Showing posts with label demographics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label demographics. Show all posts

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Upward Mobility and Discrimination: The Case of Asian Americans

Upward Mobility and Discrimination: The Case of Asian Americans. By Nathaniel Hilger
NBER Working Paper No. 22748
October 2016
NBER Program(s):   LS

Asian Americans are the only non-white US racial group to experience long-term, institutional discrimination and subsequently exhibit high income. I re-examine this puzzle in California, where most Asians settled historically. Asians achieved extraordinary upward mobility relative to blacks and whites for every cohort born in California since 1920. This mobility stemmed primarily from gains in earnings conditional on education, rather than unusual educational mobility. Historical test score and prejudice data suggest low initial earnings for Asians, unlike blacks, reflected prejudice rather than skills. Post-war declines in discrimination interacting with previously uncompensated skills can account for Asians’ extraordinary upward mobility.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

MRSA Infections, swine effluent lagoons, and farm consolidations

Answering to some comments in a book review, 'In Meat We Trust,' by Maureen Ogle (, WSJ, Dec. 17, 2013 6:36 p.m. ET:

A recent paper* in a FAO publication summarizes advances in hog manure management. Obviously, the cases mentioned are small in comparison with the great consolidated farms, but even so, there are multiple ways to manage better the effluents and some useful ways to profit from the lagoons/catchments are shown here.

@Mr Evangelista: I got access to the paper** you mentioned. If interested you may ask for it. I'd like, though, to calm down things. As it says other paper*** published at the same time, which it is likely it is the one Mr Blumenthal mentioned:
"In 2011,we estimated the overall number of invasive MRSA infections was 80 461; 31% lower than when estimates were first available in 2005"

The reasons are not well understood (several explanations are offered), but that is not relevant now. The important idea is that despite increasing consolidation of farm operations and an increasing population (from approx 295 million in 2005 to approx 311 million in 2011), there are 31% less MRSA infections.


* Intensive and Integrated Farm Systems using Fermentation of Swine Effluent in Brazil. By I. Bergier, E. Soriano, G. Wiedman and A. Kososki. In Biotechnologies at Work for Smallholders: Case Studies from Developing Countries in Crops, Livestock and Fish. Edited by J. Ruane, J.D. Dargie, C. Mba, P. Boettcher, H.P.S. Makkar, D.M. Bartley and A. Sonnino. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013.

** High-Density Livestock Operations, Crop Field Application of Manure, and Risk of Community-Associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Infection in Pennsylvania. By Joan A. Casey, MA; Frank C. Curriero, PhD, MA; Sara E. Cosgrove,MD, MS; Keeve E. Nachman, PhD, MHS; Brian S. Schwartz, MD,MS. JAMA Intern Med. Vol 173, No. 21, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.10408

*** National Burden of InvasiveMethicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Infections, United States, 2011. By Raymund Dantes, MD, MPH; Yi Mu, PhD; Ruth Belflower, RN, MPH; Deborah Aragon, MSPH; Ghinwa Dumyati, MD; Lee H. Harrison, MD; Fernanda C. Lessa, MD; Ruth Lynfield, MD; Joelle Nadle, MPH; Susan Petit, MPH; Susan M. Ray, MD; William Schaffner, MD; John Townes, MD; Scott Fridkin, MD; for the Emerging Infections Program–Active Bacterial Core Surveillance MRSA Surveillance Investigators. JAMA Intern Med. Vol 173, No. 21, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.10423

Friday, August 16, 2013

Longevity risk transfer markets: market structure, growth drivers and impediments, and potential risks - consultative report

Longevity risk transfer markets: market structure, growth drivers and impediments, and potential risks - consultative report
The Joint Forum
August 2013

The ageing population phenomenon being observed in many countries poses serious social policy challenges. Longevity risk - the risk of paying out on pensions and annuities longer than anticipated - is significant when measured from a financial perspective. Longevity risk transfer markets: market structure, growth drivers and impediments, and potential risks (PDF) is a forward-looking report released by the Joint Forum on longevity risk transfer (LRT) markets.


Whether or not policymakers should play a more active role in encouraging longevity risk transfer from private pension plans to (re)insurers and ultimately to broader capital markets depends on considerations regarding where this risk is best held. Answering this question is beyond the scope of this preliminary analysis, but some relevant factors are worth mentioning.

Advocates of more LRT (see, e.g., Towers Watson, 2011, and Swiss Re, 2012) point to already visible and unwieldy corporate pension benefit obligations and to the heavy underfunding of DB pension funds.31 In this context, they recognise that not only are pension obligations a sizeable distraction to corporate core business lines, but a significant longevity shock could undermine the firm’s own existence. In addition, they point out that some LRT instruments (namely buy-outs) may provide pensioners with a more stringently regulated (re)insurer counterparty.

In addition, policymakers may want to encourage (re)insurers to use LRT markets to free up capital in order to give (re)insurers (or any other entities allowed to provide annuity products) the possibility of writing more of these annuities, which are useful and unique retirement products. On the other hand, the transfer of risk from a mature sector with significant capital requirements to an LRT market that may not have these safeguards may not be in the employees’ best interests, and may even create new systemic risks.

At the same time, when longevity risk is shifted from the corporate sector to a limited number of (re)insurers, with global interconnections, there may be systemic consequences in the case of a failure of a key player (as was the case in the CRT market). Most countries in which this view is shared incentivise the private sector to provide adequate retirement benefits to employees, sometimes providing explicit protection to corporate pension funds with government-supported guarantee schemes. In other countries, this view is expressed implicitly by allowing pension funds to value their liabilities with a discount rate that is higher than the one used for (re)insurers’ reserves.

Motivated by the aforementioned preliminary findings, the Joint Forum proposes the following recommendations to supervisors and policymakers:
  1. Supervisors should communicate and cooperate on LRT internationally and cross-sectorally in order to reduce the potential for regulatory arbitrage.
  2. Supervisors should seek to ensure that holders of longevity risk under their supervision have the appropriate knowledge, skills, expertise and information to manage it.
  3. Policymakers should review their explicit and implicit policies with regards to where longevity risk should reside to inform their policy towards LRT markets. They should also be aware that social policies may have consequences on both longevity risk management practices and the functioning of LRT markets.
  4. Policymakers should review rules and regulations pertaining to the measurement, management and disclosure of longevity risk with the objective of establishing or maintaining appropriately high qualitative and quantitative standards, including provisions and capital requirements for expected and unexpected increases in life expectancy.
  5. Policymakers should consider ensuring that institutions taking on longevity risk, including pension fund sponsors, are able to withstand unexpected, as well as expected, increases in life expectancy.
  6. Policymakers should closely monitor the LRT taking place between corporates, banks, (re)insurers and the financial markets, including the amount and nature of the longevity risk transferred, and the interconnectedness this gives rise to.
  7. Supervisors should take into account that longevity swaps may expose the banking sector to longevity tail risk, possibly leading to risk transfer chain breakdowns.
  8. Policymakers should support and foster the compilation and dissemination of more granular and up-to-date longevity and mortality data that are relevant for the valuations of pension and life insurance liabilities.

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  • Biffis, Enrico and David Blake, 2009, “Mortality-Linked Securities and Derivatives,” October 7. Available at SSRN:
  • Biffis, Enrico and David Blake, 2012, “How to Start a Capital Market in Longevity Risk Transfers,” Unpublished manuscript, September.
  • Biffis, Enrico, David Blake, Lorenzo Pitotti, and Ariel Sun, 2011, “The Cost of Counterparty Risk and Collateralization in Longevity Swaps,” Cass Business School Pension Institute Working Paper (London: City University, April.
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  • CRO Forum, 2010, “Longevity,” CRO Briefing Emerging Risks Initiative Position Paper. Available at
  • Dowd, Kevin, David Blake, Andrew J.G. Cairns, and Paul Dawson, 2006, “Survivor Swaps,” Journal of Risk and Insurance, Vol. 73, No. 1, pp. 1–17.
  • Financial Stability Report (FSB), 2013, “OTC Derivatives Market Reforms: Fifth Progress Report on Implementation,” April 15.
  • Fitch Ratings, 2012, “Pension Plan Changes Incrementally Positive to GM's Credit Profile,” Fitch Ratings Endorsement Policy, June 1.
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  • Gallagher, Ronan C., and Donal G. McKillop, 2010, "Unfunded Pension Liabilities and the Corporate CDS Market," Journal of Fixed Income, Winter, pp. 30-46.
  • Groome, Todd, John Kiff, and Paul Mills, 2011, “Influencing Financial Innovation: The Management of Systemic Risks and the Role of the Public Sector,” in Beder, Tanya, and Cara M. Marshall, 2011, Financial Engineering: The Evolution of a Profession, John Wiley & Sons Inc.
  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2012, Global Financial Stability Report, World Economic and Financial Surveys (Washington, April).
  • Joint Forum, 2008, Credit Risk Transfer - Developments from 2005 to 2007, July.
  • Joint Forum, 2010, Review of the Differentiated Nature and Scope of Financial Regulation, January.
  • Lee, Yung-Tsung, Chou-Wen Wang, Hong-Chih Huang, 2012, "On the valuation of reverse mortgages with regular tenure payments," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, Vol. 51, pp. 430–441.
  • Li, Johnny Siu-Hang, and Mary R. Hardy, 2011, “Measuring Basis Risk in Longevity Hedges,” North American Actuarial Journal, Vol. 15, No.2, pp. 177–200.
  • Monk, Ashby H.B., 2010, “Pension Buyouts: What Can The USA Learn From The UK Experience?” International Journal of Financial Services Management, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 127-150.
  • McFarland, Brendan, Gaobo Pang, and Mark Warshawsky, 2009, "Does Freezing a Defined-Benefit Pension Plan Increase Company Value? Empirical Evidence," Financial Analysts Journal, Vol. 65, No. 4., pp. 47-59.
  • Moody’s, 2009, “Managing Ratings with Increased Pension Liability,” Moody’s Investor’s Service, March.
  • Moody’s, 2012, “Moody's says GM's Credit Profile and Rating Unchanged by Salaried Pension Actions,” Moody’s Investor’s Service, June 1.
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2012a, “OECD Pensions Outlook 2012,” June.
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2012b, “Pension Markets in Focus,” September.
  • Pension Protection Fund, 2011, “PPF 7800 Index,” United Kingdom Pension Protection Fund, October 31. (
  • Ponds, Eduard, and Bart van Riel, 2009, “Sharing the Risk: The Netherlands’ New Approach to Pensions, Journal of Pension Economics and Finance 8, pp. 91-105.
  • Sagoo, Pretty, and Roger Douglas, 2012, “Recent Innovations in Longevity Risk Management; A New Generation of Tools Emerges,” Eighth International Longevity Risk and Capital Markets Solutions Conference, September 8. Available at
  • Sharpe, William, F., 1976. "Corporate Pension Funding Policy," Journal of Financial Economics, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 183-193.
  • Standard & Poor’s (S&P), 2011, “Life Settlement Securitizations Present Unique Risks,” Structured Finance Research, March 2.
  • Standard & Poor’s (S&P), 2012, “General Motors Co.'s Proposed Actions On U.S. Salaried Pension Plans Do Not Affect Ratings,” Standard & Poor’s Bulletin, June 1.
  • Stone, Charles and Anne Zissu, 2006, "Securitization of Senior Life Settlements: Managing Extension Risk." Journal of Derivatives, Spring.
  • Swiss Re, 2010, A Short Guide to Longer Lives: Longevity Funding Issues and Potential Solutions. Available at
  • Swiss Re, 2012, A Mature Market: Building a Capital Market for Longevity Risk. Available at
  • Szymanoski, Edward J. , Jr., 1990, "The FHA Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Insurance Demonstration: A Model to Calculate Borrower Payments and Insurance risk, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, October.
  • Szymanoski, Edward J. , Jr., 1994, "Risk and the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage," Journal of the American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 347-366.
  • Towers Watson, 2011, Insights into Global Pension Risk.
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  • UK Pension Protection Fund, 2006, The Purple Book: DB Pensions Universe Risk Profile, Jointly prepared by the UK Pension Protection Fund and The Pensions Regulator. Available at
  • Waddell, Melanie, 2010, “Biggest Barriers to Lifetime Income Adoption: Fiduciary Liability, Insurer Insolvency,”, September 14.
  • Zelenko, Ivan, 2011, “Longevity Risk Hedging and the Stability of Retirement Systems,” World Bank presentation given at the Cass Business School Pension Institute Seventh International Longevity Risk and Capital Markets Solutions Conference, Frankfurt, September 8

Monday, April 1, 2013

China's Demography and its Implications

China's Demography and its Implications. By Il Houng Lee, Qingjun Xu, and Murtaza Syed
IMF Working Paper No. 13/82
Mar 28, 2013

Summary: In coming decades, China will undergo a notable demographic transformation, with its old-age dependency ratio doubling to 24 percent by 2030 and rising even more precipitously thereafter. This paper uses the permanent income hypothesis to reassess national savings behavior, with greater prominence and more careful consideration given to the role played by changing demography. We use a forward-looking and dynamic approach that considers the entire population distribution. We find that this not only holds up well empirically but may also be superior to the static dependency ratios typically employed in the literature. Going further, we simulate global savings behavior based on our framework and find that China’s demographics should have induced a negative current account in the 2000s and a positive one in the 2010s given the rising share of prime savers, only turning negative around 2045. The opposite is true for the United States and Western Europe. The observed divergence in current account outcomes from the simulated path appears to have been partly policy induced. Over the next couple of decades, individual countries’ convergence toward the simulated savings pattern will be influenced by their past divergences and future policy choices. Other implications arising from China’s demography, including the growth model, the pension system, the labor market, and the public finances are also briefly reviewed.

China’s Path to Consumer-Based Growth: Reorienting Investment and Enhancing Efficiency

China’s Path to Consumer-Based Growth: Reorienting Investment and Enhancing Efficiency. By Il Houng Lee, Murtaza Syed, and Liu Xueyan (Xueyan Liu???)
IMF Working Paper No. 13/83
March 29, 2013

Summary: This paper proposes a possible framework for identifying excessive investment. Based on this method, it finds evidence that some types of investment are becoming excessive in China, particularly in inland provinces. In these regions, private consumption has on average become more dependent on investment (rather than vice versa) and the impact is relatively short-lived, necessitating ever higher levels of investment to maintain economic activity. By contrast, private consumption has become more self-sustaining in coastal provinces, in large part because investment here tends to benefit household incomes more than corporates. If existing trends continue, valuable resources could be wasted at a time when China’s ability to finance investment is facing increasing constraints due to dwindling land, labor, and government resources and becoming more reliant on liquidity expansion, with attendant risks of financial instability and asset bubbles. Thus, investment should not be indiscriminately directed toward urbanization or industrialization of Western regions but shifted toward sectors with greater and more lasting spillovers to household income and consumption. In this context, investment in agriculture and services is found to be superior to that in manufacturing and real estate. Financial reform would facilitate such a reorientation, helping China to enhance capital efficiency and keep growth buoyant even as aggregate investment is lowered to sustainable levels.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Brookings: The Exaggerated Death of the Middle Class

The Exaggerated Death of the Middle Class. By Ron Haskins and Scott Winship
Brookings, December 11, 2012


The most easily obtained income figures are not the most appropriate ones for assessing changes in living standards; those are also the figures that are often used to reach unwarranted conclusions about “middle class decline.” For example, analysts and pundits often rely on data that do not include all sources of income. Consider data on comprehensive income assembled by Cornell University economist Richard Burkhauser and his colleagues for the period between 1979—the year it supposedly all went wrong for working Americans—and 2007, before the Great Recession.

When Burkhauser looked at market income as reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the basis for the top 1 percent inequality figures that inspired Occupy Wall Street, he found that incomes for the bottom 60 percent of tax filers stagnated or declined over the nearly three-decade period. Incomes in the middle fifth of tax returns grew by only 2 percent on average, and those in the bottom fifth declined by 33 percent.

Things appeared somewhat better when Burkhauser looked at the definition of income favored by the Census Bureau which, unlike IRS figures, includes government cash payments from programs like Social Security and welfare, and looks at households rather than tax returns.

Still, the income of the middle fifth only rose by 15 percent over the entire three decades, much less than 1 percent per year. The Census Bureau reports that from 2000 to 2010, the income of the middle fifth actually fell by 8 percent. With numbers like these, it’s understandable why so many people think the American middle class is under threat and in decline.

But there are three reasons why even the Census Bureau figures are deceiving. The size of U.S. households, which has been declining, is not taken into account. The figures ignore the net impact on income of government taxes and non-cash transfers like food stamps and health insurance, which benefit the poor and middle class much more than richer households, and the value of health insurance provided by employers is also left out.

Burkhauser and his colleagues show that if these factors are taken into account, the incomes of the bottom fifth of households actually increased by 26 percent, rather than declining by 33 percent. Those of the middle fifth increased by 37 percent, rather than by only 2 percent. There is no disappearing middle class in these data; nor can household income, even at the bottom, be characterized as stagnant, let alone declining. Even after 2000, estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) show the bottom 60 percent of households got 10 percent richer by 2009, the most recent year available.

Making sense of income trends
Aside from the brighter picture presented by the Burkhauser and CBO analyses, there is a more complicated trend emerging in the United States. Four factors, both inside and outside the market, explain those trends.

The first market factor affecting middle-class income is a longtime trend of low literacy and math achievement in U.S. schools, which partially explains why conventional analyses of income show stagnation and decline. Young Americans entering the job market need skills valuable in a modern economy if they expect to earn a decent wage. Education and technical training are key to acquiring these skills. Yet the achievement test scores of children in literacy and math have been stagnant for more than two decades and are consistently far down the list in international comparisons.

It is true that African American and Hispanic students have closed part of the gap between themselves and Caucasian and Asian students; but the gap between students from economically advantaged families and students from disadvantaged ones has widened substantially—by 30 to 40 percent over the past 25 years.1

In a nation committed to educational equality and economic mobility, the income gap in achievement test scores is deeply problematic. Far from increasing educational equality as an important route to boosting economic opportunity, the American educational system reinforces the advantages that students from middle-class families bring with them to the classroom. Thus, the nation has two education problems that are limiting the income of workers at both the bottom and middle of the distribution: the average student is not learning enough, compared with students from other nations, and students from poor families are falling further and further behind.

It is difficult to see how students with a poor quality of education will be able to support a family comfortably in our technologically advanced economy if they rely exclusively on their earnings.

The second market factor is the increasing share of our economy devoted to health care. According to the Kaiser Foundation, employer-sponsored health insurance premiums for families increased 113 percent between 2001 and 2011. Most economists would say that this money comes directly out of worker wages. In other words, if it weren’t for the remarkable increase in the cost of health care, workers’ wages would be higher. When the portion of market compensation received in the form of health insurance is ignored in conventional analyses, income gains over time are understated.

Turning to non-market factors, marriage and childbearing increasingly distinguish the haves and have-nots.

Families have fewer children, and more U.S. adults are living alone today than in the past. As a result, households on average are better off since there are fewer mouths to feed, regardless of income. At the same time, single parenthood has grown more common, thereby increasing inequality between the poor and the middle class. Female-headed families are more than four times as likely to be in poverty, and children from these families are more likely to have trouble in school as compared with children in married-couple families. The increasing tendency of similarly educated men and women to marry each other also contributes to rising inequality.

The most important non-market factor is the net impact of government taxes and transfer payments on household income. The budget of the U.S. government for 2012 is $3.6 trillion. About 65 percent of that amount is spent on transfer payments to individuals. The biggest transfer payments are: $770 billion for Social Security, $560 billion for Medicare, $262 billion for Medicaid, and nearly $100 billion for nutrition programs. In addition to these federal expenditures, state governments also spend tens of billions of dollars on programs for low-income households. Almost all of the over $1 trillion in state and federal spending on means-tested programs (those that provide benefits only to people below some income cutoff) goes to low-income households.

Thus, taking into account the progressive nature of Social Security and Medicare benefits, the effect of government expenditures is to greatly increase household income at the bottom and reduce economic inequality.

Similarly, federal taxation—and to a lesser extent state taxation—is progressive. Americans in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution pay negative federal income taxes because the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit actually pay cash to millions of low-income families with children.

IRS data on incomes incorporate only the small fraction of transfer income that is taxable. Census data includes all cash transfer payments but leaves out non-cash transfers—among which Medicaid and Medicare benefits are the most important—and taxes.

The bottom line is that market income has grown, and government programs have greatly increased the well-being of low-income and middle-class households. The middle class is not shrinking or becoming impoverished. Rather, changes in workers’ skills and employers’ demand for them, along with changes in families’ size and makeup, have caused the incomes of the well-off to climb much faster than the incomes of most Americans.

Rising inequality can occur even as everyone experiences improvement in living standards.

Even so, unless the nation’s education system improves, especially for children from poor families, millions of working Americans will continue to rely on government transfer payments. This signals a real problem. Millions of individuals and families at the bottom and in the middle of the income distribution are dependent on government to enjoy a decent or rising standard of living. While the U.S. middle class may not be shrinking, the trends outlined above make clear why this is no reason for complacency. Today’s form of widespread dependency on government benefits has helped stem a decline in income, but far better would be to have more people earning all or nearly all their income through work. Getting there, though, will require deeper reforms in the structure of the U.S. education system.

1 Sean F. Reardon, Wither Opportunity? Rising Inequality and the Uncertain Life Chances of Low-Income Children (New York: Russel Sage Foundation Press, 2001).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The rise of the older worker

The rise of the older worker, by Jim Hillage, research director
Institute for Employment Studies
December 12, 2012

There are more people working in the UK today than at anytime in our history. Today's labour market statistics show another increase in the numbers employed taking the total to 29,600,000, up 40,000 on the previous quarter and 500,000 on a year ago.

Almost half of the rise has been among people aged 50 or over, with the fastest rate of increase occurring among those 65 or over, particularly among older women.

There are now almost a million people aged 65 or over in jobs, double the number ten years ago and up 13 per cent over the past year. Although these older workers comprise only three percent of the working population, they account for 20 per cent of the recent growth in employment. However this group has a very different labour market profile to the rest of the working population, particularly younger people, and there is no evidence to suggest older workers are gaining employment at the expense of the young generation. For example:
  • 30 per cent of older workers (ie aged 65+) work in managerial and professional jobs, compared with only nine per cent of younger workers (aged 16 to 24). Conversely 34 per cent of young people work in sales, care and leisure jobs, compared with only 14 of their older counterparts.
  • Nearly four in ten older workers are self-employed, compared with five per cent of younger workers.
  • Most (69 per cent) of 65 plus year olds work part-time, compared with 39 per cent of young workers (and 27 per cent of all those in work).
Jim Hillage, Director of Research at the Institute for Employment Studies, explains that:

‘There are a number of reasons why older workers are staying on in work. In some cases employers want to retain their skills and experience and encourage them to stay on, albeit on a part-time basis, and most older employees have been working for their employer for at least ten years and often in smaller workplaces. Conversely, some older people have to stay in work as their pensions are inadequate and it is interesting to note that employment of older workers is highest in London and the South East, where living costs are highest. Finally, there is also a growing group of self-employed who still want to retain their work connections and interests.’

2012 © Institute for Employment Studies

Update: Long-Term Jobless Begin to Find Work. By Ben Casselman
The Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2013, on page A2

The epidemic of long-term unemployment, one of the most pernicious and persistent challenges bedeviling the U.S. economy, is finally showing signs of easing.

The long-term unemployed—those out of work more than six months—made up 39.1% of all job seekers in December, according to the Labor Department, the first time that figure has dropped below 40% in more than three years.


The problem is far from solved. Nearly 4.8 million Americans have been out of work for more than six months, down from a peak of more than 6.5 million in 2010 but still a level without precedent since World War II.

The recent signs of progress mark a reversal from earlier in the recovery, when long-term unemployment proved resistant to improvement elsewhere in the labor market.

Total unemployment peaked in late 2009 and has dropped relatively steadily since then, while the number of long-term unemployed continued to rise into 2010 and then fell only slowly through much of 2011.

More recently, however, unemployment has fallen more quickly among the long-term jobless than among the broader population. In the past year, the number of long-term unemployed workers has dropped by 830,000, accounting for nearly the entire 843,000-person drop in overall joblessness.

When Michael Leahy lost his job as a manager at a Connecticut bank in 2010, the state had already shed about 10,000 financial-sector jobs in the previous two years and he had difficulty even landing an interview. By the time banks started hiring again, Mr. Leahy, now 59, had been out of work for more than a year and found himself getting passed over for candidates with jobs or ones who had been laid off more recently.

In July, however, Mr. Leahy was accepted into a program for the long-term unemployed run by the Work Place, a local workforce development agency. The program helped Mr. Leahy improve his resume and interviewing skills, and ultimately connected him with a local bank that was hiring.

Mr. Leahy began a new job in December. The chance to work again in his chosen field, he said, was more than worth the roughly 15% pay cut from his previous job.

"The thing that surprised me is this positive feeling I have every day of getting up in the morning and knowing I have a place to go to and a place where people are waiting for me," Mr. Leahy said.


The decline in long-term unemployment is good news for the broader economy. Many economists, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, feared that many long-term unemployed workers would become permanently unemployable, creating a "structural" unemployment problem akin to what Europe suffered in the 1980s. But those fears are beginning to recede along with the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

"I don't think it's the case that the long-term unemployed are no longer employable," said Omair Sharif, an economist for RBS Securities Inc. "In fact, they've been the ones getting the jobs."

Not all the drop in long-term joblessness can be attributed to workers finding positions. In recent years, millions of Americans have given up looking for work, at which point they no longer count as "unemployed" in official statistics.

The recent drop in long-term unemployment, however, doesn't appear to be due to such dropouts. The number of people who aren't in the labor force but say they want a job has risen by only about 400,000 in the past year, while the number of Americans with jobs has risen by 2.4 million. That suggests at least much of the improvement is due to people finding jobs, not dropping out, Mr. Sharif said.

The average unemployed worker has now been looking for 38 weeks, down from a peak of nearly 41 weeks and the lowest level since early 2011.

The long-term unemployed still face grim odds of finding work. About 10% of long-term job seekers found work in April, the most recent month for which a detailed breakdown is available, compared with about a quarter of more recently laid-off workers. The ranks of the short-term jobless are more quickly refreshed by newly laid-off workers, however. As a result, the total number of short-term unemployed has fallen more slowly in recent months, even though individual workers still stand a far better chance of finding work early in their search.

And when the long-term unemployed do find work, their new jobs generally pay less than their old ones—often much less. A recent study from economists at Boston University, Columbia University and the Institute for Employment Research found that every additional year out of work reduces workers' wages when they do find a job by 11%.

Moreover, the recent gains have yet to reach the longest of the long-term unemployed: While the number of people unemployed for between six months and two years has fallen by 12% in the past year, the ranks of those jobless for three years or longer has barely budged at all.

Patricia Soprych, a 51-year-old widow in Skokie, Ill., recently got a job as a grocery-store cashier after more than a year of looking for work. But the job is part-time and pays the minimum wage, which she finds barely enough to make ends meet.

"You say the job market's getting better. Yeah, for these $8.25-an-hour jobs," Ms. Soprych said.

Economists cite several reasons for the drop in long-term unemployment. Most significant is the gradual healing of the broader labor market, which has seen the unemployment rate drop to 7.8% in December from a high of 10% in 2009. After initially benefiting mostly the more recently laid-off, that progress is now being felt among the longer-term jobless as well.

The gradual strengthening in the housing market could lead to more improvement. Many of the long-term unemployed are former construction workers who lost jobs when the housing bubble burst. Rising home building has yet to lead to a surge in construction employment, but many experts expect hiring to pick up in 2013.

Another possible factor behind the recent progress: the gradual reduction in emergency unemployment benefits available to laid-off workers. During the recession, Congress extended unemployment benefits to as long as 99 weeks in some states. Today, benefits last 73 weeks at most, and less time in many states. Research suggests that unemployment payments lead some recipients not to look as hard for jobs, and the loss of benefits may have pushed some job seekers to accept work they might otherwise have rejected, said Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The sustainability of pension schemes

The sustainability of pension schemes, by Srichander Ramaswamy
BIS Working Papers No 368


Poor financial market returns and low long-term real interest rates in recent years have created challenges for the sponsors of defined benefit pension schemes. At the same time, lower payroll tax revenues in a period of high unemployment, and rising fiscal deficits in many advanced economies as economic activity has fallen, are also testing the sustainability of pay-as-you-go public pension schemes. Amendments to pension accounting rules that require corporations to regularly report the valuation differences between their defined benefit pension assets and plan liabilities on their balance sheet have made investors more aware of the pension risk exposure for the sponsors of such schemes. This paper sheds light on what effects these developments are having on the design of occupational pension schemes, and also provides some estimates for the post-employment benefits that could be delivered by these schemes under different sets of assumptions. The paper concludes by providing some policy perspectives.

8  Summary and policy issues (edited)

A weak macroeconomic environment and unusually low real interest rates in many countries have put the funding challenges faced by occupational and public pension schemes in the spotlight. This paper took a simple actuarial model to quantify how the cost of funding DB pension schemes increase as the real rate of return in asset markets falls. If real returns on pension assets are assumed to be lower by 0.5% compared to their historical averages, service costs of DB schemes would be 15% higher than in the past for the same benefit payments. Converting final salary pension schemes to career average schemes (and not altering the percentages applied) would lower pensions by 20–25% assuming that real wages grow at the rate of 1–1.5% per annum.

Declining mortality rates will put further upward pressure on the contribution rates needed to fund these schemes. When the expected increases in longevity are priced into the actuarial model for computing the service cost, this cost is likely to be 10% higher than estimates presented in the paper. Increasing longevity as well as demographic changes that point to a rise in the old-age dependency ratio poses challenges to the sustainability of PAYG schemes. The projected increase in old-age dependency ratio suggests that in many countries the contributions to PAYG schemes have to increase by 20% from current levels in 2020 to pay pensions. But as PAYG schemes that service current pensions from employee contributions and taxes do not report the contractual pension liabilities, estimating the funding shortfalls these schemes might face going forward is a challenge.

In contrast to PAYG schemes and some funded public pension schemes, occupational DB schemes have to comply with accounting standards to report the market value of their pension liabilities and the assets that back them so that potential funding shortfalls faced by these schemes can be quantified. Unusually low real interest rates and poor financial market returns in the past decade have had an adverse impact on the coverage ratio of these schemes through the valuation effects on liabilities and lower returns on pension assets. Estimates of the coverage ratio of occupational DB schemes based on these returns would point to a funding deficit of 10 to 20 per cent against their pension liabilities. The size of any deficit that eventually materialises over the long lives of these schemes, however, would depend on future returns – which are unknown.

For occupational DB schemes that face large funding shortfalls, employer contributions will have to rise to improve the coverage ratio of these schemes. At the same time, increasing longevity and falling real yields against the backdrop of a weak macroeconomic environment are raising the service costs of DB schemes and adding to the upward pressures on required contribution rates. Recent amendments to pension accounting standards, which require companies to provide more disclosures in their financial statements on the risks the DB scheme poses to the entity and to report the net gains or losses from their DB pension plans on their balance sheet, are likely to accelerate the shift out of occupational DB plans into DC plans. This is because DC plans limit the contractual liabilities of employers to the contribution rates to be paid for the current service period of the employee.

A progressive shift from DB to DC schemes can have material implications for post-employment benefits because it exposes employees to the investment risks on the pension assets. In addition to this risk, beneficiaries of DC plans will also be exposed to the principal risk factors that determine annuity payments, namely level of real interest rates and the projections of mortality rates into the future when the actual annuity payments will be made. Using a simple model to estimate the retirement income from DC schemes, the numerical results presented in Table 2 showed that when contributions to DC schemes are 18% of salaries over a 30-year period and the returns net of administrative expenses on plan assets are 2% higher than the rate at which wages grow, post-employment benefits from a DC scheme would roughly be 43% of the final salary. The excess return assumption of 2% is based on the following input variables in the model to compute retirement income for DC plans: real yield on long-term bonds is 2%; equity risk premium over the returns on long-term government bonds is 3%; plan assets have an equal share of bonds and equities; administrative expenses are 0.5% of plan assets; and the annual real wage growth rate is 1.25%.

The quantitative analysis presented in this paper provides some insights on the possible trade-offs that may be available for public policy on the design of sustainable pension schemes. For example, the internal rate of return on the notional assets of PAYG schemes will be approximately equal to the rate of real GDP growth of the local economy, which is expected to be 2% or lower in advanced economies. The actuarial model showed that service cost of a pension scheme will be high when the rate of return on the pension assets is low. A funded public pension scheme, on the other hand, will be able to raise the level of return on pension fund assets by investing them in higher growth markets. Estimates using the actuarial model suggest that a 50 basis points increase in real returns lowers the service cost of the pension scheme by 15%. Funded pension schemes therefore offer the prospect of lowering service costs and to be able to better align the pension benefits offered by these schemes to the contribution rates received.

Public policy may also be needed to develop efficient markets for pricing annuity risk as occupational DC plans become the preferred post-employment benefit scheme offered by employers. Efficient markets for pricing annuities will in turn depend on how the market for managing and hedging longevity risk develops. As more employers progressively shift towards DC schemes for providing post-employment benefits, regulatory policies might be needed to restrict the range of permissible investment options available for plan assets to avoid unintended risks being taken by the plan beneficiaries, and to set mandatory minimum contribution rates for participating in DC schemes. Finally, considering that plan beneficiaries in DC schemes are exposed to interest rate risk at the time of converting plan assets into an annuity, the pros and cons of providing insurance policies that guarantee a minimum real yield at which these assets can be converted into an annuity will have to be examined.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Wanted: A Smarter Immigration Policy

Wanted: A Smarter Immigration Policy. By EDWARD ALDEN
WSJ, Jun 08, 2009

Log onto the Web site of the U.S. Consulate in Chennai and you will see a snapshot of what visa processing is doing to the competitiveness of American companies and research institutions. Click on the link to "Case Status Report," and there is a list of hundreds of visa applications from Indians who await processing. The oldest dates back to 2005, and dozens of others have been pending for a year or more while Washington plods through security background checks.

In recent months I have been in contact with many individuals caught in this Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Most are scientists and engineers who have earned advanced degrees from U.S. universities and are (or were) working for American companies in Silicon Valley, Wall Street and other centers of the U.S. economy.

One had been a researcher at Intel on the latest generation of chip designs; he'd won a national prize for his Ph.D. dissertation for outstanding research in electronic and photonic materials. Another had lived in the U.S. for more than a decade and was doing post-doctoral research at Emory University on vaccine immunology. Still another was a quantitative analyst for a U.S. hedge fund.

Yet when they returned to India -- to attend a brother's wedding or visit a dying parent or simply take a vacation -- they were informed that they could not come back until the U.S. government had done a security screening. Many arrived in India with only a suitcase. By the time I heard of their stories they had been forced to abandon apartments, cars and families in the U.S. while they waited to hear from the State Department.

Of all the initiatives undertaken in the name of homeland security after 9/11, the visa screening requirements for foreign scientists and engineers have probably done the most lasting damage to America's economy -- particularly in the cutting-edge technology fields that are vital to our economic leadership and national security.

The U.S. scientific enterprise depends enormously on talented foreigners. Foreign students and researchers, especially from India and China, comprise more than half of the scientific researchers in the U.S. They earn 40% of the Ph.D.s in science and engineering, and 65% of the computer science doctorates. If we drive them away, the companies that depend on such expertise will leave with them, taking thousands of other jobs that would have been filled by Americans.

Last week, in an encouraging sign that Washington has started to recognize the damage, the Obama administration pledged to throw enough resources at the problem to reduce the months-long screening to no more than two weeks in most cases. With the improvements that have been made in terrorist watch lists and other security screening tools, a decision on whether a visa applicant -- especially one already living and working here -- poses a threat should not take months.

Equally encouraging, the administration's top officials appear to have recognized the importance of the problem. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used her commencement speech at New York University last month to pledge that she would "streamline the visa process, particularly for science and technology students, so that even more qualified students will come here." Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has promised a renewed effort to secure the country's borders "without cutting off legitimate trade and tourism."

A lot of ground has been lost in the past eight years, however. While foreign student applications were up sharply in 2007 and 2008 and have finally surpassed their pre-9/11 levels, the U.S. largely missed out on the biggest boom ever in students studying abroad, especially at the graduate level. Other countries have competed aggressively for those students while the U.S. made it so difficult to come here that many opted not to. Foreign student enrollment is about 25% below what it would have been had pre-9/11 trends continued.

While the pledge to speed up security reviews is encouraging, the administration needs to take a more comprehensive look at the impact of post-9/11 visa and travel restrictions. Do we really need, for instance, to do in-person interviews of everyone who seeks a visa, even if they have already been interviewed for visas in the past, and we already have their fingerprints on U.S. government databases? That only wastes scarce consular resources on low-risk travelers. Is it necessary to pull all male travelers from Muslim countries into the long humiliation of secondary screening at the airport, even those who are frequent visitors well-known to U.S. officials? It is time to reassert some common sense.

When the Department of Homeland Security was created in 2003, it set out to build a "smart border," one that would keep out terrorists, criminals and others who would harm the U.S. without driving away the tourists, students, businessmen and skilled employees the country needs. It was the right goal, but too often the government forgot the "smart" part and simply layered on more onerous security measures. The U.S. economy has suffered unnecessary damage. The administration's move last week on visas needs to be the first of many steps to get back on a smarter path.

Mr. Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of "The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11" (HarperCollins, 2008).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Demographics & Depression

Demographics & Depression, by David P. Goldman
First Things, May 2009

Three generations of economists immersed themselves in study of the Great Depression, determined to prevent a recurrence of the awful events of the 1930s. And as our current financial crisis began to unfold in 2008, policymakers did everything that those economists prescribed. Following John Maynard Keynes, President Bush and President Obama each offered a fiscal stimulus. The Federal Reserve maintained confidence in the financial system, increased the money supply, and lowered interest rates. The major industrial nations worked together, rather than at cross purposes as they had in the early 1930s.

In other words, the government tried to do everything right, but everything continues to go wrong. We labored hard and traveled long to avoid a new depression, but one seems to have found us, nonetheless.

So is this something outside the lesson book of the Great Depression? Most officials and economists argue that, until home prices stabilize, necrosis will continue to spread through the assets of the financial system, and consumers will continue to restrict spending. The sources of the present crisis reach into the capillary system of the economy: the most basic decisions and requirements of American households. All the apparatus of financial engineering is helpless beside the simple issue of household decisions about shelter. We are in the most democratic of economic crises, and it stems directly from the character of our people.

Part of the problem in seeing this may be that we are transfixed by the dense technicalities of credit flow, the new varieties of toxic assets, and the endless iterations of financial restructuring. Sometimes it helps to look at the world with a kind of simplicity. Think of it this way: Credit markets derive from the cycle of human life. Young people need to borrow capital to start families and businesses; old people need to earn income on the capital they have saved. We invest our retirement savings in the formation of new households. All the armamentarium of modern capital markets boils down to investing in a new generation so that they will provide for us when we are old.

To understand the bleeding in the housing market, then, we need to examine the population of prospective homebuyers whose millions of individual decisions determine whether the economy will recover. Families with children are the fulcrum of the housing market. Because single-parent families tend to be poor, the buying power is concentrated in two-parent families with children.

Now, consider this fact: America’s population has risen from 200 million to 300 million since 1970, while the total number of two-parent families with children is the same today as it was when Richard Nixon took office, at 25 million. In 1973, the United States had 36 million housing units with three or more bedrooms, not many more than the number of two-parent families with children—which means that the supply of family homes was roughly in line with the number of families. By 2005, the number of housing units with three or more bedrooms had doubled to 72 million, though America had the same number of two-parent families with children.

The number of two-parent families with children, the kind of household that requires and can afford a large home, has remained essentially stagnant since 1963, according to the Census Bureau. Between 1963 and 2005, to be sure, the total number of what the Census Bureau categorizes as families grew from 47 million to 77 million. But most of the increase is due to families without children, including what are sometimes rather strangely called “one-person families.”

In place of traditional two-parent families with children, America has seen enormous growth in one-parent families and childless families. The number of one-parent families with children has tripled. Dependent children formed half the U.S. population in 1960, and they add up to only 30 percent today. The dependent elderly doubled as a proportion of the population, from 15 percent in 1960 to 30 percent today.

If capital markets derive from the cycle of human life, what happens if the cycle goes wrong? Investors may be unreasonably panicked about the future, and governments can allay this panic by guaranteeing bank deposits, increasing incentives to invest, and so forth. But something different is in play when investors are reasonably panicked. What if there really is something wrong with our future—if the next generation fails to appear in sufficient numbers? The answer is that we get poorer.

The declining demographics of the traditional American family raise a dismal possibility: Perhaps the world is poorer now because the present generation did not bother to rear a new generation. All else is bookkeeping and ultimately trivial. This unwelcome and unprecedented change underlies the present global economic crisis. We are grayer, and less fecund, and as a result we are poorer, and will get poorer still—no matter what economic policies we put in place.

We could put this another way: America’s housing market collapsed because conservatives lost the culture wars even back while they were prevailing in electoral politics. During the past half century America has changed from a nation in which most households had two parents with young children. We are now a mélange of alternative arrangements in which the nuclear family is merely a niche phenomenon. By 2025, single-person households may outnumber families with children.

The collapse of home prices and the knock-on effects on the banking system stem from the shrinking count of families that require houses. It is no accident that the housing market—the economic sector most sensitive to demographics—was the epicenter of the economic crisis. In fact, demographers have been predicting a housing crash for years due to the demographics of diminishing demand. Wall Street and Washington merely succeeded in prolonging the housing bubble for a few additional years. The adverse demographics arising from cultural decay, though, portend far graver consequences for the funding of health and retirement systems.

Conservatives have indulged in self-congratulation over the quarter-century run of growth that began in 1984 with the Reagan administration’s tax reforms. A prosperity that fails to rear a new generation in sufficient number is hollow, as we have learned to our detriment during the past year. Compared to Japan and most European countries, which face demographic catastrophe, America’s position seems relatively strong, but that strength is only postponing the reckoning by keeping the world’s capital flowing into the U.S. mortgage market right up until the crash at the end of 2007.

As long as conservative leaders delivered economic growth, family issues were relegated to Sunday rhetoric. Of course, conservative thinkers never actually proposed to measure the movement’s success solely in units of gross domestic product, or square feet per home, or cubic displacement of the average automobile engine. But delivering consumer goods was what conservatives seemed to do well, and they rode the momentum of the Reagan boom.

Until now. Our children are our wealth. Too few of them are seated around America’s common table, and it is their absence that makes us poor. Not only the absolute count of children, to be sure, but also the shrinking proportion of children raised with the moral material advantages of two-parent families diminishes our prospects. The capital markets have reduced the value of homeowners’ equity by $8 trillion and of stocks by $7 trillion. Households with a provider aged 45 to 54 have lost half their net worth between 2004 and 2009, according to Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. There are ways to ameliorate the financial crisis, but none of them will replace the lives that should have been part of America and now are missed.

[Population by Age in Advanced Countries graph]

This suggests that nothing economic policy can do will entirely reverse the great wave of wealth destruction. President Obama made hope the watchword of his campaign, but there is less for which to hope, largely because of the economic impact of the lifestyle choices favored by the same young people who were so enthusiastic for Obama. The Reagan reforms created new markets and financing techniques and put enormous amounts of leverage at the disposal of businesses and households. The 1980s saw the creation of a mortgage-backed securities market that turned the American home into a ready source of capital, the emergence of a high-yield bond market that allowed new companies to issue debt, and the expansion of private equity. These financing techniques contributed mightily to the great expansion of 1984–2008, and they were the same instruments that would wreak ruin on the financial system. During the 1980s the baby boomers were in their twenties and thirties, when families are supposed to take on debt; twenty years later, the baby boomers were in their fifties and sixties, when families are supposed to save for retirement. The elixir of youth turned toxic for the aging.

Unless we restore the traditional family to a central position in American life, we cannot expect to return to the kind of wealth accumulation that characterized the 1980s and 1990s. Theoretically, we might recruit immigrants to replace the children we did not rear, or we might invest capital overseas with the children of other countries. From the standpoint of economic policy, neither of those possibilities can be dismissed. But the contributions of immigration or capital export will be marginal at best compared to the central issue of whether the demographics of America reverts to health.

Life is sacred for its own sake. It is not an instrument to provide us with fatter IRAs or better real-estate values. But it is fair to point out that wealth depends ultimately on the natural order of human life. Failing to rear a new generation in sufficient numbers to replace the present one violates that order, and it has consequences for wealth, among many other things. Americans who rejected the mild yoke of family responsibility in pursuit of atavistic enjoyment will find at last that this is not to be theirs, either.

It will be painful for conservatives to admit that things were not well with America under the Republican watch, at least not at the family level. From 1954 to 1970, for example, half or more of households contained two parents and one or more children under the age of eighteen. In fact as well as in popular culture, the two-parent nuclear family formed the normative American household. By 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office, two-parent households had fallen to just over two-fifths of the total. Today, less than a third of American households constitute a two-parent nuclear family with children.

Housing prices are collapsing in part because single-person households are replacing families with children. The Virginia Tech economist Arthur C. Nelson has noted that households with children would fall from half to a quarter of all households by 2025. The demand of Americans will then be urban apartments for empty nesters. Demand for large-lot single family homes, Nelson calculated, will slump from 56 million today to 34 million in 2025—a reduction of 40 percent. There never will be a housing price recovery in many parts of the country. Huge tracts will become uninhabited except by vandals and rodents.

All of these trends were evident for years, and duly noted by housing economists. Why did it take until 2007 for home prices to collapse? If America were a closed economy, the housing market would have crashed years ago. The paradox is that the rest of the industrial world, and much of the developing world, are aging faster than the United States.

In the industrial world, there are more than 400 million people in their peak savings years, 40 to 64 years of age, and the number is growing. There are fewer than 350 million young earners in the 19-to-40-year bracket, and their number is shrinking. If savers in Japan can’t find enough young people to lend to, they will lend to the young people of other countries. Japan’s median age will rise above 60 by mid-century, and Europe’s will rise to the mid-50s.

America is slightly better off. Countries with aging and shrinking populations must export and invest the proceeds. Japan’s households have hoarded $14 trillion in savings, which they will spend on geriatric care provided by Indonesian and Filipino nurses, as the country’s population falls to just 90 million in 2050 from 127 million today.

The graying of the industrial world creates an inexhaustible supply of savings and demand for assets in which to invest them—which is to say, for young people able to borrow and pay loans with interest. The tragedy is that most of the world’s young people live in countries without capital markets, enforcement of property rights, or reliable governments. Japanese investors will not buy mortgages from Africa or Latin America, or even China. A rich Chinese won’t lend money to a poor Chinese unless, of course, the poor Chinese first moves to the United States.

Until recently, that left the United States the main destination for the aging savers of the industrial world. America became the magnet for savings accumulated by aging Europeans and Japanese. To this must be added the rainy-day savings of the Chinese government, whose desire to accumulate large amounts of foreign-exchange reserves is more than justified in retrospect by the present crisis.

America has roughly 120 million adults in the 19-to-44 age bracket, the prime borrowing years. That is not a large number against the 420 million prospective savers in the aging developed world as a whole. There simply aren’t enough young Americans to absorb the savings of the rest of the world. In demographic terms, America is only the leper with the most fingers.

The rest of the world lent the United States vast sums, rising to almost $1 trillion in 2007. As the rest of the world thrust its savings on the United States, interest rates fell and home prices rose. To feed the inexhaustible demand for American assets, Wall Street connived with the ratings agencies to turn the sow’s ear of subprime mortgages into silk purses, in the form of supposedly default-proof securities with high credit ratings. Americans thought themselves charmed and came to expect indefinitely continuing rates of 10 percent annual appreciation of home prices (and correspondingly higher returns to homeowners with a great deal of leverage).

The baby boomers evidently concluded that one day they all would sell their houses to each other at exorbitant prices and retire on the proceeds. The national household savings rate fell to zero by 2007, as Americans came to believe that capital gains on residential real estate would substitute for savings.

After a $15 trillion reduction in asset values, Americans are now saving as much as they can. Of course, if everyone saves and no one spends, the economy shuts down, which is precisely what is happening. The trouble is not that aging baby boomers need to save. The problem is that the families with children who need to spend never were formed in sufficient numbers to sustain growth.

In emphasizing the demographics, I do not mean to give Wall Street a free pass for prolonging the bubble. Without financial engineering, the crisis would have come sooner and in a milder form. But we would have been just as poor in consequence. The origin of the crisis is demographic, and its solution can only be demographic.

America needs to find productive young people to whom to lend. The world abounds in young people, of course, but not young people who can productively use capital and are thus good credit risks. The trouble is to locate young people who are reared to the skill sets, work ethic, and social values required for a modern economy.

In theory, it is possible to match American capital to the requirements of young people in venues capable of great productivity growth. East Asia, for example, has almost 500 million people in the 19-to-40-year-old bracket, 50 percent more than that of the entire industrial world. The prospect of raising the productivity of Chinese, Indians, and other Asians opens up an entirely different horizon for the American economy. In theory, the opportunities for investment in Asia are limitless, but political trust, capital markets, regulatory institutions, and other preconditions for such investment have been inadequate. For aging Americans to trust their savings to young Asians, a generation’s worth of institutional reforms would be required.

It is also possible to improve America’s demographic profile through immigration, as Reuven Brenner of McGill University has proposed. Some years ago Cardinal Baffi of Bologna suggested that Europe seek Catholic immigrants from Latin America. In a small way, something like this is happening. Europe’s alternative is to accept more immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, with the attendant risks of cultural hollowing out and eventual Islamicization. America’s problem is more difficult, for what America requires are highly skilled immigrants.

Even so, efforts to export capital and import workers will at best mitigate America’s economic problems in a small way. We are going to be poorer for a generation and perhaps longer. We will drive smaller cars and live in smaller homes, vacation in cabins by the lake rather than at Disney World, and send our children to public universities rather than private liberal-arts colleges. The baby boomers on average will work five or ten years longer before retiring on less income than they had planned, and young people will work for less money at duller jobs than they had hoped.

In traditional societies, each extended family relied on its own children to care for its own elderly. The resources the community devoted to the destitute—gleaning the fields after harvest, for example—were quite limited. Modern society does not require every family to fund its retirement by rearing children; we may contribute to a pension fund and draw on the labor of the children of others. But if everyone were to retire on the same day, the pension fund would go bankrupt instantly, and we all would starve.

The distribution of rewards and penalties is manifestly unfair. The current crisis is particularly unfair to those who brought up children and contributed monthly to their pension fund, only to watch the value of their savings evaporate in the crisis. Tax and social-insurance policy should reflect the effort and cost of rearing children and require those who avoid such effort and cost to pay their fair share.

Numerous proposals for family-friendly tax policy are in circulation, including recent suggestions by Ramesh Ponnuru, Ross Douthat, and Reihan Salam. The core of a family-oriented economic program might include the following measures:

• Cut taxes on families. The personal exemption introduced with the Second World War’s Victory Tax was $624, reflecting the cost of “food and a little more.” In today’s dollars that would be about $7,600, while the current personal exemption stands at only $3,650. The personal exemption should be raised to $8,000 simply to restore the real value of the deduction, and the full personal exemption should apply to children.
• Shift part of the burden of social insurance to the childless. For most taxpayers, social-insurance deductions are almost as great a burden as income tax. Families that bring up children contribute to the future tax base; families that do not get a free ride. The base rate for social security and Medicare deductions should rise, with a significant exemption for families with children, so that a disproportionate share of the burden falls on the childless.
• Make child-related expenses tax deductible. Tuition and health care are the key expenses here with which parents need help.
• Change the immigration laws. The United States needs highly skilled, productive individuals in their prime years for earning and family formation.

We delude ourselves when we imagine that a few hundred dollars of tax incentives will persuade individuals to form families or keep them together. A generation of Americans has grown up with the belief that the traditional family is merely one lifestyle choice among many.

But it is among the young that such a conservative message could reverberate the loudest. The young know that the promise of sexual freedom has brought them nothing but emptiness and anomie. They suffer more than anyone from the breakup of families. They know that abortion has wrought psychic damage that never can be repaired. And they see that their own future was compromised by the poor choices of their parents.

It was always morally wrong for conservatives to attempt to segregate the emotionally charged issues of public morals from the conservative growth agenda. We know now that it was also incompetent from a purely economic point of view. Without life, there is no wealth; without families, there is no economic future. The value of future income streams traded in capital markets will fall in accordance with our impoverished demography. We cannot pursue the acquisition of wealth and the provision of upward mobility except through the reconquest of the American polity on behalf of the American family.

The conservative movement today seems weaker than at any time since Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater. There are no free-marketeers in the foxholes, and it is hard to find an economist of any stripe who does not believe that the government must provide some kind of economic stimulus and rescue the financial system.

But the present crisis also might present the conservative movement with the greatest opportunity it has had since Ronald Reagan took office. The Obama administration will certainly face backlash when its promise to fix the economy through the antiquated tools of Keynesian stimulus comes to nothing. And as a result, American voters may be more disposed to consider fundamental problems than they have been for several generations. The message that our children are our wealth, and that families are its custodian, might resonate all the more strongly for the manifest failure of the alternatives.

Monday, April 27, 2009

WaPo on Swine flu: Human-to-human transmission has the world on alert

Swine Flu. WaPo Editorial
Human-to-human transmission has the world on alert.
Monday, April 27, 2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On Earth Day, environmentalists must not link arms with anti-immigrant forces

On Earth Day, environmentalists must not link arms with anti-immigrant forces. By Eric K. Ward
The Progressive, April 21, 2009

On Earth Day, the environmental movement in the United States must reject bigotry. It should not join hands with anti-immigrant groups.

These groups are trying to infiltrate the environmental movement and coopt its message.

Under innocuous sounding names such as the America’s Leadership Team for Long Range Population-Immigration-Resource Planning, anti-immigrant organizations, many with ties to political extremists, are running full-page ads in progressive magazines such as The Nation, Mother Jones and Harper’s and in newspapers such as the New York Times.

The goal of these anti-immigrant groups is to lure the environmental community into an America First-style immigration policy.

That won’t solve anything, and it denies the increasing economic and environmental interconnectivity of the planet.

Many recent immigrants have come to the United States because the free-market policies that Washington forced on Latin America have backfired. Subsistence farmers couldn’t compete against U.S. agribusiness, and millions had to abandon the countryside. U.S. manufacturers opened up shop and then just as quickly closed up shop, leaving millions more without jobs.

It’s unfair to blame immigrants who came to the United States because they couldn’t eke out a living at home due to Washington’s policies.

What’s more, climate change is going to cause more people to emigrate from southern countries and from low-lying coastal areas, which will become all but uninhabitable.

These immigrants aren’t the cause of the environmental crisis. They are merely an effect of it, and they should not be blamed.

On Earth Day of all days, the environmental movement can’t let anti-immigrant groups divert us into a narrow ideological cause that reflects neither realism nor inclusiveness.

And environmental organizations cannot afford to remain silent in the face of a few anti-immigrant leaders who attempt to speak on their behalf.

Instead, as environmentalists, on Earth Day and every day, we should uphold a vision of sustainability characterized by cooperation, opportunity and equity.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Keeping older employees will help maintain success

Aging Your Work Force, by Jeffrey Joerres
Keeping older employees will help maintain success.
WSJ, Apr 09, 2009

It's too soon to tell how the current global recession will affect the one of the greatest challenges facing corporate leaders over the next decade: the coming explosion in the number of workers at retirement age, and the inadequate pool of younger workers to fill those roles. Companies that haven't started planning for this transition have some catching up to do.

The loss of productivity and intellectual capital as baby boomers leave the work force could devastate some businesses. Europe's work force will begin shrinking in the coming years and is expected to become 15% smaller within five decades, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The countries that face the biggest threat are those with the oldest populations, particularly Germany and Italy.

Yet most firms seem woefully unprepared for this development. A 2007 Manpower survey of more than 28,000 employers across 25 countries and territories revealed that only 14% have strategies in place to recruit older workers, and only 21% have retention strategies to keep these workers on board.

More troubling, employers still seem to view coming retirements as cost-saving opportunities. This view is dangerous and shortsighted. Employers will need to shift their mindset and, in the short term, take steps to slow the exodus of older workers whose skills and knowledge are most valued. The conundrum is that the people with the skills that companies most need to retain are those who have the greatest financial flexibility to retire.

Part of the problem is that employers assume that all employees want to exit the work force as soon as they are financially able. However, especially given the current economic climate, a growing number of employees may be willing to work for years to come. Even in countries with state-funded pensions, which traditionally have encouraged earlier retirement, retirees may struggle in the future. Many national governments project pension-funding shortfalls as too few active workers pay for retirement programs with their payroll taxes.

The best way to stem the flow of older workers is to provide the type of employment they seek, and to keep them engaged by emphasizing their place as valued members of the team.

One of the biggest mistakes companies make is to alienate employees aged 50 and older by assuming they are no longer interested in training and career development. CEOs and other senior executives tend to be in their 50s or 60s, yet it is regularly assumed that middle managers of the same age are no longer interested in challenging work and development. If a former CEO is qualified to serve on a Fortune 500 firm's board of directors in his 70s, why wouldn't a manager at a comparable skill and experience level be just as capable of working in another capacity at the same age? Employers should not assume that retirement-age workers are only qualified for, or interested in, roles with low responsibility, such as volunteering at a hospital or serving as a "greeter" at a store.

The key to retaining older workers is to recognize that their priorities are changing, and to find roles that are of value to both them and the organization. Today, there are too few options available for individuals who wish to remain with their current employer, but in a modified working relationship as they transition toward retirement. This is a key reason why employers are losing older workers to self-employment. To date, the typical corporation's answer has been to offer the individual more money to stay and perform the same full-time job for an extended period of time, when he might prefer to work in a part-time arrangement.

An employer that offers flexible work options to both older and younger employees may find a distinct competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining employees. As the talent shortage grows, the balance of power in the employer-employee relationship continues to shift toward employees. They may be more likely to stay with their companies if they can improve their work-life balance, perhaps by having the flexibility to attend a grandchild's school play or care for an ill spouse.

At the same time, employers need to prepare successors to perform in critical roles and learn as much as possible before these expert resources leave the workplace. Long before key older employees leave, firms should develop transition and knowledge-transfer plans to ensure that they retain as much intellectual capital as possible. This should involve determining which roles are at highest risk of "brain drain," identifying high-potential candidates to succeed retirees, and ensuring their development is aligned with the retirees' exit cycle.

Developing a plan to preserve critical information, processes and contacts is vital. This can be done through mentoring programs or by building companywide groups that meet in person and online to share information. Another option is to develop a pool of retired employees to work as needed on specific projects, enabling the company to tap into their collective experience and retain this knowledge longer.

Longer term, employers will need to better use the talent of each employee throughout his career. Companies might do this by offering periodic skill and career-interest assessments and training programs, and by aligning individuals' interests and abilities to the needs of the organization so that they remain relevant and engaged. There will be no room for wasted talent in tomorrow's streamlined and talent-poor organizations.

This new approach to talent management will affect how individuals prepare for retirement. The second half of life must be planned just as carefully as the first half, particularly given changes in life expectancy and in some state pensions. To remain relevant to retirement-age workers, employers might offer to help them plan for the transition to the next phase of their lives. Such programs could address a host of possible work-life balance options, and a variety of potential financial impacts from both the individuals' choices and their personal situations.

There is also a clear need for national governments to focus their attention on these issues if they want a competitive labor market that will strengthen the country's future economy.

Some governments are already developing initiatives and incentives for companies to employ older workers, which in turn promote those workers' welfare and job security. The challenge for national governments is to align the interests and abilities of mature adults with the interests and requirements of employers -- and to do this before the pension bubble bursts, wreaking havoc on other areas of society.

Sustainable and growing economies will not be possible in the future without strong and vibrant labor markets, including those workers who helped contribute to growth in the past.

Mr. Joerres is chairman and CEO of Manpower Inc.

Job Sprawl Revisited: The Changing Geography of Metropolitan Employment

Job Sprawl Revisited: The Changing Geography of Metropolitan Employment. By The Brookings Institution, Apr 06, 2009

An analysis of the spatial location of private-sector jobs in 98 of the largest metropolitan areas by employment reveals that:
  • Only 21 percent of employees in the top 98 metro areas work within three miles of downtown, while over twice that share (45 percent) work more than 10 miles away from the city center. The larger the metro area, the more likely people are to work more than 10 miles away from downtown; almost 50 percent of jobs in larger metros like Detroit, Chicago, and Dallas locate more than 10 miles away on average compared to just 27 percent of jobs in smaller metros like Lexington-Fayette, Boise, and Syracuse.
  • Job location within metropolitan areas varies widely across industries. More than 30 percent of jobs in utilities, finance and insurance, and educational services industries locate within three miles of downtowns, while at least half of the jobs in manufacturing, construction, and retail are more than 10 miles away from central business districts.
  • Employment steadily decentralized between 1998 and 2006: 95 out of 98 metro areas saw a decrease in the share of jobs located within three miles of downtown. The number of jobs in the top 98 metro areas increased overall during this time period, but the outer-most parts of these metro areas saw employment increase by 17 percent, compared to a gain of less than one percent in the urban core. Southern metro areas were particularly emblematic of the outward shift of job share with a 2.6 percentage-point decline in urban core job share and a 4.8 point gain in the outermost ring, outpacing the 98 metro average (a 2.1 point decline and a 2.6 point gain, respectively).
  • In almost every major industry, jobs shifted away from the city center between 1998 and 2006. Of 18 industries analyzed, 17 experienced employment decentralization. Transportation and warehousing, finance and insurance, utilities, and real estate and rental and leasing showed the greatest increases in the share of jobs located more than 10 miles away from downtown.
Amid changing economic conditions—expansion, contraction, and recovery—during the late 1990s and early 2000s, employment in metropolitan America steadily decentralized. The spatial distribution of jobs has implications for a range of policy issues—from housing to transportation to economic development—and should be taken into account as metro areas work to achieve more productive, inclusive, and sustainable growth and, in the near term, economic recovery.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Recent Demographic Trends in Metropolitan America

Recent Demographic Trends in Metropolitan America. By William H. Frey, Alan Berube, Audrey Singer, & Jill H. Wilson
The Brookings Institution, Mar 27, 2009

The new administration taking shape in Washington inherits not only an economic crisis, but also a mammoth apparatus of agencies and programs, many of which were developed a generation or more ago. In view of that, a president and Congress striving to "build a smarter government" should develop new policies or retool old programs with the latest population trends in mind, especially those shaping and re-shaping metropolitan areas-our nation's engines of economic growth and opportunity. These include:
  • Migration across states and metro areas has slowed considerably in the past two years due to the housing crisis and looming recession. About 4.7 million people moved across state lines in 2007-2008, down from a historic high of 8.4 million people at the turn of the decade. Population growth has dropped in Sun Belt migration magnets such as Las Vegas, NV, and Riverside, CA, and the state of Florida actually experienced a net loss of domestic migrants from 2007 to 2008. Meanwhile, out-migration has slowed in older regions such as Chicago and New York. Many Midwestern and Northeastern cities experienced greater annual population gains, or reduced population losses, in the past year.
  • The sources and destinations of U.S. immigrants continue their long-run shifts. About 80 percent of the nation’s foreign-born population in 2007 hailed from Latin America and Asia, up from just 20 percent in 1970. The Southeast, traditionally an area that immigrants avoided, has become the fastest-growing destination for the foreign-born, with metro areas such as Raleigh, NC; Nashville, TN; Atlanta, GA; and Orlando, FL ranking among those with the highest recent growth rates. As they arrived in these new destinations, immigrants also began to move away from traditional communities in the urban core. Today, more than half of the nation’s foreign-born residents live in major metropolitan suburbs, while one-third live in large cities.
  • Racial and ethnic minorities are driving the nation’s population growth and increasing diversity among its younger residents. Hispanics have accounted for roughly half the nation’s population growth since 2000. Already, racial and ethnic minorities represent 44 percent of U.S. residents under the age of 15, and make up a majority of that age group in 31 of the nation’s 100 largest metro areas (and a majority of the entire population in 15). Hispanic populations are growing most rapidly in the Southeast; Asian populations are rising in a variety of Sun Belt and high-tech centers; and the black population continues its move toward large Southern metro areas like Atlanta, Houston, and Washington, D.C.
  • The next decade promises massive growth of the senior population, especially in suburbs unaccustomed to housing older people. As the first wave of baby boomers reaches age 65 in less than two years, the senior population is poised to grow by 36 percent from 2010 to 2020. Their numbers will grow fastest in the Intermountain West, the Southeast, and Texas, particularly in metro areas such as Raleigh, NC; Austin, TX; Atlanta, GA; and Boise, ID that already have large pre-senior populations (age 55 to 64). Because the boomers were the nation’s first fully “suburban generation,” their aging in place will cause many major metropolitan suburbs— such as those outside New York and Los Angeles—to “gray” faster than their urban counterparts.
  • Amid rising educational attainment overall, the U.S. exhibits wide regional and racial/ethnic disparities. While 56 percent and 38 percent of Asian and white adults, respectively, held post-secondary degrees in 2007, the same was true of only 25 percent and 18 percent of blacks and Hispanics. These deep divides by race and ethnicity coincide with growing disparities across metropolitan areas owing to economic and demographic change. In knowledge-economy areas such as Boston, MA; Washington, D.C.; and San Francisco, CA, more than 40 percent of adults hold a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, in metro areas that have attracted large influxes of immigrants, such as Houston, TX; Greenville, NC; and most of California’s Central Valley, more than 20 percent of adults lack a high school diploma. And some Sun Belt metro areas, such as Las Vegas, NV, and Riverside, CA, have fast-growing populations at both ends of the attainment spectrum.
  • Even before the onset of the current recession, poverty rose during the 2000s, and spread rapidly to suburban locations. Both the overall number of people living in poverty and the poverty rate rose from 2000 to 2007; today, working-age Americans account for a larger share of the poor than in the last 30 years. After diverging in the 1970s and 1980s, the gap between central-city and suburban poverty rates has narrowed somewhat. More notably, the suburban poor surpassed the central-city poor in number during this decade, and now outnumber them by more than 1.5 million. The suburban poor have spread well beyond older, inner-ring suburbs, which in 2005-2007 housed less than 40 percent of all poor suburban dwellers. Yet even as poverty spreads throughout the metropolis, the concentration of poverty in highly distressed communities—after dropping in the 1990s—appears to be rising once again in the 2000s.
Even as the nation enters an extended period of economic uncertainty, the continued demographic dynamism of our metropolitan areas raises key policy and program issues for the new government in Washington. Steps to implement the recovery package wisely, pursue immigrant integration alongside immigration reform, close educational achievement and attainment gaps, combine the planning of transportation and housing, and provide needed support to low-income workers and families should take account of our constantly evolving and changing metropolitan populations.

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