Sunday, May 1, 2016

Last Call For Labor Pains

The right (and some on the left) have long been screaming at President Obama about how America's unemployment rate is not "really" 5% because of the labor force participation rate.  Millions of Americans have left the work force, the argument goes, and if they were included at the same rate as they were when President Obama took office, the unemployment rate would still be in double digits.

That argument is complete garbage of course, mainly because 60% of the people who have left the labor force are...wait for it...retiring Baby Boomers!  And that's actually good news, and why the labor market is improving.

But if people outside of the labour force are very unlikely to rejoin it—then the outlook for wages is better. A new paper from the IMF assesses what is most likely to happen. Pretending that the participation rate of individual age groups did not change during the recession, but allowing the population shares of each age group to change as they actually did, the paper's authors show that “demographic change” explains about half of the total decline in the participation rate since 2007 (compare the red line with the blue line in the second chart).

“Demographic change” covers a few things. For instance, during the Great Recession the first baby-boomers became eligible for social-security retirement benefits. And young people stayed in higher education longer during the crisis, which meant that they were less likely to be available for work than before. More detailed regressions in the paper also find such factors to be important.

In addition, the paper warns that even if bad economic conditions push people out the labour market, better conditions will not necessarily bring all of them back in. Disability insurance (DI) is one reason why. The number of DI recipients was rising sharply even before 2007, and when the recession hit the rise continued. Recipients of DI tend to exit the labour force permanently and do no return as cyclical conditions improve. For this reason, over the next few years it may only be possible to reverse about one-quarter of the post-2007 decline in participation.

But, despite these results, it would be wrong to conclude that America's labour market has no "slack". Yes, it may be difficult for the labour force to rise much, even as the economy improves. Yet there is plenty of capacity for those already in it to work longer hours. The number of full-time jobs is lower than before the recession hit. The number of part-time jobs is much higher. And many of those would prefer to work full-time instead. Fewer people now hold multiple jobs, which also suggests that Americans are not working as much as they would like. Who says hard work doesn't pay off?

The labor market got crushed by the Bush Recession, and then millions of Boomers took retirement and Millennials stayed in school.  The labor market is getting better, but slowly.

Imagine where we would be if Republicans at local, state, and federal levels hadn't been so keen on sabotaging America to spite President Obama.

The President Drops The Mic

President Obama's final White House correspondents' dinner speech was arguably his best.

Next year at this time, someone else will be standing here in this very spot and it’s anyone guess who she will be. But standing here I can’t help but be reflective and a little sentimental.

Eight years ago I said it was time to change the tone of our politics. In hindsight, I clearly should have been more specific. Eight years ago, I was a young man full of idealism and vigor. And look at me now, I am gray, grizzled and just counting down the days to my death panel.

Hillary once questioned whether I would be up ready for a 3 a.m .phone call. Now, I’m awake anyway because I have to go to the bathroom. I’m up.

In fact somebody recently said to me, ‘Mr. President, you are so yesterday. Justin Trudeau has completely replaced you. He is so handsome and he’s so charming. He’s the future.’ And I said ‘Justin, just give it a rest.’ I resented that.

Meanwhile, Michelle has not aged a day. The only way you can date her in photos is by looking at me. Take a look. [Show photos over the years] Here we are in 2008. Here we are a few years later. And this one is from two weeks ago. [skelton photo from Canada dinner] So time passes.

In just six short months, I will be officially a lame duck, which means Congress now will flat out reject my authority, and Republican leaders won’t take my phone calls. And this is going to take some getting use to. It’s really gonna… It’s a curve ball. I don’t know what to do with it. Of course, in fact, for four months now congressional Republicans have been saying there are things I cannot do in my final year. Unfortunately, this dinner was not one of them.

But on everything else, it’s another story. And you know who you are, Republicans. In fact, I think we’ve got Republican senators Tim Scott and Cory Gardner. They are in the house, which reminds me … security bar the doors. Judge Merrick Garland come on out. We are going to do this right here. Right now.

It’s like the red wedding.

My God am I going to miss this man.

Sunday Long Read: Finding Faith

This piece from The California Sunday Magazine on two men, Juan Carlos and Rene, attempting to convert people in heavily Catholic and poor Colombia to Judaism is fascinating to me precisely because I do not prescribe to any organized religion or faith.

BUT HOW TO be a Jew?

Juan Carlos had no idea. Neither did René. They sought out Medellín’s tiny Jewish community. A close-knit group of about 300 dating back to before World War II, they had once numbered more than 500, but many had fled the country during the drug war. Few kept kosher; most attended synagogue services only during the High Holidays. Judaism was a cultural, not a religious, identity.

At the time, the entire Jewish population lived in El Poblado, the most affluent neighborhood in the city. As Arie Eidelman, manager of the Hebrew School, points out, there were “no low-income Jews in Medellín.” Many were prominent in finance and textiles. The ride from Bello to El Poblado is just 40 minutes, but for René and Juan Carlos, it was a world apart. René had previously met Eidelman and other Jewish leaders when they had hired his band for their celebrations and he had blown the shofar. But when René and Juan Carlos told them about their decision to convert to Judaism, the leaders rejected them out of hand.

Leaving the church with René and Juan Carlos were factory workers, cleaning ladies, carpenters, taxi drivers, small-shop owners. Why would any ofthem want to become Jewish except to take advantage of the community’s wealth? This suspicion was not just a matter of class but also of power. The leaders could envision a future in which the Jews of Bello would outnumber the Jews of El Poblado.

Juan Carlos and René realized they had to look beyond Medellín. They emailed the Great Rabbi of Colombia, Alfredo Goldschmidt, asking for help. The rabbi was sympathetic, but demurred. Colombian Jews lacked the means to respond to such an unusual case, he told them. They were on their own.

With the sole guidance of books, Juan Carlos introduced the most critical changes to the congregation: Shabbat, kashrut (dietary restrictions), and circumcision. Members stopped working on Saturdays, though for months they continued to play music, take photographs, and pursue a number of activities that were prohibited. Pork and shellfish were banned; meat and milk were no longer mixed. When ordering coffee at a café, members asked that it be served in a disposable cup to ensure that it hadn’t been polluted by pork. When René visited his mother for meals, he brought his own cooking pots.

Others broke with their friends and families permanently. But Juan Carlos’s parents felt the son they had lost to Pentecostalism had come back to them and to his senses. “My husband is an intellectual. He is a teacher. And that church…” Juan Carlos’s mother told me, rolling her eyes. “When Juan Carlos moved toward Judaism, my husband said, ‘Finally, something serious.’” They decided to become Jews as well.

What moves a person inside to seek faith, to embrace what resonates with themselves and with others?  In a way I respect that, finding something good and worthwhile from religion, when often here I discuss how religion can be and has been used to divide, demoralize, demonize and destroy people.

Of course there are good people of faith in the world.  I'm just not one of them.  I'd like to think you can be good, and that you can make a difference through actions and not beliefs, but then again I have my beliefs as well and I'm sure all of you do too.

School Daze, Con't

New analysis of America's sixth graders in school districts across the country find that once again, class and race are the most important factors in how well kids do in school.  White kids with rich parents do much better than black or Hispanic kids with poorer parents, and the differences between white and non-white kids within the same school district are often two or three grade levels' worth of performance.

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.

Even more sobering, the analysis shows that the largest gaps between white children and their minority classmates emerge in some of the wealthiest communities, such as Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Evanston, Ill. (Reliable estimates were not available for Asian-Americans.)

The study, by Sean F. Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides and Kenneth Shores of Stanford, also reveals large academic gaps in places like Atlanta and Menlo Park, Calif., which have high levels of segregation in the public schools.

In LA Unified, the country's largest school district, white sixth graders are usually score a grade level above average.  White and Hispanic students score about 2 grade levels below average.  Evanston, Ill. finds white students ripping the lid off tests, nearly four entire grade levels above average, and on average their parents are some of the wealthiest in the country in this tony Chicago suburb.  Black and Hispanic students in the same district?  Average for Hispanic and half a grade level below average for black students.  A full four and a half grade levels in testing performance by sixth grade.
Washington DC?  Nearly 5 entire grade levels between white and black students.


By grade 6.

Why racial achievement gaps were so pronounced in affluent school districts is a puzzling question raised by the data. Part of the answer might be that in such communities, students and parents from wealthier families are constantly competing for ever more academic success. As parents hire tutors, enroll their children in robotics classes and push them to solve obscure math theorems, those children keep pulling away from those who can’t afford the enrichment.

“Our high-end students who are coming in are scoring off the charts,” said Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

The school system is near the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina, and 30 percent of students in the schools qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, below the national average.

The wealthier students tend to come from families where, “let’s face it, both the parents are Ph.D.s, and that kid, no matter what happens in the school, is pressured from kindergarten to succeed,” Mr. Nash said. “So even though our minority students are outscoring minority students in other districts near us, there is still a bigger gap here because of that.”

By contrast, the communities with narrow achievement gaps tend to be those in which there are very few black or Hispanic children, or places like Detroit or Buffalo, where all students are so poor that minorities and whites perform equally badly on standardized tests.

So really, it comes down to wealthy parents who can afford to live in exclusive places can afford to provide more education reseources for thier kids.  Poor parents can't do that, and more and more the public schools we depend on to try to narrow that gap are instead more segregated, more underfunded, and more divided.  Even in the same school districts, the money and resources go to the "good" schools with the "good" students.  Even bothering to educate the leftovers is seen as a waste, because these poorer kids are seen as, well, a waste of taxpayer dollars.

I'd say this is because of Republicans, but the truth is Democrats are just as bad at education funding, and more and more Americans are turning their back on poor districts.  After all, they have their own kids to educate, right?
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