Blog postings by CEPR staff and updates on the latest briefings and activities at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

In May, Wesley Bricker, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Chief Accountant, announced that he was stepping down. Early last month, we learned where he had landed: PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the “Big Four” auditors, as Vice Chair and Assurance Leader for the US and Mexico. With this move, Bricker has completed his fourth turn through the revolving door between PwC and the SEC. Although seemingly remarkable, his career trajectory is emblematic of the nearly nonexistent lines between regulators and those they are tasked with regulating. As this example makes clear, reforming agencies like the SEC so that they work for the public good will not just be a matter of choosing good commissioners, but of changing the culture and expectations for personnel throughout all echelons of these entities. 

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This week the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officially published regulations that radically expand the definition of an archaic immigration law term, public charge, to include various non-cash benefits that supplement earnings and other income, but are impossible to live on in the absence of other income. The people most impacted include millions of working-class and middle-class US citizens who plan to marry or are married to foreign nationals.
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With both Social Security and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) having anniversaries this month — August 14, 1935 and August 22, 1996, respectively — it’s a good time to compare and contrast what they do for children and youth. If you listen to Social Security’s critics, it’s easy to come away thinking that Social Security is a system of generational theft in which Boomer parents and grandparents steal from their children and grandchildren. At the same time, many of these same critics point to the TANF block grant as a model social program for families.

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As we have previously highlighted, the federal government’s forty independent federal agencies receive too little attention relative to their importance to our collective safety and prosperity. The Revolving Door Project has worked through multiple channels to shed light on these overlooked agencies and the threats that they face. We hope public education will generate pressure to safeguard the independence of these agencies and ensure that they are staffed with advocates for the public interest rather than corporate insiders. 

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The Revolving Door Project’s mission is to scrutinize the nexus of corporate power and the executive branch. In the United States, two agencies within the executive branch have the power to seek to break up a company: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Antitrust Division. That is why it is important that we research any entanglements undermining the FTC and DOJ Antitrust’s commitment to serving the public interest.

For decades, these agencies have mostly sat back and allowed the American economy to consolidate, consolidate, consolidate. But that might be changing. In June, reports swirled that the FTC and DOJ had begun investigating the so-called Big Four technology companies, with FTC looking into Amazon and Facebook while DoJ probes Apple and Google. 

The case for breaking up big tech has been growing for years. Many onlookers compare the likes of Bezos, Zuckerberg, and Cook to Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Carnegie — barons of the Second Gilded Age. But just because there’s a good case for action never means that the federal government will take it, especially when Silicon Valley has built an influence-peddling operation in Washington that may even surpass Wall Street’s.  

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to bring an antitrust case comes down to a few key individuals across the two agencies. 

In the FTC, the final call will come from the Commissioners. There are five of them, three Republicans and two Democrats, who all assumed office within the last year. Amazon and Facebook will almost certainly try to directly influence the thinking of these Commissioners. Therefore, the public needs to know whether these decision-makers have taken meetings with either of these companies, in order to accurately judge each Commissioners’ performance and interpret their ultimate vote.

In the DOJ, only one man will make the final call on whether to bring cases against Apple or Google: Makan Delrahim, the Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division. Notably, Delrahim has a history with one of his subjects. In 2007, he helped shepherd Google’s purchase of DoubleClick through the regulatory eyes of the FTC and DoJ, meaning he previously worked as exactly the sort of influencer who may now attempt to skew his own decision-making. 

DoubleClick was a particularly important acquisition for Google — it gave the company tools to expand into banner ads, and crucially, had developed some of the earliest behavioral advertising technology. This was the foundation for today’s targeted ads, which have helped Google to single-handedly control 38% of the online advertising market

Delrahim’s history with Google raises eyebrows. But he has been trying to counter any inference of a conflict of interest by adopting a public facing posture of independence, saying “We already have in our possession the tools we need to enforce the antitrust laws in cases involving digital technologies. US antitrust law is flexible enough to be applied to markets old and new.”

Still, just like the FTC Commissioners, it is important for the public to understand how Apple and Google may be attempting to sway Delrahim. That’s why the Revolving Door Project has sent Freedom of Information Act requests for the administrative calendars of both Delrahim and each of the FTC Commissioners, starting from when each official assumed office. 

We’ll also be using FOIA, as always, to follow how money and corruption grease the wheels of the American economy for industry’s benefit. That’s why we’re requesting a list of attorneys and staffers who’ve departed the FTC over the last five years. We’re curious how many ex-FTC attorneys have taken jobs working for the corporations they used to oversee. We’ve already identified one such case: Laura Berger, the former senior attorney at the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, who now works as LinkedIn’s Head of Privacy for the Americas. That’s why we’re requesting copies of her official email correspondence with LinkedIn while she was on the FTC’s payroll.

And that’s just the beginning — we will be filing several more FOIA in the coming weeks as we seek to uncover how and why corporate consolidation has reached current levels. If you have ideas for additional FOIA or other research topics, please do not hesitate to reach out at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The public deserves to understand how Silicon Valley’s influence machine impacts the policy choices that affect all of our digital lives. Whether or not the FTC or DOJ ultimately bring cases against any of these companies, simply seeing who these officials are meeting with will help onlookers assess their decisions. The voices in the ears of our top regulators inevitably affect their decision-making -- we at least deserve to know who those voices are.

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CEPR regularly publishes a curated collection of original research from academic institutions and nonprofits on the state of the US labor market. The compilation is part of our ongoing effort to promote informed debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives.


Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)

Policy Basics: How Many Weeks of Unemployment Compensation Are Available? 

The federal-state unemployment insurance system provides temporary income support for many people when they lose their jobs. But how many weeks of compensation are available for those that lose their job? It depends on the state. Most states offer the standard maximum of 26 weeks, but others may offer fewer or extended periods of compensation based on various criteria (e.g., unemployment rate). See how many weeks of unemployment compensation each state offers.

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This May, millions of new graduates found themselves torn between triumph and trepidation, as looming obligations to begin repaying student loans tempered celebrations nationwide. Still others had no cause to celebrate, having accrued debt without obtaining their desired degree or certification. Many of those in the latter group attended a for-profit college or university; students at these schools tend to accumulate more educational debt, and make up a disproportionate share of indebted dropouts. On average, they also have poorer educational and labor market outcomes than students who attend nonprofit institutions. Adding insult to injury, for-profit enterprises tend to target students from disadvantaged backgrounds.[1]

Closer examination reveals that private equity plays a pernicious and outsized role in generating these discrepancies. Private equity-owned colleges and universities have accounted for most of the increase in the for-profit share of student loan defaults since 2000. A groundbreaking new study examining the effect of private equity buyouts in higher education found substantial declines in graduation rates, earnings, and loan repayment rates after buyouts took place. These declines were accompanied by increases in per-student borrowing and receipt of federal grants. In some respects, such as student loan repayment rates, other for-profit colleges more closely resembled community colleges than they did their private equity-owned peers.

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As we have previously highlighted, the federal government’s forty independent federal agencies receive too little attention relative to their importance to our collective safety and prosperity. The Revolving Door Project has worked through multiple channels to shed light on these overlooked agencies and the threats that they face. We hope public education will generate pressure to safeguard the independence of these agencies and ensure that they are staffed with advocates for the public interest rather than corporate insiders. 

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As countries develop, they face a choice: cash in on productivity gains as increased income or to enjoy increased leisure. That leisure means not only shorter workdays or a shorter workweek, but also longer vacations, more paid holidays, paid family and medical leave, and other time off. Choosing the latter, reducing annual work hours, is better for the climate than favoring long work hours and a high-consumption economy.

Over the last 36 years, productivity, measured by Gross National Income (GNI) per hour of work,  has doubled in the United States. Over the same period, however, the total number of hours per worker has hardly budged.

It has not always been this way.

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It is one of the many peculiarities of American politics that legislative laundry lists dominate presidential campaigns even though presidents have little power to get these promises enacted. That is not to say that these aspirational assertions do not matter. As a statement of values, they can mobilize support. 

But while legislation is subject to the considerable influence of, well, the legislature,how a candidate intends to do the job for which they are running (i.e. managing the executive branch) is something for which they can be held directly accountable. And yet candidates tend to be much less forthcoming with their vision for actually running the federal government. That silence reduces presidential accountability to the public for how they wield the powers of the executive. 

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This post originally appeared on University of Massachusetts Amherst's Care Talk blog.

The lazy father is enshrined in popular culture. Google up the term and there he is: Homer Simpson snoring on the couch. Unfair caricature, especially on Fathers’ Day!

So, it’s easy to see why a short essay by Robert VerBruggen in defense of fathers caroomed through social media this week, boosted by a link from Ross Douthat’s regular New York Times opinion column.

But is laziness really the issue? Serious complaints about the gender division of labor seldom boil down to finger-wagging accusations of moral turpitude. They point instead to economic inequalities between moms and dads that result from social institutions — public policies, employer practices, and cultural norms.

Mr. VerBruggen is skeptical of such inequalities, suggesting that those who emphasize them are…well, lazy. They have ignored the facts revealed by the American Time Use Survey.

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The Trump administration is considering a unilateral change to how the government measures poverty. If adopted, the change would reduce by millions the number of people eligible for Medicaid, parts of Medicare, SNAP, and other benefits over the next 10 years.

One of the questions this raises is whether a progressive president could make the same change in the opposite direction. In other words, could a President Warren or Sanders make millions of more people eligible for Medicaid and other benefits without Congressional approval by increasing the poverty line?

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The Affordable Care Act (ACA) led to increases in health insurance coverage and reductions in racial and ethnic disparities in coverage. With Fathers’ Day this weekend, it’s a good time to take a closer look at trends in coverage for fathers. In this post, we focus on fathers who report living with one or more of their minor children in the American Community Survey.


Overview

Following the passage of the ACA, uninsurance declined substantially among dads of all classes, races, and ethnicities. Yet large class, racial, and ethnic gaps in coverage remain. Some of the decline in dads’ uninsurance is due to the strong economy and the ACA’s private coverage-related provisions, but most of the credit goes to Medicaid and other public health insurance coverage. Despite this progress, far too many dads in our diverse working class remain uninsured, and the Trump administration is doing everything it can to undermine the health insurance system in ways that will reduce coverage and increase disparities. Ultimately, we need a universal Medicare plan that builds on the success of the ACA by providing comprehensive coverage to everyone, while creating a more efficient and simpler system.

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Since last fall, the Revolving Door Project has been working to ensure that House Democrats use their newfound majority to perform long overdue oversight that targets the intersection between outsized corporate influence and Trump-era corruption. We have argued that across the breadth of every issue area imaginable, such oversight not only represents good policy but also good politics. In a moment of deep skepticism about the integrity of elites and institutions across the globe, fighting against corruption could not be more timely.   

Despite our pleas, few Democrats have embraced this manner of populist oversight. This timidity is disheartening in all cases, but in certain areas, like Betsy Devos’ Education Department, it appears particularly egregious.

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CEPR regularly publishes a curated collection of original research from academic institutions and nonprofits on the state of the US labor market. The compilation is part of our ongoing effort to promote informed debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives.


The Brookings Institution

Growing cities that work for all: A capability-based approach to regional economic competitiveness

This report aims to provide a framework and inform policymakers on how the evolving economy is reshaping communities’ distinct opportunities and strengths by proposing a plan for regions to grow quality jobs through capability-based industrial development strategies. This involves firms and cities working together to see what inputs firms need to be productive and for cities to invest in those inputs in order to be more attractive and resilient.

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This version reflects corrections made on July 2, 2019. The original post mistakenly stated that two independent agency boards lacked quorums when, in reality, four did. 

As we have previously highlighted, the federal government’s forty independent federal agencies receive too little attention relative to their importance to our collective safety and prosperity. The Revolving Door Project has worked through multiple channels to shed light on these overlooked agencies and the threats that they face. We hope public education will generate pressure to safeguard the independence of these agencies and ensure that they are staffed with advocates for the public interest rather than corporate insiders.

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This was originally posted on the Economic Policy Institute's Working Economics Blog.

If the current economic expansion which began in June 2009 makes it to this July, it will set a record for the longest period of U.S. economic growth—beating the 1991 to 2001 boom. Economic expansions don’t die of old age, however, so what might bring this one to an end?

With memories of 2008-2009 still fresh, some observers have focused on corporate debt as the likely culprit. It’s true that corporate debt has risen rapidly during the expansion, both in absolute terms and in relation to corporate profits. But low interest rates mean that debt service—interest payments on this debt relative to after-tax profit—is about 25 percent, where it usually is during periods of expansion and not a cause for worry. Bank regulators are concerned about the rapid growth of leveraged loans and weaker lender protections. But they appear to be correct in their assessment that leveraged lending, despite a 20 percent growth since last year to almost $1.2 trillion, “isn’t a current threat to the financial system.”

Still, recession or no recession, there will be pain.

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Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the US workforce. About 9.5 million AAPIs[1] ages 16 or older worked in the United States in 2017 — a dramatic increase from just over one-half of one percent of all US workers in 1960 to 6.1 percent today.[2] AAPI workers also almost doubled from 2000, during a period when the Asian population in the US grew 87 percent, from 11.9 million in 2000 to 22.2 million in 2017.[3]

As more AAPIs enter the labor force, it is becoming ever more important to understand the unique challenges facing these workers and not be misled by the model minority stereotypes that have consistently downplayed the socioeconomic disparities rampant in these communities.

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This week Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Barbara Lee are introducing bills in the Senate and House for a financial transaction tax (FTT). Their proposed tax is similar to, albeit somewhat higher than, the FTT proposed by Senator Brian Schatz earlier this year. The Sanders-Lee proposal would impose a 0.5 percent tax on stock transactions, with lower rates on transfers of other financial assets. Senator Schatz’s bill would impose a 0.1 percent tax on trades of all financial assets.

At this point, it is not worth highlighting the differences between the bills. Both would raise far more than half a trillion dollars over the next decade, almost entirely at the expense of the financial industry and hedge fund-types. In the case of the Schatz tax, the Congressional Budget Office estimated revenue of almost $80 billion a year, a bit less than 2.0 percent of the budget. The Sanders-Lee tax would likely raise in the neighborhood of $120–$150 billion a year, in the neighborhood of 3.0 percent of the federal budget.

While the financial industry will make great efforts to convince people that this money is coming out of the middle-class’ 401(k)s and workers’ pensions, that’s not likely to be true. This can be seen with some simple arithmetic.

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The financial industry has been the driving force behind some of the most damaging economic trends of our time. In spite of this fact, since the spasm of reform reflected in the Dodd Frank Act, financiers have faced very little scrutiny from lawmakers. Instead of regulating the industry, many governing officials from both parties have chosen to collect campaign checks in exchange for helpful votes.

Maxine Waters has rejected this complacency in favor of aggressive oversight. The committee’s failure to oversee the industry for so long, however, has left a significant backlog of issues to examine, in addition to the plethora of new and novel issues emerging under this administration. In an effort to help advocates and members of the public understand the scope of the task that the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) faces, the Revolving Door Project has compiled a list of problems that deserve the committee’s scrutiny.

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On Thursday, May 2nd, the Revolving Door Project, in conjunction with the Demand Progress Education Fund and Color for Change, submitted a comment to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Federal Reserve System Board of Governors regarding the proposed merger between Branch Banking and Trust Company (BB&T) and SunTrust Bank. This comment raised numerous concerns related to the implications of this merger, the largest since the financial crisis, and the integrity of the process by which it will be approved.

To approve this merger under these circumstances would undermine public confidence in both the FDIC and the Federal Reserve. For this reason, the Revolving Door Project and the Demand Progress Education Fund appealed directly to Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard, who has previously served as an ally of pro-worker groups, to oppose the merger until such time as the concerns we raise in our comment are resolved.

Please find the full letter here.

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