04/23/2018

News

A debt crisis is on the horizon

Unless Congress acts to reduce federal budget deficits, the outstanding public debt will reach $20 trillion a scant five years from now, up from its current level of $15 trillion. That amounts to almost a quarter of million dollars for a family of four, more than twice the median household wealth. . . .As is […]

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Countries made only modest climate-change promises in Paris. They’re falling short anyway.

The struggles of Germany, one of the globe’s most progressive nations when it comes to embracing renewable energy, illustrates the problem. The country’s “Energiewende,” or “energy transition,” aims to generate 80 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2050. The country also has set an aggressive near-term goal of cutting greenhouses gas emissions by 40 […]

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California has a plan to skirt the GOP tax law. IRS veterans say it is likely doomed.

California’s plan to shield residents from a tax hike under President Trump’s tax plan is likely to fail, said seven former high-ranking Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department officials. The proposal, passed by the state Senate last month, is seen as a test case for blue states trying to help their taxpayers avoid a giant […]

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A Calif. bill would jail people for handing out straws. It may be based on a child’s research.

The majority leader of the California State Assembly has introduced a bill that would, as written, impose jail sentences of up to six months if a restaurant worker hands out a single unsolicited plastic straw. . . . But repercussions have already spread beyond California, complicating a national movement to eliminate drinking straws. A report […]

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Minorities and Americans without college degrees showed greatest gains in wealth since 2013, new data says

Nearly all Americans have now emerged from the Great Recession with more money than before — with African American and Hispanic families and Americans without high school diplomas showing the greatest gains, according to new data released Wednesday from the Federal Reserve. It’s a sign that the recovery from the devastating Great Recession and financial crisis of 2008 is picking up as more people are able to get jobs, pay off debt and invest more. Household wealth for African-American and Hispanic families and Americans without high school diplomas rose the fastest from 2013 to 2016, according to the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances, which surveys over 6,000 households about their pay, debt and other finances.

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Middle-class income hit highest level on record in 2016, Census Bureau reports

Median household income in America was $59,039 last year, surpassing the previous high of $58,655 set in 1999, the Census Bureau said. The figure is adjusted for inflation and is one of the most closely watched indicators of how the middle class is faring financially, as the Census surveys nearly 100,000 homes. The Census said the uptick in earnings occurred because so many people found full-time jobs — or better-paying jobs — last year. America’s poverty rate also fell to 12.7 percent, the lowest since 2007, the year before the financial crisis hit. The percent of Americans without health insurance for the entire year also dropped in 2016 to just 8.8 percent, largely thanks to expanding coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

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A controversial California effort to fight climate change just got some good news

A controversial California climate program got a shot of good news this month when a study suggested it is successfully reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and providing other environmental benefits on the side. The study, conducted by a trio of Stanford University researchers, concerns a California “carbon offset” program, which allows companies to pay to preserve carbon-storing forests instead of reducing their own emissions. According to the researchers’ findings, that program is protecting imperiled forests and preventing the carbon they store from being released into the atmosphere.

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A big Wall Street firm bets the American Dream is dying

A big Wall Street firm is betting that America is likely to become the United States of Renters.

On Thursday, private equity behemoth Blackstone announced a major merger of its own Invitation Homes Inc. with another company, Starwood Waypoint Homes. It’s the kind of news that makes most people’s eyes glaze over. But after the deal is done, Invitation Homes will be America’s biggest landlord of single-family homes, owning more than 82,000 houses, mostly in major cities like Chicago and Miami.

In plain speak, this means a top Wall Street company and a top real estate company think there’s a lot more money to be made renting property to Americans who either can’t afford to buy or don’t want to become homeowners.

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Medicare’s hospital trust fund will run out of money in 2029

he trust fund that pays Medicare’s hospital expenses will run out of money in 2029, a year later than was projected last year, according to a federal report. The Social Security program will remain solvent until 2034, a projection unchanged from last year. The report from the Social Security and Medicare board of trustees is an annual glimpse at the long-term solvency of the federal government’s two biggest entitlement programs. It comes as Republican lawmakers have introduced a new version of a health care bill that would make deep, long-term cuts to a different entitlement program, Medicaid.

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A ‘very credible’ new study on Seattle’s $15 minimum wage has bad news for liberals

When Seattle officials voted three years ago to incrementally boost the city’s minimum wage up to $15 an hour, they’d hoped to improve the lives of low-income workers. Yet according to a major new study that could force economists to reassess past research on the issue, the hike has had the opposite effect. The city is gradually increasing the hourly minimum to $15 over several years. Already, though, some employers have not been able to afford the increased minimums. They’ve cut their payrolls, putting off new hiring, reducing hours or letting their workers go, the study found. The costs to low-wage workers in Seattle outweighed the benefits by a ratio of three to one, according to the study, conducted by a group of economists at the University of Washington who were commissioned by the city.

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In this part of the Midwest, the problem isn’t China. It’s too many jobs.

But the shortage is particularly problematic in places such as Kosciusko County, where the unemployment rate rests at 2 percent. Of the county’s 41,136 adults who can work, 40,311 are employed, according to government statistics. This region — a land of clear lakes, duck farms and medical device makers — escaped the industrial decline that rocked other communities throughout the Rust Belt. It prospered, thanks to a local industry that proved largely immune to competition from China and Mexico. But without more people to grow Warsaw’s business, the chances of companies relocating is “extraordinarily high,” said Michael Hicks, a labor economist at Indiana’s Ball State University

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Half of Americans are responsible for only 3 percent of health care costs

The top 1 percent of health-care spenders use more resources, collectively, than the bottom 75 percent, according to a new study based on national surveys. Slice the data a different way, and the bottom half of spenders all together rack up only about 3 percent of overall health care spending — a pattern that hasn’t budged for decades. This creates a fundamental inequality in the country’s health spending that is the crux of the challenge policymakers face: They need a system that works for people who are ill, but is attractive to those who are healthy and spend little on health care.

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Nestlé to move U.S. headquarters to Arlington, bringing 750 jobs

The company’s current U.S. headquarters is in Glendale, Calif., where it has come under fire in recent years for bottling water during the state’s record multi-year drought. In 2015, Nestlé — which has nine brands of water, including Arrowhead — removed 36 million gallons of water from a natural forest in California to bottle and sell, prompting public criticism and at least one lawsuit.

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Big government is the new West Coast craze

The new West Coast Model is higher taxes on the rich, higher spending by the state and wide-scale efforts to lift the working poor, all in the pursuit of stronger and more evenly shared growth. It is on the ballot in three states: Californians are set to essentially make permanent an income tax surcharge on millionaires in order to fund education. Washington voters appear likely to raise their minimum wage statewide to $13.25 an hour, and to mandate paid sick leave for workers. . . The booms, though, have been slow to spread beyond major metro areas. Lawmakers have struggled to balance their budgets, slashing aid to higher education and straining to fund schools at what they consider to be adequate levels — a challenge that is often felt acutely in their vast, slower-growing rural regions, and among the poorest residents of the high-cost metro centers.

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Opinion: The decline of the middle class is causing even more economic damage than we realized

I have just come across an International Monetary Fund working paper on income polarization in the United States that makes an important contribution to the secular stagnation debate. The authors — Ali Alichi, Kory Kantenga and Juan Solé — use standard econometric techniques to estimate the impact of declines in middle class incomes on total consumer spending. They find that polarization has reduced consumer spending by more than 3 percent or about $400 billion annually. If these findings stand up to scrutiny, they deserve to have a policy impact.

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