Bipartisan Solutions to Poverty?

September 3rd, 2014 at 8:42 am

Tom Edsall takes an interesting tour through various partisan views on the causes and solutions to poverty, suggesting that there’s a unified theory in there somewhere:

The emergence of a rough ideological consensus on the causes of poverty and inequality would increase the likelihood of, but by no means guarantee, agreement on such initiatives as raising the minimum wage, increasing and expanding the scope of the earned-income tax credit, programs promoting marriage and paternal involvement, as well as stronger efforts to improve the quality of education, especially in poor neighborhoods.

Two further points.

Edsall devotes considerable space to the impact of single parenthood on poverty, and as noted above, suggests marriage is an important part of the solution. But as I argue here, while I agree with much of the research he cites, there are more limits to this solution than his piece implies.

First, because changing the decades-long downward trend in marriage rates is not very realistic, and swims hard against a tide that exists for some good reasons. Second, because policy interventions to encourage marriage [the "marriage promotion programs" Edsall cites] have been shown to be quite ineffective against that tide. Third, though this is not the intention of many marriage advocates, marriage advocacy can make it harder to deepen policies to support single parents. And fourth, because it fails to recognize some of the important gains made by single mothers that push against poverty.

My second point is that there’s another area–a particularly important one–where I wonder if there might someday be bipartisan agreement. Many on both sides agree that work should be a ladder out of poverty. The problem is that too often conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan argue that all you have to do to get a job is want a job.

In fact, there exists and large and persistent market failure to generate the quantity and quality of jobs available to low-income workers that would enable them to climb out of poverty. Yes, measures like wage supplements, child care support, and job training help, but what’s really needed is a commitment that says if you’re willing to work, we’re willing to ensure there’s a good job for you.

In other words, the left agrees to work requirements for the able-bodied poor and the right agrees to direct, public sector job creation to ensure ample opportunity.

Whaddya think?

Fixing Congressional Dysfunction? Sign Me Up!

September 3rd, 2014 at 8:12 am

Rarely a day goes by wherein I don’t bemoan Congressional dysfunction, so the title of this oped by MD Rep John Delaney caught my eye: “The solution to fixing dysfunction in Congress.”

He touts three ideas: open primaries, redistricting reform (e.g., formulas for reducing gerrymandering), and making Election Day a federal holiday in hope of boosting turnout.

Nothing’s perfect, but those first two sound potentially helpful. Nothing wrong with #3, but much more is needed given recent attacks on voting rights.

Also, and again, less of a critique of a few-hundred word oped that can’t include everything, Delaney correctly argues that dysfunction partially a result of who we’re sending to Congress (and he has to try to work with them, so he’s got firsthand info on this part). But it’s also a result of the power of money once they get there. As I wrote the other day:

What’s really going on here is that our historically high wealth concentration is interacting with our historically low firewalls between money and politics…Those supporting the currently skewed distribution of wealth and power can buy not just the research results they want, but the policies.

Guess Where Low Wages Went Up? (Hint: Look where minimum wages went up.)

September 2nd, 2014 at 3:36 pm

EPI’s Elise Gould has a nifty bit of analysis that deserves attention. When looking at the most recent real wage trends by decile, she finds real losses in every decile except one: the first decile, aka the tenth percentile, which was essentially unchanged (up 0.3%).

Why might low-wage workers, of all people, buck the trend of real wage declines between the first half of last year and this year? Elise says: “Simple—several states raised their minimum wage over that period.”

In fact, 13 states raised their minimum wages in 2014 (see the list below). Elise compares the 10th percentile wage growth among these thirteen states that increased their minimums with the rest that did not. The results are the first two bars in the figure below.

Real wages for low-wage workers rose by just about 1% over the past year in the states that raised their minimum wages, and were flat (down 0.1%) in the other states.

OK, but did those increases bite into employment growth, as opponents typically insist must be the case? Not according to the other two sets of bars. They show that payroll employment growth was slightly faster in states that raised, and the decline in unemployment, slightly greater.

Now, these are all small changes and I wouldn’t make a federal case out of any of them. But I would forcefully assert that they clearly do not comport with the doomsday scenarios touted by the opponents of minimum wage increases.

The conclusion is one that’s especially relevant this week as the inadequacy of low-wage workers’ earnings and their actions to improve them are about to be back in the news. Contrary to the forces opposing a higher wage floor, the low-wage workers at greatest risk are not the ones who live in states that are raising their minimum wages; it’s the rest of ‘em.


Source: Elise Gould, EPI; BLS (employment growth is percent change in payrolls; unemployment decline is percentage point changes in the rates).

Note: States that raised their min wg in 2014: AZ, CA, CT, FL, MO, MT, NJ, NY, OH, OR, RI, VT, WA. (H/t: BDaS)

Labor Day Reading

September 1st, 2014 at 9:56 am

Some great articles worth a look on labor, unions, wages, and more:

EJ Dionne on an exemplary employer and the workers who went to bat for him.

Jon Cohn interviews one of the deepest thinkers I know on labor issues: Rich Yeselson.

An important look at the problem of “wage theft” in the NYT.

Bob Kuttner on some recent wins for workers.

A strong NYT editorial with good ideas as to useful policies to address the deficits in labor’s bargaining power that I discuss here.

What else? Add you own links in comments.