Author Archives: afscme

Rising Student Debt and the 2020 Election

Source: James Kvaal, Jessica Thompson, University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy, February 2020

From the introduction:

In the 2020 presidential election campaign, college affordability has become a central household economic issue that nearly every candidate feels compelled to address.

Students and their families understand that an education beyond high school—whether a job training certificate, a community college degree, a four-year university diploma, or a graduate degree—is more critical to their future than ever. Employers know that educated workers are key to productivity. Most policymakers understand that increased educational attainment is essential to continued economic growth and shared prosperity.

However, despite college’s growing importance, there has been a widening gulf over the last several decades between college costs and students’ ability to pay them, and as a result American families have faced a rising tide of student debt. State funding for public colleges and universities has steadily declined, contributing to higher tuitions for most students. Federal student debt outstanding now totals $1.5 trillion, up from $577 billion in 2008.1 While education loans help many earn college degrees, many others are left worse off for having attended college. More than a million former students default on their loans each year.

From eliminating college tuition to canceling student debt, many of the men and women who seek to lead the country have proposed ambitious investments in college affordability. If enacted, these proposals would represent an unprecedented federal commitment to college. Nearly all of the candidates propose hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars in new spending. This perspectives brief explores the challenge of college affordability and summarizes the campaign proposals to address it.

America First, Immigrants Last: American Xenophobia Then and Now

Source: Erika Lee, The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Volume 19, Issue 1, January 2020
(subscription required)
From the abstract:

Global mass migration was one of the most defining features of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. But so was intense xenophobia. This article offers a new definition of xenophobia and examines how xenophobia helped to drive some of the most defining features of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, including progressive reform, white supremacy, the expanded capacity and power of the nation-state, and the growth of U.S. global power and influence. It draws a connection to contemporary America, where, under the Trump administration, xenophobia is transforming a wide range of public policies, legitimizing racism and white supremacy, and impacting U.S. foreign relations.

Whiteness and the Emergence of the Republican Party in the Early Twentieth-Century South

Source: Boris Heersink and Jeffery A. Jenkins, Studies in American Political Development, January 6, 2020
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
In the post-Reconstruction South, two Republican factions vied for control of state party organizations. The Black-and-Tans sought to keep the party inclusive and integrated, while the Lily-Whites worked to turn the GOP into a whites-only party. The Lily-Whites ultimately emerged victorious, as they took over most state parties by the early twentieth century. Yet no comprehensive data exist to measure how the conflict played out in each state. To fill this void, we present original data that track the racial composition of Republican National Convention delegations from the South between 1868 and 1952. We then use these data in a set of statistical analyses to show that, once disfranchising laws were put into place, the “whitening” of the GOP in the South led to a significant increase in the Republican Party’s vote totals in the region. Overall, our results suggest that the Lily-White takeover of the Southern GOP was a necessary step in the Republican Party’s reemergence—and eventual dominance—in the region during the second half of the twentieth century.

Racial Disparities and the Income Tax System

Source: Tax Policy Center, January 30, 2020
The Internal Revenue Service does not ask for a tax filer’s race or ethnicity on tax forms, but that does not mean the tax system affects people of different races in the same way.

Overall, federal income taxes are progressive: people with higher incomes pay a larger share of their income in taxes than those with lower incomes, and this can help close racial income gaps.

But some tax policies can also exacerbate income and wealth inequalities stemming from long-standing discrimination in areas such as housing, education, and employment.

Using the individual income tax Form 1040 as a guide, we explore how the federal income tax code interacts with existing racial inequities.

The practice of preparation for complex negotiations

Source: Morten Lindholst, Anne Marie Bülow, Ray Fells, Journal of Strategic Contracting and Negotiation, OnlineFirst, Published February 21, 2020
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Negotiators are routinely exhorted to prepare well, but what do they do in practice? This article draws on data collected as a team of negotiators prepared their strategy during the lengthy negotiations over a major power generation infrastructure contract. Using a framework that we developed using terms from the literature, the team’s preparation meetings were observed and then analysed for content, timing and changes in participation.

It is shown that the standard checklist notion of preparation needs to be reconsidered as a multilevel, dynamic concept that changes in character over time. Far from just a first stage, the team’s continued preparation occurred in feedback meetings after rounds of negotiation at the table, between negotiation sessions and immediately before the next round of negotiations, and progress was seen to hinge on the differentiation of the preparation. Consequently, this long-term study provides insight into a key element of any general theory of negotiation while also suggesting implications for practitioners working with negotiating teams.

Social Security Is a Great Equalizer

Source: Wenliang Hou and Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, IB#20-2, January 2020

The brief’s key findings are:

  • As the U.S. grows more diverse, it is important to understand how much Social Security affects the relative economic status of retirees by race/ethnicity.
  • This analysis uses the Health and Retirement Study to examine Social Security as a share of retirement wealth for whites, blacks, and Hispanics during 1992-2016.
  • Without Social Security, a typical white household has 5 to 7 times the wealth of a minority household, but adding in Social Security reduces the gap to 2 to 3.
  • Social Security has a similar leveling effect across the wealth distribution, but is particularly important for lower- and middle-income households.
  • Social Security reduces inequality because it covers nearly all workers and has a progressive benefit design, making it the most equal form of retirement wealth.

Measuring Racial/Ethnic Retirement Wealth Inequality

Source: Wenliang Hou and Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, WP#2020-2, January 2020

From the abstract:
As the U.S. population becomes more diverse, it will be increasingly important for policymakers addressing Social Security’s solvency to understand how reliant various racial and ethnic groups will be on the program versus other sources of retirement wealth. Yet, to date, studies on retirement wealth have tended not to focus on race and ethnicity, have largely ignored the role of Social Security, or have excluded the most recent cohort approaching retirement – the Late Boomers. This project uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to document the retirement resources of white, black, and Hispanic households at various points in the wealth distribution for five HRS cohorts of 51-56 year olds between 1992 and 2016.

The paper found that:

  • In 2016, the typical black household had 46 percent of the retirement wealth of the typical white household, while the typical Hispanic household had 49 percent.
  • This inequality would be much higher but for the presence of Social Security – black households had just 14 percent of the non-Social Security retirement wealth when compared to white households, and Hispanic households had just 20 percent.
  • The 1992 to 2010 HRS cohorts showed little change in retirement wealth inequality, although a decline in 51-56 year old white households’ retirement wealth between 2010 and 2016 narrowed the racial and ethnic gaps in retirement wealth slightly.
  • The progressivity of Social Security combined with lower average incomes for minority households means that replacement rates are more equal than wealth – in 2016, the replacement rate of black households was 82 percent of white households and Hispanic households was 95 percent.

The policy implications of the findings are:

  • Across-the-board benefit cuts, such as increases in the Full Retirement Age, will have an outsize impact on black and Hispanic households’ retirement wealth.
  • As policymakers consider changes to the Social Security program to shore up its finances, considering ways to mitigate any impact on these groups may be important.

An Introduction to Police and Fire Pensions

Source: Jean-Pierre Aubry and Kevin Wandrei, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, SLP#69, February 2020

The brief’s key findings are:

  • Pension and retiree health benefits for public safety workers are more expensive than those of other local government workers, largely due to earlier retirement ages.
  • Perhaps surprisingly, though, their retirement benefits make up only a very small share of total local government spending.
  • Some evidence suggests that public safety workers could work longer, which may have implications for plans’ retirement age.
  • However, raising retirement ages would have little impact on government finances, particularly since it might involve higher wages to maintain a quality workforce.

The Power in Water Infrastructure

Source: Anne E. Sibree, Journal AWWA, Volume 112 Issue 2, February 2020
(subscription required)

Key Takeaways:

  • Municipalities, water districts, and the agricultural industry can use new streamlined hydropower authorizations and exemptions to offset business costs by producing hydroelectric energy.
  • Small hydropower opportunities include experimental and hydrokinetic projects, conduit projects, and projects relying on manmade dams or natural impoundments.
  • Hydropower is a clean energy that provides benefits at multiple levels, adding resilience to the energy grid with a lower carbon footprint.

Development and application of a noise‐hazard scheme for road maintainers

Source: Jennifer M. Cavallari, Jennifer L. Garza, Jackie DiFrancesco, Alicia G. Dugan, Erica D. Walker, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Early View, First published: January 18, 2020

(subscription required)

From the abstract:

Background: Transportation road maintenance and repair workers, or “maintainers,” are exposed to hazardous and variable noise levels and often rely on hearing protection devices (HPD) to reduce noise‐exposure levels. We aimed to improve upon HPD use as part of the HearWell program that used a Total Worker Health, participatory approach to hearing conservation.
Methods: Full‐shift, personal noise sampling was performed during the routine task of brush cutting. Work activities and equipment were recorded and combined with 1‐min noise measures to summarize personal noise‐exposure levels by equipment. Using noise‐monitoring results, HPD noise reduction ratings, and input from worker‐based design teams, a noise‐hazard scheme was developed and applied to the task and equipment used during brush cutting.
Results: Average (standard deviation) and maximum Leq 1‐minute, personal noise‐exposure levels recorded during brush cutting included chainsaws at 92.1 (7.6) and max of 111 dBA, leaf blowers at 91.2 (7.5) and max 107 dBA, and wood chipper at 90.3 (7.3) and max of 104 dBA. The worker‐designed noise‐hazard scheme breaks down noise exposures into one of three color bands and exposure ranges: red (over 105 dBA), orange (90‐105 dBA), or yellow (85‐90 dBA). The scheme simplifies the identification of noise levels, assessment of noise‐hazard, and choice of appropriate hearing protection for workers.
Conclusion: Combining noise‐exposure assessment with intervention development using participatory methods, we characterized noise exposure and developed an intervention to educate and assist in protecting workers as they perform noisy tasks.