Policy Shop

Policy as if people mattered

Your Young Adult Employment Report for October 2012

This month’s employment report points to a trend of job growth crawling just barely above our low expectations for recovery, which is good news for Millennials returning to the labor pool after years of flagging participation. And—surely this counts for something—we were spared a repeat of September’s politicized BLS paranoia . According to the October numbers, the employment gains average 170,000 jobs per month since August, a better showing than previously thought and supporting last month’s revisions for the summer. Although a swift labor revival remains elusive, at this point in the recovery, the prospect of restoring pre-recession employment rates sometime around the beginning of the next decade seems like a boon. Millennials, who are now flowing back into the labor market after yet another listless summer, appear to be looking on the bright side. In October unemployment rates increased for 20 to 24-year-olds (from 12.4 percent in September to 13.2 percent) and 25 to 34-year-olds...

Closing the Jobs Gap Requires Much Bigger Thinking

(White House)
Today's job numbers show that the economy continues to creep in the right direction—but also that job creation will remain a paramount challenge over the next few years. The problem is not just the millions of working-age adults who remain unemployed or under-employed. It's also that the labor force is growing every month by some 100,000 would-be workers, according to the Hamilton Project—or over a million people every year who need work. The Obama Administration has trumpeted all the jobs created since the President took office in January 2009—more jobs, actually, than were created under President George W. Bush. But the fact is that, as the Hamilton Project points out, the overall "jobs gap" has continued to grow even as the unemployment rate has fallen as more workers have poured into the labor force and the economy has way underperformed. And that jobs gap will continue to grow if the recovery continues at only a creeping pace. Today's job numbers of 171,000 new jobs may look...

Why Should Government Respond Differently to Natural vs. Economic Disasters?

(FEMA.gov)
With millions of Americans struggling to recover from Sandy, few people question that government has a central role to play in rebuilding battered communities in New Jersey and other states. Natural disasters are often highpoint moments for the public sector, reminding us of the power of common institutions that allow citizens to help each other in times of need. The residents, say, of sunny Los Angeles needn't do anything special at this moment, because they have already been doing something—helping fund FEMA with their tax dollars so that it has the capacity to respond to unexpected events like a "Frankenstorm." But here's a question: If most of us take for granted that we should be there for our fellow citizens during natural disasters, using the tool of government, why is it so controversial that we should also lend a helping hand during man-made economic disasters? Why are unemployment benefits under attack in numerous states, even as millions remain jobless through no fault of...

Extreme Partisanship: Preserver of our Democracy

(Flickr/Austen Hufford)
(Flickr/Austen Hufford) According a recent Pew poll, the partisan gap has almost doubled since George W. Bush’s presidency through Barak Obama’s. It is widely assumed that partisanship, particularly of the rabid variety, is detrimental to the political process and harms our democracy. I believe this is naive and not borne out by the evidence. Partisanship is responsible for the “dysfunction of Washington,” to use the current popular pejorative, and polls have recorded as much as 80 percent of the electorate dissatisfied with Congress. This figure is not easily obtained. According a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, the partisan gap has almost doubled since George W. Bush’s presidency through Barak Obama’s. America is becoming more partisan, if that is possible. Incumbent senators and congressmen have worked extremely hard for this and have forged a difficult alliance to reach this goal. This alliance is often overlooked by ideologues, but obviously, though appearing...

The Subversion of Direct Democracy

(Flickr/Neon Tommy)
A few months ago, I attended a large political gathering. There, a gentleman was handing out flyers which read, “Abolish the Congress and replace it with direct citizen voting by phone or television.” A few days later, a newly-arrived transplant to Southern California wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Times . He said he was mystified by California’s method of writing and enacting laws by ballot initiative. He wondered what happened to the concept of laws being written by elected legislators. The flyer and the letter represent polar opposite views about direct versus representative democracy. The major complaint I hear about the initiative process is that it is dominated by those very interests it was originally designed to overcome. For one thing, proponents write initiatives as a wish list. Unlike the legislative process, which involves hearings, debates, and compromise, drafters of initiatives often write extreme measures representing their own agenda in the hopes of boosting...

Direct Democracy, for Billionaires

(Flickr/ehoyer)
Over a century ago, progressive reformers were deeply worried about how wealthy interests had hijacked American politics populating state legislatures with cronies who did as they were told and otherwise steamrolled the will of the people. To level the playing field, reformers worked to create mechanisms for direct democracy through state referendum and ballot initiatives, allowing voters to bypass corrupted political systems. Now, in a classic case of unintended consequences, these mechanisms for popular power are routinely used by the rich to change state laws—or try to, anyway. Again and again in recent years, wealthy individuals or interest groups have poured fortunes into ballot initiative campaigns. As the Progressive States Network has shown, the deep-pocketed right has been especially effective in using ballot initiatives to cut taxes, limit government, restrict affirmative action, and ban gay marriage. Regardless of what the rich want, the ability of a single wealthy person...

Why Schumer Is (Mostly) Right on Taxes

(Pete Labrozzi/Flickr)
Senator Schumer offered a much needed intervention in the tax debate in a speech on Tuesday. What Schumer said is that revenue-neutral tax reform was a fantasy and that any big Congressional deal on tax reform had to include higher rates on the wealthy, as well as more revenue overall. Yes and yes to both points. As Schumer pointed out, one major distortion in today's tax code that needs to be fixed is its favorable treatment of the wealthy, particularly through the historically low rate of taxes on capital gains—the source of much income for the wealthiest Americans: Over time, our tax code has widened the nation’s wealth gap. Reversing this trend ought to be a top goal of tax reform; at a minimum, we certainly should not make the tax code any less progressive than it would be if the high-income tax cuts expired. The basic goal of several tax reform plans, including Mitt Romney's, is to lower top rates and make up lost revenue by closing loopholes. But Schumer rightly points out that...

Devolving Federal Programs to the States Means Cutting Them

(Flickr/donrelyea)
On Tuesday, the Pew Center on the States released a summary of the differences between the presidential candidates on key issues affecting the states . The summary reflects Governor Romney’s preference for devolving to the states responsibility for critical policy matters. Among other things he would replace the Affordable Care Act with state plans, and convert Medicaid and federal job training programs into block grants. The proposal to devolve programs to the states has a certain resonance in American political rhetoric. States are famously “laboratories of democracy,” as Justice Brandeis once wrote and Gov. Romney reminded his audience in the first presidential debate. There’s a measure of truth to this homily, but it should be understood in context. When issues are bubbling to the surface or when Federal lawmakers are conflicted, states can indeed show the way, as they did with child labor laws and labor protections. More recently, states have been bolder than the Federal...

Invasion of the Climate Deniers

(Flickr/pennstatelive)
When it comes to climate change, there is one area in which the United States leads all other nations: Our media gives more time and attention to climate deniers than other countries. A recent study from researchers at Oxford University and Birkbeck College took a look at the level of climate skepticism in media coverage in the United States, Brazil, China, France, India, and the United Kingdom. The study, which focused on a three-month period that spanned the “ Climategate ” scandal, shows that media in the United States gives voice to climate skeptics almost twice as often as Britain—second on the list. The graph below shows the number of articles containing voices skeptical of climate change as a percentage of the total: The study also found that while climate critiques ran in most U.S. papers regardless of ideology, right-leaning papers left most of the claims uncontested. For example, the left-leaning New York Times ran 14 opinion pieces that included some form of climate...

Good News For Grads in the Jobs Report

(Demos DataByte)
While the September jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics provided plenty of political ammunition, it remains an ambiguous signal about the current labor market. Young people, who are at a disadvantage when hiring is slack, tend to fare worse in such good news/bad news situations. They confront the same challenges as the working population overall, but are not as well-positioned to endure them. In this case those obstacles include weak growth, persistent rates of long-term unemployment, and a substantial rise in workers holding part-time positions because they cannot find the full-time work they need. Young adults have less job experience and lower savings than older workers, making them more likely to accept employment that provides the bare minimum they need to get by—not the best situation for someone looking to launch a career or start a family. But in addition to sharing the challenges, this month workers ages 20 to 34 experienced the same positive outcomes as did the...

Hey! Hey! Government Is Hiring Again

(Demos DataByte)
Here's one very interesting piece of news from today's jobs report : The public sector has stopped firing people and started hiring. According to the report, government at all levels has added 68,000 workers in the past three months. This hiring spree comes after three years of nearly non-stop government layoffs, with over 600,000 public sector workers losing their jobs—including over 200,000 teachers or other school workers. The downsizing of government amid hard times has been one of the most preventable aspects of the unemployment crisis. Americans have wanted government to solve this problem, and instead government made it worse—specifically, by Congress's failure to provide enough federal assistance to states facing shortfalls. More government hiring suggests that revenues of state and local governments are picking up again. But these entities are not out of the woods by a long shot and federal aid is still badly needed if Washington is truly interested in speeding up the...

Obama and Romney: What About Inequality?

(Flickr/PaulSteinJC)
Just a year ago, Occupy Wall Street commanded attention from the media and politicians alike. Yet last night the central concern of that social movement—one shared by a majority of Americans—wasn't even mentioned as both candidates and the moderator ducked the problem of economic inequality. Yes, Obama did say several times that America does best when the middle class is growing. But he never overtly talked about the growing chasm of income and wealth—or how a big reason that ordinary people are not doing so well is because so much new prosperity created in today's economy gets channeled upward to a tiny sliver of the population. Not mentioning inequality when talking about the plight of the middle class is like not mentioning poaching when discussing the future of elephants. Obama's omission was especially notable in that his campaign is one of the most populist in memory, with nonstop attacks on Romney as part of the plutocratic problem and repeated calls for higher taxes on the...

Finally! Schneiderman Goes After JP Morgan Chase

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, with the support of the mortgage task force formed by the Obama administration last January and the Justice Department, has commenced the long overdue prosecution of the Big Banks for their role in triggering the financial crisis of 2008. (That is not a typo—the Justice Department has finally moved against the Big Banks.) The case is a civil proceeding for unspecified damages against JP Morgan Chase, as successor to Bear Stearns (which it acquired with the backing of the Fed in 2008). It alleges systematic fraud against the buyers of residential mortgage backed bonds prior to the merger. Schneiderman deserves praise for leading the effort. It is a welcome counter to self-serving assertions of Fed officials that the investors should have understood the risks that they were getting into. Even now, the allegations in the Complaint stir outrage, though most have been known for many months. Bear Stearns bond-marketing documents are cited for...

Barry Commoner's Legacy

(TIME Magazine)
Yesterday brought the sad news that noted environmental advocate and scholar, Barry Commoner , had passed away. As pointed out in the many tributes to his life and achievements, Commoner was one of the founders of modern environmentalism and embraced a more complex, holistic view of environmental issues. Commoner believed in addressing multiple issues, such as racism, sexism, war, and—most importantly—the failings of capitalism at the same time as environmentalism because they were, and still are, all related issues of a larger central problem. Commoner had four informal rules of ecology: Everything is connected to everything else Everything must go somewhere Nature knows best There is no such thing as a free lunch Decades later, these rules still hold true. The first idea addresses the concept that environmentalism is just one piece of a larger picture. For instance, gender rights are not thought of as a traditional environmental issue. Yet, empowering women is one of the best ways...

Diane Ravitch on the "Effort to Destroy Public Ed"

(Flickr/Kevin Lock)
Diane Ravitch receiving a National Education Association award in 2010. Click here to read part 1 of the Prospect 's interview with the former assistant secretary of education. When Diane Ravitch changed her mind about education reform, she became one of the leading critics of a movement that dominates American policy. For the most part, both Democrats and Republicans now push to make school systems resemble economic markets. They want fewer teacher protections, more testing, and more charter schools for parents to choose from. President Barack Obama's Department of Education, headed by education reformer Arne Duncan, shares many policy goals with those of George W. Bush's administration. Ravitch herself was once part of the movement, promoting student assessments and helping to create voluntary academic standards. After serving as assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, she held positions at the pro-school-reform movement Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and was a member...

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