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EconomicPolicyInstitute May 15, 2009

A quick scan of recent headlines might leave the impression that there was good news on the economic front. The search for “green shoots” in this recession caused many to view recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data as “encouraging,” simply because fewer jobs were lost during April than in some prior months.

EPI’s analysis paints a grimmer, more realistic picture. Not only did overall unemployment rise to 8.9% in April with the loss of 539,000 additional jobs, but the pace of job loss continues to be much steeper than in most past recessions. So far, this 16-month recession has cost the U.S. a staggering 5.7 million jobs. The unemployment rate is 10% among men and 15% among African Americans. There are now almost five unemployed workers for every job opening.

While numbers tell part of the story, EPI President Lawrence Mishel addresses the human toll of this recession with an analysis predicting that, even using conservative forecasts for future job loss, the poverty rate for children could increase from an already high 18% — where it stood in 2007, — to more than 27% by next year. Poverty among African American children, currently at a staggering 34.5%, could reach 50% before the employment picture starts to turn around.

“The house is still burning down, but not quite as fast,” Bob Herbert of The New York Times wrote in a column after interviewing Mishel. “There are a whole lot of people who are going to be economically desperate for many years.”

“Graveyard shift” takes on a new meaning
One of the ways this recession differs from past downturns is that it has been unusually hard on experienced workers. Data show that long-term unemployment, defined as being without a job for at least six months, is disproportionately high among workers over age 45. Many unemployed workers who are nearing retirement age say their job searches are fruitless.

It is a problem that underscores why raising the retirement age is neither a fair, nor practical, way to overhaul the Social Security system. In her Briefing Paper, Working the Graveyard Shift, EPI Economist Monique Morrissey and co-author Emily Garr refute the argument that because some Americans are living longer everyone should have to work longer. Her paper notes that most of the increases in American life expectancy made in recent decades have been among higher-wage workers, but raising the retirement age beyond 67 would effectively cut the benefits of all workers, including lower-income workers forced to retire because of poor health or poor job prospects. Rather than increasing the normal retirement age, reform efforts should start by raising the cap on taxable earnings to address the impact of growing wage inequality on the system’s finances.

Teachers, Performance Pay, and AccountabilityNew book: Teachers, Performance Pay, and Accountability
This first book in EPI’s Series on Alternative Teacher Compensation Systems brings expert analysis to the debate over performance-based pay in America’s public schools, and as a starting point includes one of the first systematic analyses of pay-for-performance practices in the private sector. Teachers, Performance Pay, and Accountability — What Education Should Learn From Other Sectors provides important lessons from other industries on designing and implementing such systems in education at a time when states and school districts are contemplating how to evaluate teacher performance.

Good tax news
President Obama has announced plans to crack down on tax evasion by big companies as well as individuals who have long used tax havens or hidden their money in secret overseas accounts. In an opinion piece, Shrinking Loopholes, EPI Research and Policy Director John Irons applauds these efforts as a critical first step in tax reform. Irons also defended Obama’s tax policies in this debate with economist Martin Feldstein on CNBC.

Media highlights
Strong concern among lawmakers and the general public over the state of the economy has made it a busy time for EPI. Our extensive analysis of the latest jobs data was featured by multiple news sources including The New York Times, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today, CNN and National Public Radio. “We have a deep hole,” EPI’s Mishel told NPR’s Morning Edition. “The hole is getting bigger and bigger.”

Upcoming Events
Cornell University scholar Kate Bronfenbrenner’s seminal research findings about employer interference in union organizing campaigns are frequently cited. Her latest study, No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing will be released on Wednesday, May 20, at a briefing on Capitol Hill sponsored by the report’s publishers, the Economic Policy Institute and American Rights at Work. For more information, contact cdorsey@epi.org.

Also on May 20, EPI will convene the discussion, Labor Shortages and Comprehensive Immigration Reform, in conjunction with the Migration Policy Institute and Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies.

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The President’s Actions on Immigration Will Make America Better
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Why Tax Cuts Aren’t the Answer to Wage Problems
Daniel Costa
President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration Will Improve the Wages and Working Conditions of Unauthorized Immigrants and U.S.-Born Workers Alike
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