The Decline in the U.S. Personal Saving Rate: Is It Real and Is It a Puzzle?

Since the mid-1990s, the national income and product accounts personal saving rate for the United States has been trending down, dropping into negative territory for three months during the past two years. This paper examines measurement problems surrounding two of the standard definitions of the personal saving rate. The authors conclude that, despite these measurement problems, the recent decline of the U.S. personal saving rate to low levels seems to be a real economic phenomenon and may be a cause for concern for several reasons. After examining several possible explanations for the trend advanced in the recent literature, the authors conclude that none of them provides a compelling explanation for the steep decline and negative levels of the U.S. personal saving rate.