Poverty and income inequality

Tom Krebs, Pravin Krishna, William Maloney, 22 September 2017

Research on economic mobility has failed to disentangle the underlying economic drivers. In particular, opportunities for upward movement represent welfare-enhancing mobility, while risky income shocks represent welfare-reducing mobility. This column presents a framework for differentiating between these factors, and applies the model to Mexican data. Results show that opportunity and risk are equally important drivers of income mobility, with large but opposing welfare effects. This challenges the idea that societies with higher measured income mobility are better.

Martin Ravallion, Shaohua Chen, 15 September 2017

Past studies have measured poverty in either relative terms (mostly in the developed countries) or absolute terms (the developing world). This column presents a new unified approach to global poverty that assumes that people care about both their own income and their income relative to others in their country of residence. The study finds that global poverty has declined more in absolute terms than in relative terms. The vast bulk of the relatively poor now live in the developing world. The advanced countries have seen little progress against poverty, unlike the developing world.

Marcio Cruz, Emmanuel Milet, Marcelo Olarreaga, 18 August 2017

The reduction in the cost of exporting offered by international transactions over the internet helps small firms in developing countries reach consumers all over the world. This column argues that this bias in favour of small firms has an impact on labour markets, as small firms tend to hire unskilled workers disproportionately. By levelling the playing field between small and large firms in terms of access to international markets, online trade can contribute to reducing wage and, ultimately, income inequality.

Aart Kraay, Roy Van der Weide, 15 August 2017

Current approaches to measuring top and bottom incomes cannot track the fortunes of the same group of individuals over time. This column addresses this shortcoming by developing a new method for measuring income mobility. After accounting for mobility, the incomes of those who start out rich grow considerably more slowly, and incomes of those who start out poor grow faster, compared to commonly reported growth rates of top and bottom incomes.

Benjamin Faber, Thibault Fally, 02 August 2017

A recent literature has documented the impact of firm heterogeneity on workers’ earnings. This column assesses firm heterogeneity in the context of its impact on households’ cost of living. Rich and poor households source their consumption differently, and are therefore impacted differently by asymmetries in heterogeneous firms. An analysis suggests that moderate trade liberalisation could lead to a 1.5-2.5% lower cost-of-living inflation in retail consumption for the richest 20% of US households compared to the poorest 20%.

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