Thursday, September 27, 2018

GDP Growth Helps Poor Countries More Than Those That Are Already Rich

Money can’t buy you love, says the song, but can GDP buy prosperity? The question is an important one given the emphasis that the White House and Congress have placed on pushing GDP growth to its limits.

What do the data say? My favorite measure of overall prosperity is the Social Progress Index (SPI), which has just been updated for 2018. The SPI is a comprehensive measure of human flourishing that draws on a broad set of indicators of public health, education, safety, human rights and personal freedoms. It purposely omits purely economic indicators such as GDP, inflation, or income distribution, which makes it especially well-suited to address the question of how GDP is related to noneconomic indicators of prosperity.

The following chart shows the relationship between the SPI and GDP for the 146 countries in the SPI database. The horizontal axis measures 2018 GDP per capita using estimates from the July 2018 update of the IMF’s WEO database, expressed I 2011 constant dollars at purchasing power parity.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Why Do So Many Teachers (and Others) Work Second Jobs? An Explainer

When the latest report on the employment situation arrived last week, most commentary focused either on job creation (a healthy 200,000) or the unemployment rate (unchanged at 3.9 percent). Beneath the surface, though, there were many other signs of growing strengths and remaining weaknesses in U.S. labor markets. One of these was a strong uptick in the number of people holding multiple jobs. Is that a good sign, or a bad one?

The idea that multiple job holders are a sign of crisis is fueled in part by stories like one in the New York Times about school teachers who work second jobs to make ends meet:
There are times when my lower back hurts, my feet hurt, my hands hurt. I have calluses on my hands that I shouldn’t have. You really don’t have much in the way of free time, and when you do, you’re consumed by housework, but you basically just sit on the couch like a big blob, and then I feel guilty about doing that. (Shauntel Highley, English teacher/window washer, Vinita, Okla.)
Some business analysts, too, are wary of the rise in multiple job holders. As Komal Sri-Kumar puts it in a piece for Business Insider,
In a robust economic recovery, the number of full-time workers should be rising, and the number of workers employed part-time or holding multiple jobs, should decline. The rise in the number of multiple job holders is troubling, and is yet another signal that there is still slack in the labor market.
Yet, if we look at the data, the rise in multiple jobholders looks less dire than these accounts suggest. The first thing we learn is that although multiple jobholders are not rare, they are not as common as the impression you might get the media. Currently, multiple jobholders account for just 4.8 percent of the labor force. These include 2.6 percent who hold a part-time job in addition to a full time job — a pattern called FT/PT — and another 1.1 percent who piece together two or more part time jobs, or PT/PT. Smaller numbers work two full-time jobs or hold multiple jobs that are unclassified because they vary in hours from week to week.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Administration Supports Elimination of Pre-existing Conditions Protections

Last week, a Texas judge heard oral arguments in a case brought by state attorneys general against the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The suit aims to overturn the ACA in its entirety on the dubious grounds that since Congress has eliminated the penalty for not having insurance, a key provision of the act, it thereby invalidated the act as a whole.

The Department of Justice, which supports the lawsuit in part, wants to keep the ACA on the books but does support elimination of one key provision — the guarantee that people will get full coverage for pre-existing conditions without paying higher premiums. But that is the scariest part of the lawsuit. As a recent tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation confirms, an overwhelming majority of people support the pre-existing conditions proviso.

There is some cold economic rationality in tying pre-existing conditions protections to the penalty for not having insurance. The link between the two is a phenomenon known in insurance circles as adverse selection. Adverse selection occurs when people with high exposure to risk buy insurance. Since such people are likely to have large claims, insurance companies must charge high premiums. High premiums encourage more people to drop coverage, and the insurance market enters a death spiral.