Robert Hiltonsmith

Robert Hiltonsmith is a policy analyst at Demos.

Recent Articles

Your Retirement For A Thousand Fees

One of the many parts of the financial sector that the crisis exposed as desperately in need of reform was the 401(k) industry. In 2008 alone, the securities industry lost over $2 trillion in workers’ hard-earned 401(k) and IRA savings. This loss was problematic enough for the millions of American families who watched their balances plunge in horror, but the number that really drives home the need for reform is the more than $120 billion that the industry took home in compensation and commissions the same year it lost $2 trillion in savers’ wealth. Clearly, there must be something wrong with the rules and incentives for the securities industry if it's able to pay itself so much while performing so poorly. There are, however, several relatively simple rules that could be implemented to insure that the industry responsible for millions of Americans’ retirement works to help them retire comfortably—as opposed to simply lining its own pockets at their expense. One rule would be to require...

Making State and Local Taxes Fair Game

Fixing highly regressive tax systems is one of the essential steps in making our country's tax code more fair.

(Flickr / kenteegardin)
This piece is the second in a six-part series on taxation, and a joint project by The American Prospect and its publishing partner, Demos. “Tax fairness” is defined very differently by Americans from various walks of life. Despite this divide, there is a substantial shared vision: A majority of Americans believe that the government should be doing more to help people, and the vast majority believe that wealthier Americans should be the ones paying higher taxes to support those priorities. If that is the case, why do we have a state and local tax system that is the polar opposite of those beliefs, one where the better-off pay about half as much in taxes as the less-well-off? This inequity both contradicts our country’s shared beliefs on tax fairness and is the major cause behind the critical lack of state and local investment in social capital that I wrote about in my last piece . We need to correct this inequality immediately if we are going to maintain needed levels of investment in...

Washington, We Have a Revenue Problem

Why taxes have to go up—by a lot

(Flickr/401K)
This piece is the first in a six-part series on taxation and a joint project by The American Prospect and its publishing partner, Demos. The United States has a revenue problem. Taxes at all levels of government are too low to balance budgets and, more important, to ensure America’s future prosperity and cope with an aging population. While many political and policy leaders argue that future revenues should reflect “historic norms,” this is a flawed assumption on which to base long-term fiscal planning. Tax revenues have accounted for around 18 percent of GDP since World War II, and 18.3 percent over the past 30 years. The budget released by Paul Ryan and the House Budget Committee proposes average revenue levels at this same level—18.3 over the next decade. (Although an analysis by the Tax Policy Center found that the average would in fact be 15.4 percent.) The Simpson-Bowles plan, released in late 2010, proposed average revenues of 19.3 percent through 2020. Meanwhile, the Obama...

Generation Y Bother

Young adults entering the workforce today think they'll be worse off than their parents—they're not wrong.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The recession officially ended nearly two and a half years ago, in June 2009, but for the generation of young adults who’ve been trying to take their first steps into adulthood, its effects could shape the future for decades to come. Why is this recession different from other sharp downturns? The standard economic indicators fail to tell the whole story. Yes, unemployment rates for young people remain at the record-high levels they hit at the Great Recession’s peak in 2007, but this is typical for young workers, who tend to be the last group that recovers after a recession—and tend to feel its effects far after the economy has rebounded. The young baby boomers who bore the brunt of the 1981-1982 recession had lower earnings even 15 years after the economy recovered, and during that downturn, the economy only lost half as many jobs as during the Great Recession. For youth entering the workforce today, not only has the sour economy delayed their careers; they are entering a workforce...

Pinching Pensions

Why is the right attacking public employee retirement benefits?

Dave Simpson began working for the state of Oregon right out of college. He knew that he'd make less than his friends who took jobs in the private sector, but for Dave, public service and a secure pension more than outweighed the lower pay. He spent his entire career with the state, working a variety of jobs, tackling everything from state parks to computer networks. Dave's story mirrors those of the vast majority of public employees: Serve your state, and earn a comfortable, but not lavish, retirement--according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, public-employee pensions average a modest $20,867 per year. Sometimes, their pension is all they have: Employees of all state governments were excluded from Social Security when it was created, and more than a quarter of them still aren't covered. Since Social Security benefits average less than $16,000 a year, the bonus for public employees is hardly lavish. How is it, then, that these unassuming public servants, and...

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