NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Reliable Is The "Personal Savings Rate?"

February 4, 1999

As measured by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the rate of personal savings has declined from about 7 percent in the 1980s to around zero today. While this troubles some economists, others say that there is less than meets the eye in this particular statistic.

The Commerce formula excludes key sources of savings, analysts report:

  • Excluded are business savings and the appreciation of stock values, rising housing values and even the appreciation of individual retirement accounts.
  • Nor does it include personal claims on private pensions and other forms of deferred compensation.
  • Moreover, the data tend to understate income relative to consumption -- as the economy has boomed and the incentive to evade taxes has risen.

Stock market capitalization alone has risen above 150 percent of gross domestic product today from approximately 65 percent of GDP in 1989 -- an $11 trillion increase.

Although the personal savings rate is about zero, as noted, federal, state and local governments have achieved a net savings gain of $281 billion since 1989. And the level of business savings has risen by $438 billion.

The tax hikes of 1990 and 1993 reduced the disposable income and savings of higher-income households, say experts, as well as reducing government deficits.

Source: Mickey D. Levy (Bank of America Corp.), "The Economy Is Safe From a 'Savings Crisis,'" Wall Street Journal, February 4, 1999.


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