I show that the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus as a tool for counter-cyclical stabilization depends not only on how much of changes in income households spend, but also on the composition of that expenditure. By combining expenditure and production data I measure the extent to which households cut back expenditure on labor-intensive goods upon unemployment. The result is quantitatively relevant because the labor share with which different final consumption goods are produced varies widely across the economy. I find that upon unemployment, a household reduces demand for other workers' labor by 6.5%, 15% more than what is implied when heterogeneity in production and expenditure is ignored. In the context of the Great Recession, the expenditure response to unemployment accounts for a fifth of the drop in labor compensation. Using a multi-good, multi-sector New-Keynesian model with heterogeneous agents, I show that my findings have significant implications for the targeting and evaluation of fiscal stimulus. First, the fiscal multiplier of government purchases of labor-intensive goods is almost five times larger than for purchases of capital-intensive goods. Second, the heterogeneity I document explains the lower effectiveness to stimulate the economy of capital-intensive military spending, as compared to highly labor-intensive general government spending. Third, I show that the decline of the labor share in the last decades has reduced the effectiveness of fiscal policy.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, understanding how households’ consumption responds to a credit crunch has been a central goal of macroeconomics. Most of the recent research has explored this question using a “hard constraint” modeling device, where households can borrow at the risk-free rate only up to an exogenous amount. An alternative, and more realistic, way to model financial frictions is to allow households to borrow as much as they want but at an interest rate that depends on the level of debt. I refer to the latter as the “soft constraint” model. In a Standard Incomplete Markets framework with heterogeneous agents, I calibrate two economies differing only in the type of financial constraint that households face and I show that a credit crunch in the hard constraint economy (i.e. decrease in the exogenous borrowing limit) produces a drop in consumption significantly more severe than an equivalent crunch in the soft constraint version (i.e. increase in the borrowing interest rate). I conclude that the quantitative consequences of a credit crunch largely depend on the modeling approach.
How effective is the minimum wage at raising nondurable household consumption through the redistribution of income towards poor workers? Using novel data on retail sales by county, I exploit variation in the minimum wage rates across states and over time to answer this question. I find that a 10% increase in the minimum wage increases sales by 1.1%. I argue that such a large effect is explained by positive spillovers benefiting the bottom quarter of the labor income distribution. As expected, the expenditure response to minimum wage hikes is stronger in counties where the policy is more binding.