Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Poverty Level Remains Stubbornly High

As reported in a recent Huffington Post article, the U.S. Census Bureau's latest figures show that 14.5 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line in 2013, slightly down from 15 percent in 2012, but more than two percentage points higher than it was pre-recession in 2007.

In 2013 the poverty threshold was $11,490 for a person and $23,550 for a family of four.  The income measures used by the Census Bureau do not take into account taxes, tax credits, capital gains or non-cash benefits (such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and housing assistance).

Highlights from the report include:
  • The poverty rate for children under 18 fell from 21.8 percent in 2012 to 19.9 percent in 2013.
  • The poverty rate for people aged 18 to 64 was 13.6 percent, while the rate for people aged 65 and older was 9.5 percent. Neither of these poverty rates was statistically different from its 2012 estimates.
  • Both the poverty rate and the number in poverty decreased for Hispanics in 2013.
  • Despite the decline in the national poverty rate, the 2013 regional poverty rates were not statistically different from the 2012 rates. 
  • About 1 in 5 related children under age 6 were in poverty in 2013. The poverty rate and the number in poverty for these children were 22.2 percent and 5.2 million in 2013, down from 24.4 percent and 5.8 million in 2012.  Among related children under age 6 in families with a female householder, more than half (55.0 percent) were in poverty.22 This was more than five times the rate for related children in married-couple families (10.2 percent).

Read more: resources:
Topics At A Glance: Poverty (
Children in Poverty Course Module (
Differences in Social Class Status and Poverty Levels Among Older Adults in the United States (
Race and Poverty in the United States (
Poverty and Young Adults (
Investigating Children in Poverty (
Poverty (
Gender, Education, Family, Poverty, and Race (

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Majority of Americans Still Support The Use of Spanking

As corporal punishment resurfaced in the news recently, the polling aggregation website FiveThirtyEight examined Americans' views of spanking, using data from the General Social Survey (GSS) going back to 1986.

The surveys indicate that while spanking has become less popular over time, 70 percent of Americans still agree that it's an acceptable form of punishment.

The data also indicate that opinions on spanking vary by race, religion, region, and party.  Specifically, support for spanking appears higher among Blacks, born-again Christians, Republicans, as well as in the South.
"There’s some overlap here, obviously. There are a lot of Republicans in the South, for example, so saying the South favors spanking and Republicans favor spanking is somewhat redundant. But all of the differences in these charts hold, even when controlling for the variables in the other charts. That is, put each of these variables into a regression, and it shows that the differences are real — the South, for example, isn’t more pro-spanking than the Northeast simply because there are more Republicans in the South."

According to the Center for Effective Discipline, 31 states have banned corporal punishment in schools.  Of the 19 who still allow it, most are located in the South.  Department of Education statistics show that a disproportionate number of the students who receive corporal punishment at school are male and Black:
"Estimates from the Department of Education’s 2006 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) show a total of 223,190 students without disabilities received corporal punishment nationwide that year, 78.26% of whom were male. Among that number, black students were also targeted disproportionately — 35.67% received corporal punishment, although they only made up 17.13% of the student population."

Read more:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Demographics of Teaching: Why Don't More Men Become Teachers?

In a recent New York Times article, Motoko Rich discusses the increasing gender imbalance in the teaching profession, a trend analyzed by Richard M. Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues in their report: "Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force."

Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education, Ingersoll, Merrill, and Stuckey examined the demographics of teaching and uncovered seven prominent trends suggesting that the teaching force is becoming: 1. larger; 2. grayer; 3. greener; 4. more female; 5. more diverse, by race-ethnicity; 6. consistent in academic ability; and 7. less stable.

Many traditionally male professions (doctors, lawyers, architects, ...) have opened up to women over the last several decades.  Surprisingly, this has not translated into fewer women entering teaching: "Both the number of women entering teaching and the proportion of teachers who are female have gone up. The SASS data, along with other NCES data, show that since the early 1980s there has been a steady increase in the proportion of teachers who are female, from 67 percent in 1980-81 to over 76 percent in 2011-12."

The increasing proportion of teachers who are female is not explained by a decline in males entering the
occupation, since "the number of males entering teaching has also grown, by 22 percent, which is also
faster than the rate of increase of the student population. But the number of females in teaching has increased at over twice that rate."

The authors offer three possible explanations:

  • Increasing employment opportunities for females in general, but also in the educational sector, both at the secondary level and in leadership.  
  • As the proportion of women entering the workforce has increased, so has the the proportion of all employed women who are teachers.
  • The workday structure (shortened days and summers off) makes caring for a family more manageable and teaching more appealing to women negotiating the dual roles of homemaker and breadwinner.

Ingersoll, Merrill and Stuckey conclude that this trend is worrisome:
"If the trend continues, soon 8 of 10 teachers in the nation will be female. An increasing percentage of elementary schools will have no male teachers. An increasing number of students may encounter few, if any, male teachers during their time in either elementary or secondary school. Given the importance of teachers as role models, and even as surrogate parents for some students, certainly some will see this trend as a problem and a policy concern. Moreover, an increasing proportion of women in teaching may have implications for the stature and status of teaching as an occupation. Traditionally, women’s work has been held in lower esteem and has paid less than male-dominated work. If the feminization of teaching continues, what will it mean for the way this line of work is valued and rewarded?"

Read more:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Unsustainable Economic Divergence: Large Firms Thrive While Living Standards Stagnate Among Most Americans

Michael E. Porter and Jan W. Rivkin of Harvard Business School (HBS) recently released the results of their survey of 1,947 HBS alumni about the state and trajectory of U.S. competitiveness, as well as the education system through high school, the skills base of the workforce, and the nation's transportation infrastructure.  This is the third iteration of the survey, previously conducted in 2011 and 2012.

The findings show that:

  • Although pessimism about the state and trajectory of U.S. competitiveness has abated compared to 2011 and 2012 surveys, respondents who expect U.S. competitiveness to deteriorate still outnumber those who think it will improve (47 to 33 percent).  Respondents working in small firms tend to be more pessimistic about the trajectory of U.S. competitiveness than those from large firms.
  • "Workers are captives of the weakest aspects of the U.S. business environment, while firms are the beneficiaries of America's greatest strengths: respondents saw weaknesses in those aspects of the business environment that drive the prospects of middle- and working-class citizens--for instance, the education system, the quality of workplace skills, and the effectiveness of the political system.  And they saw strengths in aspects that influence company success, such as the quality of management, the vibrancy of capital markets, and firm access to innovation."
  • U.S. competitiveness is hampered by an education system that's failing to deliver a strong education and produce competitive workers; skills shortages (managerial approaches that discourage skills development and exacerbate the shortage of talent with highly demanded skills; poor information flow: employers can't find the skilled workers they need, but a growing number of workers are overqualified for their jobs); and an aging physical infrastructure.

The authors argue that this situation is unsustainable:
"shortsighted executives may be satisfied with an American economy whose firms win in global markets without lifting U.S. living standards.  But any leader with a long view understands that business has a profound stake in the prosperity of the average American.  Thriving citizens become more productive employees, more willing consumers, and stronger supporters of pro-business policies.  Struggling citizens are disgruntled at work, frugal at the cash register, and anti-business at the ballot box.  We agree strongly with this view: businesses cannot succeed for long while their communities languish."
Read more: resources:
Global Business Strategies (
Business and Economics (
GlobalEDGE Academy (

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Time-Lapse Depiction of 24 Years of Unemployment Rate

Using 24 years (1990-2013) of county-level data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Map Metrics created a time-lapse depiction of unemployment in the U.S. at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.  Counties with an unemployment rate of 8 percent or greater are shaded in red.

The map shows the effects on unemployment of the brief recessions of the early 1990s and early 2000s, and most dramatically, the 2009 financial crisis, with an explosion of red that spared few areas (mostly in the Midwest), but showed signs of receding in 2013.

Read more: resources:
Unemployment rate by age, January 1948 to July 2009 (
Economy Track: Employment to Population Ratio (
Gallup Interactives: Global Employment Tracking (

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Is A College Education Still A Good Investment?

As students head back to school in the gloomy context of rising tuition costs and student debt, falling wages for college graduates, and a challenging job market, a new post published on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's blog, "Liberty Street Economics," takes a look at the economic value of a college degree.

The authors, Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz, took into account the costs of going to college (average tuition and fees paid by undergraduates plus the "opportunity costs," or the wages one gives up while in school, estimated as the average wages of someone with only a high school diploma), as well as the benefits (the "college wage premium"—the extra wages one can expect to earn having obtained a college degree, estimated as the average wage of college graduates compared with the average wage of those with only a high school diploma, summed up over a working life of more than forty years).

Their results, expressed in 2013 constant dollars, suggest that the value of a college degree is near its all-time high of about $300,000 at the turn of the 21st century, up from $80,000 in the early 1980s.  At the same time, the time required to recoup the costs of the degree has remained near its all-time low: whereas it used to take more than twenty years in the late 1970s and early 1980s to recoup the costs of a college education,  in 2013 it only took ten.

In a more in-depth article, Abel and Deitz conclude that
"investing in a college education still appears to be a wise economic decision for the average person. Why is this the case? The answer lies in the declining fortunes of those without a college degree—a key consideration in assessing the economic costs and benefits of obtaining a college degree. On the benefit side, although the wages of college-educated workers have stagnated since the early 2000s—and even declined in the years since the Great Recession—the wages of high school graduates have also been falling. As a result, the college wage premium has remained near its all-time high. On the cost side, rising college tuition has largely been offset by the declining opportunity cost of attending school, which, again, is driven by the falling wages of high school graduates. [...]  The good news for college graduates is that the return to college remains high on average, regardless of one’s college major. However, the bad news is that college students are paying more to go to school and are earning less upon graduation. At this point, it is not clear whether these trends will continue. Indeed, an important caveat about our analysis is that it is based on the historical earnings of college and high school graduates who entered the labor market at different points in time, and we have no guarantee that these earnings patterns will hold in the future. Nonetheless, despite the recent struggles of college graduates, investing in a college degree may be more important than ever before because those who fail to do so are falling further and further behind."

Read more: resources:
Economics of Education (
Without a High-School Education (
Men's real hourly wage by education, 1973-2007 (
Do Blacks Earn Less than Whites and Why? (
Women's Education (
Education and Earnings: Does Education Pay? (
Education in America (
Exploring Education Attainment of U.S. Native-born and Foreign-born (
The Value of College (

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The More You Know, The Less You Want to Know?

National Public Radio's science correspondent Shankar Vedantam recently reported on a study conducted by economists Giulio Zanella (University of Bologna, Italy, and University of California, Santa Barbara) and Ritesh Banerjee to examine "how a woman's propensity to perform an annual mammography changes over time after a co-worker is diagnosed with breast cancer."

Using employer records from a large, not-for-profit medical organization, Zanella and Banerjee constructed a panel dataset (2002-2004) containing demographic, professional, socio-economic, and health information, as well as information about the employee's physical location in the workplace (building, floor, etc).  Their analyses focus on women who are at least 50 years old because yearly mammograms are recommended for this age group.  Studies sometimes refer to lack of insurance, high copays, and lack of reminders as  potential barriers to women getting preventative tests such as mammograms.  However, employees of this particular organization were enrolled in a comprehensive medical plan offering free mammograms; the screening facility was located on campus; and the women were reminded about the recommended annual mammogram each time they visited their primary care physician.

Zanella and Banerjee found that:
  • In the year in which a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, those women who are spatially closer to her in the workplace become 8 percentage points less likely to get a mammography relative to all other women, off of a baseline screening rate of about 70 percent.
  • This effect is stronger for women exposed to more severe cases of breast cancer.  
  • It is also stronger and more persistent for women who are neither medical doctors nor nurses.
  • It is more pronounced among women with a higher propensity to screen.
  • The effect persisted for two years after the cancer diagnosis.
  • Exposure to non-breast cancer events did not affect the propensity to get a mammogram. 

The researchers discuss several potential mechanisms that might explain why a colleague's breast cancer diagnosis would influence one's propensity to get screened for breast cancer, but find only two of them compelling.  The first is that, since the mammograms were offered by the employer, employees may be getting screened elsewhere for fear that a breast cancer diagnosis through workplace screening could negatively impact their career or health coverage.   It is also plausible, Zanella and Banerjee argue, that employees exhibited "information aversion"--the idea that people sometimes avoid information that can be scary: finding out that a colleague has breast cancer may "make the disease more salient and induce a higher perceived probability of developing the disease," and may also lead one to realize that "the physical, psychological, or economic consequences of being diagnosed with breast cancer are worse than [one] thought."

Read more: