what gets less attention is how much people consume. The following figure, using data from the Fed, shows who is buying consumer durables, which includes things like cars, washing machines, etc. And it shows that the bottom 50% is taking up a bigger share of consumer durable purchases. This explains why things like big flatscreen TVs and air-conditioning have become standard in most households. Even if the income distribution has become more unequal, how we actually spend has become more equitable. 

But if we are entering a high inflation period the data suggests it will hit lower income people harder, perhaps even more than in years past. They own the assets we spend money on, while higher earners have a growing share of assets that protect against inflation.

inequality-inflation-america

Allison Schrager is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Follow her on Twitter here.

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