A Feeble Recovery – The fundamental economic weaknesses of the 2001-07 expansion

Source: L. Josh Bivens and John Irons, Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #214, May 1, 2008

Evidence is mounting that the U.S. economy is in a recession. If this is the case, a complete business cycle from 2001 through the end of 2007 (or perhaps the start of 2008) is now on the books, and the economic performance of the current decade can be held up in comparison to that of past business cycles. By almost all measures, the most recent expansion was the worst since WWII.

A variety of recent economic data now show a pattern consistent with the start of a recession. Since 1951, three consecutive months of job declines have always been signals of a recession; the U.S. employment rate declined for the first three months of 2008. Furthermore, the unemployment rate rose from 4.4% in March 2007 to 5.1% in March 2008.

Massachusetts Health Care Reform–On Second Anniversary of Passage, What Progress Has Been Made?

Source: Tanya Alteras, Sharon Silow-Carroll, and Greg Moody, Commonwealth Fund, April 28, 2008

Massachusetts’ passage of health care reform legislation in April 2006 heralded an exciting new era in state health policy. The reform plan is the most comprehensive effort by a state to achieve near-universal coverage, and arguably the most controversial, given its inclusion of an individual mandate. On the second anniversary of its passage (and 18 months since implementation began), States in Action examines the law’s impact on the state’s residents and its health care system.

Where Are the Priorities? 2007-08 Report on the Economic Status of the Profession

Source: American Association of University Professors, March-April 2008

For many years now, colleges and universities have attempted to balance competing demands from students, legislators, and society at large. Students are enrolling in record numbers, legislators and employers are demanding greater skill levels from graduates, and higher education is increasingly being called on to do the work of economic development; at the same time, the share of institutional funding provided by state and federal governments continues to decline. Given these competing pressures on institutions, financial decision making has become a matter of determining priorities. In this year’s report, we call into question the apparent priorities demonstrated by trends in relative spending on salaries for faculty, football coaches, and senior administrators and by the shifts in staffing that have reshaped colleges and universities so dramatically over recent decades.

Taxing the Poor

Source: PBS NOW, April 11, 2008

This month, millions of Americans are filing their taxes and hoping for the best, but are rich people actually paying a smaller percentage of taxes than the poor? NOW looks at plans in many states to raise sales taxes and lower property taxes in an effort to generate revenue. But those changes may come at an even bigger price. Anti-poverty advocates say this shift would place the heaviest tax burden on the poorest households–and benefit higher-income Americans. Despite the charge, it’s a model many states have long embraced. NOW travels to one of these states, Alabama, to document the personal impact of regressive tax policies on three very different families. They include a working Mom who shows us how a ten percent sales tax on groceries makes a significant difference in what her family eats; a couple living in a ramshackle house in the backwoods who’ve always held jobs but still face hunger; and a well-to-do suburban couple who benefit from huge tax breaks.

Investing In U.S. Infrastructure – Promoting Economic Stimulus And Growth

Source: John Irons, Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #217, April 29, 2008

The Agenda for Shared Prosperity’s central aim is to articulate policy options that will spur growth, reduce economic insecurity, and provide broadly shared prosperity. A central component of achieving individual economic opportunity is ensuring that the economy is growing at a solid pace–both by smoothing the short-term dips and by promoting investments for long-term growth.

Public investments in the nation’s infrastructure, which lay the foundation for long-term growth, have been insufficient in recent years. Visible catastrophic failures are evident in the breach of the levies in New Orleans, the collapse of a major bridge in Minneapolis, and power blackouts that flowed from the Mid-West to New York City. Less visible failures are evident in the slow seepage of sewers into our waterways and in the slow deployment of broadband Internet access.

In a time of economic weakness, public investments in the nation’s infrastructure can provide short-term stimulus and build the foundation for long-term economic growth. Federal investments in infrastructure, including transportation, school buildings, and information networks, are required to address critical national needs and to create jobs and spur the economy.

Confessions of a Sweatshop Inspector

Source: T. A. Frank, Washington Monthly, Vol. 40 no. 4, April 2008

Presidential candidates are calling for tougher labor standards in trade agreements. But can such standards be enforced? Here’s what I learned from my old job.

I remember one particularly bad factory in China. It produced outdoor tables, parasols, and gazebos, and the place was a mess. Work floors were so crowded with production materials that I could barely make my way from one end to the other. In one area, where metals were being chemically treated, workers squatted at the edge of steaming pools as if contemplating a sudden, final swim. The dormitories were filthy: the hallways were strewn with garbage–orange peels, tea leaves–and the only way for anyone to bathe was to fill a bucket with cold water. In a country where workers normally suppress their complaints for fear of getting fired, employees at this factory couldn’t resist telling us the truth. “We work so hard for so little pay,” said one middle-aged woman with undisguised anger. We could only guess how hard–the place kept no time cards. Painted in large characters on the factory walls was a slogan: “If you don’t work hard today, look hard for work tomorrow.” Inspirational, in a way.

…Today, labor standards are once again in the news. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have criticized trade deals such as NAFTA as unfair to American workers, and the new thinking is that trade agreements should include strict labor standards. Obama has cited a recent free trade agreement with Peru as an example of how to go forward. I hope he’s right, but let’s remember that NAFTA was also hailed, in its day, for including labor protections. Our solutions on paper have proved hard to enforce. Peru attempts to remedy some of the problems of NAFTA, but we’re still advancing slowly in the dark….

Health Savings Accounts: Participation Increased and Was More Common among Individuals with Higher Incomes

Source: U.S. Governmental Accountability Office

The number of individuals participating in HSA-eligible health plans and HSAs increased significantly between 2004 and 2007; however, in all years, many HSA-eligible plan enrollees did not open an HSA. The number of individuals covered by HSA-eligible plans increased significantly between September 2004 and January 2007–from about 438,000 to approximately 4.5 million, according to industry estimates. Despite the growth, these plans represented a small share of individuals with private health coverage–about 2 percent in 2006. The number of tax filers reporting HSA activity also increased, nearly tripling between 2004 and 2005, from about 120,000 to about 355,000. Industry estimates suggest continued growth in HSA participation in 2006 and 2007. Despite the growth in HSA participation, nationally representative survey estimates from 2005, 2006, and 2007 found that more than 40 percent of HSA-eligible health plan enrollees did not open an HSA.

Tax filers who reported HSA activity in 2005 had higher incomes on average than other tax filers. Among tax filers between the ages of 19 and 64, the average AGI for filers reporting HSA activity was about $139,000 compared with about $57,000 for all other filers. The income differences existed across all age groups.

Full report

One Size Fits Few: Using Customer Insight to Transform Government

Source: Deloitte

This study defines the emerging discipline of “customer strategy” in the 21st century, and shows how the insights of citizens can help your agency make more informed decisions, design and deliver more successful policies and programs, and improve customer service. In line or online, consumers of government services are savvier than ever. And citizens’ attitudes toward the public leaders that represent them are, in large part, shaped by the daily encounters they have with organizations like yours.

Full report

Overview of State Legislation Related to Immigrants and Immigration

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

States are still tackling immigration related issues in a variety of policy arenas – More than 1,100 bills have been considered in the first quarter of 2008. This report provides a first look at introduced legislation in 2008 and presents selected examples of enacted laws relating to immigrants and refugees. This process of legislative tracking and reporting is based on a comprehensive and inclusive methodology and captures all state legislation in which immigrants – whether authorized or unauthorized, temporary migrants, aliens and refugees – are affected.

As of March 31, 2008, at least 1,106 bills have been considered in 44 states this year. Twenty-six states have enacted 44 laws and adopted 38 resolutions or memorials. This level of activity is comparable to last year, when 1,169 bills and resolutions had been introduced (as of April 13, 2007). At this time last year, 18 states had enacted 57 laws related to immigrants and immigration. State legislatures had also adopted at least 19 resolutions and memorials.

States continue to address both enforcement and integration issues related to immigrants. As in recent years, the top three areas of interest are law enforcement, employment, and identification documents.

Full Report (PDF; 119 KB)

Cost Containment: A Survey of Current Practices at America’s State Colleges and Universities

Source: American Association of State Colleges and Universities and SunGard Higher Education

Member institutions of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities are witnessing measurable success in identifying and implementing cost containment strategies in order to reduce operating costs. Nearly all survey respondents at AASCU institutions place high importance on cost containment, with most having implemented cost control strategies in multiple operational areas. As a result, a majority of the state colleges and universities participating in this study indicated sufficient satisfaction with their cost containment efforts.

Institutions rely more on support and business functions in their cost control efforts than on core academic functions. Energy management and consortium purchasing are the two most common areas of focus for cost containment. Although responding AASCU members’ cost containment efforts have chiefly focused on support functions and business operations, the large majority of respondents are willing to consider any area of operation for potential cost containment opportunities. Breadth is key: Institutions witness greater satisfaction with their cost containment efforts to the degree they achieve savings in a broad range of operations and services.

Despite progress made to date, the data suggest there remains significant opportunity for AASCU members to benefit further from implementing additional cost containment strategies. While three-fourths of responding institutions indicated satisfaction with their cost containment activities, a quarter indicated some dissatisfaction, pointing to a desire for increased progress and accomplishment in realizing cost savings. Data suggest that institutional investment in identifying and implementing cost containment initiatives could be increased, producing an even greater return on investment at more colleges and universities.

Full report (PDF; 842 KB)