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News & Events

The $100 Billion Question: Have the Tax Rebates Worked?

Professor Jonathan Parker’s latest research is highlighted in the <i>Wall Street Journal</i>


7/31/2008 - The following is a summary of Professor Parker's research. The full report can be read in Kellogg INSIGHT.

Between May and July of this year, the U.S. Federal Government has distributed more than 90 billion dollars worth of economic stimulus payments, or tax rebates, to American households. Despite much recent concern that households would save the money, we find that households are doing a significant amount of extra spending because of the stimulus payments. The typical family increased their spending on food, mass-merchandise and drug products by 3.5 percent when their rebate arrived, relative to a family yet to receive its rebate. Based on these estimates and on results from previous analysis, we estimate that demand for overall nondurable consumption in the second quarter of 2008 has been boosted by 2.4 percent as a direct result of the stimulus payments, and will be held up by around 4.1 percent in the third quarter of 2008.

We also study who spent their rebates and on what. We find that low income and low asset households increased their spending at nearly double the rate of the average household. We also find that shoppers are spending a higher share of their rebate in supercenters –like Walmart and Target– relative to their usual behavior. Most people report that they are not spending much of their rebates to increase or maintain their purchases of apparel or groceries, but are instead spending more of their rebates on durable goods and personal services. Finally, the rebates are having different effects in different parts of the country, with people in the Greater Los Angeles and South East regions spending more than people in major metropolitan areas in the rest of the country.

Our findings underscore the potency of the economic stimulus payments in stabilizing consumer spending during recessions. 

A full version of Jonathan Parker's research can be read in Kellogg INSIGHT. 

You can read the report on the Wall Street Journal here. (account registration required)

All media inquiries can be directed to Meg Washburn at m-washburn@kellogg.northwestern.edu