Friday, December 23, 2011

Consumers Don't Care About Savings Rates

LA Times details the (lack of) savings:
Consumer spending last month grew faster than people’s take-home incomes as households cut their savings rate a bit to support their purchases of cars and other goods and services.

The government said Friday that the personal saving rate — the percentage of after-tax income that’s not spent — fell to 3.5% in November from 3.6% in October. As recently as June, the rate was 5% after being consistently at about that level or higher since late 2009.
I'm not sure why it took me so long to realize the below relationship (I have been looking over this data for years now), but the savings rate broadly does not matter to consumers. In fact, over the past 50 years (as the chart below shows), it hasn't mattered at all.

What has mattered for the average American is simply that a specific amount is saved, which has been around $100-$200 a month in real (after-inflation) terms, irrespective of the amount they have actually earned. So while real disposable income and consumption have roughly tripled over the past 50 years on a per capita basis, savings is up a less-than-whopping 13% (0.25% annualized growth).

The other thing to notice in the above chart is the declining level of real per capita disposable income, something that will have to reverse to keep the concept that we can grow our way out of our debt alive.

Source: BEA


  1. Fascinating observation. I still don't understand why this occurs, but at least it is a much simpler phenomenon to try to explain.

    Jim at ClearOnMoney.

  2. Would be interesting to see the same graph for Japan

  3. The problem is a lack of saving by americans.