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Archive for December, 2015

AEI interviewed University of Chicago economist Steven Kaplan about income inequality and the perception of unfairness in American’s economy. Below is a portion of the interview.

JP: I want to start off with a quote from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. He gave a big speech recently on democratic socialism and what it means. And here’s just a few sentences of what he said.

Democratic socialism means that in a democratic, civilized society the wealthiest people and the largest corporations must pay their fair share of taxes. Yes, innovation, entrepreneurship, and business success should be rewarded. But greed for the sake of greed is not something that public policy should support. It’s not acceptable that in a rigged economy in the last two years, the wealthiest 15 Americans saw their wealth increase by $170 billion, more wealth than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans.

But let’s not forget what Pope Francis has stated. We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.

So from your research, what do we really know about income inequality and what’s driving it in the United States today?      

SK: There is, I think, some truth in what he’s saying and then some real problems in what he’s saying. So here is my view of what’s happened in the last really 30-35 years. We’ve had a huge amount of technological change. And that has coincided with globalization. And they’re related. Technology allows you to do a lot of things overseas that you couldn’t do before. And so the combination of technological change and globalization has put pressure on the middle class and particularly the less skilled in the developed countries. So it’s the U.S. and Western Europe.

And I think there’s some anxiety and clearly anger about that happening. And at the same time, the people at the top have done very well in the United States. So that’s, I think, the problem that Bernie Sanders has stated. Now what he doesn’t state, and I think is extremely important to recognize is that the world is hugely better off – hugely. And Angus Deaton, who recently won the Nobel Prize in economics and is, you know, archconservative, wrote a book called “The Great Escape.” And that book starts by saying, and I quote, “Life is better now than at almost any time in history. More people are richer and fewer people live in dire poverty. Lives are longer and parents no longer routinely watch a quarter of their children die.”

So the system and capitalism in particular, around the world, has been spectacularly successful over the last 30 or 35 years. The number of people who are living above the poverty level – actually, take the number of people living below the poverty level – has declined in absolute terms and has declined hugely in relative terms.

The world is so much better off. And I think for Sanders and politicians to say that that’s terrible is really just morally abhorrent. … So now the question is, okay, we have this – so it’s great. Around the world, I would not give this up. This has been spectacular. Now, you do have the issue of what do you do in the United States and Western Europe, where you have had – it has been uneven in how the benefits have been distributed.

Folks on the left, they don’t much talk about the role of capitalism bringing  hundreds of millions of people in Asia out of really deep, extreme poverty. They focus really more on the U.S. story and they’ll even concede that there’s been economic growth. But they also that it really hasn’t helped the vast majority of the middle class for 30 or 40 years. They talk about stagnant wages. If the median person, the average person, they’re not getting richer, what’s the point of it?

So the median person in the world is much better off. Let’s be clear. So now, let’s go to the median person in the US and try to figure out what to do about him or her.

So first of all, the after-tax numbers are much better than the pre-tax numbers. And this is also, you know, kind of ignored to some extent, is that if you look at – I think these are Congressional Budget Office numbers or they’re not the IRS numbers that are pre-tax that get a lot of play – the increase in inequality, when you include taxes and transfers, is not as high as it is pre-tax. And that’s because there is a safety net. There are transfers.

But even that said, let’s say there has been an increase. Now the question is what do you do about it. And the real issue is you do have this headwind of technological change and globalization. And so now the question is, what do you do about it?

And one set of proposals which I think Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in general push [is] to raise the minimum wage. And that’s precisely the wrong thing to do here because if you’ve got a headwind of technology and globalization, which is making it harder to hire people and it makes jobs more difficult to create, raising the minimum wage exacerbates that. It’s exactly the wrong thing to do.

If you want to encourage job creation, I think job creation is the most important thing. And I know your boss at AEI, Arthur Brooks, is very articulate on this, the way you encourage jobs is, you know, have an Earned Income Tax Credit or something of that nature, rather than raising the minimum wage. Because raising the minimum wage, you just put more headwinds into job creation.

I would say the same thing about mandated leaves, which is also a big campaign plank among the Democrats. Because, again, that makes jobs more expensive. It makes employment more expensive. And what are companies going to do in response to making jobs more expensive? Well, let’s apply more technology. Let’s try to find jobs in places where the costs are lower. So that is – you know – it is a real conundrum what to do with technology and globalization, but the answer is to make it easier to hire, rather than harder.

At the same time, where I think the Republicans sometimes are not quite so sensitive is [that] you do need to have safety net. If you think this is going on, you really want to make sure you have a solid safety net, so that people do not, you know, go too far down.

Read the rest of the interview here

to perhaps answer their own question, AEI posed some graphs on income earns in America:

income1

They wrote:

“Perhaps the stagnation and decline in US household income that gets so much media and political attention isn’t necessarily the result of the usual negative factors that get cited so frequently: stagnating wages, reduced economic and employment opportunities for the average, middle-class American, the increased share of rising income or wealth going to the top X%, the hollowing out of the middle class, the claims that the middle class is shrinking/losing ground/disappearing/declining, etc. Rather, perhaps there’s a less-nefarious, demographic-driven reason that household incomes have been stagnating/declining in recent years — the increase in the share of US households with no earners, which is largely driven by the aging US population and the increasing number of retired workers, and to a lesser extent by the increasing number and share of disabled workers. Finally, there’s been nearly a six percentage point decline in the share of US households with two or more earners since 1999, which could be another demographic change that has contributed to a decline in median household income.”

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DuPont Undergraduate Scholarship | CPSDA | SportsRd.org ...

From CNBC:

“Sources told CNBC that a potential tie-up between the storied chemicals behemoths would be structured as a merger of equals.

The expected deal, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday night, would likely be followed by a breakup of the combined entity, with separate businesses created to house the agricultural, materials services and specialty products operations.”

Read here for more.

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The Pew Research Center recently published a report called “The American Middle Class is losing ground.” They cite data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors to determine household incomes to suggest the Americans who once made up the majority of hardworking, moderate income Americans comprise now less than half the adult population.

Share of adults living in middle-income households is falling

Approximately 120.8 million American adults are considered “middle class”, which Pew defines as their income is 50-66% the media income based on household size.

Who is “middle income” and “upper income”?

 

These findings emerge from a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. In this study, which examines the changing size, demographic composition and economic fortunes of the American middle class, “middle-income” Americans are defined as adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, about $42,000 to $126,000 annually in 2014 dollars for a household of three.3 Under this definition, the middle class made up 50% of the U.S. adult population in 2015, down from 61% in 1971.

Basically what’s happened is that those who once comprised the solid middle class of Americans- people who made enough to live comfortably but not enough to live luxuriously- had eroded. An increasing number of people either move into the top 10% (often known as the ‘professional’ class due to the high number of post-graduate degrees this group has earned) or into the bottom 30%, the ‘working poor’, families struggling to pay for even the most basic of expenses.

Older people, married couples and black adults improved their income status more than other groups from 1971 to 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black adults, many of whom start with little or nothing, have gained because the number who were well-to-do in 1971 was very small. Those with less than a bachelor’s degree have been hurt economically, as have younger adults and the unmarried (many of whom are young). Older, married White couples are the most likely to do well, though not having children has helped some married couples.

Predicting the future is tough, but the data suggests America already is a class-based system, and will become even more so as the earnings between college graduates (particularly those with a master’s or doctorate or equivelant) increase much faster than those near the bottom (fast-food workers, construction workers, those whose jobs can be more easily replaced via computer or immigration) can keep up, which will widen income inequality. The Minimum Wage argument will actually serve to hasten this gap, as business owners obtain the means and desire to replace so-called ‘low-skilled’ workers with automation.

The positive is that the number of ‘upper middle’ and ‘highest’ has grown as a percentage, which suggests that for some there is economic mobility that was not present in 1971.

What do you think? What does the data suggest about American earnings and our future?

 

 

 

 

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As is common in most years, domestic policy trumps all other issues. While the Republicans believe immigration is the top issue to run a winning campaign, Democrats believe the minimum wage issue is a winner for their candidates.

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile wrote an op-ed where she believes millions of low-wage employees could form a very powerful voting bloc:

Shawanda Wilson, who works at Taco Bell in Tampa, Fla. and makes $8.25 an hour, has never voted before. Neither has Tonya Harrington, a 42-year-old home care worker from Durham, NC, who makes $7.25 an hour. Both say they’ve steered clear of voting booths not because they don’t care, but because they’ve felt politicians don’t speak for them.

That’s changing. Buoyed by $15 victories across the country, including in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, fast-food cooks and cashiers, home care workers and child care workers like Shawanda and Tonya recognize that by joining together in a movement, they can make politicians care. Now they are vowing to head to the polls, and they’re hoping to bring with them the more than 60 million Americans movement organizers say are paid less than $15.

It’s not such a crazy thought. While recent ballot initiatives for $15 failed in Tacoma, Wash., and Portland, Maine, a recent poll of workers paid less than $15 an hour commissioned by the National Employment Law Project showed that 69% of unregistered voters would register to vote if there was a candidate who supported $15 and a union; and 65% of registered voters paid less than $15 an hour would be more likely to vote if there was a candidate who supported $15 and union rights.

We know the economic recovery has not been uniform, and nearly all the gains have gone to the top 1%, or the top 0.1%, as Bernie Sanders likes to remind us. The median income for an American worker is about $28,000, and overall household income has decline almost $2,000 since 2008. Meanwhile, millions of children live in poverty and cannot get enough food to eat or access to a great education. From an emotional standpoint, raising the minimum wage would lift millions out of poverty. While $15 an hour won’t do much in New York City, $15 an hour in most part of the country would be a big boost.

The minimum wage comes down to basic math. The argument for one is true if businesses were sitting on a pile of unspent money and were hoarding it instead of investing in their company. Since few, if any, businesses (particularly small- and medium-sized businesses) are run by heartless pigs who just want to hoard cash, the fact that they may not pay $15 an hour is more a symptom of: a favorable job market for employers; and that paying $15 an hour to all employees would require prices on good and services to go up, or to layoff some employees to pay for the others to have a higher wage. Not sure how the laid-off employees will feel about being sacrificed for the “greater good”.

Today is #GivingTuesday, a break from the spending we do for the holiday season. Consider supporting  CRI this holiday season to support out 2016 objectives for Education Savings Accounts and a Paycheck Protection law for all workers in Delaware. Visit https://www.caesarrodney.org/index.cfm?ref=90905 to help us meet our end of the year fundraising goals.

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