Real-time Spending Inequality

The year-over-year change in measures of spending inequality: ratio of spending of households in the fourth quartile (Q4) of the distribution of income to spending of households in the first quartile (Q1) of the distribution of income (Q4/Q1), ratio spending of the fourth quartile to the third quartile (Q4/Q3), and ratio of spending of the second quartile to the fourth quartile (Q2/Q1)

What we do?

Real-time Spending Inequality provides timely updates on the status of consumer spending inequality in the US. We do so by using data on spending from credit cards, debit cards, and bank accounts.


The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the importance of real-time data in understanding the scale of the economic crisis and determining the appropriate government response. In contrast to aggregate data on spending, income, and the labor market, little real-time data on inequality exists. The main government surveys used to estimate spending and income inequality are released with significant delays. Without a real-time measure of spending inequality, academics and policy makers are blind to this important measure of welfare.


We use new anonymized transaction-level data from Earnest Research to develop real-time measures of consumer spending and income inequality. The data set contains information on a panel of 10 million households and is updated in near real-time. We use the Earnest data to construct the first real-time distribution of household consumer spending in the United States. Our primary measure of inequality is a cohort study: we sort households into four groups based on their income in 2019 (before the pandemic), and follow how spending of these groups has been changing.