Friday, November 21, 2014
The Tenement Museum, on the Lower East Side, is one of my favorite places in New York City. It’s a Civil War-vintage building that housed successive waves of immigrants, and a number of apartments have been restored to look exactly as they did in various eras, from the 1860s to the 1930s (when the building was declared unfit for occupancy). When you tour the museum, you come away with a powerful sense of immigration as a human experience, which — despite plenty of bad times, despite a cultural climate in which Jews, Italians, and others were often portrayed as racially inferior — was overwhelmingly positive.
I get especially choked up about the Baldizzi apartment from 1934. When I described its layout to my parents, both declared, “I grew up in that apartment!” And today’s immigrants are the same, in aspiration and behavior, as my grandparents were — people seeking a better life, and by and large finding it.
That’s why I enthusiastically support President Obama’s new immigration initiative. It’s a simple matter of human decency.
That’s not to say that I, or most progressives, support open borders. You can see one important reason right there in the Baldizzi apartment: the photo of F.D.R. on the wall. The New Deal made America a vastly better place, yet it probably wouldn’t have been possible without the immigration restrictions that went into effect after World War I. For one thing, absent those restrictions, there would have been many claims, justified or not, about people flocking to America to take advantage of welfare programs.
Furthermore, open immigration meant that many of America’s worst-paid workers weren’t citizens and couldn’t vote. Once immigration restrictions were in place, and immigrants already here gained citizenship, this disenfranchised class at the bottom shrank rapidly, helping to create the political conditions for a stronger social safety net. And, yes, low-skill immigration probably has some depressing effect on wages, although the available evidence suggests that the effect is quite small.
So there are some difficult issues in immigration policy. I like to say that if you don’t feel conflicted about these issues, there’s something wrong with you. But one thing you shouldn’t feel conflicted about is the proposition that we should offer decent treatment to children who are already here — and are already Americans in every sense that matters. And that’s what Mr. Obama’s initiative is about.
Who are we talking about? First, there are more than a million young people in this country who came — yes, illegally — as children and have lived here ever since. Second, there are large numbers of children who were born here — which makes them U.S. citizens, with all the same rights you and I have — but whose parents came illegally, and are legally subject to being deported.
What should we do about these people and their families? There are some forces in our political life who want us to bring out the iron fist — to seek out and deport young residents who weren’t born here but have never known another home, to seek out and deport the undocumented parents of American children and force those children either to go into exile or to fend for themselves.
But that isn’t going to happen, partly because, as a nation, we aren’t really that cruel; partly because that kind of crackdown would require something approaching police-state rule; and, largely, I’m sorry to say, because Congress doesn’t want to spend the money that such a plan would require. In practice, undocumented children and the undocumented parents of legal children aren’t going anywhere.
The real question, then, is how we’re going to treat them. Will we continue our current regime of malign neglect, denying them ordinary rights and leaving them under the constant threat of deportation? Or will we treat them as the fellow Americans they already are?
The truth is that sheer self-interest says that we should do the humane thing. Today’s immigrant children are tomorrow’s workers, taxpayers and neighbors. Condemning them to life in the shadows means that they will have less stable home lives than they should, be denied the opportunity to acquire skills and education, contribute less to the economy, and play a less positive role in society. Failure to act is just self-destructive.
But speaking for myself, I don’t care that much about the money, or even the social aspects. What really matters, or should matter, is the humanity. My parents were able to have the lives they did because America, despite all the prejudices of the time, was willing to treat them as people. Offering the same kind of treatment to today’s immigrant children is the practical course of action, but it’s also, crucially, the right thing to do. So let’s applaud the president for doing it.
Friday, November 07, 2014
Comment by Nov. 15, 2014
Only days after many voters complained that the economy was getting
worse, the latest government report on jobs, released Friday, provided fresh
evidence that it was getting better. Employers added an estimated 214,000
jobs in October, the Labor Department found, and the official jobless rate,
bolstered by a big rise in the number of people finding jobs, dropped to 5.8
percent, down sharply from 7.2 percent last October.
The increase, combined with a revision that showed 31,000 jobs were
added to the numbers previously reported for August and September, puts
the average monthly employment gain for the past six months at 235,000 —
an indication, analysts said, that the economy’s progress was gaining
A range of other job measures all improved. More than 683,000 people
reported that they found a job last month, according to a separate survey by
the Labor Department. And the number of people walking away from the
labor market has halted, while the average number of hours worked ticked
The primary disappointment was the lack of wage growth. Hourly
average earnings have remained stuck, rising only 0.1 percent in October, on
the heels of no gain in September. For the year, wage gains are up just 2
percent, barely ahead of the pace of inflation. That lack of progress is likely
to cause the Federal Reserve to move cautiously before raising interest rates
from their near-zero level.
Still, several economist were encouraged by the October numbers.
“Labor force participation actually rose” to 62.8 percent, said Carl
Tannenbaum, chief economist at the Northern Trust Company. “We didn’t
see a drop in employment because people dropped out of the work force. “
Looking back at the changes since last year, Mr. Tannenbaum noted
that there had been a sizable decrease in the number of discouraged
workers, who have given up hope of finding a job — down 1.2 million — and
of part-time workers who wanted full-time employment, down 1 million.
A broader measure of unemployment that includes discouraged job
seekers or those stuck in part-time jobs dropped to 11.5 percent, down more
than 2 points from the seasonally adjusted figure from a year ago. The 5.8
percent official unemployment rate is the lowest since the summer of 2008.
“We think this is a very strong report,” said Michael Gapen, an
economist at Barclays, noting that the number of hours worked was on the
upswing, rising 4.2 percent in the fourth quarter.
This latest report represents 56 consecutive months of private-sector
job growth, which Jason Furman, chairman of President Obama’s Council of
Economic Advisers, characterized this week as “the longest streak in U.S.
Yet, as Mr. Furman and other economic experts readily acknowledge,
the experience of many Americans does not match the growing optimism
about the job market and the overall economy recently expressed by several
Election Day exit polls found that 78 percent of those surveyed were
very or somewhat worried about the future direction of the economy, while
two-thirds said they believed the economy was getting worse.
For many Americans, it still is. Even though the recovery from the
recession is in its sixth year, stagnant wages, an economy generating jobs
mostly at the bottom and the top rather than in the middle, and vast
disparities between the rewards bestowed on the rich and on ordinary
workers have left many people disenchanted with their economic prospects.
Some analysts now see signs that a tighter labor market may lead to
higher wages in the near future. “The job market is steadily picking up pace,”
said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, reacting to a report
from the payroll processor ADP this week that private-sector employment
increased by 230,000 jobs in October.
“The job market will soon be tight enough to support a meaningful
acceleration in wage growth,” he added.
Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, was
also predicting that “faster productivity growth would drive real wages
higher next year, after a very long wait.”
The question is how much and how quickly.
Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by just 2 percent, only
slightly ahead of the pace of inflation. “We are adding jobs, but it is still a
wageless recovery,” said Elise Gould, an economist with the left-leaning
Economic Policy Institute, who said she was disappointed by the lack of
progress on wages in October. . “The economy may be growing but not
enough for workers to feel the effects in their paychecks.”
In a report, the institute argued “that wage growth is far below the 3.5
percent rate consistent with the Federal Reserve Board’s inflation target of 2
percent, and far below the 4 percent rate that could easily be absorbed for a
while to restore labor’s share of national income from its current historic
Steve Blitz, chief economist at ITG Investment Research, said the
report’s mixed signals indicated the economy was not necessarily gaining
momentum. “While many tout the pace of job increases so far this year as
signal of a budding strong consumer economy, the details suggest
otherwise,” he noted. Average hourly wages remain stuck, “which continues
the downside pressure on real earnings growth after paying for food,
gasoline and rent.”
The lack of wage growth, particularly at the bottom, helps explain why
ballot measures to raise the minimum wage in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska,
Illinois and South Dakota all passed despite widespread losses among
Democrats in those states who supported such measures.
While stagnant wages remain one of the biggest problems in the
economy, the recovery appears to be gaining momentum.
The four-week moving average for new unemployment insurance
claims, considered a more reliable indicator than the week-to-week
fluctuations, hit a 14-year low last week. For the federal fiscal year that
ended on Sept. 30, the number of bankruptcy cases filed in federal courts
dropped 13 percent to 963,739, the lowest since the 2007 fiscal year. And
consumers, bolstered by falling gasoline prices, are more upbeat about job
prospects than at any time in the past six years.
The job gains in the food and service industry noted by the Labor
Department are coming from small-business employers like Matthew
Saravay, who runs Wizard Studios, a special event production company in
Brooklyn. “The economy’s gotten better and people are spending money,”
Mr. Saravay said. “I have interviews lined up, trying to keep up with the
clamor of opportunity. We’re seeing holiday parties return in a way I haven’t
seen in seven or eight years. This is such a paradigm shift from what we’ve
been experiencing for the past half decade.”
Steve Roesner, chief executive officer of Quatro Composites in Iowa,
which produces structures for manufacturers in the aerospace industry,
hired 100 new workers this year, bringing the company’s total staff to 220.
He said he expected to increase his work force 20 percent more next year.
“In our industry, there’s a lot of optimism,” Mr. Roesner said. He attributed
the boom, in part, to technological advances.
Jay Floersch, a solutions architect at Aon Hewitt, a human resources
consulting firm, said business had picked up significantly in recent months.
“We’re exceeding our own forecasts,” he said, noting that “seasonal
hiring is peaking right now.”
Looking ahead, Tara M. Sinclair, an economist at Indeed.com, one of
the nation’s largest sites for job postings, said: “We seem to be reaching a
tipping point in terms of job market maturity. Should this positive trend
continue, we should expect people to stop looking for ‘a job’ and start to look
for ‘the right job. (NYT)
Saturday, November 01, 2014
Comments due by Oct. 8, 2014
THE homeownership rate in the United States plunged during the Great Recession. Many families lost their homes as prices collapsed and unemployment rose.
Now the economy is growing, and there are more jobs than ever. Home prices have risen, although they have not fully recovered.
But the homeownership rate continues to decline.
The Census Bureau reported this week that the rate fell to 64.3 percent in the third quarter, the lowest level since 1994. Since the second quarter of 2004, when the rate peaked at 69.4 percent, the number of homes owned by the people who live in them is virtually unchanged, but the number occupied by renters has risen by nearly 25 percent.
Just why that is — and whether it is a bad thing — is subject to debate.
Before the recession, it was a government goal, promoted by presidents of both parties, to get the ownership rate up. Homeowners were thought to care more, and thus maintain their homes better. They could profit from rising home prices, helping poorer people who bought homes improve their economic status. Changes in lending practices made it much easier for people to qualify for home loans, and soaring home prices made those who still rented appear to have passed up easy profits.
Whatever the reason — whether many people cannot afford to buy or whether a lot of them now fear the consequences of buying — the result has been a liftoff in rentals. And that has caused builders to put far more effort into apartment buildings than they had in recent years.
Of course, some apartments are sold as co-ops and condominiums, particularly in big cities, and some single-family homes are rented. But few builders build single-family houses hoping to rent them, while many multifamily properties are constructed with rentals in mind.
The accompanying charts show the trend in the homeownership rate since 1980, and the trends in a variety of housing measures since the homeownership rate peaked in 2004. Vacancies leapt in the recession, and while they have declined since 2009, the proportion of vacant units is still higher than it was before the recession began. That fact could be helping discourage single-family housing starts, which remain far below prerecession levels, even though multifamily starts have fully recovered.
In early 2006, less than 17 percent of new residences constructed were in multifamily buildings. Over the most recent 12 months, the proportion is more than twice that.