Is More Work the Answer?

Vox: “Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton don’t agree on much, but they both strongly believe more Americans should be working in low-wage, unpleasant jobs.”

“America is a very, very rich society. The richest the world has ever known. For many Americans — particularly Americans with children — working a low-wage, physical job with little job security and unpredictable hours is a deeply unpleasant way to spend your life. Maybe more work isn’t always the answer.”

“For many Americans, the central problem here isn’t work. It’s wages. You can see it in this chart:”

epi compensation wages

“What Paul and Clinton are essentially proposing is to improve living standards by getting people to work more in low-wage jobs.”

“For people who are involuntarily out of the workforce because they can’t afford child care, that’s great. If they want to work, they should work. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that, for many people, work is the worst.”

Can Obamacare Take Credit For Reducing the Nation’s Health-Care Bill?

Stephen Stromberg in the Washington Post: “A new analysis for the Urban Institute makes the best case for the law, which boils down to this: It sure doesn’t look like a budgetary disaster, and it might be doing more good than people realize, which would be very positive for the long-term federal budget.”

“The Urban report admits that it’s ‘impossible to estimate’ how much the ACA has helped reduce the growth of the nation’s health-care bill. But, the analysts argue, ‘it is possible that the ACA has played an unmeasured role in the recent spending slowdown and the lower projected future spending.’”

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 8.19.03 AM

“Updated CMS projections from October 2014 reckon that spending will actually be $2 trillion lower than the pre-ACA baseline and $2.5 trillion lower than than the initial post-ACA estimate. If you’re in the Obama administration’s correlation-equals-causation camp, that’s all you need to generate a talking point.”

“But not so fast. Lots of things might have kept cost growth down. In fact, the debate revolves around how much, not whether, the recession and slow recovery put downward pressure on health spending. How much credit you give the recession matters in part because, if the sluggish economy has been the predominant driver, health-care cost growth should shoot up again as the economy improves.”

“It’s still reasonable to cringe a little every time the Obama administration tries to take credit for the nation’s encouraging health-care cost numbers. But you should also cringe at critics who insist it’s a budgetary calamity.”

The Uninsured Rate Continues to Fall

Gallup: “The uninsured rate among U.S. adults declined to 11.9% for the first quarter of 2015 — down one percentage point from the previous quarter and 5.2 points since the end of 2013, just before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. The uninsured rate is the lowest since Gallup and Healthways began tracking it in 2008.”

Percentage Uninsured in the U.S., by Quarter

“While the uninsured rate has declined across all key demographic groups since the healthcare law fully took effect in January 2014, it has dropped most among lower-income Americans and Hispanics — the groups most likely to lack insurance.”

Jonathan Chait: “It is starting to look possible that this trend is not some random fluke that has happened six straight quarters but is somehow related to the enactment of Obamacare.”

U.S. Carbon Pollution Forecast to Fall to Lowest Level in Decades

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 9.07.09 PMRTCC: “US efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions look set for a huge boost this year, with carbon pollution from the power sector set to fall to its lowest level since 1994.”

“Record numbers of US coal-fired power plants are set to close this year, and analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) say this will likely see power sector emissions drop 15.4% below 2005 levels.”

“Research published today indicates 23GW, 7% of US coal capacity, will come offline due to a combination of low gas prices, new mercury emission standards and the age of closing power plants.”

“’On an emissions rate basis (t/MWh), 2015 will be the cleanest year in over 60 years for which we have historical data,’ says the report.

“Emissions can rise or fall year-to-year based on weather anomalies and volatile fuel prices – but in 2015, we’ll take a giant, permanent step towards decarbonizing our entire fleet of power plants.”

Taxing Marijuana Won’t Cure State Budget Woes

The Upshot challenges the common argument in favor of recreational marijuana: that legalizing and taxing it will save state budgets.

“States, looking for ways to close budget shortfalls without raising broad-based taxes, have leaned on “sin” revenues: higher taxes on cigarettes, higher fees and fines and higher revenue from gambling. And as they have sought to squeeze more revenue from these sources, they have often been disappointed.”

“In the case of marijuana, Colorado’s revenue has disappointed because legal recreational marijuana sales have been lower than expected. State officials thought many customers of medical marijuana dispensaries would migrate to the recreational market. But this process has been slow, in part because there is a financial disincentive to switch: Medical marijuana is subject only to general sales tax, while a 15 percent tax is imposed on recreational marijuana at wholesale and a further 10 percent at retail, in additional to the general sales tax.”

Ted Cruz Bangs the Obamacare Job-Killer Drum

Danny Vinik: “On Thursday, CNBC published an interview with Senator Ted Cruz … Cruz demonstrated once again why it’s so hard to envision him as the nation’s top executive: He simply refuses to incorporate new facts into his understanding of the economy.”

“’The simple reality is millions of Americans are hurting right now under the Obama economy,’ Cruz said. ‘Yes, some jobs are being created, but not nearly as many have been destroyed. The rich, the top 1 percent, today earn a higher share of our income than any year since 1928.’”

“When Republicans first warned of Obamacare’s threats to the economy, they, including Cruz, repeatedly predicted events along that first reading … Instead, this has happened:”

“As you can see from the graph, there’s no point when Obamacare sent a ripple through businesses and stymied job growth. Even if you give Cruz the benefit of the doubt and assume he was imagining a hypothetical, Obamacare-less world, the chart shows why the GOP has had to mute its claims that Obamacare would destroy the economy.”

How Much Could the Supreme Court Damage Obamacare?

Washington Post: “New maps from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth help illustrate just how much is at stake, showing which states would be hit hardest if the Supreme Court struck down the subsidies that help people afford coverage on insurance marketplaces.”

“This map shows the distribution of people who are eligible to receive subsidies to help them buy insurance on ACA exchanges.”

“This map shows how a Supreme Court ruling would affect these exchange subsidies. The states in brown use federally run health care exchanges.”

“The Urban Institute has argued that such a decision would leave 8.3 million more people uninsured.”

The Politics of Climate Change Mask Broad Agreement Over Finding Solutions

Andrew Revkin in the New York Times comments on the most recent data from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication  to describe how  “energy agreement is often hidden by climate disputes.”

“The Yale analysts, with partners at Utah State University, have built an illuminating set of maps of American attitudes — right down to the congressional district — on a variety of important questions related to global warming and options for addressing it, including regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and boosting government spending on research to improve renewable energy technologies.”

“Look at the breadth of support across the United States for using pollution regulations to curb carbon dioxide, the main human-generated greenhouse gas:

Voters in every state supported regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant in 2014, according to a new study.

Revkins argues “that a focus on deep polarization over the level of risk posed by global warming could be distracting from the prospect of taking widely-supported steps that could be taken to address it.”

Wisconsin Agency Bans ‘Climate Change’ Conversation

Bloomberg: “Discussing climate change is out of bounds for workers at a state agency in Wisconsin. So is any work related to climate change—even responding to e-mails about the topic.”

“A vote on Tuesday by Wisconsin’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, a three-member panel overseeing an agency that benefits schools and communities in the state, enacted the staff ban on climate change. ‘It’s not a part of our sole mission, which is to make money for our beneficiaries,’ said State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk, a Republican who sits on the board. ‘That’s what I want our employees working on. That’s it. Managing our trust funds.’”

“The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands school trust funds were designed a century ago to help finance public education through the sale and management of land granted by the federal government … The agency continues to receive some income from the timber industries. That makes climate change, as it affects the forests of Wisconsin, relevant at least in some part to the long-term health of the board.”

“The move to ban an issue leaves staff at the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands in the unusual position of not being able to speak about how climate change might affect lands it oversees.”