There’s a New Way to See When the Economy Is Going Off the Rails

August 1, 2022

The last couple of years have been the economic equivalent of driving through a mountain pass in a blizzard. Never mind predicting the next turn — investors and policymakers barely know where they are at any given moment.

Sometimes new economic data only add to the confusion: Preliminary gross domestic product figures released last week showed the US economy contracting at a 0.9% annual rate in the second quarter — while consumers kept splurging on services and workers were enjoying one of the hottest job markets in decades.

Even in calmer times, broad-based gauges like GDP leave important questions unanswered, like who’s being left behind when times are good, or suffering most in downturns. It takes years to get good data on disparities by race, class and gender.

A new tool developed by a trio of economists at University of California, Berkeley, assesses Americans’ financial health more quickly and in more detail. By analyzing more than a dozen data sources, Realtime Inequality estimates how economic growth — or pain — is being distributed, often producing numbers that look quite different from aggregate data.