Editors Note: The title of this post has been changed from the original. August 17, 2023, 10:35 a.m.
Inflation in the U.S. has experienced unusually large movements in the last few years, starting with a steep rise between the spring of 2021 and June 2022, followed by a relatively rapid decline over the past twelve months. This marks a stark departure from an extended period of low and stable inflation. Economists and policymakers have expressed differing views about which factors contributed to these large movements (as reported in the media here, here, here, and here), leading to fierce debates in policy circles, academic journals, and the press. We know little, however, about the consumer’s perspective on what caused these sudden movements in inflation. In this post, we explore this question using a special module of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE) in which consumers were asked what they think contributed to the recent movements in inflation. We find that consumers think supply-side issues were the most important factor behind the 2021-22 inflation surge, while they regard Federal Reserve policies as the most important factor behind the recent and expected future decline in inflation.
While forecasters generally disagree about the expected path of monetary policy, the level of disagreement as measured in the New York Fed’s Survey of Primary Dealers (SPD) has increased substantially since 2022. For instance, the dispersion of expectations about the future path of the target federal funds rate (FFR) has widened significantly. What explains the current elevated disagreement in FFR forecasts?
Households frequently use stimulus checks to pay down existing debt. In this post, we discuss the empirical evidence on this marginal propensity to repay debt (MPRD), and we present new findings using the Survey of Consumer Expectations. We find that households with low net wealth-to-income ratios were more prone to use transfers from the CARES Act of March 2020 to pay down debt. We then show that standard models of consumption-saving behavior can be made consistent with these empirical findings if borrowers’ interest rates rise with debt. Our model suggests that fiscal policy may face a trade-off between increasing aggregate consumption today and assisting those with the largest debt balances.
Guillermo Calvo is a leading member of a group of economists who revolutionized macroeconomics by modeling how incentives and the anticipation of future policies affect aggregate outcomes. In celebration of his work, a conference was held in his honor at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and at Columbia University on February 22-24, 2023. The conference program can be found on the event website. A longer version of this post with additional detail on the proceedings can be found here.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s November 2022 SCE Labor Market Survey shows a rise in the average reservation wage—the lowest wage respondents would be willing to accept for a new job—to $73,667, its highest level since the series began in 2014. Respondents’ satisfaction with wage compensation, non-wage benefits, and promotion opportunities at their current job all improved in November compared to July. Regarding expectations, the average expected wage offer (conditional on receiving one) also increased and reached a new high.
Today, the New York Fed introduces several new data series and interactive charts depicting findings from its Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE). The SCE is a representative, internet-based monthly survey of a rotating panel of about 1,300 household heads in the United States. Since January 2014, we have been reporting findings from our monthly survey on U.S. households’ views on inflation, household income and spending growth, their expectations about the housing and labor market, and a range of other expectations about the economy and outcomes for their own household. In addition to publishing interactive charts showing national trends as well as trends by demographic groups (such as age, income, education, numeracy, and geography), we also post the underlying microdata online (with a nine-month lag) to make it available for research purposes. We are adding three new data series to our interactive charts today. The first two concern expectations about future inflation, and the third concerns expectations of future home price growth.
Housing is the single largest element of the typical household’s budget, and data from the SCE Household Spending Survey show that this is especially true for renters. As the housing market heated up in the latter stages of the pandemic, home prices and rents both began to rise sharply. For renters, some protection from these increases was afforded by national, state, and in some cases local eviction moratoria, which greatly reduced the risk of households losing access to stable housing if they couldn’t afford their rent. Yet many of these protections have expired and additional supports will do so soon. In this post, we draw on data from our SCE Housing Survey to explore how renters perceive their housing risk and find that the answers depend to a large degree on their current and past experiences of the housing market.
As the economy continues to recover from the pandemic, a combination of strong demand, severe supply disruptions, widespread labor shortages, and surging energy prices has contributed to a rapid increase in inflation. Indeed, the inflation rate, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), has exceeded 8 percent over the past year, the fastest pace of price increase since the early 1980s. If businesses and consumers expect inflation to be high in the future because it is elevated today, they may change their behavior accordingly, which can make inflation even more persistent. In other words, expectations about the path of future inflation can affect how current inflation will actually evolve. In particular, among businesses, expectations about future inflation can shape how they set wages and prices. Our May regional business surveys asked firms what they expected inflation to be one year, three years, and five years from now. Responses indicate that while businesses, like consumers, expect high inflation to continue over the next year, such elevated levels of inflation are not expected to persist over longer time horizons.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s 2022 SCE Housing Survey shows that expected changes in home prices in the year ahead increased relative to the corresponding timeframe in the February 2021 survey, while five-year expectations remained unchanged. Households reported that they would be less likely to buy if they were to move compared to the year-ago survey, marking the first annual decline since the series began in 2014. This drop was driven by current renters, who were much less likely to buy compared to renters in the 2021 survey. Renters also reported that they expect rents to be sharply higher twelve months from now, with the expected rate of increase more than twice that reported a year ago. The expected price of rent five years ahead also rose compared to expectations a year ago, but at a more moderate pace.
With the recent surge in inflation since the spring there has been an increase in consumers’ short-run (one-year ahead) and, to a lesser extent, medium-run (three-year ahead) inflation expectations (see Survey of Consumer Expectations). Although this rise in short- and medium-run inflation expectations is relevant for policymakers, it does not provide direct evidence about “un-anchoring” of long-run inflation expectations. Roughly speaking, inflation expectations are considered un-anchored when long-run inflation expectations change significantly in response to developments in inflation or other economic variables, and begin to move away from levels consistent with the central bank’s (implicit or explicit) inflation objective. In that case, actual inflation can become unmoored and risks drifting persistently away from the central bank’s objective. Well-anchored long-run inflation expectations therefore represent an important measure of the success of monetary policy. In this post, we look at the current anchoring of consumers’ long-run inflation expectations using novel data from the Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE). Our results suggest that in August 2021 consumers’ five-year ahead inflation expectations were as well anchored as they were two years ago, before the start of the pandemic.