associatedcontent - ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- This city in upstate New York is not a hotbed of conservative politics. It is an academic community with a strong union base. It elects liberals, such as Rep. Louise Slaughter, to Congress.
According to a flurry of headlines today, a panel of economists just announced that "the recession's over." Is that true? Yes. Does that mean we're no longer in a crisis, or that steps to fix the economy aren't as urgently needed as they were before? Absolutely not. The situation on the ground -- in the lives of the millions of people who must survive in today's economy -- hasn't changed. We still need jobs, and we still need a concerted government effort to create them. The economists weren't declaring an end to the problem, but most Americans wouldn't understand that from the way the story was covered.
"Recession officially ended in June 2009," says CNN in a typical headline. The Los Angeles Times headline elaborates: "Recession was longest since the 1930s." While most major outlets worked hard to put the story in context, the word "recession" itself confuses readers. What is a "recession"? And what does the National Bureau of Economic Research (NEBR) mean when it says that a "recession is over," much less that one ended over a year ago?
Too many people, including some who write on economics and public policy, assume the word "recession" means "like a depression, but not as bad." They relate "recession" to "depression" pretty much the same way Aerosmith defines "pink": "It's like red, but not quite." In this vague definition, a "recession" is a period of time in which things pretty much suck, economically speaking, but aren't as bad as they were in the 1930s. When economists say a recession's ended, people who misinterpret the word assume they're saying things have gotten better. But that's not what "recession" means to economists.
The dictionary definition of the word "recession" is "the act of receding or withdrawing," and that's pretty close to the economic definition. Technical definitions can vary, but the NEBR's definition - a time when "a significant decline in economic activity spreads across the economy" - is pretty much the economic standard. In other words, a recession happens when economic activity is "receding." When it stops receding and begins to move forward again - however slowly or inadequately - the recession is over.
An analogy: When the earth stops shaking, seismologists all agree that an earthquake is over. That doesn't change the fact that it's left a lot of wreckage behind.
The damage caused by recessions can sometimes be repaired in large part by improved economic growth, but we're not seeing enough growth (or the right kind) right now. The NEBR's economists took enormous pains to address the ongoing economic wreckage in their announcement today. In making this determination, the announcement said, "the committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity." They took note of continued difficulties, especially regarding unemployment.
Despite the NEBR panel's laudable attempt to provide the right context for its report, some people misinterpreted it anyway. Mike Thompson of the Detroit Free Press said this: "Hot off the wires: According to a transmission that planet Earth has just received from the planet where economists dwell, the recession is over! " While Thompson's heart is clearly in the right place - he goes on to describe the ongoing human suffering - the problem here isn't the NEBR. It's the public misinterpretation of the word itself, made worse by the media's failure to provide proper definitions or context.
Matt Phillips of the Wall Street Journal went even further off the beam in an article that begins, "The high-priests of recession dating have spoken." The article goes on:
"Really?," the American public says. "That's funny because we're still pretty miserable." "
Well, that's neither here nor there,' " say the egg-heads on the NBER.
That's just wrong. Phillips does eventually cite the committee's caveat, but not before leaving the impression that the NEBR, rather than his own piece, is confused about what it means to be in a "recession." The WSJ did much better in its news section, where an article was headlined "Recession Over, but Weakness Remains." Other coverage, like Catherine Rampell's in the New York Times and Neil Irwin's in the Washington Post, were equally balanced. Nevertheless, the misunderstandings and misinterpretations will continue as long as coverage of items like the NEBR report don't provide a clear, easy-to-read explanation of the word "recession."
The confusion and misinterpretation extends to the stock market, too. If reports like these are true and the NEBR report caused stock prices to jump - even if only by 1% or so - that should put the lie to belief in 'the wisdom of markets.' That's just dumb. There's no hard information in this report that hasn't been known for a long time. (It's their analysis of that data that's newsworthy.) More importantly, the report isn't an 'all clear' signal. It reads more like a wakeup call about our ailing economy and the possibility of future dangers, observing that this was the longest recession since World War II and leaving the door open to the possibility of another recession.
The biggest danger posed by these misunderstandings is that they will mislead people into thinking things are getting better on their own. We're technically in a "recovery," but that's like saying the flood waters are subsiding after a tidal wave. Millions of lives are still devastated, and the pace of recovery is much too weak to help them in the foreseeable future.
How bad is it out there? There are 4 million few wage earners today than there were in 2007, but more and more people are entering the workforce. Long-term unemployment is at record levels. If things don't change, many unemployed Americans over 50 may never work again. Their passport to the American dream will have been permanently revoked.
Young people aren't faring any better. The unemployment rate among people aged 18 to 24 was 18% in August. We're facing the possibility of a entire generation entering the workforce without any jobs available. That's why Derek Thompson, a fine economics writer who also belongs to the twentysomething generation, added this comment to a piece on millenials forced to live with their parents: "We want to work. We want to grow up. We want have own own jobs and apartments and weddings and baby showers. But many young people cannot do those things right now ... "
Youth unemployment isn't just demoralizing and painful while people are out of work. It can also cripple their lifetime earning ability. That's one reason why the Secretary-General of the OECD called US youth unemployment "a tragedy within a tragedy" and said "there is danger of a frustrated generation." ("There's no future for you," sang the Sex Pistols. "We're the flowers in the dustbin.")
Under-employment is an enormous problem, too. As Arjun Jayadev and Mike Konczal observed, underemployment is up across thirteen different employement sectors. That's one reason why the gap in household earning between white and African American families isn't closing, even though their average hourly wages are closer than they once were.
More economic tragedy: Nearly 44 million Americans live in poverty. With 14.3% of its citizens impoverished, the US now has the third worst poverty rate of any developed nation.
At the rate we're currently adding jobs in the private sector (67,000 jobs last month), the economy's not even keeping up with new entrants into the workforce (about 100,000 per month). Even if we doubled the rate of private sector job growth, it would take 20 years to get back to where we were before Wall Street crashed the economy. Sure, 67,000 new jobs each month is technically a "recovery," but it's dramatically lower than the employment growth we've seen after other recessions.
Today's NEBR report doesn't change the fact that massive public spending is needed if we are to fix the damage that's been done and become the nation we want to be. That's why 300 economists (a "small army," as the Huffington Post put it) signed a statement warning of the "grave danger" the nation faces if it focuses on reducing the deficit beforeinvesting in job creation to get the economy moving again. It's also why Laura Tyson, a respected economist who serves on the President's Council of Economic Advisors, recently wrote that "our national debate about fiscal policy has become skewed, with far too much focus on the deficit and far too little on unemployment."
More must be done to get people back to work. More must be done to rein in the runaway bankers who caused this problem. And we need to make sure people don't confuse "an end to the recession" with "an end to the misery."
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.
He can be reached at "firstname.lastname@example.org."
Website: Eskow and Associates
It's simplistic to call Bill Clinton, as Rachel Maddow did in March, "the best Republican president the country had, if you look at the policies that he passed." But her assertion is certainly an arguable one -- as is the former president's claim last week that Maddow's statement, if true, "would come [as] quite a surprise to the Republicans, half of whom still think I'm a closet communist."
Their disagreement embodies just one of the endless arguments ("it's the sex; no, it's the perjury" is another one) that continues to dog the Big Dog as he seeks his place in history. Indeed, the Clinton record involves so many contradictions that his legacy will likely serve as a political Rorschach test for many years to come.
As Bill Clinton was preparing to run for president he toured the country as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, which sought to rescue the Democratic Party by remaking it. He campaigned for the Oval Office as a New Democrat; it's fair to say that, for the most part, he governed as one. And so, did Bill Clinton, with his embrace of the DLC's reexamination of Democratic verities, revive the Democratic Party or betray it? Did he modernize the New Deal or terminate it?
Did he save liberalism or kill it? Did he reverse or even slow the conservatism that had dominated national politics since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, or did he surrender to it?
Bill Clinton did raise income tax rates for the wealthy (even though he angered Democrats, many of whom had risked their political skins to support the plan, when he went before an audience of fat cats and apologized for the hike). But he also cut the capital gains tax. He raised the earned income tax credit to aid the working poor. But he also pushed hard, with Republicans and against liberals, to secure ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He helped the economy create 22 million new jobs - and that rising tide certainly lifted many, many boats. But the financial deregulation he and Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and Alan Greenspan pushed through in concert with archconservative Republican Phil Gramm enabled the grotesqueries that produced worldwide financial panic at the end of his successor's tenure.
Balancing the budget seems to be the one tangible Clinton accomplishment that everyone -- Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal -- can agree merits praise. He did indeed restore fiscal sanity to the federal government -- and, with the help of spendthrift Republicans, he took the issue away from the GOP and made it, legitimately, a practice Democrats could embrace and be proud of. But the singular focus on deficit reduction as he took office was not what he intended when he ran for the White House on a program of large governmental investments aimed at "Putting People First." In fact, he intended to get back to the investment agenda once the deficit had been tamed. But in 1994 he lost the Congress, and in 1995 the GOP forced him to adopt a blueprint for eliminating red ink altogether. And so deficit reduction, while sensible at the beginning of his administration, took on a life of its own and prevented not only him, in the later years of his presidency, but also future Democratic presidents from directing resources to the nation's troubled human and physical infrastructure. Witness the impossibility of passing a second stimulus now because it will "add to the deficit!!!," when so many economists -- and, one must think, most of the Obama administration's economic brain trust -- believe additional spending vital to avoiding years of stagnation.
Left-leaning Democrats blame Clinton for the travesty of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", but their criticism isn't entirely fair: He did, at the very beginning of his presidency, try to lift the ban on gays serving in the armed forces. At that point a novice in the nation's capital, however, he was outplayed by two experienced and skillful Washington operators: Colin Powell and Sam Nunn. Liberals should heap praise on him for taking on the National Rifle Association and winning. During his first two years in office he got Congress to pass two major pieces of gun-control legislation: the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban. But his victory was short-lived; the gun lobby's fierce opposition was key to the drubbing suffered by the Democrats in the 1994 midterms.
And it wasn't just any Republican Congress he had to deal with during the last six years of his administration, it was a Republican Congress dominated by Newt Gingrich, the self-styled "defender of civilization" who, more than anyone else, is responsible for legitimizing the vituperation and ad hominem attacks that have since dominated our national discourse. The hostile Congress not only complicated his job from 1995 to 2001 (and nearly separated him from that job in 1998-1999) but also confounds the task of evaluating his legacy as a president and as a Democrat.
Exhibit A: Welfare reform.
Acting on his campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it," Clinton in June 1994 -- while the Democrats still ran Capitol Hill -- submitted a bill that would for the first time have imposed a time limit on the payment of welfare. To help recipients make the transition "from welfare to work," the proposal called for $9.3 billion to be spent on job training, childcare, and job subsidies. But by this time, his health care initiative -- and with it his legislative might -- had taken such a battering that Congress never took up his welfare proposal.
The following year, the Republicans who had taken over Congress began working on a far different version of welfare reform. It would have ended the federal entitlement to benefits under Aid to Families and Dependent Children and slashed as much as $69 billion of federal funding over five years. Twice the Republicans passed their legislation; twice Clinton vetoed it.
During the summer of 1996 the Republicans softened their bill -- a little. Responding to the president's concerns, they increased funding for day care and eased provisions pertaining to eligibility for Medicaid and food stamps. But the end of the entitlement and budget cuts of $55 billion remained. Clinton still had two bones to pick with the Republican bill -- cuts in food-stamp funding and denial of benefits to legal immigrants -- but he decided to sign the legislation, with the intent of correcting its flaws later. In November, his cooperation with the Republican Congress on the issue helped insure both his easy reelection and the GOP's maintenance of its control over both houses of Congress.
More than any other single act during his eight years as president, Clinton's signing of the Republican welfare bill works as a political Rorschach test: Was it an act of courage for its defiance of his political base? Or was it a craven maneuver to secure reelection on the backs of the poor? Did he give in when he should have held out? Or were his compromises worth making in order to achieve significant positive change in the life of the nation?
Brave statesman or political opportunist? Benevolent pragmatist or betrayer of principle? A fine Democrat or the "best Republican president the country had"?
It depends on how you read the inkblot.
A government watchdog group says Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell used campaign funds to pay her rent and other personal expenses.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed a complaint against O'Donnell with the Federal Elections Commission and is asking federal prosecutors to investigate her.
The complaint is based largely on a sworn statement by O'Donnell's former campaign finance consultant, David Keegan. He says O'Donnell used campaign funds to pay her rent in both March and April 2009, then listed the spending as "reimbursement expenses."
The complaint also accuses O'Donnell of using campaign funds to pay for gas, meals and a bowling outing.
"Christine O'Donnell is clearly a criminal, and like any crook she should be prosecuted," explained CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan in a statement. "Ms. O'Donnell has spent years embezzling money from her campaign to cover her personal expenses. Republicans and Democrats don't agree on much these days, but both sides should agree on one point: thieves belong in jail not the United States Senate."
Sloan added, "If you need money to pay the rent and eat, you get a job; you don't start a Senate campaign so unsuspecting donors can support you."
O'Donnell is a tea party favorite who upset longtime U.S. Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware's GOP Senate primary.
Congressional Republicans say they plan to dismantle health care reform by denying funds for its various programs.
But there's one program created by the new law that Senate Republicans have championed: the interim-high risk pool, formally known as the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. In June, Senate Republicans sent a letter to Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius chiding the administration for missing a startup deadline and for failing to provide more than $5 billion.
"The $5 billion meant to protect those with pre-existing conditions will run out long before 2013 and up to $10 billion in additional funding will be needed for the millions of Americans that need this coverage," said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) in a statement accompanying the letter.
"Given the importance of the high risk pool program and the reliance on this program of millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions and life-threatening diseases, it is crucial that this program be fixed and fully funded," Enzi continued. "I am disturbed by the Administration's failure to fund this program and my colleagues and I want answers about when this assistance will be provided and how much it will take to actually provide the coverage promised."
In the fall, Democrats touted the high-risk pool as one of the few parts of health care reform to take effect almost immediately, but since then they haven't said much about it. The pool is designed to provide insurance to people who are uninsurable on the private market because of pre-existing conditions until 2014, when insurance companies will no longer be able to discriminate against the sick. The PCIP offers slightly cheaper premiums than high risk pools currently available in 35 states, which cover 200,000 people and often exclude coverage for some conditions.
Since its launch in July, the PCIP has reached only a few thousand people, and many states have capped enrollment. The program's administrators in the federal government expect it to reach only 350,000. There are as many as four million people uninsured because of pre-existing conditions.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated (PDF) that with unlimited funding the PCIP would insure only 700,000 through 2013 at a cost of $15 billion.
High-risk pools are the centerpiece of the House GOP's alternative health care bill, funded with $25 billion over the next ten years, roughly $4 billion per year once the program is fully phased-in.
"We are committed to repealing ObamaCare and replacing it with common-sense reforms that lower cost, including our high-risk pool proposal, which is superior to the one in Washington Democrats' law," said a spokesman for House Republican leader Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) in an email to HuffPost.
Health care wonks have been skeptical of the idea. "An effective high-risk pool would be more than a small add-on filling a few gaps in the existing insurance system. The program would serve millions of people, spending tens of billions of dollars annually," wrote the University of Chicago's Harold Pollack back in March. "Yet it would bring no guarantee that participants would truly be protected against crushing financial burdens. In presenting high-risk pools as a viable alternative to comprehensive reform, Republicans would leave tens of millions of Americans uninsured, including millions of people with serious health conditions we know would be healthier and would probably live longer if we provided them with basic health coverage."
Guess which member of Congress "betrayed" seniors by voting in favor of the 2010 health care law, a vote for "Nancy Pelosi's health care bill which will cut $500 billion from Medicare" and "hurt the quality of our care." Which member is it? Well, lots of them, according to the 60 Plus Association. The advocacy group bills itself as "a conservative alternative to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)" and supports" a free-enterprise, less -government, less-taxes approach to seniors issues." It has created substantially similar ads to run against Democratic members of Congress in districts ...>> More
Sure, Afghanistan's fourth democratic election since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban was blighted by low turnout thanks to Taliban violence, and by familiar allegations of widespread ballot fraud, but none of that will have much impact on Afghanistan's future.The fact that the 3.6 million votes cast on Saturday was the lowest tally of the four elections held since 2001 is a testament to the resurgence of the Taliban insurgency, whose attacks on poll workers and candidates forced more than 1 in 6 polling stations to remain closed.
With the midterm elections only six weeks away, NPR's Robert Siegel traveled to the Ohio campaign trail and some races the Democrats are hoping will be in their win column. The political winds have shifted in the past few months, and Democratic candidates there aren't taking anything for granted these days. Siegel checks in on some surprisingly tight races: Rep. Betty Sutton; Gov. Ted Strickland -- who's running for a second term; and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who's hoping to win retiring Sen. George Voinovich's seat.
A new comprehensive national survey shows that independent voters - who voted for Barack Obama by a 52%-to-44% margin in the 2008 presidential election - are now moving strongly in the direction of the Republican Party. The survey, conducted by Douglas E. Schoen LLC on behalf of Independent Women's Voice in late August, raises the possibility of a fundamental realignment of independent voters and the dominance of a more conservative electorate.
Anger is sweeping America. True, this white-hot rage is a minority phenomenon, not something that characterizes most of our fellow citizens. But the angry minority is angry indeed, consisting of people who feel that things to which they are entitled are being taken away. And they're out for revenge.No, I'm not talking about the Tea Partiers. I'm talking about the rich.
Few icons of the American way of life have suffered more in recent years than homeownership. Since the bursting of the housing bubble, there has been a steady drumbeat from the factories of futurist punditry that the notion of owning a home will, and, more importantly, should become out of reach for most Americans.Before jumping on this bandwagon, perhaps we would do well to understand the role that homeownership and the diffusion of property plays in a democracy. From Madison and Jefferson through Lincoln’s Homestead Act, the most enduring and radical notion of...