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Media Coverage of Poverty: Quality, Not Just Quantity, Matters Print
Written by Shawn Fremstad   
Wednesday, 27 March 2013 12:10

In a new Nieman Reports article, Dan Froomkin argues that the media pay insufficient attention to poverty. Discussing Froomkin’s piece, Margaret Sullivan, the Public Editor of the New York Times, notes: “observers like Mr. Froomkin praise the quality of The Times’s journalism on poverty and inequality issues but cite the need for more resources and greater emphasis.”

Of course, the quantity of poverty coverage is important, but the quality of that coverage, including in the Times, needs to be a more central concern. By quality I really mean the framing, substance and content of coverage. Too often, coverage focuses on the characteristics and behavior of “the poor” in negative or stereotypical ways that sharply differentiate them from working- and middle-class people.

In considering the quality of the media’s coverage of poverty, the meticulous research of Princeton political scientist Martin Gilens provides an essential starting point. In Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy, published in 1999, Gilens documented the “racialization” of media images of poverty from the mid-1960s through the 1990s. As he puts it, “changes in the complexion of poverty coverage stemmed from the news media’s increasingly negative discourse on poverty and welfare and its consistent tendency to associate African Americans with the least sympathetic aspects of poverty.” He then showed how these “racial distortions in the media’s coverage of poverty are largely responsible for public misperceptions of the poor,” misperceptions that influenced anti-poverty policy. In short, Gilens’ work suggests that the quality of poverty coverage was a bigger problem than quantity, at least through the 1990s.

Similarly, in a just published paper, "Framing the Poor: Media Coverage and U.S. Poverty Policy, 1960-2008", Max Rose and Frank Baumgartner find a big increase in the Times’ coverage of poverty leading up to the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996. That Act established the (now woefully underperforming) Temporary Assistance block grant, sharply cut Supplemental Security for children with severe disabilities, and barred many immigrants with lawful permanent residence in the United States from means-tested benefits available to citizens. Based on an analysis of the frames used by the Times’ in their coverage of poverty between 1960-2008 they concluded that: "Media discussion of poverty has shifted from arguments that focus on the structural causes of poverty or the social costs of having large numbers of poor to portrayals of the poor as cheaters and chiselers and of welfare programs doing more harm than good. As the frames have shifted, policies have followed.”



Carry On, Wayward Sons Print
Written by John Schmitt   
Wednesday, 27 March 2013 08:05

I got an email yesterday from Elaine Kamarck, resident scholar at Third Way. We don't know each other, but she wanted to let me know about a new Third Way study: Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education (pdf). I had already read the study, so I was surprised to read her description of it. The new report, she writes:

“... makes a startling discovery. Authors David Autor and Melanie Wasserman, both of MIT, suggest that the decline in educational attainment, employment rates, and real wage levels of men is almost exclusively reserved for males born into single-parent households meaning the gap could be as much about social family structure as it is about economic forces like the demise of labor unions and globalization.” (my emphasis).

What surprised me was that the language in the email, which will likely be read by far more people than will actually read the report, was much more definitive than the language in the report itself.

Here, for example, are Autor and Wasserman on the question of the gender gap in educational attainment:

While it would be inaccurate to claim that social science has reached consensus on the differential effects that parents have on the social and educational development of their same-sex children, recent data suggest that the female advantage in educational attainment is substantially more pronounced in female-headed households and in households where the father is less educated than the mother. (p. 44)


Third Way or Dead End? Autor-Wasserman's Hypothesis that Single Mothers Contribute to the College Gender Gap Print
Written by Shawn Fremstad   
Monday, 25 March 2013 15:15

In a report for Third Way, David Autor and Melanie Wasserman hypothesize that the decline in the share of children living with both their biological mother and biological father “may magnify the emerging gender gap in educational attainment …”.           

Although male and female children within a given household are theoretically exposed to the same environment—including schools, neighborhoods, and adult guardians—the increasing prevalence of female-headed households implies that the majority of girls continue to cohabit with their same-sex role model. By contrast, male children raised in female-headed households are less likely to have a positive male adult household member that serves an analogous role.

They go on to “tentatively conclude that that boys perform less well academically than girls when fathers are not present in the home…”

 In Coming Apart: The State of White America, Charles Murray provides a more extreme, but not necessarily dissimilar, version of this line of argument when he writes:

I am predicting … over the next few decades … a scientific consensus that goes something like this: There are genetic reasons, rooted in the mechanisms of human evolution, why little boys who grow up in neighborhoods without married fathers tend to reach adolescence not socialized to the norms of behavior that they will need to stay out of prison and to hold jobs. The same reasons explain why child abuse is, and always will be, concentrated among family structures in which the live-in male is not the married biological father. The same reasons explain why society’s attempts to compensate for the lack of married biological fathers don’t work and will never work. [emphasis is mine].

In short, both Murray and Autor-Wasserman are hypothesizing that boys suffer disproportionately compared to girls when they live in family structures that do not include their biological fathers. This is an argument that opponents of marriage equality will welcome, since it implies that boys raised by lesbian couples should suffer disproportionately compared to girls. In a footnote, Autor and Wasserman explain they are “focused on heterosexual household relationships since available studies do not offer detailed information on children in same-sex marriages.” However, given their emphasis on the importance of both the biological link and parental gender to boys, they offer no reason to think otherwise.



Cheap Thoughts on Euro Area Unemployment: It's a Guy Thing Print
Written by Dean Baker   
Sunday, 24 March 2013 10:55

As we get our latest dose of euro crisis thrills with the battle of the Cypriot banks, it might be a good time and step back to reflect on the havoc wreaked by the European Central bankers. While the double-digit unemployment rates throughout much of the region have grabbed headlines, if we flip the picture over and look at employment rates we see a somewhat more complicated picture.

First, if we look at employment population ratios for the adult population as a whole (ages 16-64), the euro zone story does not look especially dire.  


Source: OECD.

If we want to do a direct comparison of employment population ratios (EPOP) for the euro zone as a whole, the relevant lines are the top line and the third line. In 2006 the United States had an EPOP for its adult population of 72.0 percent compared to 64.6 percent for the euro zone as a whole. By 2011 most of this gap had closed as the EPOP for the U.S. had dropped to 66.6 percent compared to 64.3 percent for the euro zone.

The closing of this gap is the story of two Europes. The north, led by Germany, has seen a rise in its EPOP since the downturn. While Germany had an EPOP in 2006 that was 4.8 percentage points below that of the U.S., in 2012 data (not on the chart), its EPOP was more than 6 pp higher.



Labor Market Policy Research Reports, March 16 – 22, 2013 Print
Written by Will Kimball   
Friday, 22 March 2013 14:30

Here are the latest labor market policy research reports:

Center for American Progress

The Economic Effects of Granting Legal Status and Citizenship to Undocumented Immigrants
Robert Lynch and Patrick Oakford

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Ryan Budget Would Undermine Safety Net’s Work Supports 
Sharon Parrott

Economic Policy Institute

Using Standard Models to Benchmark the Costs of Globalization for American Workers Without a College Degree
Josh Bivens

The Impact of a Financial Transactions Tax on Futures Trading Volume Print
Written by Dean Baker   
Thursday, 21 March 2013 15:21

One of the reasons that many proponents give for supporting a financial transactions tax (FTT) is that it will reduce trading volume in financial markets. This can be considered good for two reasons.

First it may reduce the likelihood of erratic fluctuations that have no basis in the fundamentals like the flash crash in the spring of 2010. The existence of a huge amount of rapidly traded assets can create this sort of sudden divergence from fundamental driven prices. Reducing trading volume may reduce the probability of similar occurrences.

The other reason that a reduction in trading volume is desirable is that it would reduce the amount of resources wasted in the financial sector. The labor and capital absorbed in trading are resources that could in principle be used productivity elsewhere in the economy. If greater trading volume does not in some way result in the better allocation of capital then we should be pleased to the extent that an FTT reduces trading volume in various markets.

For this reason, a paper published by the CATO Institute last summer showing that a FTT would lead to a sharp decline in the trading of futures should not be seen as negative from the standpoint of proponents of FTTs.[1] Unfortunately, the paper did not accurately measure the decline in trading volume that would result from a tax, leading to an overstatement of the actual decline that would be implied with the tax rate and elasticities assumed in the paper. This mistake wrongly leads the paper to conclude that several major future markets would disappear even with a low tax rate. When a correct calculation is done, it can be shown that this is not true.

The paper’s mistake is a simple one. Elasticities are usually calculated as point elasticities, which relate the change in quantity that would result from a small change in price. For most questions we ask, where we consider price changes that are relatively small (say under 20 percent) using a point elasticity will give us a reasonably good approximation of the change in quantity that would result from the change in price being considered.

However for large changes of the type considered in this paper (all the changes in the price of transactions resulting from the FTT are far more than 100 percent of the current cost of transactions) it is necessary to be more careful in the calculation.



Contra the Crowd-Out Thesis: Countries that Spent More on Seniors Also Spend More on Children Print
Written by Shawn Fremstad   
Monday, 18 March 2013 10:07

In a recent WaPo op-ed with the subtle title “Payments to Elders are Harming Our Future,” Harry Holzer and Isabel Sawhill claim that “our very expensive retirement programs already crowd out public spending on virtually all other priorities—including programs for the poor and those that strengthen the nation’s future—and will do so at even higher rates in the next decade and beyond unless we reform these large programs.”

If this crowd-out thesis were true, we would expect to find that nations that spend more on the elderly spend less on children. But this isn’t the case. Although a bit dated, the chart below, produced by researchers Jonathan Bradshaw and Emese Mayhew, plots expenditures on family benefits and services (per capita child) by expenditures on benefits and services for the elderly (per capita elderly).


The chart shows that counties that spend more per capita on the elderly also spend more per capita on children. Moreover, contrary to Holzer/Sawhill’s claim that we have “very expensive retirement programs”, U.S. expenditures on the elderly are moderate in cross-national terms. Bradshaw and Mayhew conclude: "we have found that if there is generational inequity it does not stem from demography alone. Nations make choices about the level of resources they commit to children and the elderly, and the countries that are most generous to children also tend to be most generous to the elderly."



Labor Market Policy Research Reports, March 9 – March 15, 2013 Print
Written by Will Kimball   
Friday, 15 March 2013 14:37

And now, this week's collection of labor market research reports:

Economic Policy Institute

Infrastructure Investments and Latino and African American Job Creation
Algernon Austin

Raising the Federal Minimum Wage to $10.10 Would Give Working Families, and the Overall Economy, a Much-needed Boost
David Cooper and Doug Hall

Institute for Women’s Policy Research

The Status of Women in North Carolina
Cynthia Hess, Ariane Hegewisch, Youngmin Yi, Claudia Williams

National Employment Law Project

Raising NY’s Minimum Wage: Economic Benefits & Demographic Impact of Increasing to $9 With Indexing

Political Economy Research Institute

Unpacking the U.S. Labor Share
James Heintz

Relative Poverty Measures Can Help Paint a More Accurate picture of Poverty in 21st Century America Print
Written by Shawn Fremstad   
Thursday, 14 March 2013 15:00

In his most recent column, Thomas Edsall says there are three ways of defining poverty in the United States: the official measure, the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, and a consumption-based measure. But this leaves out an important and commonly used set of poverty measures, ones that Edsall himself has cited in previous columns: so-called relative poverty measures, which set the poverty line at a percentage of median income, typically 50 or 60 percent of median, that reflects a very basic standard of living. (I’m not a big fan of the term “relative”—it’s hard to imagine a meaningful poverty measure in a wealthy nation that isn’t relative in some way to real-world living standards—but it’s the prevailing term among researchers, so I’ll use it here.)

The idea behind relative measures is simple and goes back to Adam Smith’s definition of “necessaries” to include “not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but what ever the customs of the country renders it indecent for creditable people … to be without.” As I’ve explained previously, one of the strengths of relative poverty measures is that they do a better job, compared with poverty measures only adjusted for inflation, of capturing the change over time in broad public consensus—Smith’s “customs of the country"—on the minimum amount of income that an American family needs to “get along” in their local community.

A second strength, one particularly relevant to Edsall’s column, is that relative poverty rates are calculated using nominal dollars, allowing us to assess poverty in a way that brackets questions about how to properly measure inflation (for more on those questions, see my colleague Dean Baker’s post on Edsall’s piece as well as this earlier post of mine).

The chart below compares the official and Supplemental Poverty Measures with two relative poverty measures, one set at 50 percent of median income, the other set at 60 percent of median income. The relative thresholds are calculated using a fairly comprehensive measure of income, one that subtracts taxes and includes most benefits, including in-kind ones. For a family of four, the official poverty threshold is $22,811, the supplemental threshold is $25,222, the 50% of median threshold is $25,974, and the 60% of median threshold is $31,168. All of these amounts fall far below the amount that Americans say is the minimum amount of income a family of four needs to “get along in your local community.” In fact, in 2007, the median response to this question in a Gallup poll was $45,000.

Click for a larger version


Source: CEPR using Census CPS Table Calculator.



President Obama Wants to Give a Bigger Hit to Seniors on Social Security than He Did to the Wealthy on Taxes Print
Written by Dean Baker   
Wednesday, 13 March 2013 18:02

That's what President Obama's aides keep saying. They generally don't put in those terms, probably because they assume that everyone already knows, but the cut to the typical senior's Social Security benefit from the adoption of the chained CPI would be a larger hit to their income in retirement than the increase in income taxes put in place at the start of the year is the typical affluent taxpayer.

The arithmetic on the chained CPI is straightforward. It reduces benefits by an amount that increases 0.3 percentage points each year a person is retired. This means that after 10 years the reduction in the annual benefit would be 3.0 percent, after 20 years the reduction would be 6.0 percent, and after 30 years the reduction would be 9 percent. If we assume that a typical beneficiary lives long enough to collect benefits for 20 years, their hit from the chained CPI would on average be 3.0 percent over this period.

For the typical retiree, Social Security benefits are close to two-thirds of their income. This means that the use of the chained CPI would amount to a hit to their income of approximately 2.0 percent (two-thirds of 3.0 percent).

By contrast, if we assume that a couple earning $500,000 a year is the typical household affected by the tax increase, then their additional tax burden will be 4.6 percent of their income over $450,000 or $2,300. If we assume that this couple had not unusual exemptions (or even usual ones), then their after-tax income before the tax increase would have been around $350,000. This means that the Obama tax increase would reduce their after tax income by a bit less than 0.7 percent. This means that the hit to Social Security beneficiaries from the chained CPI will be around three times as large as the hit to the typical affluent taxpayer from the Obama tax increase.

Reduction in Income:
Chained CPI and Obama Tax Increases


The Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget: A Serious Budget That the Serious People Won't Take Seriously Print
Written by Dean Baker   
Wednesday, 13 March 2013 15:47

For those upset that the budget debate is getting ever further removed from the real world problems of an economy that is suffering from a deficit of 9 million jobs, there is good news. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has produced a budget that is intended to make the unemployment situation better rather than worse.

The story of course is that we are still in a situation where we need the government as a source of demand in the economy. This is independent of how much we like the government or the private sector. The private sector does not expand and create jobs just because governments want it to, as is being discovered now by leaders in the United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Spain and everywhere else where deficit reduction is now in vogue. In the current economic situation, loss of demand from the government is a loss of demand to the economy. That is why recent steps to reduce the deficit, such as the ending of the payroll tax cut (which put money in consumers' pockets) and the sequester, will lead to slower growth and higher unemployment.

The CPC decided to produce a budget that recognized this reality. It provides for a mix of short-term measures aimed at immediate job creation, such as jobs programs and additional money to defray state and local government revenue shortfalls, along with an ambitious long-term infrastructure agenda. According to estimates from the Economic Policy Institute this agenda would create 6.9 million additional jobs by the end of next year compared to the CBO baseline scenario.



New CBO Estimates Show How Shifting to Chained CPI Would Harm Poorly Compensated Workers and Others Struggling to Afford the Basics Print
Written by Shawn Fremstad   
Monday, 11 March 2013 14:00

I wrote back in December about how the shift to a “chained” CPI would have negative impacts that go far beyond Social Security. On March 1, the Congressional Budget Office released a new estimate that helps quantify these impacts.

The table below shows the amount of benefit cuts that would result over the next 10 years from switching to the chained CPI. The table is limited to “mandatory” programs and the tax code. CBO assumes that shifting to a chained CPI would reduce annual adjustments to mandatory programs by .25 percent per year.


An important thing to remember about the chained CPI is that it is a cut that keeps on growing. In the first year, reducing inflation adjustments by .25 percent results in a .25 percent cut; but in the 10th year, it means a 2.5 percent cut. So, for example, as the CBO estimate shows, the cuts to the EITC and other refundable tax credits are $300 million in 2015, but grow to $3.7 billion in 2023.

Proponents of the chained CPI assume that it is a more accurate measure of inflation, including for the elderly and for low- and moderate-income people, because it better captures opportunities that people may have to respond to price increases by substituting to goods whose prices are rising more slowing. But the elderly and low-income people have more limited consumption baskets than higher-income people and don’t necessarily have the ability to substitute. As Dean Baker and many others have pointed out, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has an experimental elderly price index that shows the inflation rate experienced by the elderly has risen faster than the current CPI. (Dean participated in a recent Hill briefing on the changes involved with tying COLAs to a chained CPI.)



Labor Market Policy Research Reports, February 23 – March 8, 2013 Print
Written by Will Kimball   
Friday, 08 March 2013 15:15

The following is a collection of the latest labor market policy research reports:

Center for Economic and Policy Research

The Human Capital Dimensions of Sustainable Investment: What Investment Analysts Need to Know
Thomas Kochan, Eileen Appelbaum, Carrie Leana and Jody Hoffer Gittell

Center for Law and Social Policy

Implementing Earned Sick Days Laws: Learning from Seattle's Experience
Liz Ben-Ishai

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Changes in TANF Work Requirements Could Make Them More Effective in Promoting Employment
Liz Schott and LaDonna Pavetti


Discredited: How Employment Credit Checks Keep Qualified Workers Out Of A Job
Amy Traub



Let’s Not Make a Deal Print
Written by Nicole Woo   
Thursday, 07 March 2013 16:54

With news of President Obama's efforts to make some Republican BFFs, there are reports that he's trying to make a deal by yet again offering to cut Social Security and other benefits, while at the same time raising income taxes on almost everyone.  

This would be done by changing an official measure of inflation to a new index, called the Chained CPI.  As CEPR has shown, this change would lead to a painful cut in Social Security benefits and a stealth tax hike, by slowing down annual increases in Social Security and other benefits – including those for veterans, the disabled, and low-income children and their families – as well as income tax brackets. (That would lead to incomes jumping to higher brackets faster, or in other words, tax increases.)

In fact, as Howard Gleckman at the Tax Policy Center recently noted, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that moving to the Chained CPI "would raise taxes as much as it would cut spending."



Medicare Cost Reductions: Is the Point to Save Money or Inflict Pain? Print
Written by Dean Baker   
Tuesday, 05 March 2013 10:38

Washington budget debates often contain a large element of the absurd. In 2000 there was a major debate among serious people over the year in which we should pay off the national debt (really). Today one of the central stumbling blocks to a budget deal appears to be President Obama's reluctance to make cuts to Medicare that would inflict serious pain on beneficiaries.

The fact that Medicare poses such a stumbling block is striking because we have already seen sharp declines in the projected cost of Medicare over the years in which President Obama and Congress have been fighting over the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office has lowered its projections for Medicare costs over the years 2013-2023 by $400 billion compared with what was projected back when Bowles-Simpson put together their initial budget proposal. That proposal called for a bit more than $300 billion in cuts to Medicare, less than the reductions in projected spending that we have already seen.

Furthermore, CBO has not reduced its projections by as much as cost growth has slowed in the last three years. In a new discussion piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Harvard economics professor David Cutler and researcher Nikhil Sahni argue that the trend for slower health care costs is likely to continue. They calculate that if CBO adjusts its projections in line with the slower cost growth that we have seen to date it would imply another $363 billion in savings through 2023.

This is not a reason not to seek further savings, for example by bringing Medicare payments for prescription drugs more in line with payments in other countries. However, it suggests that we have likely already exceeded the targets that even deficit hawks were setting for savings in Medicare.

This raises the obvious question, if we hit our targets for savings in Medicare, why is the Washington policy crew still insisting on further cuts to the program? This demand is coming not just from conservatives and Republicans, but from ostensibly centrist types who say that President Obama must make cuts to Medicare to show that he is serious about dealing with the deficit. It seems as though inflicting pain on low and middle income seniors has become an end in itself in elite Washington circles. As we can see, Washington budget debates often contain a large element of the absurd. 

CEPR News February 2013 Print
Written by Dawn Lobell   
Friday, 01 March 2013 13:45

The newsletter highlights CEPR's latest research, publications, events and much more.

CEPR on the Minimum Wage

President Obama's call for an increase in the minimum wage during his State of the Union address drew much attention from the media, providing CEPR with an opportunity to inform the debate. CEPR released a new paper that finds that moderate increases in the minimum wage – such as the one proposed by President Obama – have little impact on employment, due to adjustments by employers and workers. The paper, "Why Does the Minimum Wage Have No Discernible Effect on Employment?" by CEPR Senior Economist John Schmitt,reviews evidence on eleven possible adjustments to minimum-wage increases that may help to explain why the measured employment effects are so consistently small. The strongest evidence suggests the most important adjustments are: reductions in labor turnover; improvements in organizational efficiency; reductions in wages of higher earners ("wage compression"); and small price increases.

"This is one of the most studied topics in economics, and the evidence is clear: modest minimum wage increases don't have much impact on employment," said John.

Brad Plumer wrote a long summary of the report for Ezra Klein's Wonkblog, and it was mentioned on several other blogs from the National Journal to Jared Bernstein's blog (Jared called the report a "must read" in a subsequent post). Paul Krugman cited the paper in a post where he supported the proposed increase, and he linked to John’s paper in the online version of his New York Timescolumn. Rachel Maddow highlighted the report on her MSNBC show, and it was also mentioned in this piece on CBS News' Moneywatch. Newspapers across the country ran articles on the report, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Minnesota Daily.

John gave several radio interviews about the paper, including this one for WNUR's This is Helland this one for KBAI's The Joe Show. The paper also served as the basis for John's testimony on February 25th before a Select Committee of the Minnesota state legislature and his remarks at a separate public event on the minimum wage sponsored by JOBS NOW Coalition at the University of Minnesota. John also penned this post for the CEPR Blog responding to an ad in Politico by the conservative Employment Policies Institute claiming that the minimum wage harms low-wage workers, as well as this post on his Dissent article with Colin Gordon on benchmarking the minimum wage

CEPR Co-director Dean Baker weighed in with this piece for the Huffington Post, and he was mentioned in this highly-viewed piece on Yahoo!Finance. Dean also wrote this post for the CEPR Blog, where he and co-author CEPR Domestic Intern Will Kimball showed what the minimum wage would be if it had kept up with productivity growth over the past 44 years. CEPR Senior Research Associate Shawn Fremstad wrote thesetwo CEPR blog posts on the issue.



The Bipartisan Policy Center Endorses a Bi-Partisan Failure Print
Written by Dean Baker   
Friday, 01 March 2013 09:30

The Bipartisan Policy Center's Housing Commission released its report, Housing America's Future, on housing policy this week. Its recommendations include winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and limiting federal government involvement in mortgages to a "Public Guarantor." In a post originally published by the National Housing Institute. Dean Baker responded.

There is a good argument for having a public company like the old Fannie Mae sustain a secondary market in mortgages. Fannie Mae created this market in the 1930s. It was able to substantially reduce regional differences in mortgage costs and availability, with minimal operating expenses. This publicly-run company was a success by any reasonable measure.

We also know that the private market can provide housing finance without any direct support from the government. This is demonstrated by jumbo mortgages, which typically carried a premium of 25-50 basis points above conformable mortgages.

Given these successful routes for providing housing finance, the Bipartisan Policy Center took the natural path for people in Washington: a proven failure.

Instead of opting for either a public company or companies to sustain the secondary market or leaving finance to the private sector, the Bipartisan Policy Center opted for the sort of public-private mix that we saw with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the years leading up to the housing crash. They want the government to guarantee investors’ stakes in mortgage backed securities.



The Family and Medical Leave Act at 20: A Record of Success, But More Can Be Done Print
Written by CEPR   
Thursday, 28 February 2013 13:45

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) celebrated its 20th anniversary this month. It was a huge step forward for the U.S., which lags behind nearly all other high-income countries in enabling people to take the time they need, without worrying that they may be fired from their jobs, to care for themselves and their families when faced with serious illness or welcoming a new child.

The FMLA has been used 100 million times in the last 20 years, benefiting families and without unduly burdening employers. Yet there remain millions of Americans who are not covered by the FMLA – they can still be fired if they get sick, have a baby, or need to care for a seriously ill family member. And millions more are eligible but do not take the time off because they do not know they are eligible or can’t afford to go without pay.

Department of Labor surveys of experiences with the FMLA, released earlier this month, find ways to improve the effectiveness and increase the coverage of family and medical leave for American families. CEPR senior economist Eileen Appelbaum recently wrote a series of blog posts to review these findings of the FMLA surveys and draw lessons about what to do next.



Benchmarking the Minimum Wage Print
Written by Colin Gordon and John Schmitt   
Thursday, 28 February 2013 12:10

In his State of the Union address, President Obama heartened many progressives with a call for raising the minimum wage to $9.00 (from its current $7.25), and then pegging its value to increases in the cost of living. This would be a bold move, and it raises an important question: What should the minimum wage be? What is the appropriate floor for the labor market?

Every legislative battle over the minimum wage has been marked by grave concerns about interfering with markets or freedom of contract, and by dire predictions that each increase would drive businesses into bankruptcy and workers into the soup lines. In the absence of a professional wage commission (common in other countries, including the United Kingdom), every increase had to run the gauntlet of Congress. As a result, the American minimum wage hits a lower target, and covers a smaller share of its workforce, than those in most of its peer countries. Of the subset of thirteen rich OECD democracies with comparable data, all but two (Spain and Portugal) have higher minimum-wage rates (calculated at either the exchange rate or the purchasing power parity of the U.S. dollar) than the United States. On the ratio of minimum-wage rates to the median earnings of full-time workers in each country, the United States ranks dead last.

Read the entire article at Dissent.

Temporary Assistance for Families Should Empower Working-Class Parents Not Serve as a Slush Fund for States Print
Written by Shawn Fremstad   
Thursday, 28 February 2013 09:55

A House subcommittee is holding a hearing today to review guidance, issued by HHS last summer, on a federal statute that allows states to test “innovative strategies … that are designed to improve employment outcomes.” The guidance made clear that under this longstanding law the federal government can approve state requests to test whether Temporary Assistance programs that use new types of outcome-based performance measures are more effective than programs that use the old-school activity-rate measures.

Why is the House holding a hearing on such a mundane matter? Apparently, many conservatives today believe that outcome-based performance measures are anti-work, while activity-rate measures are pro-work. Go figure.

The real problem with Temporary Assistance is its failure to provide millions of striving, low-income parents with the support and tools they need to provide for their families while securing a job, getting needed skills and education, and weathering setbacks.

Even conservatives sometimes acknowledge that Temporary Assistance should be helping low-income parents in this way. In fact, in the notice for the hearing, Chairman Dave Reichet (R-WA) tells us that “Americans consistently believe welfare should … empower able-bodied [low-income parents] with the tools to secure a job, lift oneself out of poverty, and provide for one’s family.”

What conservatives seem unable to acknowledge (and this goes for plenty of Clinton-style moderates also), is that Temporary Assistance isn’t actually doing what the public thinks it should be doing.



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