Commerce Department to develop stats on income inequality

Commerce Department to develop stats on income inequality
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The Commerce Department is developing a methodology for compiling and publishing regular statistics on inequality and plans to publish its prototype measures in 2020.

“We’re making real progress in getting the federal government to start providing regular measurements of income inequality,” said Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyTop House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments Maloney primary challenger calls on her to return, donate previous campaign donations from Trump Appeals court clears way for Congress to seek Trump financial records MORE (D-N.Y.), who announced the move at a hearing on inequality. Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossHillicon Valley: Commerce extends Huawei waiver | Senate Dems unveil privacy bill priorities | House funding measure extends surveillance program | Trump to tour Apple factory | GOP bill would restrict US data going to China Trump officials extend deadline to allow companies to work with Huawei Trump trade adviser pushes back on reports of US-China tariff deal MORE confirmed the moves in a letter to Maloney, who is vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee.

“Secretary Ross’s letter was the first firm commitment we’ve seen from this Administration to start publishing this kind of data,” she said.

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The letter said the prototype methodology would be subject to a comment period before going into effect and would comply with 2019 spending legislation that urged the creation of such measures.

Maloney also said that she and Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics This week: House to vote on Turkey sanctions bill Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars MORE (D-N.M.) would introduce legislation, the Measuring Real Income Growth Act, to codify the requirement.

The announcement comes as issues on income and wealth inequality are gaining increased attention. Democratic presidential candidates during a debate on Tuesday night sparred over what was behind the rising inequality, pointing variously to automation, bad trade deals, and political corruption as culprits.

At the hearing, University of California, Berkeley professor Gabriel Zucman urged the government to use the Distributional National Accounts, a nascent statistics methodology he helped develop with economists such as Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Facundo Alvaredo and Lucas Chancel, as a basis for their new methodology.

“Our hope is that these prototype Distributional National Accounts will eventually be taken over by government, improved, and published as part of the official toolkit of government statistics,” he said.

Those statistics, he said, showed that the top 1 percent of earners were taking in 20 percent of pre-tax income, double the share they took in 1980.

Zucman has advised Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenRahm Emanuel: Bloomberg, Patrick entering race will allow Democrats to have 'ideas primary' Feehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Jayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' MORE (D-Mass.), a leading Democratic presidential candidate, on developing her proposal for a wealth tax.

But skeptics such as former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin cautioned that work remained on developing reliable statistics on inequality.

“The casual adoption of policies on the basis of inequality belies the serious disagreement in the research community over the state of understanding of the level and changes in inequality,” he said.