Macroeconomics

The Least We Could Pay

AP Photo/Jim Mone, File
AP Photo/John Minchillo I n his campaign to drum up public support for a post-recess budget deal with Congress, President Barack Obama has repeated a call he first made in his 2013 State of the Union speech: an increase in the federal minimum wage. This past January, he called for a $9 minimum wage, up from the $7.25 rate that has remained unchanged the past four years. This week, at an Amazon packaging facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he said : “[B]ecause no one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I will keep making the case that we need to raise a minimum wage that in real terms is lower than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. That means more money in consumers’ pockets, and more business for companies like Amazon.” A $9 federal minimum wage is higher than any current state’s minimum wage except Washington’s. When Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and other Republicans dismissed the President’s call to raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation...

Must Austerity Keep Winning?

T he EU’s extreme version of budget cutting has pushed the European economy ever deeper into its worst recession since World War II. The United States, pursuing a bipartisan target of $4 trillion in budget cuts over a decade, is mired in an economy of slow growth and inadequate job creation. Our government’s failure to give debt relief to indentured college students and underwater homeowners functions as a multitrillion-dollar twin drag on a feeble recovery. The smart money knows just how weak this economy is. Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke had only to suggest that he might nudge interest rates up a bit, and markets panicked. So austerity is the wrong medicine for the prolonged aftermath of a financial collapse. Case closed. But hold on. Winning the intellectual debate doesn’t matter, because we keep losing the politics. Until we start changing the policies, or at least begin causing more political embarrassment for the budget hawks, austerity will reign, no matter how perverse...

Congress Is Squandering the Opportunity of a Lifetime

Dan McKay / Flickr
Dan McKay / Flickr It’s the first Friday of the month, which means a jobs report . And this one isn’t bad. The economy added a net 195,000 jobs in June, with upwards revisions of 70,000 in April and May. Which means that, so far this year, the economy has added more than 1 million jobs. To repeat a point, this is why the 2012 election was so critical for Democrats—a Mitt Romney win would have given Republicans a chance to claim credit for the current job growth, and use the political capital to push a highly-ideological agenda. But back to the numbers. Federal government employment dropped by 5,000, a likely result of sequestration, and part of an overall decline of public employment—since 2010, the public sector has shed more than 600,000 jobs. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 7.6 percent, with a slight drop in long-term unemployment. Still, more than four million people have been out of work for longer than six months. In other words, despite the improving economy, we’re...

The End of the Austerity Crusade?

Rex Features via AP Images
I s President Obama planning to reverse course on deficit reduction? You will recall that the president joined the deficit-hawk crowd in calling for more than $4 trillion of deficit reduction over the next decade; that he has offered to cut Social Security and Medicare as part of a grand bargain (that the Republicans mercifully rejected); that it was Obama who appointed the Bowles-Simpson Commission; and that his own budget for FY 2014 includes substantial spending cuts. But, with the 2014 midterm election looming and the recovery stuck in second gear with mediocre job creation, there is zero chance of a grand-budget bargain that includes tax increases, and interest rates are creeping up (which will slow the recovery further). Europe demonstrates that austerity economics are a proven failure. Even the International Monetary Fund says so . So let us read the tea leaves. First, the president has just named Jason Furman to chair the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). Furman was a...

Cascading Effects of Parental Stress

Economic hardship reverberates through the family in multiple ways that harm children. 

O n August 14, 2003, the lights went out in cities across the Northeast. This rolling blackout, one of the worst in U.S. history, was a cascading failure, in which a local power surge on an already-overloaded system triggered failures across the network. Five years later, much of America was in the midst of another type of cascading failure. Like the Northeast blackout of 2003, the collapse of the housing market in 2007 flowed through multiple and interconnected systems, resulting in the deepest and most sustained global economic slowdown since the Great Depression. The ensuing recession reverberated through families, placing economic stresses on parents, with repercussions for an entire generation of children. These ripple effects couldn’t have come at a worse time for U.S. families already weighed down by a decade of stagnant wages and growing income inequality, particularly for low- and middle-income families. As developmental scientists, we know that economic deprivation—including...

No More Playing With Money

AP Images/Peter Dejong
If you’re looking for the personification of the Washington economic establishment, you could do a lot worse than Fred Bergsten. National Security Council economics deputy under Henry Kissinger (at age 27), then head of the international desk and the monetary portfolio in Jimmy Carter’s Treasury Department, and from 1981 through last year the founding director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Bergsten has been a forceful advocate for what used to be called the Washington Consensus: an unflagging belief in the virtues of free trade and fiscal discipline. This Thursday, he delivers what looks to be at least a semi-valedictory at the Peterson Institute, the annual Stavros Niarchos lecture. Rather than celebrate the virtues of free trade—a topic he says (in an advanced text of his speech) that he considered and then rejected—he devotes his talk instead to an analysis of the devastating effect that currency manipulation has had on the American and other economies, and...

The Upside Down Economy

AP Images/Scott Sady
AP Photo/Richard Drew O ne aspect that defines our current economy is that things are happening that shouldn’t be happening. I don’t mean that things are happening that are illegal or immoral. (Well, some of them are immoral, but that’s not what I mean.) Rather, things are happening that defy economic logic—a slippery term that really means, the economic patterns of roughly the past half-century. The first such logic-defying thing is that corporate profits are soaring even as corporate revenues limp along. The quarterly reports of S&P 500 corporations for the first three months of 2013 are almost entirely in now, and they show profits rising by more than 5 percent even while revenues have risen by less than 1 percent. Seventy percent of these companies—the largest publicly traded U.S. firms—exceeded the analysts’ profit projections. On the other hand, 60 percent came in under the projections for their sales. Were this disjuncture just a one-time epiphenomenon, we could pass it off...

Deficit Reduction Is Ruining America

Flickr/Talk Radio News Service
Flickr/Talk Radio News Service It’s official: The spending cuts of 2011 and 2012, pushed by Republicans as necessary given our deficits, have damaged the recovery and kept more people out of work. According to Jackie Calmes and Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times , “The nation’s unemployment rate would probably be nearly a point lower, roughly 6.5 percent, and economic growth almost two points higher this year if Washington had not cut spending and raised taxes as it has since 2011.” That period, the Times notes, “coincides with the time that Mr. Obama and Congressional Republicans have shared governance since Republicans took control of the House in 2011, promising an immediate $100 billion in spending cuts.” And while we didn’t see that level of austerity at the time, the budget compromises of the last year will lower annual discretionary spending to its lowest levels in fifty years. To put that it slightly different terms, if not for two years of deficit reduction, 1.5 million...

How Our Tax Dollars Are Fueling Inequality

(Good Jobs Nation)
My name is Roxanne Mimms and I work for a food service contractor at the National Zoo. I work full time but make barely minimum wage. I’m here because workers can’t live off what contractors pay us. I’m here because I don’t want my two children to grow up on public assistance. I’m here because I have dreams – My American Dream is a good job with fair wages to provide for my children, being able to pay my bills on time and save for the future. I’m here because I want to help all the workers at the National Zoo whose dreams are on hold.” I was proud to stand with Ms. Mimms—and see her beautiful little ones—at the launch of Good Jobs Nation Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C. Ms. Mimms and other employees working for federal contractors and other private businesses serving the American public joined together to speak out about their wages and working conditions. Faith leaders, community groups, and members of Congress—including Representatives Keith Ellison and Eleanor Holmes Norton—...

Jobs: The Bigger Picture

flickr/woodleywonderworks
The government’s April jobs report produced some happy headlines and a big stock market rally. The dismal March jobs tally was revised upwards from under 100,000 new jobs to a still feeble 138,000. In April, the economy created 165,000 jobs. The nominal unemployment rate dropped all the way from 7.9 percent to 7.5 percent. But look a little deeper and you’ll appreciate just how crummy these numbers are. The typical new job pays far less than the jobs that have been lost. We are still down a net 2.8 million jobs from the number of people who were employed in 2007 before the recession started. All told, there are 22 million Americans either unemployed or under-employed—looking for full-time work and not finding it. One telling indicator is the very low percentage of people who are in the labor force. Before the recession, in 2007, the employment-to-population ratio was above 63 percent, down slightly from its peak of over 64 percent in 2000. Since the great collapse, the ratio has been...

A Roaring Jobs Report

Barack Obama/Flickr
Here is the thing to remember about every jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: You have to wait for the revisions. Remember, the monthly jobs report is a scientific survey of households and employers. That doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate, but for any given survey, there are ways to improve the accuracy and reach a higher degree of precision. Month after month, this is what the BLS does—it tests and adjusts, in order to get the most accurate account of the where the economy stands. With all of that said, this month was a solid one for jobs; April employment grew by 165,000 jobs, a decent number, though not as good as it should be given population growth and the still-sluggish economy. The number of long-term unemployed declined 258,000 to 4.4 million (around 37 percent of all unemployed Americans). Joblessness dropped to a four-year-low of 7.5 percent. But more important than this is the revisions. As it turns out, February was the biggest month for job growth in years—the BLS...

Public Debt and Economic Growth

Flickr/gentlepurespace
In the election of 1952 my father voted for Dwight Eisenhower. When I asked him why he explained that “FDR’s debt” was still burdening the economy—and that I and my children and my grandchildren would be paying it down for as long as we lived. I was only six years old and had no idea what a “debt” was, let alone FDR’s. But I had nightmares about it for weeks. Yet as the years went by my father stopped talking about “FDR’s debt,” and since I was old enough to know something about economics I never worried about it. My children have never once mentioned FDR’s debt. My four-year-old grandchild hasn’t uttered a single word about it. By the end of World War II, the national debt was 120 percent of the entire economy. But by the mid-1950s, it was half that. Why did it shrink? Not because the nation stopped spending. We had a Korean War, a Cold War, we rebuilt Germany and Japan, sent our GI’s to college and helped them buy homes, expanded education at all levels, and began constructing the...

Are Democrats Moving Away from "Debt Crisis" Rhetoric?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect Deficit reduction has been Washington’s obsession for the past two years, and the main approach of both parties is austerity—any combination of policies that raises government revenue and reduces its expenditures. On one side is the Republican Party, which wants to lower the debt and, eventually, balance the budget with large cuts to existing social services, from Medicaid—a health-care program for the poor—to food stamps, unemployment insurance, and other key services for low-income Americans. If this is full austerity, then you could call the Democratic approach austerity “light.” Like Republicans, most Democrats—including President Obama—want cuts to federal spending. But they reduce spending with cuts to Medicare—through adjusted payments to hospitals, manufacturers, and doctors—and defense spending. In addition, Democrats want higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans to “balance” these cuts and spread the burden across income groups. New taxes...

The STEM-Shortage Myth

Flickr/jasonandrebecca09
Flickr/jasonandrebecca09 The Economic Policy Institute published a report yesterday on the supposed shortage of professionals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). You've probably heard of the crisis by now. America is not producing enough STEM degrees. This will be the death of innovation and global competitiveness. We must reorient higher education to convert more liberal arts students into STEM students. And so on. The problem with this alleged crisis is that it is not real. As the EPI report lays bare, the common wisdom about our STEM problem is mistaken: We are not facing a shortage of STEM-qualified workers. In fact, we appear to have a considerable STEM surplus. Only half of students graduating with a STEM degree are able to find STEM jobs. Beyond that, if there was an actual shortage of STEM workers, basic supply and demand would predict that the wages of STEM workers would be on the rise. Instead, wages in STEM fields have not budged in over a decade. Stagnant...

Reinhart and Rogoff's Theory of Government Debt is Dead

NBER
Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff wrote a wildly influential book four years ago called This Time Is Different .* The thesis of the book is that when a government has a debt-to-GDP ratio above 90 percent, it is terrible for economic growth. The authors also followed up with a couple of papers arguing the same thing. Pro-austerity forces here and elsewhere in the world have seized upon the book to push their favored policies. From the beginning, the paper was met with extreme skepticism among the left. The theory could have gotten the causation backwards: perhaps low growth drives high debt, not the other way around. The theory also seemed hard to understand within any macroeconomic frame. It would follow from it that a government that holds assets instead of selling them to reduce debt somehow caused growth to decline, which is just a very confusing idea. The conceptual problems could iterate on and on. Beyond those problems, other researchers also had a hard time replicating their...

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