A Nation Accountable: Twenty-five Years After A Nation at Risk

Source: U.S. Department of Education

From news release:
In 1983, the national report, A Nation At Risk, delivered a wake up call for our education system. It described stark realities like a significant number of functionally illiterate high schoolers, plummeting student performance, and international competitors breathing down our necks. It was a warning, a reproach, and a call to arms.

Fast forward twenty-five years to 2008. What has changed?

In some ways, we haven’t fully learned the lessons of A Nation at Risk, and continue to deal with the consequences. Today, half of all minority students fail to graduate from high school on time. But there’s an upside. A Nation At Risk inspired some state-level pioneers to think about standards and accountability in education, and put them into practice. This, in turn, led to the landmark No Child Left Behind Act. Now, across the nation, we’re finally measuring the progress of students of every race and income level, finally holding ourselves accountable for their performance, and finally producing and sharing data to determine what works.

Accurate, honest information is helping to show us the way forward, but it’s also revealing disturbing realities–like grave inequities between students of different races and income levels. As a result, the accountability movement to raise student achievement has reached a tipping point: will we hide from tough problems or redouble our efforts to help every student achieve their potential?

Full Report (PDF; 941 KB)

The 1983 report (PDF)

OPM Launches Enhanced Telework Website

Source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management

From news release:
Office of Personnel Management (OPM)…announced the launch of an enhanced interagency telework website, www.telework.gov. The updated site features a series of user-friendly improvements designed to make telework information more accessible and understandable to Federal employees…and was developed in partnership with the General Services Administration (GSA), OPM’s telework.gov partner. Users can read and download recent telework guidance and legislation, reports, and studies. A search database allows users to input telework-related questions, and if answers are not found onsite the questions can be routed to experts who will respond via email. The site offers telework guidance and direction to employees and managers, as well as telework coordinators…Additional features of the updated site include quick links to key pages, online telework training, and easy access to telework-related policies such as reasonable accommodation and emergency closure. Finally, the site displays a green color scheme throughout, chosen to reflect the environmentally friendly aspects of telework. Telework in the Federal Government has increased significantly since 2001, 110,000 employees currently telework according to OPM’s latest report to Congress. The report also found that while overall telework numbers were down slightly from 2005, a majority of agencies increased telework over the previous year, and that 42% fully integrated telework into their emergency planning.

Understanding Stagflation and the Risk of Its Recurrence

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Open CRS)

The slowing of economic growth and the rising rate of inflation in early 2008 have given rise to concerns that the U.S. economy is at risk of an episode of stagflation. Stagflation describes an economy that is characterized by high rates of both unemployment and inflation. The term came into popular use in the 1970s to describe the economy at that time. The unemployment rate reached 9.0% in May 1975 and a high of 10.8% in November 1982. The rate of consumer price inflation reached 12.2% for the 12-month period ending in November 1974, and 14.6% for the 12-month period ending in May 1980. Inflation is currently about 4% and the unemployment rate is near 5%, both well below the rates in the 1970s that were cause for alarm. Nonetheless, higher oil prices and turmoil in financial markets have led some to warn that stagflation may be in our future.

The key to understanding the nature of stagflation is the natural rate of unemployment. That is the lowest rate of unemployment consistent with a stable rate of inflation. Below that rate, inflation tends to accelerate. In the view of the natural rate model, unemployment and inflation rates may be relatively high at the same time, and they may even rise simultaneously for a time, particularly if inflation and the natural rate of unemployment are rising at the same time. What is unlikely to happen, however, is for the unemployment rate to be high and for the inflation rate to continue accelerating. If the unemployment rate is above the natural rate, then cooling labor and product markets would be likely to reduce upward pressure on wages and prices. Stagflation in the 1970s coincided with two large “oil shocks.”

A large increase in the price of oil can have macroeconomic consequences in terms of higher inflation, higher unemployment, and lower output. Both the inflation and output effects of energy shocks are temporary, however. Once prices adjust, the economy returns to full employment and its sustainable growth path. It is not the level of energy prices that affects economic growth and inflation, but rather the change in energy prices. Thus, if policymakers are concerned with the effect of energy prices on output and inflation, they should focus more on rising energy prices than “high” energy prices, even if the high prices are permanent. Although stagflation is understood to be high rates of both inflation and unemployment, it is not clear how high those rates have to be to merit the designation. Whether or not rates less than those observed in the 1970s constitute stagflation may be a subjective matter.

Recent unemployment and inflation rates are not nearly as high as they were in the 1970s. Some economists, however, fear that the recent expansion in monetary and fiscal policy, at a time when unemployment is low but rising and energy prices are rising, could lead to a new bout of stagflation in the near future. Although policy may not be able to prevent episodes of stagflation from occurring, there may be enough understanding of the underlying causes to avoid making conditions substantially worse.

Full Report (PDF; 148 KB)

Food Price Inflation: Causes and Impacts

Source: Congressional Research Service (via OpenCRS)

U.S. food prices rose 4% in 2007 and are expected to gain 3.5% to 4.5% in 2008. Higher farm commodity prices and energy costs are the leading factors behind higher food prices. Farm commodity prices have surged because (1) demand for corn for ethanol is competing with food and feed for acreage; (2) global food grain and oilseed supplies are low due to poor harvests; (3) the weak dollar has increased U.S. exports; (4) rising incomes in large, rapidly emerging economies have changed eating habits; and (5) input costs have increased. Higher energy costs increase transportation, processing, and retail costs. Although the cost of commodities such as corn or wheat are a small part of the final retail price of most food products, they have risen enough to have an impact on retail prices. Generally, price changes at the farm level have a diminished impact on retail prices, especially for highly processed products. The impact of higher food prices on U.S. households varies according to income. Lower-income households spend a greater portion of their income on food and feel price hikes more acutely than high-income families. Higher food costs impact domestic food assistance efforts in numerous ways depending on whether benefits are indexed, enrollments are limited, or additional funds are made available. Higher food and transportation costs also reduce the impact of U.S. contributions of food aid under current budget constraints.

Full Report (PDF; 72 KB)

Social Security Reform: Possible Effects on the Elderly Poor and Mitigation Options

Source: Congressional Research Service (via OpenCRS)

Social Security has significantly reduced elderly poverty. The elderly poverty rate has fallen from 35% in 1959 to an all-time low of 9% in 2006, in large part because of Social Security. If Social Security benefits did not exist, an estimated 44% the elderly would be poor today assuming no changes in behavior. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, also provides benefits to the poorest elderly, many of whom do not qualify for Social Security benefits. However, despite these programs, about 3.4 million elderly individuals remained in poverty in 2006.

The Social Security system faces a long-term financing problem. The Social Security Trustees project cash-flow deficits beginning in 2017 and trust fund insolvency in 2041. Many recent proposals to improve system solvency would reduce Social Security benefits in the future. Benefit reductions could affect the low income elderly, many of whom rely on Social Security benefits for almost all of their income. Such potential benefit reductions could lead to higher rates of poverty among the elderly compared to those projected under the current benefit formula. Because the low-income elderly are especially vulnerable to benefit reductions, many recent Social Security reform proposals have included minimum benefits or other provisions that would mitigate the effect of benefit cuts on the elderly poor.

This report analyzes the projected effects of four possible approaches to mitigating the effects of Social Security benefit reductions on elderly poverty in 2042, the first full year of projected trust fund insolvency. The options are compared to a payable baseline, which assumes current-law benefits would need to be cut across the board to balance Social Security’s annual income and spending at the point of insolvency. The four options examined are (1) a poverty-line Social Security minimum benefit; (2) a sliding-scale Social Security minimum benefit; (3) a povertyline SSI benefit; and (4) a poverty-line SSI benefit with liberalized eligibility.

Full Report (PDF; 184 KB)

Public Health Workforce Shortages Imperil Nation’s Health

Source: Center for Studying Health System Change

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, interest in the state of America’s public health system spiked, especially related to emergency preparedness. Significant new federal funding flowed to state and local agencies to bolster public health activities. But the spotlight on shoring up the nation’s public health system has faded, and the public appears unaware of escalating threats to such basic services as disease surveillance. Local health departments face a mounting workforce crisis as they struggle to recruit, train and retain qualified workers to meet their communities’ needs, according to a new study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

Factors influencing the workforce shortage include inadequate funding, uncompetitive salaries and benefits, an exodus of retiring workers, insufficient supply of trained workers, and lack of enthusiasm for public health as a career choice. Local public health agencies have pursued strategies to improve workforce monitoring and planning, recruitment, retention, development and training, and academic linkages. However, little progress has been made to alleviate the shortages. Without additional support to address workforce issues, including the recruitment of the next generation of public health leaders, it is unlikely that local public health agencies will succeed in meeting growing community need, a situation potentially imperiling the public’s health.

Full report (.pdf)

State Legislated Actions on Tobacco Issues: 2007

Source: American Lung Association/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The annual update of State Legislated Actions on Tobacco Issues–SLATI, for short–is now in its 20th year of publication.

Published by the American Lung Association with support from RWJF, the report tracked the passage of legislation and other state policies related to tobacco control and prevention, including tobacco taxes, youth access and funding for tobacco control programs during 2007.

SLATI 2007 showed an increasing number of states taking strong action against tobacco during the year–including five states which took steps to counter the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

Indeed, eight states passed increases in their tobacco taxes in 2007, bringing the average state cigarette tax up to $1.11 a pack–a dramatic increase from the beginning of 2002. Back then, the average tax was only 44.6 cents per pack.

Full Report (PDF; 3.7 MB)

Number of HIV-Positive State and Federal Inmates Continues to Decline

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics

From press release:
Between 2005 and 2006 the number of state and federal prisoners who were HIV-positive decreased 3.1 percent — from 22,676 to 21,980 inmates, according to a report by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Another BJS report estimated that 44 percent of state inmates and 39 percent of federal inmates reported a current medical problem other than a cold or a virus.

Sixteen states and the federal system reported a decrease in the number of HIV-infected prisoners and 25 states reported an increase from 2005 through 2006. Texas, with 293 more HIV-positive inmates, reported the largest increase. New York with 440 fewer HIV-positive prisoners reported the largest drop.

On December 31, 2006, an estimated 5,977 inmates had confirmed AIDS, up from 5,620 in 2005. Confirmed AIDS cases accounted for more than a quarter of inmates known to be HIV positive.

At yearend 2006 the rate of confirmed AIDS in state and federal prisoners was more than 2½ times higher than in the U.S. population. About 46 in 10,000 prison inmates were estimated to have confirmed AIDS, compared to 17 per 10,000 persons in the general population.

Full Report

Medical Problems of Prisoners

Poverty Facts, 2004

Source: Laura Wheaton, Jamyang Tashi, Urban Institute, April 24, 2008

From the abstract:
In 2004, 36.6 million people–or 12.6 percent of the U.S. population–were poor. The “poverty gap”–the amount of additional income required to remove all Americans from poverty–was $105.6 billion. Poverty rates were highest for African Americans, Hispanics, women, and persons under 25. Without government benefits, 61 million people would be poor. Social Security and other social insurance programs remove 21 million people from poverty. Means tested programs remove 3 million people from poverty. If food and housing assistance were counted as income for poverty purposes, an additional 7.6 million people would be counted as not poor.

Pulling Apart: A State-by-State Analysis of Income Trends

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, April 9, 2008

A state-by-state examination of trends in income inequality over the past two business cycles finds that inequality has grown in most parts of the country since the late 1980s. The incomes of the country’s highest-income families have climbed substantially, while middle- and lower-income families have seen only modest increases.