Research / BFI Working PaperJul 21, 2020

Initial Impacts of the Pandemic on Consumer Behavior: Evidence from Linked Income, Spending, and Savings Data

Natalie Cox, Peter Ganong, Pascal Noel, Joseph S. Vavra, Arlene Wong, Diana Farrell, Fiona Greig

We use U.S. household-level bank account data to investigate the heterogeneous effects of the pandemic on spending and savings. Households across the income distribution all cut spending from March to early April. Since mid April, spending has rebounded most rapidly for low-income households. We find large increases in liquid asset balances for households throughout the income distribution. However, lower-income households contribute disproportionately to the aggregate increase in balances, relative to their pre-pandemic shares. Taken together, our results suggest that spending declines in the initial months of the recession were primarily caused by direct effects of the pandemic, rather than resulting from labor market disruptions. The sizable growth in liquid assets we observe for low-income households suggests that stimulus and insurance programs during this period likely played an important role in limiting the effects of labor market disruptions on spending.

This paper was released as part of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, scheduled for June 25, 2020.

This paper is co-authored by researchers from the JPMorgan Chase Institute as part of their COVID-19 research series.

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