We draw important insights from aggregate macroeconomic statistics. But we must bear in mind that macro trends are comprised of millions of microeconomic experiences. Questions like “How is the U.S. consumer doing?” are hard to answer concisely. We know trends in aggregate, but we can’t speak for each of the 330 million people those statistics represent. Reports that give greater detail are thus highly illuminating.
Last week, the Federal Reserve published its triennial Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), a report that attempts to give a comprehensive and granular view of households’ financial condition. More than a simple survey, the work represents in-depth data collection and two-hour interviews with 4,602 families. The most recent edition represents consumers as of 2022, and allows comparison against the results from three years prior.
To put it mildly, the consumer economy changed substantially from 2019 to 2022. The triennial timing is fortuitous, as the scheduled skip of 2020 and 2021 keeps the most disrupted years out of the sample. The new SCF affords a good view of how differently households are experiencing the economy, pre- and post-pandemic.