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

While the recession officially ended in June 2009, the economy continued to shed jobs for another nine months. Job creation in the 18 months since the job market hit bottom in February 2010 has been painfully slow. The jobs report for July shows that the U.S. has recovered less than 2 million of the 8.7 million jobs lost between December 2007 and February 2010. This is bad news for all workers – men as well as women, but the situation for women is especially stark. Men have recovered nearly 3 in 10 jobs lost, while women have regained less than 1 in 10. Cuts in public services at every level of government, with the sharpest cuts coming in education, social services, police and fire at the local level, have taken their toll. Public sector employment has declined by 440,000 in the past 18 months, and two-thirds of the job losses have fallen on women. But this is not the whole story.

Women have not fared well in the private sector. Even as employment in manufacturing and construction has begun to tick up, women have continued to lose jobs in these sectors. Women, who lost nearly 900,000 jobs in these sectors while the labor market was contracting, have lost another 50,000 manufacturing and construction jobs. In private service producing industries, where women made up more than half the workforce prior to the recession and where most of the employment gains in the past 18 months have occurred, a disproportionate share of the jobs has gone to men. Private education and health services is the only sector of the economy that experienced steady employment growth through the recession and recovery. The workforce in this sector is overwhelmingly female – at the start of the recession, men held less than a quarter of the jobs. Yet, in the last 18 months, 40 percent of new jobs have gone to men.

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That's what the Washington Post told readers in a front page story. According to the Post, the Obama administration is leaning toward a system that would provide a direct subsidy to securitization by offering a government guarantee to mortgage backed securities.

It would be difficult to find an economic rationale for this policy other than subsidizing the financial industry. The government can and does directly subsidize the purchase of homes through the mortgage interest deduction. This can be made more generous and better targeted toward low and moderate income families by capping it and converting it into a tax credit (e.g. all homeowners can deduct 15 percent of the interest paid on mortgages of $300,000 or less from their taxes).

There is no obvious reason to have an additional subsidy through the system of mortgage finance. Analysis by Mark Zandi showed that the subsidy provided by a government guarantee would largely translate into higher home prices. This would leave monthly mortgage payments virtually unaffected. The diversion of capital from elsewhere in the economy would mean slower economic growth and would kill jobs for auto workers, steel workers and other workers in the manufacturing sector.

For these reasons, if President Obama was really against big government and job killing measures, he would oppose this new scheme to subsidize mortgage securitization. On the other hand, if the goal is to ensure high profits and big salaries for top executives in the financial sector, then a government subsidy for mortgage securitization is good policy.

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The Center for Economic and Policy Research, Center for American Progress, Economic Policy Institute, Employment Policy Research Network, and National Employment Law Project released the following LMPR Reports. 

Center for Economic and Policy Research

Diversity and Change: Asian American and Pacific Islander Workers
Hye Jin Rho, John Schmitt, Nicole Woo, Lucia Lin and Kent Wong

Center for American Progress

Reforming Public School Systems Through Sustained Union-Management Collaboration
Saul A. Rubinstein, John E. McCarthy

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The Federal Housing Financing Administration (FHFA) announced plans today that it is developing plans to sell off some of its foreclosed homes as rental properties. The idea is that this would help to reduce the glut of homes for sale in many markets. It also could help supply good quality rental housing in some areas where it is in short supply.

This is a good idea, although it is remarkable it just occurred to the FHFA now. Some of us have been pushing rental alternatives for 4 years now. In fact, it would be best if the rental arrangement was offered to the original homeowner. That way the homeowner is not out on the street and the government or the rental company is not in the position of having to hunt down a rental.

Progress is slow in Washington, but it is good to see at least baby steps. It is too bad that millions of people had to lose their homes before we could get even this far and that millions more will needlessly lose their homes in the years ahead because of the lack of clear thinking in Washington.

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Many of my friends have been asking me what they should make of today’s stock market plunge. I tell them to enjoy the ride. The reason is simple, stock prices are low relative to corporate earnings right now. One would be much better advised to buy and hold stock today than in the 90s when price to earnings ratios went through the roof or even in the last decade. This one is simple arithmetic – the stuff most of us learned in third grade -- but few economists seem to understand.

After-tax corporate profits were $1.398.1 billion in 2010 (National Income and Product Accounts Table 1.12, Line 15). By contrast, they were just $554.1 in 2000, less than half as much. But, at the end of 2000, after the bubble was already one third deflated, buying up all the shares in the stock market would have cost you $15,388.5 billion (Federal Reserve Board, Flow of Funds Table L. 213, line 23). By contrast, the market value of domestic corporations at the end of 2010 was only slightly higher at $17,188.7 billion. With the S&P at 1258 at the end of 2010, the market was than 10 percent higher than it is today.

Taking this together, a dollar of profits cost about 40 percent as much on the stock market today as it did at the end of 2000. If we compare it to the peak of the bubble, a dollar of profits costs about 30 percent as much.

Of course the issue is what happens going forward. This is both the good and bad news. The good news for the stock market is that workers’ bargaining power remains very weak because of the high unemployment rate. It is difficult to envision workers getting wage increases much in excess of inflation and certainly not in excess of productivity growth. That means that the profit share of income is likely to remain constant or even rise in the near-term future.

If the profit share remains constant (it is now at a record high), then investors will be getting more than 9 cents in profits for every dollar invested today. That seems like a pretty good deal. If the stock price went nowhere and firms paid out 60 percent in dividends or share buybacks (roughly the historic average), that implies a return of 5.4 percent.

This is not bad when interest rates are near zero, but of course share prices are likely to rise over any long period at least in step with the rate of growth of profits. If the economy has a very weak 2 percent real growth rate, with 2 percent inflation, and profits keep pace, then then the return on stock will be 9.4 percent annually if stock prices grow in step with profit. There does not seem a lot of downside risk in this picture.

Of course the bad news is the flip side of this story. It would be nice to see workers getting back some of the ground that they lost to corporate profits over the last two decades. However, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. This is bad news for bulk of the population that relies on their wages for the vast majority of their income, but it is good news for people who have lots of money invested in the stock market. So, why aren’t they happy?

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It seems that Israeli economy is suffering from the same problem as the United States, the United Kingdom, and the euro zone. It is being steered by people who don't have much understanding of economics.

Israel actually has been experiencing pretty solid growth for most of the last two decades and its economy had largely recovered from the downturn. However, its government has become obsessed with the idea of reducing Israel's debt, which stands at a relatively modest 70 percent of GDP, according to the IMF.

This might be reasonable if everything else was going well in Israel, but it isn't. In the last three decades Israel has been rushing to the top in terms of inequality among wealthy countries. It is now neck and neck with the United States for the top slot, but it is on track to pass us soon. This means that the vast majority of the gains from growth have gone to those at the top, with most of the population having little to show. To make matters worse, Israel relies much more on regressive taxes like value added taxes and much less on progressive income taxes than the average for other wealth countries. (The OECD data refer to pre-1967 Israel for those wondering.) 

The government is now faced with protests involving a quarter of a million people who are demanding that it focus attention on meeting the needs of ordinary workers, most importantly for housing. This would be the equivalent of more than 10 million people protesting in the United States. 

This is another case where the people are trying to teach the economists who are running the economy. Let's hope they can learn.

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Last week, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that in the second quarter of 2011 total GDP (annualized production of all goods and services in the economy) totaled $15 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office, however, estimates that our economic potential is nearly $900 billion higher. That is, national income is some 5.6 percent lower than it might otherwise be—to the tune of $73.5 billion per month— simply because we are on the whole working less.

Now, this is not in and of itself a bad thing. As rich as our country is these days, we are free to make the social choice to work less and turn our attention to other matters. We could use a shorter workday, a shorter workweek, and more vacation days. This would mean less income as a country, but more time to enjoy it.

Unfortunately, we have not made the social choice to trade income for leisure—rather, we have chosen to give a few million workers a whole lot of “time off” in the form of massive unemployment. For the unemployed, this is an exceptionally painful choice. It doesn’t have to be this way. For example, we could widely expand work-sharing programs throughout the country.

So long as this is our choice, however-- that some arbitrary millions must be “on leave” and without wages—then it is our responsibility to make it up to them. That means as a start we must provide generous unemployment benefits and fulfill our promise of retirement security. Obviously, this price of not sharing will be an indefinite burden on those who work.

Perhaps we don’t like that, either.  The next option would be...


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This week's roundup of labor-market policy reports includes findings from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, National Employment Law Project and Roosevelt Institute.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

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

National Employment Law Project

Unraveling the Unemployment Insurance Lifeline: Responding to Insolvency, States Enact Cuts in 2011
Claire McKenna and George Wentworth

The Roosevelt Institute

Women Laid Off, Workers Sped Up: Support Staff Hold a Clue to the Gendered Recovery

Bryce Covert and Michael Konczal

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Matt Taibbi reports that the push for a tax holiday for profits parked in offshore tax havens is alive and well. According to Taibbi, lobbying has been intense for a bill sponsored by Texas Republican Kevin Brady (and co-sponsored by Utah Democrat Jim Matheson) called the Freedom to Invest Act. As with the “one-time” tax holiday in 2004, companies that offshored their profits would be rewarded with an effective corporate tax rate of 5.25 percent on the profits they repatriate.

As I wrote in June, hundreds of companies that license intellectual property – especially IT and pharmaceutical companies – can dramatically reduce their taxes and significantly increase earnings and share price through nefarious, but legal, ploys to park profits in offshore subsidiaries. Google, for example, uses the "Double-Irish-and-Dutch-Sandwich" to transfer the rights to intellectual property developed in the US – with early research funded by US taxpayers – to a subsidiary in low-tax Bermuda. Companies continue to owe taxes to the U.S. government on these overseas earnings - technically, the taxes have only been deferred. But the taxes don't come due until the profits are brought back to the U.S. - that is, repatriated. And companies do want to repatriate a good part of the roughly $1.43 trillion in profits they hold overseas.

The 2004 tax holiday – advertised as a one-time tax break – encouraged U.S. companies to increase the offshoring of profits earned on technologies developed in the U.S. in the hopes of just such another "one-time" break. This bad behavior should not be rewarded. The corporations would like us to think that bringing these profits home will lead to job creation. A better formula for good jobs at home is removing tax incentives to offshore these activities in the first place.

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The economy created 117,000 jobs in July, knocking the unemployment rate back down to 9.1 percent, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics employment report. While this may sound like good news, the decrease in unemployment was entirely attributable to people leaving the labor force, with the employment-to-population ratio falling slightly to 58.1 percent. Also in the latest report, the Labor Department revised growth in prior months up to an average of 72,000 jobs a month in the last three months, which is still below the level needed to keep pace with the growth of the labor force.

Overall the latest report presents a bleak picture of the labor market. There is no sector showing especially strong growth right now, and with the government shedding 30,000 jobs a month, we will be fortunate if the unemployment rate doesn’t rise over the rest of the year.

For more information, check out our latest Jobs Byte.

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It’s panic time on Wall Street, with the market dropping 4 percent on Thursday and almost 8 percent over the last week. Apparently they were not too impressed by the deal on the debt.

Of course the most obvious explanation for the plunge is the prospect of a collapse of the euro. The debt problems hitting Ireland and Greece have spread to two of the four euro zone giants, Italy and Spain. The prudes at the European Central Bank are going have to relearn economics very quickly. Their cult of 2 percent inflation is bringing down the house. They have come to the point where they have to choose between abandoning the cult or ending the euro.  Naturally the prospect of the dissolution of one of the world two main currencies is going to unnerve the markets.

The other big factor depressing stock markets is a set of weak economic reports that indicate the U.S. economy is barely growing. The most important of these reports was the second quarter GDP numbers that showed the economy growing at just a 1.3 percent rate. This was coupled with a sharp revision to first quarter data that showed growth of just 0.3 percent. This growth is far too slow to keep pace with the growth of labor force, meaning that the unemployment rate could continue to rise.

The big debt ceiling agreement promised to depress this growth even further. The proposed cuts to government spending effectively amounts to taking away water in the middle of a jobs drought. Good job Washington!

Those still believing in the virtues of government austerity also got a big kick in the face last week. The UK had its third consecutive quarter of near zero growth – the apparent fruits of the austerity path put in place by the new Conservative government.

It’s worth putting in a couple of calming notes. First, the stock market is not the economy. As Paul Samuelson famously quipped, the market has predicted 9 of the last 5 recessions. The people who invest in the market are the same geniuses who thought Countrywide and had great business models. There is no reason to think that the markets are any wiser today than they were when they thought everything was just great in 2007.

Second, the double-dip recession folks seem to have forgotten how we usually get recessions. The standard recession is associated with a collapse in house and car sales. The good news is that both sectors are still so badly depressed that they don’t have too far down to go. In other words, it is unlikely that we will see the negative growth associated with a recession.

On the other hand, many quarters of very slow positive growth is really no better. This is most likely what the economy faces barring some serious change in policy in Washington. So the double-dippers might be too pessimistic, but not by much.

This post originally appeared in The Nation.

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One result of the the revisions to GDP published by the Commerce Department yesterday is that the data now show a much steeper drop in GDP in the post-Lehman panic. At first glance, the new data would appear to make the stimulus look more effective. The chart below shows quarterly growth rates beginning with the 4th quarter of 2008 and the Congressional Budget Office's predicted effect of the stimulus (the average of the high and low numbers).

Click to Enlarge


Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis and Congressional Budget Office.

This is not a perfect fit, but no one expects the stimulus to be the only factor moving the economy. In any case, the pattern of growth does seem to fit the predicted impact of the stimulus. When we saw big boost to growth in 2009, the growth rate went from a large negative to a moderate positive. When the impact of the stimulus turned negative in 2010, growth began to slow. If the pattern continues, we should see more weak growth in the second half of the year.

There have been far more careful analyses of the impact of the stimulus, but this general picture sure supports the case that it had a real effect in turning the economy around. The problem is that it was not large enough or long enough. 

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The following newsletter highlights CEPR's latest research, publications, events and much more.

CEPR on Debt Ceiling Deals and Deficits

CEPR has followed the debt ceiling talks closely. CEPR Co-director Dean Baker has commented on the impact of several of the potential deals, including this statement on using the Chained Consumer Price Index to determine Social Security Cost of Living Adjustments, arguing that “while it is often claimed that this switch will make the COLA more accurate, this is not clear. What is certain is that the switch would lower benefits.”

Dean restated his explanation in his Guardian column and in this op-ed on Al Jazeera English. He also discussed the debt ceiling debate on NPR’s Morning Edition, CNBC’s Kudlow Report,  the Nightly Business Report (PBS) and MSNBC’s The Ed Schultz Show. He was quoted in this article in the Los Angeles Times, and he sent this letter to Speaker John Boehner, countering Boehner’s assertion that entitlements are the biggest “drivers of the debt and deficits” and reminding Boehner that “ Social Security and other social insurance programs have no place whatsoever in the debt ceiling debate”. CEPR Co-director Mark Weisbrot weighed in on the debt ceiling negotiations in this piece on To the Point with Warren Olney.

Dean also participated in several related events on the hill. On July 27th Dean joined Congresswoman Barbara Lee and the co-chairs of the Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus in a press conference on the debt reduction plans and their possible impact on social safety net programs for people facing or living in poverty. And on the 28th, he took part in a panel discussion, along with Representative Xavier Becerra and speakers from the Aspen Institute on a soon-to-be-released brief, "Social Security: The House that Roosevelt Built."

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As the manufactured debt ceiling debate rages on, it looks like a real crisis in this country is getting some, albeit brief, attention in the national media. Within the last week, both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have released articles about the unfortunate state of the long-term unemployed. With unemployment at 9.2 percent and nearly five jobseekers for each new job opening, you would think employers would be more forgiving of long employment gaps on resumes. Well, you would be wrong.

WSJ has a very cool interactive graph that shows the share of long-term unemployed in each state. Nationally, about 25 percent of the unemployed have been jobless for at least 52 weeks, but it gets scarier. Nearly a dozen states have over 30 percent of their unemployed searching for work for at least a year. The New York Times piece from this week builds on a briefing paper by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) on hiring discrimination against the unemployed. The NELP report reviewed top online job listing sites over a four-week period and found over 150 ads had language excluding jobseekers based on their current employment status.

However, there is some light in this jobless tunnel, and it’s coming from New Jersey. A recently passed state law is aimed at this exact problem. Employers with job advertisements that discriminate against the unemployed face fines of $1,000 for a first offense, and up to $5,000 for future offenses. Michigan and New York have also introduced legislation to tackle this problem. This state-level movement has spurred action at the federal level in the form of the Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011 introduced in the House earlier this month. This action cannot come a moment too soon. A 2010 paper by Slyvia Allegretto and Devon Lynch shows that of those unemployed, the share in long-term joblessness, increased 75.8 percent between 1983 and 2009, or twice the rate of increase of the entire labor force.

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Weak consumption growth and shrinking government spending held GDP growth to 1.3 percent in the last quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis' latest report on the Gross Domestic Product. Consumption grew at just a 0.1 percent annual rate in the second quarter, while government spending shrank at a 1.1 percent rate. The report also revised first-quarter GDP growth down to just 0.4 percent from a previously reported 1.9 percent. All these numbers indicate that the economy is growing far below the 2.5 percent rate needed just to keep the unemployment rate from rising.

The overall picture in the latest report is that the economy is stagnating, with revisions suggesting the stimulus worked exactly as predicted. The economy shrank at a 7.8 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2008 and first quarter of 2009 compared with a previously reported 5.9 percent annual rate. The decline in the second quarter was just 0.7 percent, followed by growth in the third quarter of 1.7 percent, suggesting that the stimulus was effective in turning the quarter around. The downward revision to the first-quarter data coupled with the revision of the fourth-quarter growth to 2.3 percent from 3.1 percent suggests that the winding down of the stimulus has seriously dampened growth.

For more, read our latest GDP Byte.

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Reuters invited leading economists to reply to Mark Thoma's Op-Ed on the "great divide" in economics. Below is Dean Baker's reply.

This is a very nice piece and Mark's points are well-taken. However, as someone largely on the outside, I would go a step further. I see zero accountability for bad performance within economics either among those who write about it as academics or for those who practice it in business and government.

This is very clear as we seem doomed to spend a decade or more digging out of the wreckage of the housing bubble. Instead of trying to hold people at the Fed, in the Bush Administration, at the regulatory agencies, at Fannie and Freddie accountable, the refrain "who could have known" is used as a collective alibi. Holding economists accountable for this policy failure of monumental proportions is seen as just plain vindictive.

Of course this is not the only policy failure for which economists have used the "who could have known" alibi. The collapse of the stock bubble gave us almost four full years of zero job growth. Still no one in policy circles saw their career suffer in any way for failing to see this bubble and the implications of its collapse.

There are many other examples where the economists in charge completely missed it (e.g. the East Asian financial crisis and the IMF response, Argentina's crisis and the IMF response, the Mexican peso crisis). The reality is that the main policy institutions are controlled and populated by "yes" men (and women) who know that getting ahead means repeating what the person ahead of you in the hierarchy wants to hear. There is never any penalty as long as you are wrong with everyone else.

Economics tells us what to expect when workers need not fear sanctions or dismissal even when they don't do they job, as long as they please their boss. We get dull, unimaginative workers who don't do their jobs. Welcome to the world of modern economics.

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Chris Edwards complains that John Boehner’s plan for spending cuts "doesn’t actually cut spending at all."  So says his chart.


Unfortunately Edwards chooses to report budget authority rather than outlays—the actual cash flow.  Under Boehner’s plan, outlays (still net of spending “in Afghanistan and Iraq”) rise only from $1.262 trillion to $1.278 trillion.  Rather than an apparent 18 percent increase, the rise in outlays is less than 1.3 percent.

More importantly, however, these numbers are not adjusted for inflation.  According to projections by the Congressional Budget Office, inflation will rise at least 18 percent from 2012-21.  Thus, Boehner’s plan has real outlays falling by more than 14 percent by 2021.


Chris Edwards is repeating himself. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But he is still wrong.

Boehner’s amended proposal was scored by CBO as saving an additional $46 billion over the first two years, and guess what? As a result of those deeper cuts, spending goes up even faster than before! Rather than an increase in outlays of 1.3 percent (not adjusted for inflation) outlays now increase 3.0 percent.

Maybe, just maybe, Edwards has a ridiculous way of thinking about spending cuts.


What?  Did you say that stuff costs more today than it did a couple years ago?  Maybe somebody really ought to tell Chris Edwards over at Cato.  For the third time in only a few days, Edwards showed a chart of Speaker Boehner’s proposed discretionary budget authority and forgot to adjust for inflation.

At last check, Boehner proposed that by 2021 the government spend 14.9 less on discretionary outlays when adjusted for consumer prices.

If you fail to take prices into account, you might wind up saying ridiculous things like private spending was 10.1 percent higher in April through June than it was when Barack Obama took office.  Or you might say that despite the loss of millions of jobs, Americans managed to “produce” 8.0 percent more.

If you fail to account for inflation, then the economy grew 57 percent under Jimmy Carter—a whopping 12 percent per year!  By Edwards’ measure, national income grew more rapidly under Carter’s presidency than in any four-year period since the end of World War II.

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Over at the Heritage blog, David Weinberger attempted a fact-check.  He wrote, “But both Professor Krugman and President Obama have their history entirely incorrect. Total government spending never decreased in the 30s, certainly not after 1937. Rather, total government spending went up”

Sure enough, the graph presented shows no fall in government spending between 1936 and 1937.


Weinberger should have taken a closer look at his own source material.  Ignoring for the moment that the spending is in current dollars, not adjusted for inflation (even though allows the option) let us look at the table at Weinberger’s source.

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An interesting story was posted last week over at the website of the National Education Association.  A Massachusetts special-education teacher — Kathy Meltsakos — was laid off and then rehired by another school district.  At lower base wages, and bearing a greater share of her health-insurance costs, her take-home pay was reduced to zero.

This story may sound crazy at first, but is far from implausible.  According to the pay stub in the accompanying photograph, Meltsakos earned $622.92 in 58 hours of work.  Over nine months, this would total $12,146.94.  An indicated Medicare tax withholding and an 8 percent pension contribution would reduce pre-tax income to $564.78 every two weeks.

If she must pay 60 percent of the price of a full year’s medical and dental insurance over the course of nine months of employment, then $564.78 in deductions every other week implies total premiums of $18,255 per year—or $1,530 per month.  This may be on the high side even for low-deductible plans, but the article does not specify if the insurance covers anyone in addition to her.

That is, it is plausible that this teacher is working nine months out of the year for nothing more than health insurance and a small pension — with nothing left for living expenses.  Because Medicare seems to have been withheld, but not Social Security, it is safe to assume that Meltsakos is exempt from the program and will not receive a retirement benefit in addition to her pension.

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The 20-City Case-Shiller Index rose 1.0 percent in May, the second consecutive increase after eight consecutive months of decline. Seventeen of the 20 cities in the index experienced increases in housing prices, with the biggest increases in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and Boston. The only cities that saw declines were Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and Detroit.

The 2.4 percent price increase in D.C. continued a pattern, as prices have now risen at a 10.7 percent annual rate over the last three months and are up 1.3 percent over the last year. The 2.6 percent price jump in Minneapolis, however, is the most surprising since prices had been falling sharply in the city. But this also raises the possibility that the increase is simply a result of quirks in measurement.

The Census Department will release data on vacancy rates later this week, which will give us more information on the overall state of supply and demand in the housing market. The recent movement in rents provides no reason for believing that there is any underlying tightening of the market. Owners' equivalent rent is rising at just over a 1.0 percent annual rate.

For more, read the latest Housing Market Monitor.

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Catherine Rampell had a post last week declaring that “College is (Still) Worth It“. The piece is the latest in a series that she and her Economix blog colleague, David Leonhardt, have written on the financial benefits of college.

I agree with Rampell and Leonhardt that college is, on average, a good investment for the people who make it. But, Rampell and Leonhardt’s posts completely sidestep the key issue: why is it that when confronted with compelling evidence that college pays a big financial dividend, so many young people still don’t get a college degree?

Heather Boushey and I argue that the short answer  is that for a surprising share of college graduates, the large price tag may actually not pay off.

Rampell’s latest installment includes this nice graph of weekly earnings by worker characteristics, including educational attainment on the right-hand side:


Source: New York Times, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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