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Sources of income for high and low earners
FRB of St. Louis
2023.08.28
The FRED Blog has used US Bureau of Economic Analysis data to compare changes in the source of household income over time. That dataset showed, overall, that wages and salaries represent the single largest source of earnings for the average household. Today we tap into the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES) dataset from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to compare the very different sources of income for the lowest- and highest-earning households.

Our FRED graph above focuses on the lowest-earning 20% of households surveyed and tracks the percent of annual income (before taxes) from nine reported sources of earnings.

For this group of households, social security and retirement income (the red area) has represented a larger share of earnings than wages and salaries (the blue area). Also, during most years between 1984 and 2014, the lowest-earning households reported negative income from self-employment (the light green area at the bottom of the graph). (The CES glossary defines self-employment income as the net difference between gross receipts and operating expenses, so it appears as if these households operate unincorporated businesses or farms at a loss. See this quick St. Louis Fed video for more background on recent self-employment trends.)

Our FRED graph below focuses on the highest-earning 20% of households surveyed and tracks the percent of annual income (before taxes) from the same nine reported sources of earnings.