America’s Infrastructure: Ramping Up or Crashing Down

Source: The Brookings Institution

Infrastructure has a dramatic effect on the economic competitiveness of our nation, the health of our environment and our quality of life. And infrastructure–freight ports, airports, bridges, roads, rail and transit networks, water and sewer systems, web of channel communications–is the connective tissue of our nation. Smart policies and investments can enhance and further national prosperity and the health and vitality of metropolitan areas, where the bulk of our population lives and jobs are located.

A long-term infrastructure plan can foster productive growth in our economy, sustainable growth that furthers energy independence and real solutions to climate change and inclusive growth so that low and moderate-income families have access to opportunity.

With these critical issues in mind, the third Bernard L. Schwartz Forum on Competitiveness explored the challenges and opportunities for new infrastructure investment. The October 10, 2007 event followed in the wake of two previous forums that focused on American education, innovation, and research and development (April 2006) and America’s position in the world in science and technology (October 2006).

In his keynote address, Thomas Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, emphasized that better investments in infrastructure would make us safer; more secure and lead to happier and safer constituents. In sum, infrastructure investments make for good policy that both Republicans and Democrats should support.

Full Document (PDF; 80 KB)

Where Workers Go, Do Jobs Follow?

Source: The Brookings Institution

Using data from the 1990 and 2000 Census of Population, an analysis of workers and jobs in the central cities and lower- and higher-income suburbs of the largest 150 metropolitan areas indicates that:
• Roughly 65 percent of all residents and nearly 60 percent of all jobs are now located in the suburbs, with over a third of each in the higher-income suburbs. More individuals now live in the higher-income suburbs than in the central cities, and nearly as many jobs are in the higher-income suburbs as well.
• Population grew strongly during the 1990s in the lower-income suburbs, while job growth was particularly strong in the higher-income suburbs. Residential populations grew by 36 percent in lower-income suburbs, compared to just 24 percent in the central cities and 16 percent in the higher-income suburbs; while employment growth was more rapid (at 26 percent) in the higher-income suburbs, than in the central cities and lower-income suburbs (18 percent each).
• Population growth in the lower-income suburbs for blacks and Latinos has been especially dramatic, while their employment growth in these areas lags behind. Population growth in the lower-income suburbs is also especially pronounced for less-educated groups. But job growth lags behind population growth in the lower-income suburbs and exceeds it in the higher-income suburbs for all educational groups.
• Most groups of residents in the lower-income suburbs must now commute out for work, especially to the higher-income suburbs. Major changes in commute patterns over the 1990s were observed among Latinos (and, to a lesser extent, high school dropouts), with the sharpest increases in commutes towards the higher-income suburbs occurring among members of these groups who live in the central cities and lower-income suburbs.
• The accessibility of residents of lower-income suburbs to jobs in higher-income areas appears to vary greatly across metropolitan areas. Lower-income suburbs are largely contiguous to higher-income suburbs in some metropolitan areas (such as Baltimore and Boston) while they are mostly concentrated on different sides of the central cities in other areas (such as Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver).

Full Document (PDF; 860 KB)

State Children’s Health Insurance Program: Program Structure, Enrollment and Expenditure Experiences, and Outreach Approaches for States That Cover Adults

Source: U.S. Governmental Accounting Office

In 2006 about 4.5 million individuals were enrolled in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Congress created SCHIP with the goal of significantly reducing the number of low-income uninsured children. Under certain circumstances, states may also cover adults, and in June 2006 about 349,000 adults were enrolled. Each state receives an annual allotment of federal funds, available as a federal match based on the state’s expenditures. Generally, states have 3 years to use each fiscal year’s allotment, after which unspent federal funds may be redistributed. Congress initially authorized SCHIP for 10 years, from 1998 through 2007, and provided approximately $40 billion for that period.

GAO examined (1) how 10 states that cover adults–parents, childless adults, or both–in SCHIP structured their programs; (2) these states’ enrollment and expenditure experiences for adults, which GAO considered in the context of those for all other SCHIP populations (children and pregnant women); and (3) the approaches these states adopted to attract all eligible individuals. To accomplish this, GAO reviewed 10 states that covered adults in SCHIP as of 2007. GAO interviewed officials in the 10 states; reviewed states’ 2006 annual reports and information available on states’ Web sites; and analyzed enrollment and expenditure data obtained primarily from the 10 states, as well as from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and published sources.

Full-text

Joint Economic Committee Annual Report on the State of the Economy and State Economic Snapshots

Source: Joint Economic Committee

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) and Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Vice Chair of the JEC, today released the Committee’s annual report. The President says his policies are working to make the economy strong and that all Americans are benefiting, but the facts show an economic record that has left the vast majority of American families behind. The JEC report concludes that the country needs a change in direction to get our economy back on the right track and to ensure that all American families share in our nation’s growing prosperity.

Highlights: The main indicator of the overall health of the U.S. economy, GDP growth, has been anemic during this economic recovery. Since the last economic peak in the first quarter of 2001, the economy has expanded at an annual rate of only 2.6 percent, about a third less than the 3.7 percent average growth rate of the three prior economic cycles of similar length.

The 2007 Joint Economic Report – Report of the Joint Economic Committee of the United States on the 2007 Economic Report of the President Together with Minority Views. Report 110-251, December 2007 (234 pages, PDF)

DHS releases REAL ID grant guidance and application kits

Source: Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security released grant guidance and application kits for two grant programs totaling more than $35 million to help states prepare to implement REAL ID provisions that require a standard format for state-issued driver’s licenses. The REAL ID Demonstration Grant Program will provide $31.3 million in grants to the states to check motor vehicle records in other states to ensure drivers don’t have multiple licenses, and to verify immigration status against federal records. It will help standardize methods by which states may seamlessly verify an applicant’s information with another state and deploy verification capabilities that can be used by all states, while protecting personal identification information.

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 REAL ID Vital Events Verification State Project Grant Verification

EEOC and Retiree Health Benefits

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

From the press release:
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)…announced the publication of a final rule allowing employers that provide retiree health benefits to continue the longstanding practice of coordinating those benefits with Medicare (or comparable state health benefits) without violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The regulation, which safeguards retiree health benefits, was published in the December 26, 2007 Federal Register.

Final Rule: Age Discrimination in Employment Act; Retiree Health Benefits, Federal Register Notice, December 26, 2007

Questions & Answers about the EEOC’s Retiree Health Rule

New Laws Take Effect in 31 States in 2008

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

A host of new laws on topics ranging from allowing civil unions in New Hampshire to prohibiting text messaging while driving in Washington state become effective Jan. 1, 2008. Washington and Oregon will prohibit typing messages while driving. In Minnesota, bus cushions must meet new depths. Three states will issue license plates to veterans or family members of military personnel killed in combat. Illinois will allow pets to be included in protection orders. If you sell American flags in Minnesota, they will have to be made in the United States. The minimum wage will rise in New Mexico, and homeowners in Illinois will have new protections to avert foreclosures. Airline passengers will have a bill of rights in New York state. And bad news if you are an old light bulb in Illinois or mercury in Minnesota, you will see new restrictions. Parents of a newborn in South Carolina will have to watch a video on the dangers of shaking a baby.

Better Workers for Better Jobs: Improving Worker Advancement in the Low-Wage Labor Market

Source: Brookings Institution, The Hamilton Project

Abstract
This paper proposes a new federal funding stream to identify, expand, and replicate the most successful state and local initiatives designed to spur the advancement of low-wage workers in the United States. In the Worker Advancement Grants for Employment in States (WAGES) program, the federal government would offer up to $5 billion annually in matching funds for increases in state, local, and private expenditures on worker advancement initiatives. To gain funding, states would have to develop local advancement “systems,” which would provide career-oriented education and training to youth, working poor adults and “hard-to-employ” workers. Partnerships would be developed between local training providers (like community colleges), employer associations, and intermediaries. Additional financial supports for the working poor—including child care, transportation, and stipends for working students—would have to be funded as well. Initially, the WAGES program would require states to compete for federal grants, which would ultimately be renewable. The program would generate a “learning system” in which states would have an incentive to innovate and use information from other initiatives. The federal government would provide substantial technical assistance and oversight. Performance measurement and rigorous evaluation would be required for program renewal; states achieving substantial worker advancement would be awarded major bonuses and more rapid renewal of funding.

Full-text (40 pages)

Employment-Based Tax Credits for Low-Skilled Workers

Source: Brookings Institution, The Hamilton Project

Abstract
Families in low-income communities face three interrelated problems: unemployment rates are high, incarceration rates of low-skilled men are high, and a large fraction of children in low-income communities are being raised in single-parent households. To address these interrelated problems, I propose a two-part policy designed to increase the return to work. The first part of my proposal is an expanded earned income tax credit that would apply to low-income, childless taxpayers. The second part of my proposal is a targeted wage subsidy for low-wage workers who live in certain economically depressed areas, whereby the federal government would pay subsidies of 50 percent of the difference between the worker’s market wage and a target wage of $11.30 per hour. The premise for adopting these policies is straightforward: increasing the return to work for childless low-skilled workers will lower unemployment rates and achieve the dual social benefits of reducing incarceration rates and increasing marriage rates, thus reducing the number of children being raised in single-parent households. The proposal would redistribute $10.4 billion to poor, working individuals. Based on empirical estimates from the literature, I expect employment to increase by 850,000 jobs and crime to fall by over one million incidents. Conservative estimates of the social cost of crime indicate that the social benefit from reduced crime could cover 8 percent or more of the cost of the proposal. Many estimates of the cost of crime would claim much larger cost saving. The proposal would also increase marriage and improve the environments in which poor children are raised.

Full-text (36 pages)

A Hand Up: A Strategy to Reward Work, Expand Opportunity, and Reduce Poverty

Source: Brookings Institution, The Hamilton Project

Abstract
Poverty remains a pressing problem in the United States. Many of the 36 million Americans in poverty are working, but full-time work at the minimum wage does not provide enough income to escape poverty. This paper offers a three-part strategy to reduce poverty and strengthen growth across the income spectrum. First, the most effective antipoverty policy is to help people find a job that pays enough to support a family. This paper’s principal focus is on programs to reward and facilitate work. Second, a broader set of policies is necessary to prepare people to succeed, by investing in human capital and other critical needs. Finally, public policies should provide a more robust safety net and a set of social insurance policies to help people rebound if they do experience economic hardship, and reduce the likelihood of their falling below a certain economic level at any point. Together, these policies can raise the living standards of struggling families and allow everyone to share in our nation’s prosperity.

Full-text (36 pages)