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Even the Guy Who Dosn't Care About Poor People Wants to Raise the Minimum Wage: Where Does President Obama Stand? Print
Written by Dean Baker   
Thursday, 02 February 2012 09:29

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who remarked yesterday that he doesn't care about the poor, supports indexing the minimum wage to inflation. If the minimum wage had been indexed since its last increase in July 2009 it would be $7.60 instead of $7.25. If it had been indexed to inflation since 1978 it would be almost $9.00 today.

The Democrats have historically been the major proponents of a higher minimum wage ever since a federal minimum wage law was first instituted in 1938. It will be interesting to see if President Obama or other leaders in the Democratic Party feel the need to respond to Romney's proposal.

Brazil: Record-Low Unemployment But Jobs Picture Mixed Print
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 14:30

Last week Brazil hit record-low unemployment of 4.7 percent (or 5.5 percent, seasonally-adjusted). But almost all of the jobs created in the last three months were in the business services, finance and real estate. This is remarkable: that sector comprises only 16.9 percent of all jobs.


Meanwhile, industry and commerce – sectors that have traditionally been drivers of job growth – have actually lost jobs for two quarters in a row. This is the first time that industry has lost jobs outside of a recession since 2006.

For a more in-depth analysis, read our latest Latin America Data Byte.

Case-Shiller 20-City Index Falls Again in November Print
Written by Dean Baker   
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 12:15

The seasonally adjusted Case-Shiller 20-City index fell 0.7 percent in November, according to the latest indicators and developments in the housing sector. The index, which is in its seventh consecutive month of decline, has now fallen in 17 of the last 18 months. In recent months, the rate of price decline appears to be accelerating modestly, with prices dropping at a 7.9 percent annual rate over the last three months compared to a 3.7 percent decline over the last year.

There is little reason to expect that house prices will stop their decline any time soon. The best path would be a slowing rate of decline with, prices perhaps leveling off by the end of 2012. In several markets, particularly cities on the West Coast, the housing bubbles have not yet fully deflated. Nothing should be done to prevent them from deflating; however, it would be desirable to see prices stabilize and possibly rise somewhat in markets where the bubble has fully deflated and the market is overshooting on the down side.

For a more in-depth analysis, read the latest Housing Market Monitor.

Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers on Honduras Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 27 January 2012 17:01

Both the New York Times and Washington Post’s fact-checks on the GOP presidential debate Thursday night missed the mark regarding former Senator Rick Santorum’s (R – PA) comments about Honduras.

Responding to the question, “What would each of you do as president to more deeply engage in Latin America and, importantly, to support the governments and the political parties that support democracy and free markets?”, Santorum’s answer included this statement regarding the Obama administration’s response to the 2009 coup in Honduras:

Our policy in Central and South America under this administration has been abysmal. The way we have treated, in particular, countries like Honduras, Honduras, which stood up for the rule of law, which threw out a would-be dictator who was using the Chavez playbook from Venezuela in order to try to run for re-election in Honduras, and the United States government, instead of standing behind the -- the people in the parliament, the people in the Supreme Court, who tried to enforce the constitution of Honduras -- instead of siding with them, the Democrats, President Obama sided with two other people in South America -- excuse me -- Central America and South America. Chavez and Castro and Obama sided against the people of Honduras.

The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker wrote:

Santorum’s statement reflects a commonly held viewpoint among conservatives, but it glosses over the fact that there was a coup against the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. The Obama administration, working with the Organization of American States, refused to recognize the parliamentary leader who had been named president and instead tried to broker a compromise that would have allowed Zelaya to serve out his term. But that effort failed. Eventually a new election was held and another man was elected president.



Labor Market Policy Research Reports, January 23-27, 2012 Print
Written by Marie-Eve Augier   
Friday, 27 January 2012 15:30

Center for American Progress

Movin’ It and Improvin’ It!: Using Both Education Strategies  to Increase Teaching Effectiveness
Craig D. Jerald

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Proposed Kansas Tax Break for "Pass-Through" Profits Is Poorly Targeted and Will Not Create Jobs
By Nicholas Johnson and Michael Mazerov

Center for Economic and Policy Research

Low-wage Lessons
John Schmitt

Pension Liabilities: Fear Tactics and Serious Policy
David Rosnick and Dean Baker

Union Membership Hits Plateau in 2011 Print
Written by John Schmitt and Janelle Jones   
Friday, 27 January 2012 14:30

Union membership hit a plateau in 2011 after falling by almost 1.4 million workers between 2008 and 2010, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics Union Membership report. At 14.8 million (up about 49,000), the total number of union members and the share of workers in a union, 11.8 percent (down 0.1 percentage points), were essentially unchanged last year.


In the public sector, the total number of union members declined 61,000, as squeezed federal, state, and local governments cut back employment. Union density (the share of the workforce that is a member of a union) in the public sector, however, increased 0.8 percentage points, to 37.0 percent - due to overall employment in the sector declining more rapidly than union membership. In the private sector, union membership increased by about 110,000, with union density holding steady at 6.9 percent.

For a more in-depth analysis, read our latest Union Byte.

Is President Obama Proposing That the Government Buy Out the Banks' Bad Mortgages? Print
Written by Dean Baker   
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 17:49

That seems to be what the administration is proposing, according to an article in the New York Times. The article says that the Obama Administration wants to let people with underwater mortgages with private lenders refinance into government-guaranteed mortgages.

As described in the article, this would effectively mean that the government will be giving banks 100 cents on the dollar for mortgages where they could have anticipated substantial losses. If this is true, it would mean that the banks and investors who hold stakes in mortgage-backed securities would be getting far more money out of the deal than the homeowners who the policy is ostensibly designed to help.

To take a simple example, suppose a homeowner owes $250,000 on a home that is currently worth $200,000. It is likely that this homeowner will at some point default on the mortgage or need to make a short sale, which could result in the bank losing $50,000 or more. (Foreclosures involve substantial legal expenses and require that the bank pay a realtor to resell the property.)

On the other hand, if the government guarantees a new loan, the bank gets it full $250,000 back. The government would now stand in the same position as the bank had formerly, possibly losing $50,000 or more if the homeowner defaults. On the other hand, the benefit to the homeowner is paying a lower interest rate. If this arrangement results in a 2-percentage-point drop in the mortgage interest rate, the homeowner would save roughly $5,000 a year. In this story, the homeowner is almost certain to get much less out of the deal than the bank or investor.


Obama's Main Constituency Has Always Been the Major Media Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 16:00

To understand President Obama’s State of the Union speech, you have to understand his political strategy. From the beginning of his 2008 campaign, his main constituency has always been the major media. He has always calculated that he can win without the energy companies and even some other big campaign donors, but not if the mainstream media doesn’t like him. So a little bit of populism on the tax issues – e.g, the Buffet Rule - is now acceptable, especially in the context of deficit reduction and Republicans’ pro 1 percent extremism.

The other key constituency is the swing voters – he is taking Democrats for granted – which for the last four decades have been composed largely of white working-class voters. According to the leading Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, the speech was effective with swing voters. So, overall a success for Obama.

And the people? There were a lot of specific proposals around energy, education, skills training, infrastructure, etc. But with the President committed to the silly goal of deficit reduction, with Republican obstructionism, and Obama’s general lack of willingness to fight for human needs – remember his promises of a public option in health care reform? Or labor law reform? – I’m not holding my breath. Especially employment – can’t do much about that without federal spending. And seniors, hold on to your wallet when he mentions “strengthening Social Security.”

His foreign policy is much worse – “all options on the table” for Iran, which is code for the threat of yet another war. No commitment to get out of Afghanistan. When he talks about how “America is back” with “the enduring power of our moral example,” I see images of U.S. soldiers pissing on corpses, drones slaughtering civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan, massacres like Haditha (with impunity).

“Above all,” he tells us, “our freedom endures because of the men and women in uniform who defend it.” This could hardly be more false. America has lost more freedoms in the last decade, including during Obama’s presidency, than any other developed democracy in the world; and nobody fighting these unnecessary wars is defending our freedom.

This post originally appeared in The Guardian.

Is the Obama Administration Soft on Crime? Print
Written by Dean Baker   
Tuesday, 24 January 2012 06:21

That would seem to be the case from the leaks about a mortgage settlement which would reportedly give the banks and their executives immunity for all their misdeeds connected with the housing bubble in exchange for $20 billion in principle write-downs on underwater mortgages. And, Naked Capitalism reminds us that this $20 billion need not even come out of the banks' pockets. This includes write downs on mortgages that they are servicing, which means that the money would come out of investors' pockets.

Apart from the limited money at stake, the question is why would there be a reason to grant immunity for criminal wrong-doing? If people at these banks committed fraud, for example by lying about possessing documents that they did not possess, lying about the terms of loans to mortgage applicants or misrepresenting the mortgages in pools to investors, then why would we want to give them a get out of jail free card?

If no such fraud was committed, then there is no reason to include this sort of immunity in a settlement. The only reason to grant immunity of this type is if fraud was committed and the Obama administration wants to let the bankers off the hook.

Labor Market Policy Research Reports, January 16 – 20, 2012 Print
Written by Marie-Eve Augier   
Friday, 20 January 2012 15:45

This week, we post links to reports from the Center for American Progress, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and National Employment Law Project.

Center for American Progress

Building a Technically Skilled Workforce
Louis Soares and Stephen Steigleder

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

House republican proposal would undermine foundation of unemployment insurance system
Hannah Shaw and Chad Stone

National Employment Law Project

Winning Wage Justice: A Summary of Research on Wage and Hour Violations in the United State

Winning Wage Justice: Choosing the Policy Options Right for Your Community

CBO Letter on FTT: When There's No Smoke, There's No Fire Print
Written by Dean Baker and Nicole Woo   
Friday, 20 January 2012 13:20

Late last year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) responded to an inquiry from Senator Orrin Hatch about the potential impact of a financial transaction tax (FTT) of three one-hundredths of a percent on (1) GDP and jobs, (2) municipal financing, and (3) U.S. Treasuries. 

In general, CBO responded that the FTT “could” or “would probably” cause “slight” negative effects in the short term, and it never quantifies these effects.  As for long-term impact, CBO states that it does not know whether it will be positive or negative.  While some media and critics have held up this letter as a major setback for the FTT, let’s take a closer look at what CBO actually said:

Question #1:  What impact would the proposed tax have on gross domestic product (GDP) and on U.S. jobs?

CBO’s response:

In the short term, imposing the transaction tax would probably reduce output and employment.  Beyond the first few years, however, the tax’s net impact on the economy is unclear… Employment would be unaffected in the long term.

This appears to be far from damning.  CBO dilutes its assessment of the short-term impact with the qualifier, “probably,” and says that the long-term impact on GDP is “unclear” and that jobs will not be affected.  In explaining its reasoning, CBO looks at effects on investment and decides to counter an argument in favor of the FTT: 

Some analysts believe that… the tax would reduce volatility… [and] might discourage short-term speculation, which can destabilize markets… However, the tax would discourage all short-term trading, not just speculation—including transactions by well-informed traders and transactions that stabilize markets. 

In fact, the extent to which “well-informed” traders can stabilize prices is trivial. The transactions that CBO refers to happen when there are slight price discrepancies between different exchanges, and traders make profits by capitalizing on these gaps.  If, for example, the FTT were to make this trading profitable only when the gap between prices of a certain stock rose to 11 cents instead of 10 cents, then the FTT would allow prices to be slightly further out of balance for a little longer, which has essentially zero consequence.



Consumer Price Index Unchanged for Third Consecutive Month Print
Written by David Rosnick   
Thursday, 19 January 2012 12:15

The Consumer Price Index remained unchanged in December, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics' reports on the consumer price, US import/export price and producer price indexes. This is the third month in a row without an increase in the index, bringing the three-month annualized rate of headline inflation to -0.4 percent. Much of the variation in inflation rates can normally be attributed to food and energy prices, and recent history is no exception. Energy prices fell 1.3 percent in December and fell at an 18 percent annualized rate since September, compared with a 26.6 percent rate increase over the three months prior.

The real hourly wage for production and nonsupervisory employees once again was flat in December. Though this may be in small part due to the creation of a few low-paying jobs, the low rate of wage growth will also help keep low the rate of inflation and make it difficult for consumers to repay their debts. In all, this report once again indicates that a high rate of inflation is far removed as a threat to the economy.

For a more in-depth analysis, read the latest Prices Byte.

The Great Gatsby Curve Print
Written by John Schmitt   
Wednesday, 18 January 2012 15:15

Source: Alan Krueger, Council of Economic Advisers.

Economist Miles Corak, one of the world’s leading experts on economic mobility, has written a devastating take-down of the core of two recent pieces by the Brookings Institution’s Scott Winship. Winship has been arguing that President Obama, his economics team, and many others on the political left are wrong to claim that economic mobility has been on the decline in recent decades. But, as Corak documents, it is Winship that is misreading the data.

Winship’s first piece was written in response to President Obama’s much-commented-on speech last December in Osawatomie, Kansas, where the president argued that a child born into poverty today has a lower chance of reaching the middle class –about 33 percent– than a child born into poverty just after World War II – about 50 percent.

Writing in the National Review Online, Winship said that the president’s “claim of falling upward mobility … rang false” and “is contradicted most of the research that has been conducted to date.” Winship’s criticisms focused on some pretty technical issues in research conducted by Berkeley economist David Card, one of the country’s foremost labor economists and winner of the 1995 John Bates Clark medal. After reviewing Card’s numbers, Winship concludes that upward mobility today “is no worse than it has ever been and it does not translate into a general lack of opportunity for the middle class.”



Plain Talk about Private Equity Print
Written by Eileen Appelbaum   
Sunday, 15 January 2012 16:05
There is clearly a role for private equity in the US economy. Successful companies too small to go public that are having difficulty raising capital for expansion  to capitalize on their success may turn to private equity for the infusion of capital they need to make acquisitions or to grow organically. Publicly traded companies that are doing okay but lag the industry’s leading firms can benefit from an influx of management know-how as well as capital if they are taken over by a private equity firm that includes among its partners managers with experience operating companies in the industry. Unfortunately, adding value and selling companies at a fantastic profit is not the only way that the partners in a private equity firm make fantastic amounts of money.
Private equity is part of the large shadow banking system in the US. It raises huge unregulated pools of money – not only from pension funds and endowments but from sovereign wealth funds like the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and the China Investment Corporation – and spends these funds out of view of agencies responsible for assuring the stability of the financial system and out of sight of the American people. Incentives favor the high use of leverage – the borrowed money that is used to finance private equity transactions – and raise the odds of bankruptcy or other financial distress.  First, and most importantly, responsibility for repaying the debt incurred when the private equity firm borrows money to buy a company falls on the company that was acquired – not on the private equity firm.  The only money the private equity firm and the investors in its investment funds have at risk is the initial equity they put up as a down payment. Not surprisingly, they would like this to be as small as possible. Second and following from the first point, greater use of leverage magnifies the returns to private equity from its successful investments while minimizing the losses from its unsuccessful efforts.  Thus, a private equity fund can have strong returns even if some of the companies in its portfolio perform poorly or even go bankrupt. And third, the US tax code treats debt more favorably than equity since interest on the debt can be deducted from income.  In what might be called tax-payer funded capitalism, the reduced taxes from the higher interest deduction increase the firm’s value and returns to investors without creating any new value. My colleague at CEPR, Dean Baker, provides a simple example.


CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot Pushes for UN Accountability on Haiti, in ABC News Reports Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 13 January 2012 16:29

CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot continued to push for UN accountability in Haiti over the past week, for UN responsibility in introducing a cholera epidemic that has killed thousands, and for the sexual assaults that UN troops have perpetrated against Haitians.

A new ABC News article cites scientists as saying that there is “no doubt” that troops with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) are responsible for bringing cholera to Haiti:

"The scientific debate on the origin of cholera in Haiti existed, but it has been resolved by the accumulation of evidence that unfortunately leave no doubt about the implication of the Nepalese contingent of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti," French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux told ABC News’s Brian Ross Investigative Unit.

But the UN continues to deny the facts, and Mark Weisbrot is quoted as saying, “It's outrageous for the UN to try to deny responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti.” Weisbrot has repeatedly pushed for the UN to own up to its responsibility in causing the epidemic, and provide compensation to victims, such as in this Guardian column and this press release.



Labor Market Policy Research Reports, Jan. 7 – 13, 2011 Print
Written by Marie-Eve Augier   
Friday, 13 January 2012 12:00

Recently released reports from CBPP and NELP:

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Chart Book: The Legacy of the Great Recession

Policy Basics: Introduction to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Proposal to Greatly Expand "Moving to Work" Initiative Risks Deep Cuts in Housing Assistance Over Time
Douglas Rice and Will Fischer

Romney's Charge that Most Federal Low-Income Spending Goes for 'Overhead' and 'Bureaucrats' is False

For Major Low-Income Programs, More Than 90 Percent Goes to Beneficiaries
Robert Greenstein and CBPP staff

SNAP Is Effective and Efficient
Dottie Rosenbaum

National Employment Law Project

Sticking to Principles: Congress Should Oppose Barriers to Unemployment Insurance And Instead Provide Meaningful Reemployment Tools

On Second Anniversary of Quake in Haiti the Situation Remains Dire Print
Written by Matt Sedlar and Dan Beeton   
Thursday, 12 January 2012 12:30
Today marks the second anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, but despite some rosy headlines from publications such as the Washington Post about recovery efforts, the situation for Haitians has barely improved. “It is hard to see how the situation today is any better than a year ago,” CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot wrote in a recent statement. “In many areas, such as provision of sanitation facilities and housing to internally displaced persons (IDPs), there has been very little improvement. Meanwhile, the cholera epidemic has infected hundreds of thousands more Haitians during the past year, and killed thousands, with no end yet in sight.” As Mark told USA Today, "There's been a remarkable lack of progress.”

Since the earthquake, CEPR has closely followed the recovery and reconstruction process, tracking official data, using information from inside UN and NGO meetings, scrutinizing reports, and making our own on-the-ground investigations. This information has been useful for officials, members of Congress, NGO’s, and the media. The Miami Herald cited CEPR this week in reporting “beltway area for-profit development companies received 83 percent of U.S. Agency for International Development Haiti contracts. About 2.5 percent of the funds went to Haitian companies, and less than half of one percent went to Haitian non-profit groups.”



Why GDP Per Capita Can Start A Bar Fight Print
Written by Dean Baker   
Tuesday, 10 January 2012 11:51

In his latest New York Times Magazine column, "The Other Reason Europe Is Going Broke," Adam Davidson writes, "One great way to start a bar fight during an American Economic Association conference is to claim that the U.S. economy is preferable to Europe's. Someone will undoubtedly start quarreling about how GDP per capita doesn't measure a person's happiness."

NPR's Planet Money blog asked Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy Research, to explain why GDP per capita, the total GDP of a country divided by the number of people in the country, is such a controversial measure. This post originally appeared there.

The gap in per capita income between the United States and Europe is striking, but these numbers do not tell the whole story in comparing living standards There are three important issues to keep in mind.

First, there are some very big measurement issues in international comparisons of GDP. At the top of this list, I would put our spending on health care. We spend 17 percent of GDP on health care, whereas the average across Europe is less than 10 percent GDP. What do we get for this extra 7 percentage points of GDP? That is not obvious to say the least. The U.S. ranks behind every West European country in life expectancy and does not stand out in most other outcome measures.

There are also important areas of spending that don't directly improve living standards. The United States spends more than 4.0 percent of GDP on the military as opposed to less than 1.0 percent across Western Europe. One can argue whether this spending is necessary, but this is another 3.0 percent of GDP that is not improving living standards. The same applies to spending on criminal justice, which is more than 1.5 percent of GDP in the United States and perhaps one-tenth this amount across Western Europe.



Fracking Nonsense: The Job Myth of Gas Drilling Print
Written by Helene Jorgensen   
Sunday, 08 January 2012 12:02

Natural gas companies are trying to sell fracking as the solution to all of the economic ills ailing this country.  Supposedly fracking can bring the economy out of its current stagnation by creating uncountable new jobs, without running up government deficits, and even save us from global warming in the process.  So how come local residents and environmentalists oppose fracking? The short answer is that fracking does not create local jobs, it lowers property values, and pollutes the water we drink and the air we breathe.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short, is drilling for gas buried more than a mile under ground in hard rock layers. In order to extract the gas, a toxic cocktail of chemicals is pumped deep into the ground to fracture the rock. In recent years, the state of Pennsylvania has embraced the fracking boom and more than 4,500 wells have been drilled there since 2007. The state of New York has taken a more prudent approach by implementing a moratorium until the environmental and economic effects have been evaluated. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is currently seeking public comments on the issue (deadline January 11).

In an intensive lobbying campaign to influence a skeptical public’s opinions about fracking, the gas industry has commissioned a number of economic studies that find huge job gains from fracking. A recent study by the economic forecasting company IHS Global Insight Inc., paid for by the America’s Natural Gas Alliance, projects that fracking will create 1.1 million jobs in the United States by year 2020. However, a closer read of the study reveals that the analysis also projects that fracking will actually lead to widespread job losses in other sectors of the economy, and would result in slightly lower overall employment levels the following 10 years, compared to what it would be if fracking were restricted. In another study, commissioned by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, researchers with Penn State University estimated that gas drilling would support 216,000 jobs in Pennsylvania alone by 2015. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show employment in the oil and gas industry to be 4,144 in Pennsylvania.

Rather than trying to project what will happen in the future, one could look at what the employment impact has been from Pennsylvania’s love affair with fracking since 2007, using actual employment data readily available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.



Labor Market Policy Research Reports, January 2-6, 2011 Print
Written by Matthew Sedlar   
Friday, 06 January 2012 15:20

Recently released reports from CEPR, CBPP, Demos and EPI.

Center for Economic and Policy Research

Down and Out: Measuring Long-Term Hardship in the Labor Market
John Schmitt and Janelle Jones

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Hundreds of Thousands of Lower-Wage Workers, Many of Whom Worked for Decades, Would Be Denied Unemployment Insurance Under Provision Now Under Consideration
Robert Greenstein, Hannah Shaw and Chad Stone


The State of Young America: Key Facts

Under Attack: New York’s Middle Class and the Jobs Crisis
with the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy

Economic Policy Institute

Working Hard to Make Indiana Look Bad: The Tortured, Uphill Case for ‘Right-to-Work’
Gordon Lafer

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