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

On January 3, Democrats in the House of Representatives will vote to install Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. The intelligence and street smarts on display as Representative Pelosi went toe-to-toe with President Trump over the border wall reinforces the importance of this choice. No less consequential will be the votes that day on the rules that govern how the House conducts business. Two rules in particular that govern taxation and spending will determine how vigorously Democrats are able to pursue the bold agenda that gave them a 40-seat majority in the House.

On taxation, the Democratic leadership has already made clear that it will scrap a Republican rule that would make it difficult to raise taxes – a rule the Republicans were quick to waive when Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy raised taxes on some middle-class families. The Democrats had considered leaving this rule in place for the bottom 80 percent of families. To see how this rule would have needlessly tied their hands, consider the following real-life example.

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It is accepted that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a cartel that restrains oil production and keeps prices higher than they would otherwise be. Indeed, this is the premise behind the “OPEC Accountability Act of 2018” in the US Senate. This bill would address high and rising oil prices by trying to break OPEC. US pressure on OPEC — particularly on friendly governments such as Saudi Arabia that are seen as leaders in the organization — to “open the spigots” is not new. Nor is the control of oil exports by producing countries for political purposes. However, the environmental impact of high oil prices is only lightly considered.

There is little debate that motor vehicle industry changes to increase fuel efficiency were a historic and significant environmental advance. When OPEC action has led to increased prices, the quantity of oil in demand has fallen. This was starkly demonstrated when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) — founded in 1968 — flexed its price-making muscles in the 1970s. Production cuts and an embargo against sale of oil to several countries raised the spot price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude from $3.56 per barrel in mid-1973 to $4.31 later in the year to $10.11 in January. By the time President Jimmy Carter famously suggested we all turn down our thermostats, the price of WTI crude had reached $14.85 per barrel. The price finally peaked in mid-1980 at $39.50 — a 1000 percent increase in seven years. The price of gasoline more than tripled. In response, we got the Department of Energy, the Chevy Citation, and more fuel-efficient Japanese and German automobile imports.

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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

Learning from Opportunity Zones: How To Improve Place-Based Policies

Congress’ 2017 tax bill sought to funnel investment to economically distressed neighborhoods by creating Opportunity Zones. However, broad criteria for inclusion gave state decision makers considerable latitude in their selection processes. Some of the designated areas appear to be truly disadvantaged, but many are not. While the program’s design already constrains its benefits for impoverished residents, lackluster geographic targeting further limits its potential.

Work Requirements and Safety Net Programs

This analysis adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests that the subset of SNAP and Medicaid participants targeted for work requirements is vanishing. Meanwhile, the proposed work requirements would disproportionately burden those who are already working or who are legitimately unable to work.

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With the departures of Gary Cohn, Steve Bannon, and Dina Powell from the White House, has Goldman Sachs’ initial influence on the Trump Administration dwindled?

CNN asked that question this spring, noting that “one by one, almost all the high-profile Goldman Sachs alums have left the White House.” But as CNN, to its credit, also noted that while who is up and who is down in the Trump White House changes, leadership at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been more stable — and Goldman Sachs’ former lawyer, Chairman Jay Clayton, runs that key agency.

But Jay Clayton, Goldman Sachs’ past and likely future lawyer, is not alone in the Trump-Goldman axis at the SEC. To better understand how corporations consistently manage to maneuver ostensibly independent agencies in their interest, it is instructive to consider one of Clayon’s “Senior Policy Advisors,” Alan Cohen.

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The Independent Federal Agencies Leadership Monitor tracks appointments to agency leadership positions through the confirmation process and beyond. The initiative is part of the Revolving Door Project’s effort to even the playing field by empowering ordinary people with information previously hoarded by special interest groups.

The ability to nominate principal government officials is one of the executive branch’s most important powers. Though their degree of independence varies by agency, appointees that survive the Senate confirmation process have the power to bolster a president’s vision through hiring decisions, budgeting and spending, and formal rulemaking processes. There are over 150 such appointments[1]  to forty independent federal agencies tasked with everything from overseeing the country’s nuclear arsenal to ensuring adequate protection for government whistleblowers. The purpose of this Monitor is to make it easier for the public to hold their elected officials accountable for federal agency leadership appointments.

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At first glance, the contentious Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process and the Trump Administration’s response to the apparent brutal assassination of Jamal Khashoggi have very little in common.

But there is one disturbing commonality — a shocking lack of transparency into the motivations of key players.

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It was a few days after Christmas when Sears announced plans to close up to 120 Sears and Kmart locations. The year was 2011. With a market cap of only $3.45 billion, Sears looked like a good candidate for a takeover, but there were no takers. As Dan Primack observed at the time, Sears debt was higher than its market cap.

The company was a good candidate for a turnaround. True, many of Sears’ stores were in downwardly mobile neighborhoods. But that didn’t stop Dollar General and Dollar Tree from succeeding. Sears owned high-quality brands — Kenmore appliances, Craftsman tools, and apparel maker Lands’ End. It had mastered “online” retailing before the web and email, back when that meant ordering from a catalog. As for logistics, Sears had figured out how to deliver everything a family needed to build its own house!

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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

Seasonally and Weather-Adjusting the Monthly Jobs Numbers
An economist reexamines this month’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment report using three alternative projection methods to account for seasonal weather patterns.

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CEPR’s senior economist Dean Baker argues in The Housing Bubble and the Great Recession: Ten Years Later that the Lehman event marks the peak of a recession caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. The media’s attention on the failure of Lehman Brothers as the driver of the recession to the exclusion of the bursting housing bubble reveals the class conflict apparent in how the Great Recession was, and still is, reported.

While the fear generated by politicians and media was able to get enough support for saving the financial industry, the country was left to deal with the painful fallout from a collapsed housing bubble. Millions lost their homes and jobs. Even a decade later, by some measures, most notably prime-age employment rates, the labor market has still not recovered.

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On the third day of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Senator John Cornyn trotted out what has become a staple GOP criticism of the nation’s consumer watchdog agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The agency, Cornyn lamented, has “vast powers to get into the personal financial information of every American… really more authority than we would ever give any of our intelligence agencies.” It’s a charge that has been echoed by several of his compatriots on the right, including Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Mike Crapo.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has drawn the ire of Wall Street executives and their allies on Capitol Hill since its inception. Formed in the wake of the 2007-08 financial crisis as part of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Bureau is tasked with regulating financial products and services and protecting consumers from abusive practices by financial institutions. This has resulted in the return of nearly $2 billion to customers who were duped by credit card companies and refunds of over $60 million to Americans extorted by debt collectors.

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Bloomberg published a recent article on how the Trump administration’s proposal to radically reinterpret the obscure “public charge” provision is contrary to the administration’s pledge to reduce paperwork and other regulatory burdens. As I previously wrote here, the Trump proposal would require immigration officials to predict whether an immigrant who is otherwise eligible for a green card might receive even small amounts of supplementary assistance (like SNAP and Medicaid) at any time in the future.

The Bloomberg article does a good job of highlighting some of the new burdens the proposal would place on visa applicants. Unfortunately, the article underestimates the impact of the proposal by saying that “it is expected to affect some 383,000 people annually.”

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Gig economy workers are workers who are connected to customers through an online platform or other electronic media. They include drivers transporting people or goods as well as those performing a range of tasks from dog walking to creating PowerPoint presentations. The general perception is that this is a growing share of employment in the United States.

There was much surprise, therefore, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) earlier this year reported that just 10.1 percent of workers were in alternative work arrangements as their main job in 2017 — about the same share of the workforce as in 2005. Even more surprising to many pundits, the share of independent contractors — which includes gig economy workers — declined over the 12 year period, from 7.4 percent of workers to 6.9 percent.

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We wanted to be sure that you saw the latest paper by CEPR Co-Founder and Senior Economist Dean Baker, "The Housing Bubble and the Great Recession: Ten Years Later." We released the report on the 10th anniversary of the peak of the financial crisis. Had the powers that be listened to Dean — who first warned about the growth of the bubble in 2002  — millions of people could have avoided financial ruin.

And what’s amazing is that there are STILL those who say that “No One” saw it coming. Thankfully, Dean, aka “No One”, is still around to call them out.

This is why we need CEPR’s work now, more than ever. In a world where fake news reigns, CEPR’s factual and timely research and analysis is the perfect antidote. Consider making a donation to CEPR to ensure that we continue to fight for economic justice.

CEPR recently received a message from a supporter thanking Dean for his work. He came across Dean’s work in the early 2000s, and he took actions that spared his family from losing everything when the recession hit. We want this for everyone. With your help, we can continue to provide the research and analysis that champions an economy that works for everyone, not just the elites.

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The core inflation rate slowed to 0.1 percent in August, its lowest rate since April. This brought the year-over-year inflation rate in the core index to 2.2 percent. A 1.9 percent jump in energy prices brought the overall rate to 0.2 percent in August and 2.7 percent over the last year.

Inflation was well contained in almost all areas of the core except shelter. The core index excluding shelter actually fell by 0.1 percent in August. This index is up by just 1.3 percent over the last year and shows no evidence of any acceleration over the last five years.

Traditional problem areas in the core seem well under control. The medical care index fell by 0.2 percent for the second consecutive month. It is up 1.5 percent over the last year. Education did rise by 0.5 percent in August, but it is still up by just 2.7 percent over the last year. The index for auto insurance, which has been a major contributor to inflation, was flat in August. It is up 6.4 percent over the last year, but has been rising considerably less rapidly in recent months.

Overall, inflation seems well under control outside of shelter.

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Today’s report from Census on income, poverty, and health insurance in 2017 holds little good news for young people.

  • Overall median household income increased modestly (1.8 percent) in 2017. This increase was largely due to increases in income for households headed by people age 34–64. By contrast, there was no significant increase in median income for households headed by people age 25–34, and a decline for households headed by those under age 25.

  • The overall health uninsurance rate remained flat at 8.8 percent. It also remained flat (at 15.6 percent) for people age 26–34, but increased by nearly 1 percentage point (to 14 percent) among people age 19–25.

  • The percentage of young people (18–34) who worked full-time, year-round increased slightly (about 0.7 of a percentage point).  There was no change in the percentage (about one-in-four) who did not work during the year.

  • Median earnings for full-time, year-round young workers (18–34) were effectively flat (at about $38,000) in 2017.

  • Median earnings for young women working full-time, year-round in 2017 were $35,000 compared to $40,000 for young men working full-time, year round. There was no change in the gender wage gap.

  • The overall poverty rate trend depends on the measure used — it was effectively flat (down a non-statistically significant 0.1 percentage point) using the Supplemental Poverty Measure (which includes a more comprehensive, post-tax, post-transfer income measure) and down slightly (0.4 percentage points, to 12.3 percent) using the antiquated, but still official poverty measure. Among young people (18–34), the official poverty rate was 13.6 percent in 2017, a probably insignificant decline from 13.9 percent in 2016. We don’t have an SPM poverty rate for young people yet, but there is little reason to think the trend differs from the overall SPM rate.

Young people are more educated than ever. The share of adults age 25–34 with a B.A. degree (39 percent) is now 10 percentage points higher than it was at the start of the millennium. Just under 8 percent of young adults lack a high school degree, compared to about 12 percent in 2000. Yet, 25–34 year-olds are more likely to be poor today than they were in both 1990 and 2000. Perhaps this explains some of young people’s well-documented dissatisfaction with US-style capitalism.

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CEPR compiles recent research to illustrate the state of labor in the United States.

UC Berkeley Labor Center

Driverless? Autonomous Trucks and the Future of the American Trucker

With the rising prevalence of autonomous driving vehicles, Steve Vescelli breaks down how this new technology could affect the trucking industry, and poses policy considerations.


Institute for Research on Labor and Employment

The New Wave of Local Minimum Wage Policies: Evidence from Six Cities

Sylvia Allegretto, Anna Godoey, Carl Nadler and Michael Reich examine how increases in minimum wages have affected employment outcomes in Chicago, DC, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle.

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After increasing for 12 consecutive months, manufacturing employment fell by 3,000 in August. The decline was all in manufacturing of durables, which lost 4,000 jobs. Employment in non-durable manufacturing rose by 1,000. The auto industry was the biggest loser, giving up 4,900 jobs after losing 3,500 jobs in July. The weakness also shows up in the index of hours, which dropped 0.3 percent for durable manufacturing in August.

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NPR reports that the “Trump administration is considering penalizing legal immigrants for using government benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps…”

NPR’s story is very good, but it also minimizes the radical scope of the Trump “public charge” proposal, which goes far beyond penalizing the receipt of means-tested benefits.

In fact, under the draft Trump proposal, an immigration official could deny a green card simply based on a judgment that an immigrant is “likely at any time” in the future to receive a single means-tested benefit or service for any period of time. As a practical matter, merely being potentially eligible for an income-tested benefit or service would be enough for immigration officials to deny a green card to an immigrant who otherwise meets all other criteria for a family-based visa. Moreover, immigration officials would be able to require immigrants to obtain bonds of $10,000 or more that they would then forfeit to the government if they ever received any means-tested benefit in the future.

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In 2015, CEPR modeled what would happen to unemployment rates for black workers if unemployment fell further. The model found that, if overall unemployment and unemployment for whites specifically, declined more, black workers would disproportionately benefit. In the past, the unemployment rate for black workers has been about two times higher than the rate for white workers, and the rate for black teens has been about six times higher. This means that if the white unemployment rate was allowed to fall one percentage point, the rate for black workers would fall two percentage points and that for black teens would fall six percentage points.

Since 2015, the unemployment rate for white workers fell one percentage point. What happened to the rate for black workers overall and that for black teens? The rate for black workers overall fell 2.4 percentage points, and the rate for black teens fell 5.8 percentage points (this is a 12-month moving average since the data for black teens is erratic). In other words, the actual data fits the model very well.

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For millions of retirees, Social Security is more than just a part of their retirement income ― in many cases it is the vast majority of their retirement income. Social Security benefits account for half of family income for roughly 50 percent of those over the age of 65. The percentage of families in which Social Security benefits account for at least half of their retirement income rises to 70 percent for blacks and Hispanics. Benefits are roughly 90 percent of income for one in four of those 65 or older.

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You may be familiar with CEPR’s economic research. But did you know that there is a program at CEPR that works to ensure that political appointees are focused on serving the public interest, rather than personal professional advancement?

Practically alone in Washington DC, the Revolving Door Project (RDP)—based at CEPR—applies pressure on both Democrats and Republicans to administer the executive branch on behalf of the common interest rather than personal interest. From Wall Street insiders seeking jobs in a potential Hillary Clinton Administration to Steven Mnuchin, Mick Mulvaney, Wilbur Ross, and the rest of President Trump’s ethically compromised team, the Revolving Door Project has a proven track record of identifying and scrutinizing the selfish.

“The deepest rules of our rigged economy are usually written by people who hold key but obscure jobs within the executive branch. From the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve to the CFPB, FTC, and SEC, the Revolving Door Project highlights corrupt personnel while pushing for appointees committed to fighting for the public interest rather than cashing in.”

— Jeff Hauser, Director of the Revolving Door Project

With the Trump Administration continuing to staff the executive branch with the greediest among us, we really need your support for this crucial program. Won’t you consider making a donation to CEPR to help fund this work? We rely on the generosity of individuals like you to fund our research, analysis, media work, outreach – everything we do.

Thanks in advance for your support!

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