Economy

The She-covery that Wasn't

Press Association via AP Images

When the government shutdown ends and September’s jobs report is released (it was supposed to appear last Friday), careful readers will notice that women are holding a number of jobs either almost or just above their all-time high (which came in early 2008), while men are still millions short of their own pre-crash milestone. Hailing a successful she-covery, however, obscures the fact that women still face an elevated unemployment rate and that the barriers that kept that them from earning as much as men before the recession are still in place. Women are millions of jobs short of where they would be if the economy was at its full potential. Many of the new jobs they have are low-paying. The main causes of the pay gap, like gender segregation in the labor market, have not gone away. That women are gaining jobs is a good thing, but policymakers should not be convinced their work is over.

Dancing with the Shutdown Spin that Brought You

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Spin is overrated. Alas, it’s never going away. If there’s one thing that political scientists try, repeatedly, to convince the reporters and correspondents who cover politics of, it’s that fundamentals tend to matter a lot more than they think, and opinion manipulation matters less. Not none—but in many cases, not very much.

Michael Bay Blows Up Detroit

Cal Sport Media via AP Images

It's a morning in early August when Detroiters awaken to find a piece of Hong Kong rising in their midst. Beneath the shuttered skyscrapers of Grand Circus Park, the multi-story setpiece for Michael Bay's Transformers 4 buzzes with work crews painting balustrades and roofing life-sized tong lau. It has been little more than a week since Detroit became the largest city in the United States to declare bankruptcy.

Racing to Run a City without a Motor

AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File

Perhaps the most amazing story of the Detroit mayoral race is that the candidates are running like it matters.

Dave Bing’s Detroit

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

You could say that Dave Bing is a celebrity politician. But Detroit’s mayor is so mild-mannered, it’s easy to forget that he’s a Hall of Fame basketball star who was drafted second overall in 1966, earned Rookie of the Year honors, and played in the NBA for 12 seasons—most of them, naturally, with the Detroit Pistons. The league chose him as one of its 50 greatest players in 1996, and the Pistons retired his number.

But that’s all history. When Detroiters elected Dave Bing to the city’s top office four years ago, it wasn’t because of his fame. It was because he was boring.

Budget Roulette: The Uncertain End Game

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster

This budget crisis, weirdly, has nothing to do with the budget. It is the expression of the Tea Party Republicans’ animus against Obamacare, their general loathing of government, and their willingness to resort to wildly destructive tactics. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, one of the few heroes in this mess, put it so aptly, “They’ve lost their minds.”

Pandora's Box

AP Images/Austin American Statesman/Jay Janner

On a clear day this past May, Cody Wilson stood at a firing range just south of Austin, Texas. The BBC crew he’d invited stood a few feet away as the 25-year-old University of Texas law student adjusted his earplugs and sized up his target—a mound of dirt off in the distance. He raised a small handgun, pulled the trigger, and a .380 caliber shot rang out, kicking up a cloud of dust. The pistol Wilson held was made of black-and-white plastic and looked like a cheap children’s toy. What had drawn the BBC was that the gun, which Wilson dubbed the “Liberator,” had been created with an $8,000 3-D printer bought used on eBay. A self-described “techno-anarchist,” Wilson is on a quest to prove that new technology is rapidly changing what we can hope to regulate—from information and ideas to physical objects. The proof is that anyone with an Internet connection, a computer, and a 3-D printer can now manufacture a gun.

John Boehner Has Speaker Tenure for Life—If He Wants It

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Don’t worry about John Boehner. Yes, there seem to be near-constant rumors and suspicions of a revolt against him, and Republican members of the House have been conspiring with Texas Senator Ted Cruz. It’s very unlikely to actually cost him his job. He’s probably going to survive and remain as speaker of the House just as long as he wants to. At least, as long as divided government and the Republican House majority last.

Five Reasons Food Stamps Work Just Fine

Last week, House Republicans passed a bill that would cut the food stamp program by about $40 million over the next ten years. They’re drawing on headline numbers—the program serves about 47 million people each year and has the biggest price tag of any program in the farm bill, $80 billion for the next five years —to drum up support. (The aid, technically known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is still known as food stamps to nearly everyone who gets it.) There’s very little chance that the bill will be enacted, given the more moderate makeup of the Senate, although it’s likely that some cuts are will end up on the president’s desk. (The Senate is cutting $4.4 billion from the program.) Still, food stamps are one of the most robust federal entitlements for the poor we have left, so it’s always going to be a target for cuts. It’s worth looking beyond those numbers in the news to see how the program is performing—and why it’s still essential.

The Day after Shutdown

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

So it’s October … or maybe it’s six or ten weeks later, after a short-term continuing resolution has come and gone. The clock strikes midnight, Congress has failed to fund the government, and the next day it shuts down.

What happens next?

Playing Hunger Games with Food Stamps

When the House voted yesterday to cut $40 billion from the food-stamp program, they doubled the cuts the House had previously considered.

The Conservative Plan for Medicaid Expansion

AP Photo/Osamu Honda

A number of policymakers on both sides of the aisle cheered when, in April, the Arkansas Legislature passed a law both expanding Medicaid and transforming it into a service available in a marketplace of insurance options, a move known as the “private option.” Similar cheers erupted in June when Iowa Governor Terry Branstad approved a similar measure. The legislation marked a major accomplishment—not because the policies are necessarily improvements over traditional Medicaid but because they establish politically palatable paths for conservatives who want to increase access to health care. In Pennsylvania, GOP Governor Tom Corbett—who was against Medicaid expansion and this week announced he is is tepidly for it—has pointed to the these new plans as a model he might consider (among other, more controversial changes.) The private option may be a way to make comprehensive health-care coverage viable in other Republican states—but that depends largely on what happens in Arkansas and Iowa over the next several months.

The Fed Stays the Course

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Financial markets rallied when the Federal Reserve defied the rumor-mongers and resolved to continue its program of keeping interest rates very low until the unemployment rate improves. There was only one dissenting vote on the Fed’s policy-setting open market committee.

What’s going on here? Ever since the run-up to the collapse of 2008, what’s good for Wall Street hasn’t exactly been good for the rest of the economy. Are these ultra-low interest rates just pumping up more financial bubbles, as critics fear? Or does a still weak economy need this form of stimulus?

Think of it this way. There are risks to continuing a policy of very easy money, but premature tightening would be even worse.

The Obamacare Is Falling! The Obamacare Is Falling!

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

As we approach the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act at the end of the year, confusion still reigns. Most Americans don't understand what the ACA does or how it works, which is perhaps understandable. It is, after all, an exceedingly complex law, and from even before it passed there was an aggressive and well-funded campaign of misinformation meant to confuse and deceive Americans about it, a campaign that continues to this day and shows no sign of abating. To undo uncertainty and banish befuddlement, we offer answers to a few questions you might have about Obamacare.

Obama Just Changed the Most Racist Law in the Country

(flickr/uncgspecia)

You may have missed it, but yesterday President Obama dramatically altered one of the most racially damaging laws in America when the Department of Labor announced that it would extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers.

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