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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Differences Among House Republicans

David Byler writes at RealClearPolitics:
Last November, Republicans made impressive gains in the House, winning their largest majority since the 1920s. The GOP wave added 43 freshmen, more than 40 percent of whom are “Obama Republicans” – Republicans from districts that Mitt Romney either won by less than five points or lost to President Obama.
How do these freshmen “Obama Republicans” differ from the rest of the GOP?
The Brookings Institution recently released data that helps answer this question. The researchers at Brookings scoured nearly every 2014 congressional candidate’s press releases, websites and endorsements to create a dataset describing their positions on a variety of issues. By using this data instead of voting records or third party sites,
Brookings measured how these candidates advertise themselves to their constituents.
Brookings Senior Fellow Elaine Kamarck already used this data to analyze how Obama Republicans – both freshmen and non-freshmen – differ from the rest of their party on gun control, climate change, immigration and same-sex marriage. We took a somewhat different approach. We looked at how freshmen Obama Republicans differed from other GOP freshmen on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and taxes, along with the issues Kamarck examined. This approach not only drives home the divide between the Obama Republicans and the rest of the party, but also shows how the freshmen Republicans differ from the more senior members of their caucus.
Specifically, Obama Republicans and the rest of the party are deeply divided in their approach to hot-button social issues, but they are united on taxes and Obamacare. More complex generational patterns emerge on immigration and climate change.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Union Membership in 2014

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
In 2014, the union membership rate--the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions--was 11.1 percent, down 0.2 percentage point from 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.6 million, was little different from 2013. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.

The data on union membership are collected as part of the Current Population Survey(CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation's civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and over. ...

Highlights from the 2014 data:

--Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.7 percent), more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.6 percent). (See table 3.)
--Workers in education, training, and library occupations and in protective service occupations had the highest unionization rate, at 35.3 percent for each occupation group. (See table 3.)
--Men had a higher union membership rate (11.7 percent) than women (10.5 percent) in 2014. (See table 1.)
--Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Hispanic workers. (See table 1.)
--Median weekly earnings of nonunion workers ($763) were 79 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($970). (The comparisons of earnings in this release are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences.) (See table 2.)
--Among states, New York continued to have the highest union membership rate (24.6 percent), and North Carolina again had the lowest rate (1.9 percent). (See table 5.)
At The Daily Beast, Daniel DiSalvo writes:
How does it happen that citizens of modest means suffer as public sector unions gain? A big part of the problem is that many states and cities have been providing more public services and promising to pay for them later by back-loading public employee compensation into retirement. And as the share of state and local budgets devoted to public employee pension and health benefits increases, the latter “crowds out” government spending on parks, education, public safety, and other services on which the poor and middle class rely. Democrats find themselves in the difficult position of defending governments that spend more but do less.
For example, Chicago’s ailing pension system, only 33 percent funded, is the back-story behind the city’s teacher strike last fall, its struggle with a surge in the murder rate in 2012, and the closure of dozens of schools. In New York City, pension, health, and other fringe benefits for city employees constituted 15 percent of the city budget in 2002, but by 2014 those items gobbled up 34 percent of the budget. New York now employs fewer cops, firefighters, and sanitation workers than it did in 2002.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Texas Jobs

PolitiFact reports:
Gov. Perry said that starting in December 2007, "1.4 million jobs were created in Texas. In that same period, the rest of the country lost 400,000 jobs."
His figures mostly hold up according to household surveys by the federal government looking into civilian employment including self-employment, though positions not yet recovered outside Texas totaled closer to 350,000, according to the latest available data when Perry spoke.
We rate this statement Mostly True.
From the Joint Economic Committee of Congress:


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Requiring Students to Take the Citizenship Test

On January 15, Arizona became the first to require students to take the U.S. citizenship test. AP reports:
Fewer than a dozen states currently require students to take a civics exam, and passing it isn't necessary to graduate in all of them. In most states, civic education instead revolves around a one-semester U.S. history course.
...
"This has been building for a long time," said Ted McConnell, executive director of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, a civic learning coalition co-chaired by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. McConnell said he and others are wary that legislators are only skimming the surface of what students need to know.
"The folks who are civic educators and experts by and large are pushing for a much, much more well-rounded approach," said Paul Baumann, director of the National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement at the Education Commission of the States, a state-led research organization.
For years, education leaders have sounded the alarm on the state of civic education.
Just 13 percent of high school seniors scored as "proficient" or higher in American history on the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Voter participation in the most recent midterm elections was the lowest in decades, and even entertainers like Jay Leno have tapped into the country's weak civic knowledge with laughable pop quiz history tests.
The Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute has set a goal of having all 50 states adopt the U.S. citizenship requirement for high school students by 2017, the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution. The institute says legislatures in 15 states are expected to consider it this year. The North Dakota House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the same measure Thursday, but Arizona's proposal was the first to become law.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Obama v. College Savings Accounts

Our textbook discusses 529 savings plans.  Tara Siegel Bernard reports at the New York Times:
President Obama is proposing a radical change to the 529 college savings plans held by millions of families, which would require those who use them to rethink their approach to college savings.
As part of his plan to simplify the tax code and help the middle class, one of the 529 plan’s most attractive benefits would be eliminated: Money could no longer be withdrawn tax-free. (The new rules would apply only to new contributions.)
The accounts, many of which are run by the states, allow people to make contributions that grow tax-free. The money can be withdrawn without the paying of capital gains taxes as long as the proceeds are used for education expenses. Many states provide state income tax deductions for contributions as well.
“I was very surprised by the Obama 529 proposal because in many ways it is anti-middle class for families trying to afford college,” said Joe Hurley, founder of the SavingforCollege.com website. “And so much of the emphasis in the Obama administration has been pro-middle class.”

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Social Media and the State of the Union

At The Wall Street Journal, former Obama campaign spokesperson Stephanie Cutter writes:
In 2010, more than 48 million people watched the State of the Union address. But Americans increasingly get their content online, not on television. The average American watched six fewer hours of live TV per month in 2014 than he or she did in 2013—and twice as many households are now “broadband only,” meaning they don’t subscribe to cable.
Rather than fight the inevitable, the Obama administration has adapted–and used a variety of social media platforms to outline the president’s major State of the Union proposals in advance.
It was a shrewd way to take the president’s agenda directly to the platforms where people get their information, unfiltered, and reach the communities that care the most about specific issues.
That’s why senior adviser Valerie Jarrett took to LinkedIn to announce the president’s renewed push for paid sick days and family leave—directly reaching affected employees and telling employers that the administration means business.
To explain the administration’s proposal to improve and expand access to broadband, President Barack Obama taped a video on an iPad from the Oval Office and posted it Upworthy, the Web site popular with millennials.
The White House put out an "enhanced" version of the State of the Union.  Philip Bump appraises it in comparison with GOP messages.

At The Washington Post, Caitlin Dewey offers a brief history of the president's use of online media.