In recent decades, the vast majority of Americans have experienced disappointing growth in their living standards—despite economic growth that could have easily generated faster gains in their living standards had it been broadly shared. Today’s excellent news on family income growth over the past year doesn’t make up for this long legacy of rising inequality. It is certainly a good start. But, we’ll need a run of years like this to restore the income losses suffered during the Great Recession for most American families, let alone make up for a generation of income growth that lagged far behind the economy’s potential.
As with most economic analysis, assessing the growth of living standards for the vast majority requires specifying benchmarks against which to measure actual performance. I offer up two reasonable benchmarks. The first is how income growth differs for families at different parts of the income distribution. What we have seen since the last business cycle peak in 2007, before the Great Recession hit, is growing income inequality. Today’s news about income growth in 2015 is a welcome break from this trend, but does not yet overturn the general pattern that we have seen since 2007. The second benchmark I posit is income growth relative to that of earlier historical epochs. What this benchmark shows is that in the three decades following World War II, income growth was both much faster as well as more broadly shared than it has been since 1979.
Key numbers from today’s new Census reports, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015. All dollar values are adjusted for inflation (2015 dollars).
Median earnings for men working full time rose 1.5 percent, to $51,212, in 2015. Men’s earnings are down 0.7 percent since 2007, and are still 0.1 percent lower than they were in 2000.
Median earnings for women working full time rose 2.7 percent, to $40,742, in 2015. Women’s earnings are up 1.5 percent since 2007, and are 7.8 percent higher than they were in 2000.
Median earnings for men working full time
- 2015: $51,212
- 2014–2015: 1.5%
- 2007–2015: -0.7%
- 2000–2015: -0.1%
Median earnings for women working full time
- 2015: $40,742
- 2014–2015: 2.7%
- 2007–2015: 1.5%
- 2000–2015: 7.8%
Today’s report from the Census Bureau shows impressive (and long-awaited) across-the-board improvements to household incomes over 2014–2015, as inflation-adjusted wages improved and unemployment fell (from 6.2 to 5.3 percent) while inflation was absent. Inflation-adjusted wages for women finally exceeded their pre-recession levels in 2015, rising 2.7 percent, while the 1.5 percent increase in men’s earnings leaves them just 0.7 percent down from 2007 levels. These findings reinforce the centrality of wage growth for reestablishing household income gains—as we argued in Raising America’s Pay—and the importance of lowering unemployment. This is for the simple reason that most households, including those with low incomes, rely on labor earnings for the vast majority of their income.
Despite gains in 2015, household incomes have still not fully recovered from the deep losses suffered in the Great Recession—the bottom 95 percent of households still had incomes in 2015 below those of 2007 (while those in the top five percent are now three percent ahead). One more year of modest growth will bring the broad middle class back to pre-recession incomes.
Non-elderly household incomes rebound
The Census data show that from 2014–2015, median household incomes for non-elderly households (those with a head of household younger than 65 years old) increased 4.6 percent, from $60,531 to $63,344. This increase is a superb and most-welcomed improvement. Median household income for non-elderly households in 2015 ($63,344) was 5.0 percent, or $3,304, below its level in 2007—roughly half the total loss that prevailed over the 2007–14 period. The disappointing trends of the Great Recession and its aftermath come on the heels of the weak labor market from 2000–2007, during which the median income of non-elderly households fell significantly, from $69,016 to $66,648, the first time in the post-war period that incomes failed to grow over a business cycle. Altogether, from 2000–2015, the median income for non-elderly households fell from $69,016 to $63,344, a decline of $5,672, or 8.2 percent.
Next Tuesday, the Census Bureau will release its data on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage for 2015, which will give us a better picture of how working families are—and are not—recovering from the Great Recession. Even in the full business cycle of 2000-2007, earnings and incomes never fully recovered to the pre-recession peaks reached in 2000, so when the Great Recession hit, the economic impacts were especially devastating for many. To the extent the data allow, next week’s release will let us see how much the recovery has improved the economic lot for typical Americans, paying particular attention to differences in the recovery across racial and ethnic groups.
First, EPI researchers will examine the data on median earnings, by gender, race and ethnicity. Hourly wage data for 2015 suggest decent growth between 2014 and 2015 across the board, driven mostly by unexpectedly low inflation, driven mostly by falling oil prices. Median hourly wages grew 1.7 percent between 2014 and 2015. Hand-in-hand with stable average weekly hours, this suggests an uptick in median annual earnings.
We’ll look at changes over the last year, as well as changes since before the Great Recession, and since 2000—the last business cycle peak that can be confidently associated with genuine full employment. Women have already exceeded their 2000 real earnings level; the hourly wage data indicate a return to 2007 prerecession levels of earnings for men in 2015. We’ll also analyze these changes by race and ethnicity to understand how the economy has treated demographic groups. Again, the hourly wage data is the best predictor of what we can expect for these sub-groups. (For a taste of these comparisons, check out EPI’s new State of Working America Data Library.) I expect the 2015 annual earnings data to show a slight decline in the gender wage gap, and the Hispanic-white wage gap, but a slight increase in the black-white wage gap.
Hoping to equate the H-1B temporary foreign worker program with permanent immigration, advocates often lump the H-1B visa together with lawful permanent residence (also known as “green card” status). But the H-1B is a temporary, nonimmigrant visa for guestworkers, not a permanent immigration status that would eventually put a migrant worker on a path to American citizenship.
The H-1B program can serve as a bridge to permanent immigration for many educated and skilled foreign workers; in fact, between 2010 and 2014, an average of 44,000 H-1B guestworkers became immigrants (i.e., lawful permanent residents) each year. The U.S. government approved an annual average of 115,000 new H-1B guestworkers over that same timeframe. The H-1B path to a green card is controlled by the employer. The employer—not the H-1B worker—has the discretion of applying for a green card, and as a result, employers hold a lot of power over the hundreds of thousands of H-1B workers here.
The first step an employer must take to put an H-1B nonimmigrant worker on the path to a green card is to file for permanent labor certification with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), to check if there are any U.S. workers available to fill the job that the H-1B worker is already doing. (These are sometimes referred to as “PERM” applications or the PERM process, which stands for Program Electronic Review Management, the name of the electronic system used by the DOL.) Public data are available showing which companies applied for permanent labor certification for their H-1B workers and for how many, and these data let us examine whether employers typically use the H-1B program as a bridge to permanent immigration—or not. As the table below shows, the top employers received large numbers of new H-1B workers in fiscal 2014 but applied for very few green cards for their H-1B workers.
Today’s jobs report from the BLS showed that the U.S. manufacturing sector lost 14,000 jobs in August and has now lost 57,000 jobs since January of this year. This job loss is, in part, a consequence of the sharp rise of the dollar in 2014 and 2015, which has gained nearly 20 percent on a broad, trade-weighted basis, as shown below. The rising dollar has reduced the cost of imports, increased the cost of U.S. exports resulting in growing trade deficits. Growing exports support U.S. employment, but growing imports cost U.S. jobs, so the manufacturing decline was entirely predictable from the expected increase in the U.S. trade deficit, which responds to changes in the dollar with a lag of one to two years. Yet the U.S. government continues to do nothing about destructive exchange rate movements, whether they are caused by intentional currency manipulation or more recent, market-driven misalignments.
Data for the U.S. trade deficit in July were also released this morning. The trade deficit in manufactured products (Exhibit 1S) increased 3.1 percent, year to date, relative to the same period last year, despite a decline in the overall U.S. trade deficit. U.S. imports of petroleum products declined sharply in this period, while the trade deficit in non-petroleum goods (which is dominated by trade in manufactures) increased sharply. The single largest cause of the growing manufacturing trade deficit is malign neglect of currency manipulation over the past 20 years by the U.S. government.
China, which has been the most important currency manipulator over the past two decades, was responsible for nearly two thirds (61.3 percent) of the U.S. trade deficit in manufactured goods in 2015. The trade deficit with China increased in July. China has also distorted trade by generating massive amounts of excess production capacity in a wide range of industries, including steel, aluminium, glass, paper and renewable energy products. China’s capacity growth has been fueled by illegal subsidies and other unfair trade practices. A new report from Duke University explores the impacts of overcapacity in China’s steel industry.
Today’s jobs report came in somewhat underwhelming. This morning, I compared payroll employment growth to weak tea and the labor market saw little to no improvement in other key measures. Yesterday, I urged readers to look under the hood of the headline jobs day numbers and see how well the economy is treating workers across various demographic groups. Today, I’m going to take one statistic from today’s report and see how various groups have fared.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the official unemployment rate is 4.9 percent. Let’s just remember for a moment that the unemployment rate only counts people actively looking for work, taken as a share of the labor force. So, this leaves out the estimated 2.2 million workers who we expect will return or join the labor force as job opportunities improve. With these missing workers, the unemployment rate would be 6.2 percent. It also leaves out workers who want to work full-time but could only find part-time work or those who might have looked in the last year, but not in the last month. Adding these in, the underemployment rate would be 9.7 percent.
Even with those caveats, I must admit the official unemployment rate is still quite a useful measure. And, along with nominal wage growth, it’s a key measure the Federal Reserve watches when deciding how to act on interest rates. At 4.9 percent, the unemployment rate is 0.3 percentage points higher than it was in 2007, before the recession began, and 0.9 percentage points higher than the last time the economy was at full employment (2000). In fact, for five months in 2000, the unemployment rate was below 4.0 percent, hitting a low of 3.8 percent in April 2000. Examined another way, the unemployment rate is 1.1 times higher today than in 2007 and 1.2 times higher than in 2000.
Earlier this week, I analyzed the latest wage data by percentile, which shows that inequality has grown since the last business cycle peak in 2007. Today, I’m going to discuss the latest wage data by education groups. The main takeaways are four-fold. First, women are consistently paid less than men across all education groups. Second, wages have increased more for those with a college or advanced degree than for those with lower levels of education, both in the past year and since 2007. Third, the increase in the college premium since 2007 is dwarfed by the growth in wage inequality generally. And fourth, much of the increase in wages in the last few years has been driven by historically low inflation, as opposed to strong or accelerating nominal wage growth.
The table below shows first half (FH) average wages for 2007, 2015, and 2016 by highest level of education attainment and by gender. You can see that at every level of education, men are paid more than women—illustrating the difficulty of women to educate their way out of the gender wage gap. In fact, the gap grows with increasing levels of education. One particular striking finding is that men with just a bachelor’s degree are paid more, on average, than women with an advanced degree.
While we eagerly await the top line numbers in the Employment Situation Report every month, here at EPI, we also try to look under the hood and compare how various demographic groups are faring. As part of our effort to present a clear, accessible, and in-depth view of the economy and how it affects the workers in it, we’re launching EPI’s State of Working America Data Library. Right now, it’s got a great set of data on the labor force, but it’s going to be continually updated and expanded to include lots more.
Within the library, you can find up-to-date labor force statistics, including the unemployment rate, the long-term unemployment rate, the underemployment rate, the labor force participation rate, and the employment-to-population ratio. Not only do we provide a historical series back to 1979, but you can also sort the data by your variable of choice and download it as an Excel file. Within each series, we’ve disaggregated the data by various demographic groups and education categories. For example, you can find a consistent data series on the unemployment rate of prime-age black male workers, or the underemployment rate of young Hispanic female workers, or the long-term unemployment rate of white men, 55-64 years old. You can also examine the data by gender, race, and educational attainment at the same time—looking at labor force statistics such as the prime-age employment-to-population ratio for high school educated white women or the labor force participation rate of black men with an advanced degree.
It’s well documented and widely understood that wage inequality has grown dramatically over the last four decades as productivity and compensation growth have become delinked. Despite an expanding and increasingly productive economy, wages have stagnated for the vast majority. Looking at the most recent data—through the first half of 2016—we see that wage inequality has continued to grow, with top earners faring far better than those in the middle or bottom of the wage scale. First, the data paints a striking picture of growing wage inequality since the last business cycle peak in 2007. Second, average wage growth overall is slow, and any significant real wage growth continues to be driven by low (and below target) inflation—not meaningful acceleration in nominal wage growth. Last, strong payroll employment growth the last couple of months suggests positive future trends for not only wage growth, but also declining unemployment and rising labor force participation.
The figure below shows the disparate growth across the wage scale from 2007 to 2016 (using the most recent data, for the first six months of 2016, and comparing to wages at each decile and at the 95th percentile to those of the comparable period in 2007). I’m comparing the first half (FH) of both years to maintain the same seasonality in the data. Plus, it gives us a glimpse of what’s happened through the first half of this year. Except for the lowest wages—at the 10th percentile—what you see is a clear increase in growth as one moves up the wage distribution, from negative growth at the 20th percentile (-2.8 percent) to the fastest growth at the 95th percentile (10.4 percent). At the median, real wages grew a total of only 0.8 percent over the nine-year period. So, not only did the labor market since 2007 perpetuate the wage stagnation and inequality of the previous three decades, it has actually exacerbated it.
The final rule implementing President Obama’s executive order on fair pay and safe workplaces has been issued, along with guidance from the Department of Labor. This is a big deal, affecting as many as 28 million employees in the workforce of hundreds of thousands of government contractors.
The executive order puts in place a commonsense principle: when choosing which companies to do business with, choose the ones that follow the rules rather than the law breakers. Tax dollars should go to contractors with a record of integrity and business ethics, and should not be spent on bad actors. The executive order makes it clear that violations of labor law are an indication of bad ethics and a lack of integrity that must be considered when contracts are awarded.
As part of the contract approval process, federal contractors will have to reveal to the contracting agency any labor law violations they have been found guilty of committing in the previous three years. An agency can refuse to grant a contract to a company that has not resolved its violations. Today, by contrast, it is perfectly normal that a company with several OSHA violations, a National Labor Relations Act violation, and a judgment for wage theft and overtime pay violations could win a $200 million contract from the Department of Transportation or the Defense Department. In fact, the GAO found that almost two-thirds of the 50 largest wage-and-hour violations and almost 40 percent of the 50 largest workplace health-and-safety penalties issued between FY 2005 and FY 2009 were made against companies that went on to receive new government contracts.
The White House is making one last push for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, most likely during the lame duck session of Congress, after the elections but before the end of the year. This is despite the fact that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton opposes the TPP, as did Bernie Sanders, her rival in the primary, and as do the majority of Democratic members of Congress.
Let’s review the basic facts. Growing imports of goods from low-wage, less-developed countries, which nearly tripled from 2.9 percent of GDP in 1989 to 8.4 percent in 2011 (as shown in Figure A, below), reduced the wages of the typical non-college educated worker in 2011 by “5.5 percent, or by roughly $1,800—for a full-time, full year worker earning the average wage for workers without a four-year college degree,” as shown by my colleague Josh Bivens.
Overall, there are nearly 100 million American workers without a 4-year degree. The wage losses suffered by this group likely amount to a full percentage point of GDP—roughly $180 billion per year. Crucially, trade theory and evidence indicate strongly that growing trade redistributes far more income than it creates. The modesty of net benefits from trade is highlighted by the U.S International Trade Commission report that recently estimated that the TPP would generate cumulative net gains of $57.3 billion over the next 16 years, or less than $4 billion per year.
The U.S. economy has staged an impressively steady (if too slow) recovery from the Great Recession. But more than 7 years in, genuine full employment has not been reached—and until it is there is no reason for the Federal Reserve to begin the process of reining in economic growth. This is frustrating to many central bankers, who have traditionally seen their primary job as making sure that the economy does not grow too fast and generate wage and price inflation. But the economy has decisively changed, and it is sustaining growth, not restraining it, that has become the central problem to be solved. The old school of central banking that demanded comparatively hair-trigger responses to inflation is based on the experiences of the 1970s. Today’s central bankers should instead pay a lot more attention to the 1990s.
Today’s unemployment rate sits at 4.9 percent. This represents tremendous progress from the late-2009 unemployment peak of 10.0 percent. And many policymakers think that 4.9 percent unemployment clearly constitutes full employment—the lowest unemployment can fall without sparking an unsustainable spiral of wage and price inflation. But there is very little evidence that this is the case. For example, between 2005 and 2007, the unemployment rate averaged 4.8 percent, yet inflation-adjusted wages for the large majority of American workers fell in those years. And since the recovery from the Great Recession began, both wage and price growth have fallen well below targets the Fed sets for a healthy economy. So the key question is why is there pressure to raise rates ahead of data indicating any swell of wage and price growth pressure?
The answer is largely: the 1970s. The worry is that the rapid increase in inflation that occurred in that decade, with wages and prices chasing each other upwards for a long spell of time, tells us that inflation can seem quiescent but then leap forward quickly. This 1970s wage/price spiral is the primary episode that informs many central bankers’ thinking on why they must always keep a firm hand on the reins of inflation.
Top 10 H-1B employers are all IT offshore outsourcing firms, costing U.S. workers tens of thousands of jobs
The top 10 H-1B employers all use the program to send American jobs offshore. All of the firms are leaders in using the offshore outsourcing business model to sell information technology (IT) Services. Contrary to what some have claimed, not all of the top H-1B offshore outsourcing companies are Indian companies or headquartered in India: Five of the firms have their headquarters in India, four are headquartered in the United States, and one is headquartered in Ireland. But all of the top 10 have a common business model with large workforces in India and other low-cost countries.
In 2014, the U.S. government granted these ten firms 25,227 new H-1B workers, nearly 30 percent of the 85,000 annual quota.
And 2014 was not an unusual year. Over the ten-year span from 2005-14 those offshoring firms brought in a staggering 170,535 new H-1B guestworkers (see Table 1). Virtually all of these jobs can, and should, be done by American workers or lawful permanent residents (i.e., permanent immigrants already living in the United States). In fact, in many cases American workers were already doing the job, and they are being directly replaced, often being forced to train their foreign guestworker replacements as a condition of severance agreements. As Craig Diangelo, an American worker who was forced to train his H-1B replacement put it, “The sad part is that my job is still there… It didn’t go away. I went away.”
The Department of Labor has issued an update to its overtime rules that will bring an additional 12.5 million salaried employees under the exemption threshold, the level below which they are guaranteed overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in a week, regardless of their job title or duties. The Department of Labor estimates that about 4 million employees will gain the right to overtime pay for the first time, and 8 million more will have their right to overtime pay strengthened.
Business groups know that with wages stagnant and profits at all-time highs, they are unsympathetic opponents of the rule, so they have been focusing attention on non-profits. The Society of Human Resources Management, for example, has adopted Operation Smile, a non-profit that helps coordinate cleft palate surgeries in less-developed countries, as its poster child. An Operation Smile executive testified in the U.S. Senate against the new overtime rule, claiming that it would raise the organization’s costs dramatically and reduce its ability to deliver cleft palate surgeries:
“Yet still, this proposed update will increase our payroll cost by nearly $1 million annually affecting over 50 percent of our workforce. This is not a financial cost we can absorb. Considering that a cleft lip surgery costs an average of $240, this would mean nearly 4,200 fewer surgeries provided globally each year.”
This post originally appeared in Democracy.
This election will be different, not only because of the stark departure of Donald Trump’s candidacy from any usual political convention, but also because the current economic debate is unlike any in recent memory. This was further elucidated by the plans each candidate laid out in Michigan this week. It is noteworthy, first of all, that both candidates have joined in calling for greater infrastructure spending, have abandoned the traditional approach toward trade and opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), have proposed subsidizing child care expenses, have highlighted wage stagnation, and have each claimed to be able to provide faster economic growth than the other.
It would be pointless, however, to delve into precise policy details without first commenting on the disturbing nature of the Trump candidacy. Among the least of his campaign’s problems is that it fails to elaborate on any of its positions or provide any kind of science or data, that would allow a proper assessment of its proposals. Trump has offered many broad ideas about taxes, but the details are strikingly few. Similarly, Trump’s budget plans just don’t add up: He wants more military spending, more infrastructure spending, and no cuts to Medicare or Social Security, along with huge tax cuts—all while claiming he would still move toward a balanced budget. Of course, most problematic is Trump’s bigotry and misogyny, and the egregious character flaws he displays almost daily: authoritarianism, dishonesty, volatility, and a lack of compassion.
But setting all that aside for the moment…
A recent Bloomberg View op-ed and Politico report have raised questions into whether Melania Trump, a Slovenian immigrant, former supermodel, and wife of the current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, was employed legally in the United States in the mid-1990s while she was in a temporary visa status. (The Washington Post also has a good Q-and-A-style rundown of the issues involved.) The op-ed and reports analyzed Ms. Trump’s past statements about her immigration status and juxtaposed them with the fact that it appears she was employed as a model during that period. If Ms. Trump was in the United States with a lawful immigration status and that status authorized her to be employed (for example, if she held an H-1B visa), then there’s really no issue here to discuss. But Ms. Trump’s response on Twitter to the Politico report did not answer the main questions that were raised: what was her visa status and did it authorize employment?
Since the reports were published, Ms. Trump’s former modeling agent has told the Associated Press that he sponsored an H-1B visa—a temporary work visa that allows employment in the United States for up to six years—for her in 1996. But photos she modeled for which have recently surfaced appear to have been taken in the United States in 1995. Without knowing more or being able to look at her immigration records on file at the State Department and Department of Homeland Security (which Ms. Trump could ask for and release, if she wanted to), it is reasonable to conclude that if she was in fact employed in 1995 and 1996—before she was issued an H-1B—it’s entirely possible that she was unlawfully employed while in the United States on a B-1 business visitor visa, a B-2 tourist visa, or a combination B-1/B-2 visa. Those visa statuses don’t permit employment, although a B-1 status might permit certain business activities (including a single, unpaid photo shoot) as long there is no payment from a U.S. source. But even in the case of a B-1, working for an extended period in the United States as a model would raise serious questions under U.S. law.
We will probably never get a final answer on this, but the situation raises a more important issue: there is a severe and troubling lack of government regulation, oversight, and enforcement when it comes to U.S. temporary (also known as “nonimmigrant”) visa programs.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gave an economic policy speech yesterday. Besides peddling his standard trade scam, Trump doubled-down on one of his favorite tax scams, and unveiled an entirely new scam.
The speech itself was wrapped in the guise of global economic “competitiveness,” a mostly meaningless term which my colleague Josh Bivens and I will expand further on in an upcoming paper. Trump misleadingly claims that U.S. firms face the highest taxes in the world, and therefore his plan slashes the corporate income tax rate from 35 to 15 percent. Since capital income is heavily concentrated at the very top of the income distribution, and the corporate income tax largely falls on the owners of capital, this is a steeply regressive tax cut.
But Trump would go one step further, creating an enormous tax loophole for the rich by applying his 15 percent corporate rate to “pass-through” entities as well. Pass-through entities are businesses whose income are not taxed at the corporate level, but rather passed through entirely to the businesses’ owners and then taxed at the owners’ individual income-tax levels. High-income households can easily avoid paying their full income tax bill by reclassifying their income as pass-through income. This loophole allows Trump to claim that he is closing the carried interest loophole, while actually lowering the rate that hedge fund managers would pay from 23.8 percent to 15 percent. Incidentally, this loophole has already been tested, which proved disastrous for Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. So disastrous in fact, that Kansas primary voters have ousted more than a dozen Brownback-aligned incumbents in response.
I am cautiously optimistic that the topline payroll numbers in this Friday’s Employment Situation Report will build on June’s positive upturn and come in stronger than the weaker April and May figures. At the same time, observers should have the long view in mind, and not put too much stock in one month’s statistics. Whether it is nonfarm payroll, prime-age employment-to-population ratio, year-over-year nominal wage growth, or EPI’s own missing worker calculation, it’s important to look at trends averaged over time. So, here’s my rather simplistic attempt to do just that and set the stage for Jobs Day on Friday.
Let’s focus on nonfarm payroll employment. That’s the first number that tends to get reported in the news when the report gets released. It’s also the number that’s displayed the most volatility as of late. Below I’ve charted monthly payroll employment over the last year. May stands out as a low point over the year—and would even if the striking Verizon workers were added back in—and, in fact, it’s a low point of the last few years. The strong rebound in June (which included the returning Verizon strikers) stands in contrast to the rest of 2016, but it’s awfully close to the average of the last three months of 2015.
In a story in the Wall Street Journal last Friday, reporter Eric Morath notes that the recovery from the Great Recession has been historically slow. “In terms of average annual growth,” he writes, “the pace of this expansion has been by far the weakest of any since 1949.” Missing from this story is the fact that our historically weak recovery has been accompanied by historically deep cuts in government spending. The figure below compares the strength of expansion for each recovery since 1949 with changes in government spending (it includes data on the strength of each expansion, as reported by Morath). You can see that almost every other recovery was accompanied by an increase in federal, state, and local government spending.
During a recession, changes in government spending have a “multiplier effect” on output and income: each dollar of additional spending increases—and each dollar cut spending decreases—GDP by much more than one dollar. The Great Recession of 2008-2009 was the worst on record since the Great Depression of the 1930s, in terms of both total decline in real GDP, and total increase in the unemployment rate between the previous peak and the beginning of the subsequent recovery. The economy was in a very deep hole in 2009, and had we spent the way we did after previous recessions, we would have experienced substantial increase in GDP since then. Instead, cuts in government spending over the last eight years have had a pernicious, negative impact on output and income, as well as on jobs and wages, which depend on the level of spending in the economy. If it weren’t for these cuts, the economy would likely be fully recovered by now, and the expansion would have equaled or exceeded the Bush recovery.
A version of this article appeared in the Globalist.
U.S. trade policy of the last 20 years, if not dead, is on life- support. The economic case for the series of neoliberal trade deals since the North American Free Trade Agreement has collapsed in the wake of job losses, lower wages and shrinking opportunities for American workers. Voters are hostile, and both candidates for President oppose the latest proposed trade pact—the Trans Pacific Partnership.
But neoliberal trade deals have brought enormous profits to America’s multinational corporate investors. So, big business lobbyists and their champions in the Congress and the Administration are organizing to pass the TPP in the post-election lame duck session—regardless of who wins the election.
With their economic arguments discredited, they are now draping these trade and investment pacts with a mantle of moral superiority. American workers who complain are now told that they should be ashamed of themselves. Why? Because off-shoring their jobs helps workers in other counties who are even poorer.
Paul Krugman tells his New York Times readers that they should support “open world markets…mainly because market access is so important to poor countries.”
Burgeoning research in economics and epidemiology suggests that raising the minimum wage will improve the health of many Americans, especially low-income Americans, and this improvement should help bend the cost curve for medical care.
In a paper published by the University of Chicago Press, David Meltzer and Zhou Chen analyzed the relationship between obesity rates and the minimum wage, using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) from 1984-2006. The BRFSS interviews more than 350,000 adults each year, making it the largest health survey in the world. Meltzer and Chen test whether changes in the inflation-adjusted minimum wage are associated with changes in body mass indexes of adults. They find that gradual erosion in the inflation-adjusted value of minimum wages across states explains about 10 percent of the increase in average body mass since 1970. DaeHwan Kim and I found additional evidence that low wages predict increases in obesity in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). The PSID is a nationally representative sample of 5000 American families, who have been followed since 1968 by the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center. Obesity is estimated to cost $190 billion in medical bills each year. A 10 percent decrease in obesity would result in a $19 billion of savings every year.
But it is not just obesity that may be affected by increasing the minimum wage; mental health can be affected, as well. The British government increased the national minimum wage in 1999. To measure its effects on public health, Reeves et al analyzed data on 279 workers in the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS). Their “experimental group” consists of 63 workers directly affected by the new wage and two “control groups”: 107 workers with incomes 10 percent above the minimum who were not directly affected by the increase, and another group of 109 workers employed in firms that did not comply with the new law. All 279 persons completed short mental health questionnaires as part of the BHPS. The “experimental group” (those who received the mandated minimum wage increases) reported improvements in anxiety and depression, but neither control group experienced improvements.
On Monday, Vox.com published an in-depth interview with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. A wide range of topics were discussed, but of particular interest were Sec. Clinton’s positions on immigration—some of which were, I believe, either new or expressed publicly for the first time—regarding the impact of immigration on the labor market and the major flaws inherent in America’s temporary foreign worker programs.
I was encouraged by the fact that Clinton’s comments on immigration got right to the heart of how the immigration system is used by businesses and corporations to keep migrant workers exploitable and underpaid, which in turn degrades labor standards for U.S. workers who are similarly situated. Clinton rightly pointed out how immigration is good for the American economy, but took what I think was a smart, nuanced perspective—speaking about how the undocumented workforce undercuts labor standards for all workers, because undocumented workers fear deportation and because wage and hour laws haven’t been adequately enforced. It’s also encouraging that Clinton highlighted the problems with one of the main guestworker programs, the H-1B—used mainly for jobs in computer-related occupations—although unfortunately she did not discuss others like H-2B, L-1, or OPT.
I have to confess that I was quite surprised and pleased to hear Clinton make those comments. In the very recent past Clinton seemed reluctant to acknowledge that there were any real problems when it came to immigration and the labor market, or that there could be negative consequences for U.S. workers who are employed in industries where migrants make up a large share of the workforce. In fact, during the presidential campaign Clinton and her surrogates went so far as to use Sen. Bernie Sanders’s critique of guestworker programs—namely, that they leave migrant workers powerless and can degrade wages and labor standards—to attack him as somehow anti-immigration and anti-immigrant. I didn’t feel that this attack was fair or justified, which is why at the time, I defended Sanders’s policy position at length. Around the same time, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka wrote convincingly how “Demanding Guestworker Reforms Is Pro-Immigrant”—but without naming any candidates.
JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon is really proud about giving his employees a raise, heartily patting himself on the back in a New York Times op-ed. JPMorgan will raise its lowest wage to $12, but over the next three years, and only starting in 2017. That’s a roughly 3.2 percent annual boost after taking projected future inflation into account. This hardly seems to deserve a parade.
Has it really come to this? Has providing a modest wage increase really become breaking news that corporate chieftains send crowing press releases about? Let’s be clear about this—this is not the way it’s supposed to be. Wages rising faster than the rate of inflation should be the norm in the American economy and should occur all the time, without fanfare and self-congratulation from employers. That wage increases are newsworthy even while unemployment is below five percent is quite telling. Even at such a low unemployment rate, all the power in the employment relationship still rests with employers.
Dimon points out that some of his current employees earn $10.15 an hour, and brags that this is $3.00 over the current federal minimum wage. Left unsaid is that the current minimum wage of $7.25 is roughly 25 percent below the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage in 1968, despite the fact that productivity has more than doubled since then. (Of course, the bank’s employees in New York City will be receiving $15.00 at the end of 2018 because of the recently passed minimum wage legislation that applies to the city.)
Gretchen Carlson is doing working Americans a real service by suing Roger Ailes, the CEO of Fox News, for sexual harassment. First, when a powerful, high profile CEO like Ailes is called out for disgusting behavior, it reminds workers and their bosses everywhere that women have a legal right to be treated with respect in the workplace.
Carlson is doing something else: she is boldly fighting the latest technique employers are using to avoid justice, to get away with sex or race discrimination, and to escape lawsuits for wage theft—putting binding arbitration clauses in employment contracts, which keeps cases out of the state and federal courts and push them into private dispute resolution systems that systematically favor employers.
Millions of working Americans are subject to arbitration clauses that they don’t even know about. More and more employers are forcing their employees, as a condition of being hired or of remaining employed, to waive the right to sue in a court if their employer violates the law. Workers must accept a process they often don’t understand, where the costs of seeking justice might be far higher even as their chances of winning or obtaining a just award of damages are reduced dramatically.
After the weakness in payroll job growth the last two months, this month’s Employment Report gives us reason to be optimistic about the future of the economy. Payroll employment grew by 287,000 jobs in June. As I discussed extensively yesterday, this is the kind of job growth that would likely get us to full employment within the next year. Specifically, if we saw job-growth in excess of 260,000 jobs per month over the next year, we could expect to see the unemployment rate approach 4.0 percent and the labor force boost up significantly. If instead we averaged closer to 100,000 jobs per month (not far below the average of the three months leading up to this report), this would only keep the economy in a steady state of labor market health, pulling in just enough workers to absorb new population growth.
Robust payroll employment is only one piece of the full employment puzzle, and other indicators are still lagging behind. Two key puzzle pieces are the prime-age employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) and nominal wage growth.
The share of the population 25-54 years old with a job fell significantly during the recession. For much of the last four years, the prime-age EPOP has been climbing, albeit in fits and starts. In June, it hit 77.8 percent, about where it’s sat the last few months. It still has a long way to go before it hits the most recent pre-recession peak of 80.3 percent from 2007 or the full employment peak of 81.9 percent in 2000. At 77.8 percent, the current prime-age EPOP is still below the lowest level reached during the last two business cycles we experienced before the Great Recession (78.1 percent).
What to Watch on Jobs Day: Putting employment growth in perspective in advance of Friday’s Jobs Report
Over the last several months, the pace of job growth has noticeably slowed, even after accounting for the large drag in last month’s payroll numbers exerted by the now-resolved Verizon strike. May’s payroll job growth of 38,000 brought average monthly job growth down to 116,000 jobs the past three months, and 150,000 this year so far. Adding the roughly 40,000 striking Verizon workers in May back in only pushes these numbers to about 129,000 and 159,000, respectively. Maybe these recent trends are just a blip, and we’ll soon return to a faster pace of job growth. But if not, we are looking at a marked slowdown compared to last year (which averaged 229,000 per month) and even slower than 2014 (which averaged 261,000 per month).
While the pace of job growth should be expected to slow as the economy approaches full employment, it’s not clear that we should rest easy that this is the explanation for any recent slowdown. After all, many indicators tell us we are still far from full employment (e.g. prime-age EPOPs and nominal wage growth) and May’s rate of growth was not even strong enough to keep up with growth in the working age population (again, even if we add in the striking Verizon workers). So, how much job growth do we need to not only keep up with population growth (which is the only job growth needed if the economy truly is at full employment), but to see lower rates of unemployment and greater participation in the labor force (assuming that we’re not yet at full employment).
In a couple of previous posts, I outlined some clear problems with Paul Ryan’s recent tax plan. The final major pieces of Speaker Ryan’s House GOP tax reform are the changes to the corporate income tax. The headline here is bad enough, cutting the top corporate income tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. But it gets worse, and as with the rest of this tax plan, it does so in a way that clouds how much of a giveaway Paul Ryan and the House GOP actually intend.
The corporate income tax is steeply progressive, making it an important tool for curbing inequality. This is because the vast majority of the incidence of the corporate income tax falls on the owners of capital, with capital income heavily concentrated at the very top of the income distribution. For instance, the Congressional Budget Office’s reading of the economic evidence assigns 75 percent of the incidence of the corporate income tax to capital owners. And taxes on capital income are eroding. Foreigners and retirement plans now hold 63 percent of U.S. stock and are nontaxable. So that erosion at the shareholder level has made the corporate income tax the main way through which shareholders are taxed, either explicitly or implicitly. Far from worries about so-called double taxation, Steve Rosenthal and Lydia Austin have shown that the percentage of corporate stock that is taxable has fallen from 83.6 percent in 1965 to 24.2 percent as of 2015. This makes pairing a reduction of the corporate income tax to 20 percent, along with the 50 percent tax exemption for capital gains, dividends, and interest that I touched on previously, a spectacular giveaway to the rich.
Despite its progressivity, and despite the erosion of other taxes on capital income, the corporate income tax base has also eroded substantially in recent decades. Since 2010 after-tax corporate profits have averaged 9.1 percent of GDP, while corporate income tax revenues have averaged 1.6 percent of GDP. Driving this erosion are business reclassification and income shifting, points we will make more detailed and visual in an upcoming joint Americans for Tax Fairness/EPI chart book. But for now, let’s focus on how Ryan’s House GOP tax plan would lock in current income shifting and worsen future income shifting considerably.
The most damaging part of Ryan’s corporate tax reform isn’t the stark cut in the headline rate—it’s the much less obvious change towards a territorial system of taxation. Territorial taxation gives multinational firms a quick and easy way to avoid all the taxes they owe on their U.S. profits, further eroding the corporate tax base.
Paul Ryan’s election-year tax reform agenda shocked some people with its 33 percent top marginal income tax rate on earned income. This is much lower than today’s rates—or even what prevailed after the George W. Bush tax cuts—but at the same time, it’s high relative to the world of wildly unrealistic Republican tax plans. Have Republicans realized that slashing taxes on the rich won’t lead to booming growth and hence be self-financing? Or have they realized that they shouldn’t exacerbate inequality by continuing to fight tooth and nail for enormous tax cuts for the rich? Sadly, no, they are still fighting for enormous tax cuts for the rich—they’re just being a bit more subtle about it now. One example of this subtlety was detailed in my previous post: the 33 percent statutory rate masks the fact that high-income individuals could easily pay a top rate of 25 percent under Ryan’s plan by simply reclassifying their income as pass-through income. So the extent to which the House Republican caucus is no longer calling for drastic cuts to top marginal income tax rates is highly exaggerated. They’ve simply traded in their very-apparent tax reductions for less-obvious tax loopholes.
Another example highlights how House Republicans are doubling down on tax breaks for an even-richer subset of high income individuals—people who make their income from capital earnings instead of working.
The Ryan tax plan drastically slashes taxes on both corporate income and income from capital gains, dividends, and interest. It cuts the corporate income tax to 20 percent and shifts the United States to a territorial system that would spur income shifting and tax avoidance. I’ll discuss the effects of those proposals in a later post, but for now I want to focus on Ryan and the House GOP’s 50 percent exclusion on income earned from capital gains, dividends, and interest.