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

The share of employees with union representation has been steadily declining for the past three decades. Because unions are one of the most important institutions within the political sphere for non-elites to advance their interests — higher wages, better work conditions, hours, benefits, etc. — this is unfortunate. Unsurprisingly, the dramatic decline in union representation since the 1980s has been accompanied by widening economic inequality.

The private sector, accounting for roughly 85 percent of those employed in 2015, has experienced the largest decline in employees represented by a union, down just over 11 percentage points from 1983 to 2015. This dramatic decline means fewer workers have the opportunity to advocate for their interests. Unionization rates in the public sector have declined as well, though at a significantly lower rate (down 6.5 percentage points, from 45.5 percent in 1983 to 39 percent in 2015). Technological advances and a more global economy are less the cause of this decline than legislation that purposefully weakens unions and employers’ unfavorable attitudes towards unions.

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Welfare reform hits 20 this month. The Center for Economic and Policy Research has done much work examining how full employment in the 1990s shaped employment, income, and poverty. In observation of this 20th anniversary, CEPR prepared a graph that tells an important, often neglected, piece of the story:

Change in Employment, Women Ages 20 to 49 with a High School Degree or Less and Any Work During the Year and Change in Families Receiving TANF Benefits

Using data from the Current Population Survey and Department of Health and Human Services TANF Caseload report, the figure tells a simple story. Never-married mothers with a high school degree or less increased their rate of work from the early to the late 1990s by nearly 30 percentage points. As Philip Cohen also discusses, this trend began well before the 1996 welfare reform, suggesting that the policy was not the source of the rise, but that other macroeconomic forces were helping these families do better.

As the graph also demonstrates, the rise in employment is associated with a decline in reliance on the welfare program, Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF). The line at the bottom of the chart shows a steady decline in the late 1990s that corresponds to the rise in women’s work in the line above.

Here’s the catch: Employment stopped rising, and began to fall by the early 2000s. Yet, TANF, as part of the so-called safety net, did not move upwards as less-skilled jobs disappeared. Instead, the TANF rolls continued to decline, as Shawn Fremstad details in his report on millennial parents.

What does this mean? CEPR director Dean Baker has written extensively about how to fight poverty through full employment. This chart suggests that the current system of welfare is not part of the solution, and stands as a reminder that data, not ideology, will help us reduce poverty.

This piece was originally published at the Council on Contemporary Families.

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Tomorrow, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will release the newest data for the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the most widely cited indicator of consumer inflation. One important measure to watch will be childcare and nursery school, whose costs have risen faster than overall inflation for the past quarter-century.

The figure below shows the annual rates of inflation for five different five-year periods from 1991 to present. Between 1991 and 2016, the costs of childcare and nursery school rose 177 percent; by contrast, prices for the economy as a whole have risen just 77 percent. (The figure will be updated to include the latest data in tomorrow’s CEPR Prices Byte.)

prices 2016 08

Now, for many consumers, this isn’t a significant worry — childcare and nursery school are just 0.7 percent of current consumer spending. However, this 0.7 percent figure represents an average across all consumers, most of whom do not currently have young children.

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The July jobs report was mostly positive with the unemployment rate holding steady at 4.9 percent and the economy adding 255,000 jobs. While these data points grabbed most of the headlines, other aspects of the Bureau of Labor Statistics report were noteworthy, including job gains spread across sectors and indications that wage growth accelerated. Though there is still room for improvement, the report contradicts horror stories about an American economy on the brink.

Another less discussed aspect of the jobs report that deserves attention is the change in the number of people that work part-time. This is especially relevant when considering the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Prior to its adoption, numerous opponents of the Act — also called “Obamacare” — claimed (and still claim) that the program would be a job-killer and lead to large-scale cuts in hours for full-time workers in order to avoid paying for employee healthcare. (The ACA penalizes employers that have over 50  employees and that do not provide healthcare for workers that log greater than 30 hours a week.)

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In February of last year, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report titled The Effect of Rising Inequality on Social Security. The report shows how the increase in economic inequality in the U.S. has led to deteriorating Social Security revenues, often to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a year. Earlier research by Dean Baker showed that the upward redistribution of wage income was responsible for 43.5 percent of the projected 75-year shortfall in Social Security funding as of 2013.

Social Security is funded through federal payroll taxes. These taxes are currently applied to the first $118,500 of a worker’s wages; this means that only a portion of high-wage workers’ earnings are subject to taxation. For example, a worker earning $237,000 a year will pay payroll taxes on just half his earnings in 2016; a worker earning a million dollars will pay payroll taxes on less than 12 percent of his earnings. By contrast, any worker making $118,500 or less will have all of his earnings held subject to taxation. This $118,500 “cap” rises in line with average wage growth every year.

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One of the most striking aspects of the 2008–2009 recession was the rise in involuntary part-time employment. In 2007, involuntary part-time employment — the condition of working a part-time job while seeking a full-time one — was just 3.0 percent of total employment. The rate peaked at 6.7 percent in March 2010 and has averaged 4.0 percent through the first six months of 2016.

This is important for two reasons. First, it is a source of labor market weakness that results in a significant loss of income for many workers. Over 6 million people are working part-time involuntarily, and on average they work 23 hours per week. Because full-time workers are typically employed 42–43 hours per week, this is effectively a wage cut of almost 50 percent for the affected workers. When the labor market fully recovers from the recession, over 1.5 million involuntary part-time workers will be moved to full-time hours.

Second, today’s relatively high rate of involuntary part-time employment stands as evidence that the unemployment rate is overstating the strength of the economy. Currently the unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, just slightly above the pre-recession rate of 4.6 percent. This implies that the economy has almost fully recovered since unemployment peaked at 10.0 percent in October 2009. However, the unemployment rate falls when the unemployed stop searching for work, and given how many of the unemployed gave up on finding a job during the recession, it is clear that the unemployment rate is failing to pick up on a large number of jobless Americans who would like to work. The involuntary part-time employment rate, by contrast, is not subject to this bias.

To illustrate this point, Table 1 compares the rate of involuntary part-time employment for the year ending in May 2016 with two other periods with a similar unemployment rate. Between June 2015 and May 2016, the unemployment rate averaged 5.0 percent; between 2000 and the recession, there were two other periods with the same unemployment rate. (We start with the year 2000 because much of the demographic data on involuntary part-time employment only go back to 2000.) Those two periods were March 2001 to February 2002 and February 2005 to January 2006. If the unemployment rate were painting an accurate picture of the labor market, we’d expect the current involuntary part-time employment rate to be about the same as during the two previous periods.

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The Labor Department reported the economy added 255,000 jobs in July. With the June number revised up to 292,000, the average for the last three months now stands at 190,000. The job gains were broadly based. Health care added 43,200 jobs, professional and technical services added 37,400, while the government sector added 38,000. Much of the last figure was due to education, which added 26,700 jobs in the month. Part of this is due to timing, with many schools starting earlier and having teachers begin preparations in July. There was also an uptick in hours worked, with the index of aggregate weekly hours rising by 0.5 percent.

The household data was also positive. The number of people reported as employed rose by 420,000 after being virtually flat the prior three months. With new people entering the labor force, the employment-to-population ratio edged up by 0.1 percentage point to 50.7 percent, while the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.9 percent.

One interesting note is that the least educated workers appear to be the biggest beneficiaries of recent job growth. The employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) for workers without high school degrees rose by 2.1 percentage points for the month and is 1.6 percentage points above its year ago level. The unemployment rate for this group is 1.9 percentage points below the year ago level. By contrast, the EPOP for college grads is down by 0.5 percentage points from its year ago level, while the unemployment rate is unchanged.

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

CEPR on Trade and Other Issues: The 2016 Election Edition

The Republican and Democratic Conventions just concluded and CEPR experts were watching. CEPR Co-Director Dean Baker discussed Donald Trump and trade on NPR’s Morning Edition and he wrote an op-ed on Trump’s trade viewshere, while Co-Director Mark Weisbrot weighed in with this piece for The Hill. Mark also penned an op-ed titled “This is a Test: What Kind Of Democracy Do We Have in the United States?” about Hillary Clinton’s strategic blocking of votes on the proposed progressive DNC platform, which would have included opposition to the TPP. Mark also discussed the candidates’ positions on trade and the TPP on The Big Picture with Thom Hartman, here and here. (Mark is now a weekly guest on the show, broadcast on RT).

Mark and Dean addressed trade issues in their respective blogs. Mark wrote a post titled: “Democratic Delegates Should Help Save Obama’s Legacy by Blocking the TPP,” as well as this one critiquing David Brooks for his “World In Transition blog, while in this “Beat the Press” post, Dean reminds the Washington Post that recent US trade deals are “not about free trade.” Dean also corrected the New York Times, here.

While efforts to get the Democratic Party platform to take an official stance against the TPP were defeated, the platform includes language calling for “streamlined and effective enforcement mechanisms” that “protect workers and the environment,” including in the TPP. Prior to Scott Walker’s speech addressing the RNC, CEPR Domestic Intern Michael Ratliff examined the track record of Wisconsin and Minnesota since 2010. He found that after liberal governor Mark Dayton took office in Minnesota and conservative Scott Walker took office in Wisconsin, Minnesota has a better record than Wisconsin on employment growth, poverty levels, and unionization. And despite Trump’s commitment to protecting Social Security, the Republican platform contains language calling for cuts, which Dean discussed here.

And last but not least, CEPR joins the Center for Popular Democracy and others in the FedUp campaign in celebrating the Democratic Party’s platform’s call to reform the Federal Reserve. The platform includes language about reforming the Fed to make it more representative of America as a whole and for the first time since 1988 commits to promoting full employment policies.

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A sharp slowing of the rate of inventory accumulation led to a lower than expected 1.2 percent GDP growth rate in the second quarter. The weakness of inventories subtracted 1.16 percentage points from the quarter's growth. Final demand grew at a moderate 2.4 percent annual rate. The first quarter's data were also revised down from 1.1 to 0.8 percent, meaning that the economy grew at just a 1.0 percent annual rate in the first half of the year.

Consumption is by far the main factor driving growth in the quarter, growing at a 4.2 percent annual rate. Most of this growth was on the goods side, which grew at a 6.8 percent annual rate, while consumption of services grew at a more modest 3.0 percent rate.

Most categories of investment were negative, with non-residential structures falling at a 7.9 percent rate, and equipment investment falling at a 3.5 percent rate. Investment in intellectual property products grew at a modest 3.5 percent rate. Residential construction fell at a 6.1 percent rate, after six consecutive quarters of strong growth.

Trade was a small positive, adding 0.23 percentage points to growth in the quarter, while government was a small negative. Government spending fell at a 0.9 percent annual rate, subtracting 0.16 percentage points from the quarter's growth. Federal, state, and local spending declined in the quarter, but most of the drop was due to a 1.3 percent drop in state and local spending.

While the inventory situation will be reversed in future quarters, leading to a positive contribution to growth, it is questionable whether growth will even cross 2.0 percent for the year. Concerns at the Fed and elsewhere about overly rapid growth seem to be seriously misplaced.

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Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) recently introduced a new bill (H.R. 5745), “Putting Main Street FIRST: Finishing Irresponsible Reckless Speculative Trading Act.” The purpose of the bill is to curb high-volume speculative trading. In the bill, this is accomplished by imposing a small tax on financial trades.

The tax, known as a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) or Wall Street Speculation Tax (WST), would be assessed at 3 basis points, or just 3 cents per every 100 dollars traded. The tax would primarily impact traders and suppliers of financial services. The main effect for consumers is that they would spend less in total trading costs, as they reduce trading volume in response to the tax.

At 3 basis points, the revenue would be $417 billion in revenue over the next decade according to the latest estimates of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). Just as importantly, the tax could increase the efficiency of the financial sector.

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Tonight, Governor Scott Walker will speak at the GOP Convention supporting his former rival, Donald Trump. As the Governor makes the case for the Republican nominee, it is worth assessing Walker’s record in his more than 5 years in Wisconsin.

During his time as governor, Wisconsin has been a laboratory for many Republican economic policies. Walker cut taxes by more than $4.7 billion, stripped state employees of collective bargaining rights, and deregulated industry. The Republican Party platform calls for similar polices on the national level, making promises to cut taxes and reduce regulatory barriers.

At the same Governor Walker took office in Wisconsin in 2010, Mark Dayton, a liberal Democrat took office in neighboring Minnesota. The relative performances of the two states provide a simple and interesting test of their differing agendas.

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To what extent has the age of globalization benefited developing countries—and what of the poor in those countries? To what extent has such progress been driven by local policy decisions rather than a more global phenomenon? Has such development come alongside stagnation of poor and middle incomes within more developed countries and large benefited the extremely rich?

One way—however incomplete—to begin an investigation would be to look at the global “growth incidence curve” (GIC) of Lakner and Milanovic. They estimate the worldwide distributions of income in both 1988 and 2008, which allows them to answer questions such as “How does median (the 50th percentile) income change between the two years.” The GIC is sometimes referred to as the “elephant curve” for its resemblance to the beast.

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The Labor Department reported that the economy added 287,000 jobs in June, a sharp bounce back from the 11,000 jobs now reported for May. A big factor in the reversal was the end of the Verizon strike which subtracted 37,000 jobs from the May growth number and added the same amount to June, but even adjusting for this effect the June growth figure is much stronger.

The job gains were widely spread across sectors. Health care added 38,500 jobs, retail added 29,900, while the government sector added 22,000, with 17,000 at the local government level. Manufacturing added 14,000 jobs with 13,000 of these in food manufacturing. Construction was flat and mining lost another 6,400 jobs. 

The average hourly wage is 2.6 percent above its year-ago level. In the last three months, it has risen at a 2.7 percent annual rate compared with its level for the prior three months.

The household survey showed a bleaker picture. The unemployment rate rose modestly to 4.9 percent. The employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) fell to 59.6 percent as employment measured by the survey increased by just 67,000. Employment in the household survey is still more than 200,000 below its March level.

By demographic group the most disturbing item is the reported rise in the unemployment rate among black teens to 31.2 percent. It had been 23.3 percent in February. These data are highly erratic, but the trend is large enough that it could reflect a substantial deterioration in the labor market.

Employment patterns by education are showing an interesting pattern in this recovery. Over the last year the unemployment rate for college grads has not changed while their EPOP is down by 0.3 pp. By contrast, the unemployment rate for those with a high school degree has fallen by 0.4 pp and by 0.6 pp for those with less than a high school degree. The increased demand for skills is not obvious in this picture.

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Since the Fed first announced its 2 percent inflation target on January 25, 2012, inflation has consistently run too low. In fact, the Fed has undershot its target in 48 of the 51 months since its announcement. 

The most recent data from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) show that inflation over the past year has been just 1.0 percentPart of this weakness is due to the volatile energy (down 10.1 percent from one year ago) and food (up 0.7 percent) aspects of the index. The Fed typically pulls out these components and looks at the core CPI. This measure shows a somewhat higher rate of inflation with a modest increase over the last year.

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The following highlights CEPR’s latest research, publications, events, and much more for June.

CEPR on Brexit

CEPR was a key voice weighing in on the decision by UK voters to leave the European Union, both before and after the June 23rd referendum. CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot appeared on the Diane Rehm show prior to the vote, and he wrote a piece for The Hill titled “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Brexit, Extortion, and the Path to Reform.”

After the vote was decided, Mark issued this press release following the announcement that a majority of UK voters had chosen to leave the UK. He also wrote a post on possible foreign policy outcomes of the Brexit vote for his World in Transition blog titled “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

CEPR Co-Director Dean Baker provided immediate feedback on Brexit with Lawrence O’Donnell’s breaking news segment and also appeared on MSNBC’s All in With Chris Hayes. He penned this article for the PBS NewsHour (which climbed to be one of their Top Five pieces) and he wrote numerous posts for his blog Beat the Press, both before and after the vote, including one titled“Paul Krugman, Brexit, and Unaccountable Government” (the remainder can be found herehereherehereherehereandhere). Dean was cited by Policy.Mic. He was also mentioned in this piece in the New Yorker that asked “What do the Brexit Movement and Donald Trump Have in Common?” and joined a handful of other experts in this Politico piecetitled “How Brexit Will Change the World.” 

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This is the seventh in a series of profiles of the members of the Federal Reserve Board’s Open Market Committee [FOMC]. The profiles will focus on their writings, public statements, and voting records as members of the FOMC.

John Williams took over as President of the San Francisco Federal Reserve in March 2011, five months after Janet Yellen’s departure from the post. Williams, who previously served as Yellen’s director of research, is generally considered a moderate dove. He upholds the employment side of the Fed’s dual mandate and has consistently supported quantitative easing and a gradual path for interest rate normalization. The exception to Williams’ more dovish views is that he has called for rate hikes to begin at a relatively early date; however, this is largely because of Williams’ aforementioned support for a slow, gradual course of rate hikes.

Williams has published extensively on monetary policy. In 2006 — about two years before the Fed would reduce the federal funds interest rate to almost zero percent — Williams published a paper warning about the dangers of the zero lower bound (ZLB) on interest rates.[1] He found that the ZLB can be a significant constraint on monetary policy when the general public has imperfect knowledge of policy and the economy; in the paper’s conclusion, Williams noted that the ZLB placed greater emphasis on “the potential use of fiscal policy interventions,” i.e. deficit spending.[1]

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In the 1970s, economist Arthur Okun coined the term “misery index.” The misery index was meant to calculate the amount of economic misery by adding the unemployment rate to the annual inflation rate. This treats a one percentage-point rise in the unemployment rate as being no worse than a one percentage rise in the inflation rate.

In a sense, the Federal Reserve actually adheres to a version of Okun’s misery index when setting monetary policy. As part of its dual mandate, the Fed pursues the twin goals of “maximum employment” and “stable prices.” While the mandate allows room for ambiguity, many Fed officials seem to assign greater importance to inflation than unemployment.

However, as Binyamin Appelbaum reported three years ago in The New York Times, consumer surveys from both the U.S. and Europe indicate that unemployment creates about four times as much misery as inflation. This result has been attested to in a host of academic studies (see pages 1–3).

A properly constructed misery index would therefore place four times as much weight on a one percentage point rise in the unemployment rate as on a one percentage point rise in the inflation rate. In terms of promoting well-being, an economy with low unemployment will usually beat an economy with low inflation.

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This is the sixth in a series of profiles of the members of the Federal Reserve Board’s Open Market Committee [FOMC]. The profiles will focus on their writings, public statements, and voting records as members of the FOMC.

Unlike Esther GeorgeLoretta MesterEric RosengrenJames Bullard, and William Dudley first five members of the FOMC to be profiled by CEPR  Patrick Harker does not have an extensive background at the Federal ReserveHaving been officially appointed to head the Philadelphia Federal Reserve on July 1, 2015, Harker has been in office less than a year.[1] Moreover, as the President of the Philadelphia Fed, Harker will not serve as a voting member of the FOMC for the first time until 2017.[2] (The head of the Philadelphia Fed is given a vote once every three years.[2]) This means that Harker has no voting record and has only a short history of public statements on monetary policy.

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Last month the International U.S. Trade Commission (ITC) came out with its assessment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It projected that in 2032, when the economy will have experienced most of the effects of the deal, income will be 0.23 percent higher than in a baseline without the TPP. This translates to an increase in the annual growth rate of 0.014 percentage point.

That is not the sort of thing that would likely get most people too excited. It means that with the TPP in place we will basically be as rich on January 1, 2032 as we would be in the middle of February of 2032 without the TPP. Still this is better than nothing, so why not take the gains the ITC is projecting?

The answer to that question is that the ITC projections are hardly a sure deal. Its past track record, like that of most modelers of trade agreements, has been pretty dismal. The actual patterns in trade have born essentially no relationship to the projected patterns.

This may be due to the possibility that the impact of factors not included in the models swamped the projected impact of the changes being modeled. That’s an argument that can save the validity of the models used by the ITC and other economists, but doesn’t change the fact that these models have not been useful guides to the future course of trade and economic growth.

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CEPR recently released a blog post titled “Maximum Potential Employment and the Jobs Gap.” The post asked two simple questions:

  • 1. How high could the employment rate go given the current age composition of the population?

  • 2. How large is the gap between this potential employment rate and the actual employment rate?

The post concluded that although the gap between actual and potential employment has declined since the end of the recession, it is nonetheless larger than it was before the recession.

The “maximum potential employment rate” used in the post was calculated by asking what the overall employment rate would be if each age group were to achieve its highest calendar-year employment rate at the same time. It is notable that the current jobs gap is due purely to low employment rates among younger workers. With the exceptions of the 45–49 and 70+ age groups, there is a consistent rule to be had in terms of job loss: employment has declined more significantly for younger workers than for older workers.

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Legislators in the United States have been reluctant to tax the highest income tax-payers at higher rates. “Millionaire taxes,” through the addition of higher marginal income tax rates on income over $1 million, exist only in one state, California. Connecticut taxes married couples with combined incomes over $1 million at a higher rate as well. At the federal level, the top income tax bracket starts at $415,051 for individuals and at $466,950 for couples. Despite growing income inequality and calls for the rich to pay more, there has been little to no political will to increase tax rates on incomes over $1 million.

One rationale often used to explain this reluctance is the belief that higher tax rates on the rich would lead to an exodus of high-income tax payers. When President François Hollande proposed a 75% tax rate on incomes over 1 million euros, commentators around the world predicted mass out migration of high income French citizens. The mass emigration failed to occur during the two year duration of the higher rate, but the higher tax bracket was quietly allowed to expire at the end of 2014.

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