Can Job Growth Last?

FiveThirtyEight: “The U.S. job market ended 2015 on an unexpectedly high note. Now the question is whether it can sustain that momentum in a new year that is already off to a rocky start … Here are a few more observations from Friday’s report.”

“Watch the revisions: The monthly job figures are always volatile and subject to revision, but that’s especially true in December, when holiday-season hiring and other factors can make it tricky to adjust the numbers for seasonal patterns.”

“A slowing trend in job growth: Monthly job growth accelerated in December, but the more stable year-over-year trend now shows a clear sign of a slowdown. Employers are now adding jobs at a pace of about 2.7 million per year, down from more than 3 million at the start of the year.”

“Stronger wage growth: Average hourly earnings were up 62 cents in December from a year earlier, a 2.5 percent increase and the strongest gain of the recovery so far.”

“Better luck for the unemployed: Some 26 percent of unemployed workers found jobs in December, up from a low of 16 percent in 2010 and the highest mark of the recovery … Perhaps more importantly, fewer unemployed workers are giving up their search for work and leaving the labor force.”



GOP Obamacare Alternatives: Repeal, Then What?

Wall Street Journal: “Every GOP presidential candidate’s health-policy platform begins with repealing the law, but for most, that’s also where it ends, at least for now.

“Questions about how they would pull back a law that’s largely been implemented—and what, if anything, they would enact in its place—have gone largely unanswered in a primary contest dominated by national-security issues.”

“Among the 12 candidates still in the GOP race, only two, ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, have posted health plans, and both use broad brush-strokes.”

“Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has described his health-policy ideas in a few paragraphs in an op-ed piece that also indicates support for such measures … The current front-runners, businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have said little concrete.”

“Chris Jacobs, a writer for Conservative Review who had previously helped Mr. Jindal write his plan, said he was worried that delaying the debate over specifics could harm a Republican nominee once elected because voters might revolt over the kind of ‘trade-offs’ that are inevitable in health policy, such as the price-tag that comes with government efforts to extend insurance coverage.”

Party Identification Near Historical Lows

Gallup: “In 2015, for the fifth consecutive year, at least four in 10 U.S. adults identified as political independents. The 42% identifying as independents in 2015 was down slightly from the record 43% in 2014. This elevated percentage of political independents leaves Democratic (29%) and Republican (26%) identification at or near recent low points, with the modest Democratic advantage roughly where it has been over the past five years.”

U.S. Party Identification, Yearly Averages, 1988-2015

“Americans’ attachment to the two major political parties in recent years is arguably the weakest Gallup has recorded since the advent of its polls. The percentage of U.S. adults identifying as political independents has recently reached levels never seen before. As a result, a new low of 29% of Americans identify as Democrats, and the percentage of Republican identifiers is on the low end of what Gallup has measured historically.”

“The lack of strong attachment to the parties could make candidate-specific factors, as opposed to party loyalty, a greater consideration for voters in choosing a president in this year’s election than they have been in past elections.”

Climate Science Denial Rages On

The Guardian: A new study has looked at 15 years worth of output from 19 conservative U.S. thinktanks and concludes, “We find little support for the claim that ‘the era of science denial is over’ – instead, discussion of climate science has generally increased over the sample period.”

“The conservative thinktanks under the microscope are the main cog in the machinery of climate science denial across the globe, pushing a constant stream of material into the public domain.”

The study analyzed “more than 16,000 documents published online between 1998 and 2013 by mainly US groups like the Heartland Institute, the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute.”

“Contrary to some commentators, the study found attacks on science had increased in later years. At the same time, the thinktanks were focusing less on policy issues.”

“Dr Aaron McCright, of Michigan State University said the ‘denial machine’ had since expanded from think tanks to include bloggers and fake grassroots campaigns and was now ‘more diverse and seemingly ubiquitous.’”

“He said conservative think tanks had influenced the public’s understanding of climate change and the way policymakers had reacted to it, in two ways.”

“First, he said in recent decades US Republicans had used thinktank materials in committee meetings and hearings ‘to justify inaction on climate change.'”

“Second, thinktank materials had been taken up as the standard talking points for conservatives.”

How Resilient is America’s Economy?

Neil Irwin asks the “giant question” for 2016: How resilient will the United States prove to be?

“On one hand, in an interconnected global economy, troubles in one place can spread easily, whether through financial markets, the banking system or trade linkages … On the other hand, in the past the United States has shown an uncanny tendency to benefit economically from tumult abroad.”

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“There are two basic questions about the notion that the United States can serve as an island of economic and political stability in a messy world. First, what happens if that changes? Second, what happens if it doesn’t?”

“The ‘things change’ situation is the risk that these global headwinds become too powerful for the United States to overcome.”

“The longer other global economies remain a mess and the United States remains on a relatively steady course, the more these same forces will reassert themselves. This means that an ever-strengthening dollar will hobble American exporters while fueling an American consumption binge. Broadly, it would mean that crisis-era hopes of a more balanced global economy might not come to fruition.”

“The best thing that could happen for the global economy would be for the mismatch between the United States and the rest of the world to end — and not because the United States falters.”

U.S. Economy Added 292,000 Jobs Last Month

New York Times: “The nation’s labor market capped off a year of steady growth with an impressive sprint as employers added 292,000 workers to their payrolls in December, the government said on Friday. The unemployment rate stayed at 5 percent last month.”

“The jobless rate, which has declined since topping the 10 percent mark in October 2009, is now hovering just above what economists consider full employment — the point where further declines could start to push up inflation.”

“The report announced each month by the Labor Department is by nature a single snapshot and because of the holidays, December is always a bit anomalous.”

“Economists say that in addition to fundamental shifts in the economy, continuing slack in the labor market is partly responsible for the lack of progress on wages. Many Americans have been forced to settle for part-time work or are too discouraged to keep job hunting after years of fruitless searching.”

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Proof That Obamacare is Here to Stay: Kentucky

Sarah Kliff in Vox: “Kentucky was the first state in the country where a Republican governor won on a platform of undoing his Democratic predecessor’s Medicaid expansion. The fact that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has decided to drop the issue suggests something important about the politics of Obamacare: Once a state uses the health law to expand its Medicaid coverage, it’s incredibly difficult to shrink the benefit back down.”

“The Bevin situation shows that reversing course on Medicaid expansion has a completely different dynamic: There are half a million Kentuckians who rely on the program, who have an easier time paying their health care bills, and who would face difficulty accessing doctors if the expansion disappeared. Those people don’t exist in Texas, which never expanded the program. But they exist in Kentucky, and that matters.”

“This underscores how crucial the first decision to expand Medicaid becomes and the legacy it creates. That’s powerful for Obamacare supporters, who are pushing more states to expand. They most likely won’t have to lobby, over and over again, for states to continue their Medicaid expansion.”

Alcohol: The True Gateway Drug

Christopher Ingraham: “You may have heard that marijuana is a gateway drug … “New research out this month in the Journal of School Health could shed some light on this question. A team of researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Florida examined data from from 2,800 U.S. 12th graders interviewed for the Monitoring the Future study, an annual federal survey of teen drug use. They wanted to establish which substances teens typically used first.”

“They found that ‘the vast majority of respondents reported using alcohol prior to either tobacco or marijuana initiation.'”

“Not only that, but of those three main substances — alcohol, tobacco and marijuana — kids were the least likely to start using pot before the others.”

NOAA: 2015 Second Hottest Year in U.S.

Politico: “The United States posted its second hottest year on record in 2015, government scientists reported Thursday, extending the streak of warmer-than-average annual temperatures.”

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the annual average temperature in the contiguous United States last year was 54.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a figure that was 2.4 degrees above the average in the last century. The only warmer year in the United States since record keeping began in 1895 was 2012, which clocked in at an average of 55.3 degrees, NOAA said.”

“NOAA said 2015 was the 19th year in a row that the annual average U.S. temperature was above the 20th century average. There were also 10 extreme weather and climate events that each resulted in more than $1 billion in damages. Those events resulted in 155 deaths, the the agency said.”

“Even though U.S. temperatures didn’t set an all-time high last year, scientists have said the global average would likely set a new record.”

Uninsured Rate of 11.9% at End of 2015

Gallup: “In the fourth quarter of 2015, 11.9% of U.S. adults were without health insurance, up slightly from 11.6% in the third quarter and back to where it was in the first quarter of 2015. Still, the uninsured rate declined 5.2 percentage points since the fourth quarter of 2013, right before the key provision of the health law requiring Americans to carry health insurance took effect in early 2014.”


“”The sharp drop in the uninsured rate seen in the first year after the insurance exchanges opened has leveled off in the second year, with smaller declines seen in 2015 compared with 2014. This validates concerns that similarly large reductions may not be possible in the future because the remaining uninsured are harder to reach or less inclined to become insured more generally. Future reductions will likely require significant outreach and expanded programs targeting those who have not yet taken advantage of the health insurance marketplace.”

Conservative States Rely Most on Federal Aid

Washington Post: “They staunchly oppose federal meddling, but conservative states are among the most reliant on federal funding for revenues.”

“Mississippi and Louisiana are the two neediest states, with federal aid accounting for 43 percent and 42 percent of their respective overall revenues in fiscal 2013, according to an analysis published Wednesday by the Tax Foundation, which advocates for policies that lower taxes and broaden the tax base.”

“Both Southern states also rank among the most conservative, according to Gallup’s latest ranking: Mississippi was first, and Louisiana ranked third.”

“The South is home to five of the 10 most reliant states. The West and Midwest are each home to two, and the Northeast is home to one. The most reliant states tend to collect less revenue on their own and house larger poor populations, the Tax Foundation notes.”


The 2016 Campaign Rivals Watergate for ‘Dark Money’ in Politics

Albert Hunt in Bloomberg: “The 2016 presidential campaign not only will feature more money than any since Watergate, but also more secret money than the days when black satchels of illicit cash were passed around.”

“The so-called dark money, or contributions that don’t have to be disclosed, topped more than $300 million in the 2012 presidential race, and some experts believe that the levels may be far higher this time. There also is a risk that foreign money could be surreptitiously funneled into the presidential campaign because it wouldn’t have to be publicly disclosed.”

“This time, presidential candidates, especially Senator Marco Rubio, are getting into the act. Almost one in five television ads has been financed by dark money, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — most of that from the Conservative Solutions Project, a nonprofit that backs Rubio.”

“The biggest dark money practitioners, however, have been the Chamber of Commerce and one of Republican strategist Karl Rove’s political arms.”

“The Federal Election Commission could force these organizations, with their heavy campaign involvement, to register as political committees, requiring them to name their donors. But the FEC, almost from its inception 40 years ago, has been toothless.”


How Much Obamacare has Reduced the Uninsured Rate in Each State

Sarah Kliff in Vox has constructed a map that “shows how much the uninsured rate has dropped in each state since the health reform law’s insurance expansion went into effect.”

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“One of the biggest things that divides states with faster declines from those with slower changes — the difference between the light and dark purple states — is whether they decided to expand Medicaid.”

“Twelve of the 13 states in the two darkest shades of purple above are those that decided to use the health law to expand Medicaid to cover all residents below 133 percent of the federal poverty line (about $15,300 for an individual or $31,500 for a family of four).”

“The 10 states with the fastest declines in their uninsured rates all expanded Medicaid. The fastest drop happened in Rhode Island, where uninsured rates fell 79.9 percent between 2013 and 2015.”

“At the other end of the spectrum, nine of the 10 states that had the smallest decline in their uninsured rate (or, in Wyoming’s case, the rate increase) did not expand Medicaid.”