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

In many narrow economic indicators, such as wealth, income, and housing, the United States ranks near the top of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). However, when it comes to broader measures focused of well-being, the U.S. does not perform very well. In terms of life-work balance, the OECD ranks the U.S. 30th out of the 38 countries included in its index. As also pointed out by the OECD, the U.S. is the only member country, which fails to offer any type of nationally mandated paid leave policies. While some states, or cities, provide paid family and sick leave, at a national level no such policy exists. Furthermore, most OECD members also mandate paid vacation, a concept foreign to many American workers.

The Washington Center for Equitable Growth used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey to show that the problem of overwork in America is present in all types of professions. Working over 40 hours a week is fairly common for workers regardless of education level or profession. For example, over 40 percent of those in management positions and over 30 percent of those in farming, fishing, and forestry work over 40 hours a week.

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Last month, the Census Bureau released its annual report on income and poverty in the United States. The report indicated that although lower- and middle-income Americans had seen significant income growth in 2015, those at the top of the income distribution had seen the strongest growth over the past forty years.

The Census Bureau’s most widely-cited statistics on inequality come from data on household income. Various commentators have questioned the validity of citing household income, arguing that the definition of “household” doesn’t take into account differences in factors such as family size. If this is true, it could mean that the rise of economic inequality is more of a statistical aberration than a real phenomenon.

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The Labor Department reported that the economy added 156,000 jobs in September, somewhat less than most economists had projected. The job growth figures were also on net revised down slightly for the prior two months, so that the average for the last three months stands at 192,000. The unemployment rate edged up to 5.0 percent, but this was due to a large number of people entering the workforce, as the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) also rose by 0.1 percentage point to 59.8 percent. The EPOP for prime age workers reversed its decline last month and stood at 78.0 percent. However, this is still more than two full percentage points below its pre-recession peak.

Other news in the household survey was mostly positive. The number of people involuntarily working part-time hit a new low for the recovery. It is now down by more than 3.3 million from the recession peak, although it is still well above the pre-recession level. The duration measures of unemployment all fell, with the share of long-term unemployed dropping by 1.2 percentage points, a new low for the recovery. One negative was a modest decline in the share of unemployment due to voluntary job leavers, which remains more than a full percentage point below its pre-recession peak.

On the establishment side, professional business services, which added 67,000 jobs, construction, which added 23,000, and retail which added 22,000 were big job gainers, along with health care, 32,700 and restaurants, 29,700. Manufacturing lost 13,000 jobs and government lost 11,000. There was a modest increase in average weekly hours, reversing last month's decline. Wages grew at a 2.6 percent annual rate over the last three months, compared with the prior three, the same as their pace in August.

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When the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its newest jobs report a little over three weeks ago, economic forecasters and analysts received some welcome news: the unemployment rate had held steady at 4.9 percent for the month of August. Not long after the release, several members of the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) began talking about an imminent interest rate hike, noting that the economy was operating at close to full employment.

A recent report from CEPR challenges this narrative. The report — titled The Case for a Weak Labor Market argues that a large number of non-employed workers who want jobs simply aren’t being counted in the unemployment rate.

In 2007, there were approximately 7.1 million unemployed Americans. There were also an additional 4.7 million Americans not in the labor force the “labor force” being defined as the number of people who are either employed or unemployed who said they wanted to work. These 4.7 million people weren’t counted as “unemployed” because they hadn’t searched for work during the previous four weeks. But in total, there were about 11.8 million non-employed Americans who wanted to find jobs.

The most recent labor market data show that there are currently about 7.8 million unemployed workers. Given demographic shifts and moderate population growth, this isn’t dramatically out of line with the number of workers unemployed in 2007. However, there are now almost six million Americans out of the labor force who say they want a job meaning that the number of non-employed people looking for work is far higher than the unemployment rate implies.

The aging of the population does not explain this trend. In the year leading up to the recession, just 9.7 percent of prime-age (25–54) Americans not in the labor force said they wanted a job. Over the past year, it’s been 10.5 percent. The increase is nearly identical for older workers. Between September 2015 and August 2016, 3.0 percent of Americans aged 55 and older not in the labor force said they wanted a job, compared to just 2.2 percent in 2007. A far more likely culprit is the lingering economic weakness from the 2008 recession. Table 1 below shows the percentages of all people that want a job broken into three broad categories for 2007 compared to the past year.

buffie mcinnis 2016 10 table

While the economy has improved significantly over the past eight years, the experiences of being employed and unemployed today are much different than in 2007. Take for example the share of workers employed sufficient hours, which is down 1.7 percentage points relative to 2007.[1] This indicates that fewer workers are working the amount of hours they’d like to be. On the other hand, the share of workers who are underemployed, or working part-time involuntarily, is up nearly one percentage point. These workers are still counted as being employed; however, they are working part time hours because they are unable to find full time positions. In other words, these workers are still experiencing economic hardship.

In terms of the unemployed, long-term unemployment is up 0.5 percentage points and accounts for over 100 percent of the increase in unemployment, while short term unemployment is down relative to 2007. This indicates that being unemployed today is worse than being unemployed in 2007, since many individuals are staying out of a job much longer. Long-term unemployment brings a slew of hardships not necessarily experienced for those who are short-term unemployed, including depression, suicidal thoughts, and other problems. While the unemployment rate is near its 2007 average, those who are unemployed are experiencing more hardship than in 2007 since a larger share of them are experiencing long-term unemployment.

Looking at the bigger picture, “employed sufficient hours” and short-term unemployment are down nearly two percentage points, meaning the other four groups — the under-employed, the long-term unemployed, marginally attached workers, and other job wanters — are up nearly two percentage points. Job wanters include individuals who say they want a job and have searched for a job within the past 12 months, but not the past four weeks (also known as marginally attached workers) and people who say they want a job but haven’t searched within the past 12 months (also known as other job wanters). These individuals, who account for 3.6 percent of everyone who wants a job, are not captured in the unemployment rate. However, many of these people would likely return to work if there were more opportunities in the labor market.

For these reasons, the unemployment rate is not as accurate a measure of labor market tightness as it was in prior years.


[1] Those working full time or voluntarily working part time.

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During tonight’s vice-presidential debate, Republican candidate Mike Pence will likely discuss his track record as governor of Indiana. However, Pence will likely leave out a few important facts about that record — including unsuccessful healthcare, tax, and labor market policies. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

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

CEPR on New York Paid Sick Days

“New York City Passed Paid Sick Leave, and Guess What? It Didn’t Kill Any Jobs.” That was the headline of a recent article in Slate magazine on CEPR’s report “No Big Deal: The Impact of New York City’s Paid Sick Days Law on Employers.” The report, by CEPR Senior Economist Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman of CUNY, shows that the standard arguments against the City’s paid sick days law were unfounded. They found that not only was the new law a “non-event” for most employers, it also extended paid sick days to millions of workers in the City who previously lacked access to them. 

President Obama was asked about Eileen’s paper in an interview, and he responded with a reference to Eileen’s previous research on Connecticut’s paid sick days law: “It’s pretty telling that only about one in 10 businesses self-reported any increased costs because of the new requirement. We’ve seen a similar trend in other places. Many businesses initially opposed the first state paid sick days law in Connecticut, yet within a few years a survey showed a similar result — that an overwhelming majority of businesses reported only small or no effects on their bottom line, and three-quarters now report being supportive of the new policy.”

The report was shared by many groups working on expanding paid leave. Eileen was interviewed on the paper by NPR’s Marketplace and Eileen and Ruth penned this op-ed for the Huffington Post, while Media Matters wrote on the study as did Next City.

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Since the main provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were implemented in 2014, the uninsured rate has declined precipitously. This was on full display in the Census Bureau’s 2015 health insurance report, which showed that the share of Americans lacking coverage declined 5.1 percentage points between 2013 and 2015. According to the data from the American Community Survey (ACS), the share of the population without insurance fell from 14.5 to 9.4 percent (pp. 24-25).

Due to its large sample size, the ACS allows us to look at the change in the uninsured rate at the state level. And when looking at the state-by-state data, a clear pattern emerges: states with Democratic governors have seen far more significant gains in coverage than states with Republican ones.

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On September 26, Apollo Global Management and TPG Capital reached an agreement with disgruntled creditors that is expected to allow bankrupt casino operator, Caesars Entertainment, to emerge from bankruptcy. The private equity firms gave up their battle to salvage something from their $30 billion investment in the casino company. Creditors claimed that the PE firms had shifted assets from Caesars Entertainment to its parent company, which is publicly traded and not bankrupt. The bankruptcy settlement originally proposed by Caesars did not require any contribution from the parent company to the restructuring of its bankrupt chief operating unit.

In the new proposed settlement, Apollo and TPG will give up their 14 percent stake in the parent company, worth $950 million. What caused the change of heart and led the two companies to give up their investment? Shades of Donald Trump! The bankruptcy judge ruled that Apollo co-founder Marc Rowan and TPG co-founder David Bonderman would have to hand over details of their personal finances to the creditors. It was worth nearly $1 billion not to make their personal finances available. But who actually pays?

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In 2013, Congress failed to pass continuing a resolution to fund the government by the end of the fiscal year, leading to a 16-day shutdown of the government. During these 16 days, all routine government functions were interrupted, leading to the furlough of federal government employees and contract workers and the closing of federal agencies and national parks.

This disruption had a considerable economic cost. While estimates on the exact price tag of the shutdown differ, they range from an optimistic estimate of $2 to $6 billion by the Council of Economic Advisors, to an estimated loss of $24 billion by Standard & Poor’s. Furthermore, the Council of Economic Advisors claims about 120,000 jobs were not added to the economy in October due to the shutdown.

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As you may have heard, spending on Social Security Disability Insurance has been rising over the past 25 years. Many major news outlets have portrayed this increase as a looming disaster with headlines such as the following:

It’s Time to Reform Our Bankrupt Disability Insurance,” National Review, September 2015

Social Security Disability Insurance Program Is Financially Unsustainable,” Mercatus Center, September 2015

With Social Security Disability Fund Going Broke by 2016, Congress Set for Partisan, Election-Year Showdown,” Fox News, August 2015

Another Looming Crisis: Social Security Disability Insurance,” The Hill, July 2015

Social Security Disability Insurance Is Failing,” Senate Republic Policy Committee, March 2015

Averting the Disability-Insurance Meltdown,” Wall Street Journal, February 2015

7 Facts About America’s Disability Check Explosion,” Breitbart, January 2015

SSA: Disability Recipients Soar, Funding Nearly Depleted Under Obama,” Newsmax, December 2013

Social Security Disability Claims Out-Of-Control,” NewsBlaze, October 2013

The Rising Cost of Social Security Disability Insurance,” Cato Institute, August 2013

Social Security Disability Insurance Costs Are Exploding,” Washington Examiner, August 2013

Social Security Disability Fund to Go Broke in 2016,” Washington Examiner, July 2013

Disability Explosion Puts Social Security in Danger,” Investor’s Business Daily, June 2013

Disability Insurance, Out of Control,” Chicago Tribune, April 2013

Disability Insurance: America’s $124 Billion Secret Welfare Program,” The Atlantic, March 2013

Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America,” Planet Money (National Public Radio), March 2013

Social Security Disability Program Reveals Budget Quagmire,” Washington Post, February 2012

Social Security Disability Benefits Unsustainable,” Cato Institute, November 2010

America’s Hidden Welfare Program: Social Security’s Disability Insurance Is Expensive, Destructive, and Out of Control,” Slate, September 2010

Given this sort of reporting, a normal reader might think that assistance to disabled workers has been “spiraling out of control.” But that just isn’t true.

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Paul Krugman recently wrote an interesting blog post titled “The Curious Confidence of Charlatans and Cranks Krugman starts off with an interesting graph showing the total number of private sector payroll jobs gained or lost under each U.S. president from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama.

While this metric is informative, it is imperfect in at least two ways. First,a president’s track record on jobs will depend to a significant degree on his total time spent in office. Fortunately, it is easy to correct for this problem all we need to do is look at the average change in jobs per year. Second, the total number of jobs gained is an imprecise metric, given that at least part of the differences between time periods can be attributed to different rates of population growth. An easy way of correcting for this is to measure the percent change in the total number of jobs. Therefore the best metric for comparing different presidents’ track records would be the average annual percent change in jobs.

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The following reports on labor market policy were recently released:

Center for Economic and Policy Research

The Case for a Weak Labor Market
Nick Buffie


Center for American Progress

The Cost of Work-Family Policy Inaction
Sarah Jane Glynn, Danielle Corley

The Economic Impacts of Removing Unauthorized Immigrant Workers
Ryan Edwards, Francesc Ortega


Institute for Women’s Policy Research

Five Ways to Win an Argument about the Gender Wage Gap
Heidi Hartmann, Ariane Hegewisch, Barbara Gault, Gina Chirillo, Jennifer Clark


Economic Policy Institute

Black-white wage gaps expand with rising wage inequality
Valerie Wilson, William M. Rodgers III

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Earlier this year, Heather Boushey and Bridget Ansel of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth released a report titled “Overworked America: The Economic Causes and Consequences of Long Work Hours.” For those who work excessively long hours at their jobs and don’t have time to read the full report, this blog post by the authors succinctly summarizes many of the paper’s key findings.

Boushey and Ansel show that, between 2011 and 2014, a large number of Americans worked beyond the typical 40-hour workweek. (In 2015, exactly 25 percent of the labor force worked 41 or more hours per week.) Moreover, long hours show up predominantly in occupations with significant wage disparities — most notably in legal, management, and finance occupations.

One point that isn’t discussed in the piece is the degree to which other developed countries — many of which, incidentally, have much lower income inequality than the U.S. — have been able to rid themselves of this problem. As productivity rises, countries have the option of improving workers’ well-being not through higher incomes, but rather through greater leisure time. And in general, most countries have opted for a bit of both. Annual incomes have continued rising, but working hours have declined as well.

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Analyzing the percentage of the labor force holding multiple jobs is a key to understanding the labor market. While very recent data is not available on the reasons for holding multiple jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) occasional surveys from the 1990s and early 2000s consistently identified financial reasons as the main cause for holding multiple jobs.

Data released by the BLS show that the overall percentage of workers with multiple jobs has been on a downward path. In 1996, over six percent of the labor force was working multiple jobs. By 2015, this number decreased to 4.9 percent of the labor force.

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The following reports on labor market policy were recently released:

Center for American Progress

Raising Wages and Rebuilding Wealth
Carmel Martin, Andy Green, Brendan Duke


Center for Economic and Policy Research

No Big Deal: The Impact of New York City’s Paid Sick Days Law on Employers
Eileen Appelbaum, Ruth Milkman


Institute for Women’s Policy Research

The Gender Wage Gap: 2015; Annual Earnings Differences by Race and Ethnicity
Ariane Hegewisch, Asha DuMonthier

 


COWS

State of Working Wisconsin 2016
Laura Dresser, Joel Rogers, Javier Rodriguez S.

 


Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Monetary Rules and Targets: Finding the Best Path to Full Employment
Carola Binder, Alex Rodrigue

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If you listen to enough debates on economic inequality, there is one assertion you are bound to hear from those defending the status quo: the inequality statistics are bunk. Basically, the dramatic increase in economic inequality over the past 40 years is a mirage.

Consider, for example, the frequent assertion about differences in household size. This argument is relatively straightforward: statistics on household income inequality don’t adjust for differences in the number of people per household, and therefore likely overstate economic inequality. For example, $80,000 split between a husband and wife with no children can provide roughly the same standard of living as $40,000 for a single individual; therefore, even if statistics on household inequality show that the first household makes twice as much as the second, there is little to no difference in economic well-being.

However, data released earlier this week from the Census Bureau show that disparities in household size have little impact on measures of economic inequality. Furthermore, to the extent that these disparities do matter, their importance has decreased over time; this means that the rise in economic inequality has actually been more significant than the normal statistics indicate.

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On January 25, 2012, the Federal Reserve (“Fed”) announced that it would target an inflation rate of 2.0 percent per year. In its press release, the Fed stated:

“The inflation rate over the longer run is primarily determined by monetary policy, and hence the Committee has the ability to specify a longer-run goal for inflation. The Committee judges that inflation at the rate of 2 percent…is most consistent over the longer run with the Federal Reserve's statutory mandate.”

In public debates, this statement has frequently been misinterpreted in at least two ways. The first relates to treating 2.0 percent as a ceiling rather than a target; the second relates to the timeframe over which the target is supposed to be achieved. 

With respect to the first issue: because 2.0 percent is a target, the Fed should find 1.0 percent inflation just as problematic as 3.0 percent inflation. However, some members of the Fed have been treating 2.0 percent more like a ceiling than a middle-of-the-road target. About two weeks ago, Vice Chairman of the Fed Stanley Fischer praised the U.S. economy partially on the basis that inflation was “within hailing distance” of the Fed’s target. Other members of the Fed have made similar statements.

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As a policy, the goal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is to reduce the number of uninsured people in the United States. With the release of the Census Bureau report on health insurance coverage for 2015, it is hard to make the case that the ACA has not been a success. The report demonstrates that the number of uninsured in the U.S. has continued to fall significantly and at 9.1 percent, it is now at the lowest level to date.  And while the number of uninsured did not go up in any of the 50 states or the District of Columbia, the rate of the change in the uninsured varied between states.

The trend of increased coverage held across different age, educational, and racial demographics and is consistent with results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health interview Survey, which also found the share of the uninsured to be 9.1 percent. As well, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey gives historical estimates of health insurance coverage. Looking back to 2008, the percent of uninsured had risen prior to 2010. It was at this time that an early provision of the ACA began to allow adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance plan until the age of 26 and the percent of uninsured began to decrease. This group has continued to see the largest decreases in the number of people uninsured with 2015 showing an additional decline of 2.6 percent.

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Earlier this morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the August jobs report. The new numbers were mostly positive, with employers reporting net job growth of 151,000 for the month.

However, one disturbing aspect of the report should be the relatively high rate of long-term unemployment. While the percentage of jobless workers unemployed 27 weeks and longer has been trending downward in recent years, it is still exceptionally high by historical standards.

Even more disturbing is the relatively high rate of “extreme” long-term unemployment, the condition of being unemployed one year or longer. The figure below shows extreme long-term unemployment as a percentage of total unemployment from May 1977 to present. Currently there are over 1.3 million Americans who have been out of work for over a year.

buffie long term 2016 09 02

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The Labor Department reported that the economy created 151,000 new jobs in August – slightly less than generally expected. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.9 percent and the employment-to-population ratio was also unchanged.

The big job gainers in August were restaurants, which added 34,000 jobs; government, which added 25,000 (almost all at the local level); and social assistance, which added 21,700 jobs. Mining continued to lose jobs, with a drop of 4,300 in August, while manufacturing lost 14,000.

While the overall pace of job growth is still reasonably healthy even with the slowdown, a disconcerting item is a decline in the duration of the average workweek. This stood at 34.3 hours in August, down from 34.4 hours in July and 34.6 hours in August of 2015. The drop was large enough to lead to a decline of 0.2 percent in the index of aggregate weekly hours, in spite of the growth in employment.

This downward trend could indicate slower hiring in the future. It also seems to contradict the common assertion in the business press that employers are having difficulty finding qualified workers. If this were true, they would be pushing the workers they have to work longer hours.

On the household side the news was mostly positive. There was an increase in the percentage of unemployment due to voluntary quits to 11.3 percent, the highest for the recovery. All the duration measures of unemployment fell in the month. And there was a rise in the percentage of black teens with jobs to 23.3 percent, an increase of 2.7 percentage points from the July figure.

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

CEPR on Trade and the Economy, Election 2016 Edition

CEPR Co-Director Dean Baker wrote for CNN how Trump’s economic agenda looks like more of the same Republican agenda.. He was also cited in an article for Fortune, agreeing with the headline “Trump Just Made a Huge Exaggeration About Small Businesses”. In an article in The Week, author Jeff Spross named Dean as one of eight members of a possible “economic dream team” in a Clinton administration, writing that Dean is “the antidote to the intellectual sclerosis and rigid narratives that so often bedevil mainstream economic policy thinking.” He also compared Dean and fellow economist and Jared Bernstein to another famous duo.

Meanwhile, CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot wrote that the historically important candidacy in this cycle was not Trump’s, but Bernie Sanders’, in an op-ed in The Hill. Mark also wrote a post for his “World in Transition” blog that answered the question, “Which Presidential Candidate is Worse for Latin America?” Mark did two video interviews on the US elections with Brazilian journalist Fernando Morais.

CEPR continued to focus on an issue that is front and center in the presidential campaign: trade. In this widely shared op-ed for The Hill, Mark explained how President Obama’s push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could drag down Democrats in the fall, while Dean penned a piece titled “Trade, Truth and Trump.” Dean also wrote an op-ed debunking TPP proponents’ claim that rejecting the TPP would jeopardize relations between the United States and Asia.

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