Analyzing Data on the Distribution of Wealth in America from 1983 to 2016

27 Dec 2017

Internship Experience at the Hudson Institute
Tey Sovannaroth (MPP 2016-2018)

The wealth distribution in the US has undergone various trend changes with the one after the 2007-2008 global financial crisis leaning towards the negatives. Having been through both the recent recession and the one between 1990 and 1991, Dr. John Weicher, my supervisor, could physically feel the differences in people’s daily lives at the time. As a result, he decided to analyzed whether or not the differences are statistically true.

Tey Sovannaroth 1
His research utilizes data from the triennial Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) for the period of 1983 to 2016 conducted by the Feds to determine the Gini Coefficients and wealth concentration ratios for various deciles. He discovered that both the rich and the poor became less wealthy after the recent recession but the top 10 percent lost roughly 7 percent of their entire wealth whereas the rest of the distribution experienced a staggering decline of 22 percent to their overall wealth. This is in stark contrast with the outcome of the 1990-1991 recession during and after which wealth distribution was relatively equal. Dr. Weicher estimated that the recent negative trend might continue even ten years after the recession so I very fortunate to be given the opportunity to assist him in analyzing the wealth distribution based on the 2016 SCF dataset.

To be specific, I was responsible for verifying the consistency of previous findings and datasets as well as for carrying over the analysis to the 2016 dataset. Dr. Weicher briefed the entirety of his work to me on the first day ensuring that my tasks were in line with the works that had been done up to that point. I was able to obtain the earlier datasets from 1983 to 2013, clean them for consistent calculations, and replicate the outcomes in the research paper using STATA. Daily briefings and consultations with Dr. Weicher provided constant communication flows and feedbacks allowing me to finalize the verification process half-way through the internship period. The second major responsibility was analyzing the 2016 dataset. The same models and calculations were applied to the latest data with additional emphases on the results for families in the middle of the wealth distribution, 45th and 55th percentile. All of the tasks were finalized on time with approvals from Dr. Weicher.

In addition to the analytical role, I was involved as a facilitator in various events and talks organized by Hudson Institute. The topics ranged from kleptocracy to quantum computing involving high-profile speakers including a US senator, former ambassadors to the US, and many division heads from Federal agencies. My roles involved registration and in-session question and answer facilitations. Through these tasks, I have gained hands-on experience with one of the defining features of a well-respected think tank, relaying research findings to a variety of audiences.

Overall, the internship stimulated my quantitative research analysis skills providing a great opportunity to put into practice the theories and methodologies learned in classes. Handling such large datasets in a professional setting is an achievement made possible only with the support from Hudson Institute. The research rigor was intriguing and the event facilitations were new and helpful insights on the functioning of a think tank. Of course, I have met other Hudson fellows as well as the rest of the interns who had interesting tasks to accomplish for their respective supervisors. The interactions we had made the whole journey even more enjoyable. Ending this with a thank you to Dr. Weicher and Sean Kelly, the Internship Program Manager, is the least I could do for repaying their trust in my capabilities. The entire internship was an incredible experience.