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The Prospect's politics blog

The Trouble With "Optics"

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
I've been writing about politics for a long time, and it's a tribute to the dynamism of our glorious democracy that every time I think that things couldn't get any stupider, I'm proven wrong yet again. While we face a genuine humanitarian and policy crisis on our southern border, with thousands of children making their way across hundreds of miles to wind up in the arms of the Border Patrol, the news media allowed Republicans to turn the focus to the deeply important question of whether or not President Obama would travel there to mount a photo op. Seriously. Then because it wasn't removed enough from reality already, people in the media are now talking about whether Barack Obama does photo ops and how often, because if he rejected a photo op on this particular issue but has photo-opped before, then I guess he's a hypocrite and therefore...um...therefore something. I'm not saying that "optics" are, per se, a bad thing to discuss. I certainly agree with Kevin Drum that as a general...

Good Obamacare News and the Republican Dilemma

Today the Commonwealth Fund released a new survey on the performance of the Affordable Care Act, and it adds yet more data to the tide of good news on the Affordable Care Act. As a number of people have noted, the law's evident success is making it increasingly hard for Republicans to sustain their argument that Obamacare is a disaster and must be immediately repealed. But it's actually a little more complicated than that, and the ways different Republicans are changing—or not changing—their rhetoric on health care is a microcosm of the GOP's fundamental dilemma. But before we get to that, let's look at what the survey showed: The uninsured rate for people ages 19 to 64 declined from 20 percent in the July-to-September 2013 period to 15 percent in the April-to-June 2014 period. An estimated 9.5 million fewer adults were uninsured. Young men and women drove a large part of the decline: the uninsured rate for 19-to-34-year-olds declined from 28 percent to 18 percent, with an estimated 5...

Health Insurance Is Not a Favor Your Boss Does For You

Flickr/Dani Armengol Garreta
The debate over the Hobby Lobby case has been plagued by many problematic presumptions, but there's one that even many people who disliked the decision seem to sign on to without thinking about it. It's the idea that the health insurance you get through your employer is something that they do for you—not just administratively, but in a complete sense. But this is utterly wrong. You work, and in exchange for that labor you are given a compensation package that includes salary and certain benefits like a retirement account and health coverage. Like the other forms of compensation, the details of that insurance are subject to negotiation between you and your employer, and the government's involvement is to set some minimums—just as it mandates a minimum wage, it mandates certain components health insurance must include. Those who support Hobby Lobby are now talking as though mandating that insurance include preventive care is tantamount to them forcing you to make a contribution to your...

Policy Shop

Policy as if people mattered

What Drives Credit Card Debt?

Americans cumulatively have $854 billion in revolving loan (mostly credit card) debt, according to the Federal Reserve. The amount has actually declined since the Great Recession, as credit card issuers tightened their lending standards, borrowers became more cautious, and strong and effective consumer protection laws went into effect, producing substantial savings for households. Still, $854 billion is no small matter, and its source is worth considering. Why do some people stagger under a mountain of credit card debt, paying high interest rates on their outstanding balances and never seeming to come out ahead, while others rarely if ever carry debt for long, despite pulling out their plastic on a regular basis? That’s the question I set out to answer in a new study , which compares two groups of low- and middle-income households with working age adults. The households are statistically indistinguishable in terms of income, racial and ethnic background, age, marital status and rate...

The Single Mother, Child Poverty Myth

I see it often claimed that the high rate of child poverty in the U.S. is a function of family composition. According to this view, the reason childhood poverty is so high is that there are too many unmarried parents and single mothers, and those kinds of families face higher rates of poverty. The usual upshot of this claim is that we can't really do much about high rates of childhood poverty, at least insofar as we can't force people to marry and cohabitate and such. One big problem with this claim is that family composition in the U.S. is not that much different from family composition in the famed low-poverty social democracies of Northern Europe, but they don't have anywhere near the rates of child poverty we have. A number of studies have tested this family composition theory using cross-country income data and found, again and again, that family composition differences account for very little of the child poverty differences between the US and other countries. Testing this...

Food Stamps Don’t Keep Wal-Mart’s Prices Low, They Keep Its Profits High

“ The same company that brings in the most food stamp dollars in revenue —an estimated $13 billion last year—also likely has the most employees using food stamps.” The name of the mammoth food stamp-reliant company is no secret: Wal-Mart. As journalist Krissy Clark notes in Marketplace’s valuable new series “ The Secret Life of the Food Stamp ,” Wal-Mart benefits from food stamps in multiple ways, as taxpayers both underwrite the company’s food sales and also subsidize its payroll costs. There is no doubt that food stamps (and a host of other public subsidies from Medicaid to home heating assistance to the Earned Income Tax Credit and beyond) reduce Wal-Mart’s employment costs substantially. A study released last year by staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce found that a single 300-employee Wal-Mart Supercenter may cost taxpayers anywhere from $904,542 to nearly $1.75 million per year. Consider that the working people who turn to food stamps to supplement...