Monday Morning Reads

DSCF1570Good Morning!

Well, today is tax avoidance day for Romney and his ilk.  The rest of us have to settle with the IRS today. That’s even true for the folks that have been on unemployment for a terribly long time.  There are no treasure isles for them.

There are two labor markets nowadays. There’s the market for people who have been out of work for less than six months, and the market for people who have been out of work longer. The former is working pretty normally, and the latter is horribly dysfunctional. That was the conclusion of recent research I highlighted a few months ago by Rand Ghayad, a visiting scholar at the Boston Fed and a PhD candidate in economics at Northeastern University, and William Dickens, a professor of economics at Northeastern University, that looked at Beveridge curves for different ages, industries, and education levels to see who the recovery is leaving behind.
Okay, so what is a Beveridge curve? Well, it just shows the relationship between job openings and unemployment. There should be a pretty stable relationship between the two, assuming the labor market isn’t broken. The more openings there are, the less unemployment there should be. If that isn’t true, if the Beveridge curve “shifts up” as more openings don’t translate into less unemployment, then it might be a sign of “structural” unemployment. That is, the unemployed just might not have the right skills. Now, what Ghayad and Dickens found is that the Beveridge curves look normal across all ages, industries, and education levels, as long as you haven’t been out of work for more than six months. But the curves shift up for everybody if you’ve been unemployed longer than six months. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, a blue-collar or white-collar worker, or a high school or college grad; all that matters is how long you’ve been out of work.

But just how bad is it for the long-term unemployed? Ghayad ran a follow-up field experiment to find out. In a new working paper, he sent out 4800 fictitious resumes to 600 job openings, with 3600 of them for fake unemployed people. Among those 3600, he varied how long they’d been out of work, how often they’d switched jobs, and whether they had any industry experience. Everything else was kept constant. The mocked-up resumes were all male, all had randomly-selected (and racially ambiguous) names, and all had similar education backgrounds. The question was which of them would get callbacks

It turns out long-term unemployment is much scarier than you could possibly imagine.

So, if you have to write a check to the Feds, remember, your money is going to subsidize huge corporations while we rank near the bottom of the list on Child Welfare.

The United States ranked in the bottom four of a United Nations  report on child well-being. Among 29 countries, America landed second from the bottom in child poverty and held a similarly dismal position when it came to “child life satisfaction.”

Keeping the U.S. company at the bottom of the report, which gauged material well-being, overall health, access to housing and education, were Lithuania, Latvia and Romania, three of the poorest countries in the survey.

UNICEF said in a statement on the survey that child poverty in countries like the U.S. “is not inevitable but is policy-susceptible” and that there isn’t necessarily a strong relationship between per capita GDP and overall child well-being, explaining: “The Czech Republic is ranked higher than Austria, Slovenia higher than Canada, and Portugal higher than the United States.”

The Netherlands ranked number one on the list, with Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden filling out the top five.

But don’t feel too discouraged, fellow Americans! As the International Business Times  notes, the U.S. has managed to take first place in plenty of other surveys conducted by global organizations:

The United States is No. 1 on many other lists: It spends more on the military than the next 12 nations on the list combined; it’s the best in the world at imprisoning people; and it has the most obese people, the highest divorce rate, and the highest rate of both illicit and prescription drug use.

Kinda makes you all kinds of proud and patriotic, doesn’t it?  Bill Moyers puts it this way: “We Are Living in the United States of Inequality.”

“A petty, narcissistic, pridefully ignorant politics has come to dominate and paralyze our government,” says Moyers, “while millions of people keep falling through the gaping hole that has turned us into the United States of Inequality.”

Inequality matters. You will hear people say it doesn’t, but they are usually so high up the ladder they can’t even see those at the bottom. The distance between the first and the least in America is vast and growing.

The Washington Post recently took a look at two counties in Florida and found that people who live in the more affluent St. Johns County live longer than those who live next door in less rich Putnam County. The Post concluded: “The widening gap in life expectancy between these two adjacent Florida counties reflects perhaps the starkest outcome of the nation’s growing economic inequality: Even as the nation’s life expectancy has marched steadily upward…a growing body of research shows that those gains are going mostly to those at the upper end of the income ladder.”

That’s true across America. In California’s Silicon Valley, Apple, Facebook and Google, among others, have reinvented the Gold Rush. But down the road in San Jose it’s not so pretty a picture. Do the math: in an area where one fourth of the population earn an average of about $19,000 dollars a year, rent alone can average more than $20,000 dollars a year, and that difference adds up to homelessness.

I keep writing about all these things with the goal of trying to explain why our stupid ass political leaders are still obsessed with some phantom DSC04300menace of a federal budget deficit and debt.   Joblessness, children living in poverty, the lack of retirement saving by people closing in our retirement, and all kinds of other things are problems. Why are they obsessed with something that isn’t an issue? The deal is that I cannot come up with one, sane rational, explanation.   Here’s one Democratic Representative saying the entire thing is crazy.  I agree with him.

Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York took aim at the conventional wisdom on Sunday morning, saying the government was cutting the federal deficit too quickly.

His comments came during a MSNBC panel discussion about President Barack Obama’s budget plan.

“If you look at the deficit, we brought it down in three years from 10.1 percent of GDP to 7.1 percent of GDP — this year it will be about five and a half,” he explained in the latter half of the segment. “That’s the largest deficit reduction — fastest — since the demobilization after World War II. It is too fast. It is having an inhibiting effect on economic growth and employment.”

Nadler said the deficit should only be addressed once the country had solved its unemployment problem.

“Our immediate problem is an economy which is going to stay at 7.6 percent unemployment indefinitely,” he remarked. “Already, we have a contractionary fiscal policy that is inhibiting the economy. We should, from an economic point of view, be increasing the deficit right now somewhat.”

The New York congressman said Obama caved to Republican talking points about reducing the federal deficit in his latest budget. The budget would reduce the deficit by $1.8 trillion over 10 years by raising taxes on the rich and cutting Social Security benefits, among other measures.

I certainly hope more congressional critters will speak up on this.  Economists have been saying this for quite a few years and no one listens to us.  Here’s some more information on this from Investor’s Business Daily.

Here’s a pretty important fact that virtually everyone in Washington seems oblivious to: The federal deficit has never fallen as fast as it’s falling now without a coincident recession. To be specific, CBO expects the deficit to shrink from 8.7% of GDP in fiscal 2011 to 5.3% in fiscal 2013 if the sequester takes effect and to 5.5%

And more analysis on our rapidly shrinking budget deficit from Calculated Risk.

From a research note by Goldman Sachs chief economist Jan Hatzius: The Rapidly Shrinking Federal Deficit

The federal budget deficit is shrinking rapidly. …[I]n the 12 months through March 2013, the deficit totaled $911 billion, or 5.7% of GDP. In the first three months of calendar 2013–that is, since the increase in payroll and income tax rates took effect on January 1–we estimate that the deficit has averaged just 4.5% of GDP on a seasonally adjusted basis. This is less than half the peak annual deficit of 10.1% of GDP in fiscal 2009.

It shocks people when I tell them the deficit as a percent of GDP is already close to being cut in half (this doesn’t seem to ever make headlines). As Hatzius notes, the deficit is currently running under half the peak of the fiscal 2009 budget and will probably decline further over the next few years with no additional policy changes.

513Dxcp47RLIt’s simple freaking economics … an improving economy gets rid of budget problems.  But why oh why do they keep wanting to cause problems for something that’s not really a problem and would simply disappear if they’d just get on with the business of growing the economy?

So, Paul Krugman has written a fairly good post about “How to Beat a Dead Horse” but still, no one can tell me why these folks–including the president–can’t got off the deficit and move on to the real issues?

With austerity we’ve had this monstrous exercise in unethical human experimentation. I came out with some assertions that were very much at odds with what other people were saying. The duration of the slump, the likely path of interest rates and inflation. I haven’t batted a thousand, but it’s been pretty good. This having-been-right thing helps sustain me in pounding on the issues.

I do mix it up once in a while. I may have reached the point where I need to mix it up quite a lot. To some extent, people have gotten the message. My next column will be about food and recipes. No. Anyway, something different.

A lot of it’s just persistence. In any kind of communications profession, the point is above all to have something to say. I look at a lot of people in the punditry business and I think they’re trying to be clever and counterintuitive. They’re viewing themselves as being in the entertainment business. That’s not what it’s about. From a professional standpoint, you end up with a dedicated readership if you actually stand for something and stick to your guns. Don’t give up just because other people don’t like what you’re saying.

Here’s FED Chair Ben Bernanke talking about real problems too.  Economists and folks in the investment business get it.  What’s wrong with our freaking policy makers?  Do they all owe Pete Peterson a million bucks?

As this year’s theme, “Resilience and Rebuilding,” reflects, low-income communities were particularly hard hit by the Great Recession.1And, while employment and housing show signs of improving for the nation as a whole, conditions in lower-income neighborhoods remain difficult by many measures. For example, an analysis by Federal Reserve staff reveals that long-vacant housing units tend to be concentrated in a small number of neighborhoods that also tend to have high unemployment rates, low educational levels, and low median incomes.2 While some of these neighborhoods are in the inner cities, others are in suburbs.

This analysis and others like it illustrate the close interconnections of housing conditions, educational levels, and unemployment experience within neighborhoods. Moreover, as this work confirms, poverty is no longer primarily an urban phenomenon but has increasingly spread to suburban areas, many of which lack the social and community development services needed to mitigate poverty and its effects.3 The implications of these trends for community development are profound. Successful strategies to rebuild communities cannot focus narrowly on a single problem, such as the physical deterioration of neighborhoods that suffered high rates of foreclosure. Rather, progress will require multipronged approaches that address housing, education, jobs, and quality-of-life issues in a coherent, mutually consistent way. Moreover, strategies will have to be adapted to meet the special circumstances of urban, suburban, and rural settings. As community development researchers and practitioners, you are confronting the challenge of effectively attending to the needs of both individuals and communities–of people as well as places.

So, real people are still hurting and we’re out chasing imaginary problems with solutions that hurt people even more.  Brilliant!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

19 Comments on “Monday Morning Reads”

  1. ecocatwoman says:

    Once again kat, great post. I share your consternation at how politicos seem concerned over the wrong thing(s). Is it an orchestrated ploy to distract the public from the nefarious things they are doing behind the scenes? Look over here while I pick your pocket or take away all your rights (except the right to carry an assault weapon & drive a tank)? Or is it simply an excuse to dismantle education, the social safety net, SS, Medicare, Medicaid and ignore the woeful state of our infrastructure. Or maybe Pete Peterson just gives the best bjs. Whatever it is, we the people are fkd.

  2. Pat Johnson says:

    I am finding it difficult to even fake an interest in this stuff anymore. They cannot even reach a consensus on banning assault weapons or the number of bullets in a magazine even when the grieving parents of dead children plead in front of them.

    Arguing gay rights or forcing a woman to bear an unwanted child is at the top of their agenda and listening to those who defend their hateful positions is a waste of time.

    You cannot dodge the ignorance of these elected officials so I find it in my best interest to just turn them off and wait for the day when reason and commonsense return.

    It may be a long way off but it is much better than destroying the tv as some lump of insanity proposes yet another “austerity measure” cloaked in “old time religion” is given a forum to dust off his/her biases in a sea of hot air and stupidity.

    When someone as dimwitted as Marco Rubio is given hours of airtime running all over Sunday morning talk shows saying this, or denying it in the next breath, it is a certainty that we have reached the bottom of the barrel on the political scene.

    It will take decades to reform what has been stolen by greedy, ignorant, self serving, egotistical, two faced idiots without an ounce of humanity residing in their DNA.

    I give up.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I know you won’t really give up Pat. We are a lot a like–cynical but still hopeful. Yesterday I got a dose of hope from the Red Sox. They’re getting off to a pretty good start.

      • Pat Johnson says:

        True. You could hear the crack of those bats along with the “hustle” that is Dustin Pedroia from 90 miles away!

        You are right, there is still a glimmer of optimism lurking somewhere in my bones.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I was listening to it on the radio in my car and cheering! And what about Buchholz?

    • dakinikat says:

      Rubio does seem deliberately obtuse doesn’t he?

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Thanks for staying on this, Dak. Apparently we have to keep repeating the truth over and over again to fight the “catapulting of the propaganda” by the austerity pushers in the political class, the corporate media, and Wall Street. It gets boring sometimes, but it’s necessary.

    Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign was just on C-Span’s American Journal talking about safety net cuts and did a great job. If you have a chance check it out when it gets posted.

    • dakinikat says:

      Look how easy it is to find data on what is and isn’t the problem in this country. Listen to what all the folks–like Bernanke–that know what they’re talking about talk about as issues. NONE of them say the deficit is going to be any kind of problem in the short run and that economic growth could take care of any potential problems. WTF do these folks in the media and in elected positions of power need besides a kick in the ass?

      • NW Luna says:

        At present they don’t suffer the consequences which the rest of us have to live with. They need motivation to do the right thing. A POTUS who lead for the people who voted him in would most certainly help, but nah gonna happen as we know all too well. A harder kick in the ass is what I’d love to see them get.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I wish it were possible to give them a kick in the ass, I really do.

    • dakinikat says:

      Why don’t policy makers pay attention to these economists? It seems like Obama had Romer and others during his first term and now all he has is lawyers with “policy” experience.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    Charles Pierce’s review of the Sunday talk shows


    With a great writer like Pierce on our side, how can we lose?

    • Pat Johnson says:

      He is a national treasure.

    • RalphB says:

      This alone is worth the price of admission 🙂

      Being our semi-regular weekly survey of the state of Our National Dialogue which, of course, is what Paganini would have come up with, had he composed Variations On A Flaming Cat In The Alley.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    I really like what Krugman said about writing in that Bloomberg interview.

    Part of the answer is paying attention to events, looking for the illustration, looking for the dramatic motivating example. It kind of helps to use various people as foils. If someone has said something that’s demonstrably at odds with experience or just demonstrably stupid, I use it. Jean-Claude Trichet [former president of the European Central Bank] delivered some wonderful quotes. Olli Rehn [vice president of the European Commission] has been doing beautifully helpful quotations. I’m not being unfair to him. The austerity thing has been helped on a great deal as an argument by unfolding events in Europe. In 2010 it was based mostly on the logic of the case, not the evidence. Now I can say, “Look, you’ve done this thing. Look what’s happened. Look at Britain. Look at Portugal.”

    Metaphors, if you can find good ones, are helpful. Sometimes you can mull over an issue for years before the right thing comes to you. “Confidence fairy” has been a good friend to me. That one just came out of the blue in 2010. “Zombie ideas” is not original with me, but it’s been very useful.

    It also helps if you’re going to make the same point many times that it’s a very important point worth making.