Jared Bernstein

Jared Bernstein is an economist and senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He was formerly chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden and a member of President Barack Obama’s economics team.

 

Recent Articles

Savings Incentives for the Poor

The problem of poverty in America looms large even in the best of times. The most recent economic boom got the share of those officially deemed poor down to 11.7 percent, or about 33 million persons, but poverty rates are much higher for economically vulnerable groups such as single mothers, African Americans and Hispanics. Advocates of savings incentives and other asset-building programs for the poor convincingly and passionately make the case that while low incomes are the proximate cause of poverty at any point in time, the inability to accumulate wealth is what keeps people and their families stuck in poverty for generations. As Ray Boshara, who directs the asset-development program at the New America Foundation, wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, "Lack of income means you don't get by; lack of assets means you don't get ahead." Income supports are a necessary palliative; asset building could be curative. The asset-building idea that has gone farthest politically and has the...

It's Full Employment, Stupid

N ewly released data on income and poverty suggest that the recent economic downturn hit lower-income families disproportionately. The latest Census Bureau report found that poverty began rising and median family income started falling in 2001, confirming what many of us have always known: The key to improved living standards for the bottom half was, and is, full employment. After tumbling through the latter half of the 1990s, the unemployment rate hit a 30-year low of 4 percent in 2000. With the onset of recession, it reversed course and climbed to 4.8 percent in 2001. Now, 4.8 percent doesn't sound that bad. Most economists used to think that you couldn't get below 6 percent unemployment without triggering dangerous inflation. But from the new data we learn that the 0.8 percent increment in unemployment led to higher poverty, less income for the typical middle-class family and a return to the 1980s and early 1990s pattern of highly unequal income growth. In one sense, this reversal...

Reforming Welfare Reform

I n 2002 Congress will revisit Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), often known as welfare reform. Many progressives, ourselves included, fought hard against the program that passed in 1996. We judged it too punitive and too far from the spirit of progressive reform, which would have focused less on reducing caseloads and more on both promoting employment and improving the well-being of low-income families with children. We worried that the low-wage labor market, which had been deteriorating for decades, provided little opportunity for families forced to leave public assistance. We feared that without work supports, such as child care and expanded earnings subsidies, the economic circumstances of some of our most vulnerable families would be severely diminished. We argued that the block grant funding approach of the new program revoked the important countercyclical feature of the entitlement program that TANF replaced. So far, the evidence reveals that many of our fears...

Full Employment at Risk

Even before the World Trade Center tragedy struck a blow at the economy, the national unemployment rate had begun to rise in recent months--and comments like these began appearing in the press: "The economy is moving to a more normal, sustainable unemployment rate after a period of rapid growth" (Neal Soss, chief economist at Credit Suisse First Boston, quoted in The Washington Post, May 5, 2001). "Unemployment, despite thousands of recent layoffs across a wide range of sectors, is still well below the rate commonly associated with stable inflation and growth" ( New York Times editorial, June 28, 2001). And even though the recent rise to 4.9 percent was enough to frighten the stock market and provoke calls for anti-recession measures, attention was focused more on the slow growth rate and stagnant corporate profits. Where unemployment is concerned, the conventional wisdom is that 4.9 percent, if anything, is too low. Important policy-making institutions echo these sentiments...

Economic Casualties

F or the first time in a decade, our economy is in recession. It's not official yet--the group that dates recessions doesn't act until after the fact--but there's little doubt that we're in the midst of a downturn. The tragedy of September 11 didn't sink the economy; it was already listing badly. But the terrorist attacks will undoubtedly extend its length and depth. Low-income working families have always been the least insulated from market forces. When the economy sneezes, they get pneumonia. It's been a while since we've had to think about how to help these families get through a period like this, and a lot has changed. For the first time in decades, the full-employment economy of the late 1990s brought real wage gains for the lowest-paid workers. The safety net also changed a lot, in some cases intentionally (welfare reform) and in some cases owing to neglect (unemployment insurance). One of the most notable trends--the millions of low-income mothers who left welfare for work--...

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