Does Science Prove that the Modern GOP Favors the Rich?

Does Science Prove that the Modern GOP Favors the Rich?

December 7, 2017

Virtually everyone outside the Trump administration agrees that the GOP tax plans passed by the House and the Senate will aggravate income inequality.  In fact, the party-line votes on both plans are the latest instance of a remarkable fact:  Over the last 40 years, income inequality has accelerated when Republicans held the White House, the Congress or both, and slowed when Democrats were in charge.

No one is claiming that the GOP created America’s dramatic increase in income inequality.  In a recent study issued by the Center for Business and Public Policy at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, our analysis showed that changes in the U.S. and global economies and technology did most of that.

Between 1977 and 2014, the average pre-tax income of the bottom 50 percent of Americans—everyone below median income – increased just 1.7 percent, inching up from $15,948 to $16,216 (2014 dollars).  Over the same years, the average pre-tax income of the top one percent soared 207 percent, jumping from $424,631 to $1,305,301.

During these years, Washington stepped in with new spending and tax credits that modestly helped the bottom half of Americans: Their average post-tax income rose 22 percent, from $20,390 in 1977 to $24,047 in 2014.  But tax and spending changes had little effect on the top one percent, whose average post-tax incomes still rose 196 percent, from $342,328 to $1,012,429.

Partisan politics also played a major role: The actual income paths of both groups from 1977 to 2014 depended on whether Republicans or Democrats controlled the White House and/or Congress.  For example, when Republicans held the presidency, the top one percent’s rising share of all post-tax income accelerated on average by 0.4 percentage-points, while under Democratic presidents their rise correspondingly slowed by 0.4 percentage points.  Similarly, the bottom 50 percent’s falling share of post-tax income accelerated under GOP Presidents by an average of 0.5 percentage-points – and again, their decline decelerated by that much under Democratic presidents.

The story is the same with Congress.  During years of GOP control, the decline of the bottom half’s share of national income accelerated, on average, by more than 0.5 percentage-points – and then slowed by about that much when Democrats were in charge of Congress.  Party control of the legislative branch had the least effect on the income path of the top one percent: Their rising share of post-tax income accelerated by an average of 0.3 percentage-points during GOP Congresses, and decelerated by that much during years of Democratic control.

Finally, the results when either party controlled both the White House and Congress were the sum of the results for each branch.

This isn’t conventional wisdom dressed up as science; it is a scientific demonstration of how much elections matter. To test the limits, we also conducted a thought experiment: What would the incomes of the bottom half and the top on percent look like, if one or the other party had controlled both branches of government for the entire 37 years? We assume here that the economy’s course was unaffected by our hypothetical one-party government, and that each party maintains the distributional tendencies in tax and spending policy uncovered in our analysis.

With these assumption, we calculate that if Democrats had been in charge the entire time, the post-tax income of the bottom 50 percent, on average, would have been an estimated $526 higher per-year or a total of $19,539 more for the whole period.  Moreover, the top one percent would have taken home $14,226 less per-year, on average, or $526,373 less for the whole period.

Operating on the same assumptions, we calculate that Republican control of both branches for the entire period would have increased the post-tax income of the top one percent by $28,029 per year, on average, or $1,037,086 for the whole period; while the incomes of the bottom 50 percent of Americans, on average, would have been $563 less per year, or $20,848 less for the entire period..

Helping the rich and letting those in the bottom half fend for themselves, it seems, is now part of the modern GOP’s DNA – and moderate resistance to that course seems to be embedded in the Democrats’ genes.

 



Evaluating the Claim that Cutting Corporate Taxes Will Raise Your Wages

October 18, 2017

Real disputes among professional economists rarely make their way into political debates. But that’s what’s happened with the issue of whether the Trump administration’s proposal to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent would mainly benefit shareholders or workers. Both sides make coherent arguments – but in the end, the evidence supports the proposal’s opponents.

Those opponents start with a traditional tenet of public finance: Taxes on assets are borne by the owners of those assets, so cutting taxes on corporations would mainly benefit their shareholders. .

The proponents cite another tenet of public finance: Taxes are borne by those unable to escape them or, in more technical terms, corporate taxes fall on the least mobile factors of production.   U.S. multinational companies have shifted substantial capital assets to other countries, from their patents to factories;. But American workers are stuck here. This suggests that much of the burden of U.S. corporate taxes could fall on workers – and consequently cutting corporate taxes should benefit them.

Economic researchers have found support for both tenets, but most of the economic literature has estimated that 70 percent to 85 percent of the burden of corporate taxes falls on shareholders and 15 percent to 30 percent on workers. A 2012 study by the U.S. Treasury – one recently excised from the Department’s website – calculated those proportions at 82 percent for shareholders and 18 percent for workers.

Conservatives insist that globalization has rendered those findings outdated. Citing research by Kevin Hassett, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (and my friend) and others, they point to strong statistical associations between reductions in corporate tax rates over the last two decades and strong wage gains, especially in Eastern and Western Europe. Their logic is as follows: As U.S. and native corporations sited more production in low-tax countries, those capital investments raised both the demand for and productivity of workers in those places, driving up their wages.

I have no doubt that those findings are correct – but it does not follow that cutting U.S. corporate taxes would drive up investment and the wages of American workers. .

First, the studies do not show that U.S. companies invested in those countries to avoid high U.S. corporate taxes. Certainly, the large U.S. software and pharmaceutical companies that transferred the ownership of their patents and copyrights to their Irish subsidiaries did so to elude U.S. taxes – transfers which created very few jobs in Ireland. By contrast, U.S. foreign direct investments that involve building factories and setting up new organizations in other countries occur to serve foreign customers in the regions of those investments. Lowering our corporate tax rate will not change that.

Similarly, U.S. and foreign companies invest here to serve the world’s largest national market. Moreover, taxes are not a barrier, since Congress provides a cornucopia of tax breaks to reduce corporate tax burdens well below 35 percent. According to a 2016 Treasury study, the effective corporate tax burden averaged 22 percent over the period 2007 to 2011. Some of that certainly reflected U.S. companies’ foreign earnings that remain untaxed by the United States. But some industries with few foreign operations also paid below-average rates. For example, the effective tax burden on U.S. utilities and real estate companies averaged, respectively, 10 percent and 20 percent. Right now, then, companies can operate in the United States at an effective tax rate equal to or lower than the administration’s proposal.

In the end, the only real issue is whether the tax proposal would induce U.S. or foreign companies to expand their American operations in ways that raise the demand for and productivity of U.S. workers. We cannot know for certain. Nevertheless, the 2016 Treasury study does provide on-point support for its opponents.

The Treasury found that while the effective corporate tax rate averaged 22 percent from 2007 to 2011, it actually fell substantially over those years — from 26 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2011. We did experience four years of strong employment gains from 2013 to 2016, which mainly restored jobs lost in the financial collapse and deep recession. Yet, alas, the falling corporate tax burden did not ignite the surge in business investment and wage gains predicted by the administration’s logic. That’s game, set and match for its opponents.



A New GOP Nightmare: Trump and Democrats Cut a Deal on Taxes

September 26, 2017

Here they go again.  Despite the Republicans’ control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, their internal divisions keep on frustrating their plans to accomplish anything of consequence. So, the most polarizing GOP president since Abraham Lincoln has come up with a startling work-around:  Cut deals with the Democrats on selected major matters, including funding the government, raising the debt limit and, perhaps soon, legalizing the Dreamers.

The next big test is tax reform.  If (when) Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan can’t deliver the goods, could President Trump and the Democrats find common grounds on taxes?

We know what tax reform means to the President and congressional Republicans – much lower taxes for corporations and other businesses; lower taxes for individuals and households, especially on their investment income; and an end to the pesky estate tax.  The problem for Republicans is not their relentless itch to cut taxes for businesses and wealthy people, which is a given for the GOP.  The catch is that their current agenda would cost the Treasury several trillion dollars – and their preferred ways to pay for at least a part of it, by paring corporate tax preferences and personal deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes, only aggravate the party’s internal divisions.

Could Trump win on taxes (hugely) by cutting another deal with Democrats? He went along with virtually everything that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer asked for to seal the previous agreements.  What might the Democrats demand on taxes?

Since Democrats typically favor more federal spending, their traditional wish-list on taxes is heavy on ways to raise revenues rather than options for cutting them. That predilection could provide a basis for another agreement of convenience:  Cut taxes the way that President Trump wants, and pay for it the way that Democrats want.

For years, many Democrats have called for an end to “deferral,” the tax provision that lets multinational companies delay paying any U.S. tax on their foreign earnings, usually for years and sometimes in perpetuity.  It’s the opposite of the GOP’s call for a “territorial” tax system that would permanently exempt from U.S. tax any income that American businesses earn outside the United States.  Tax deferral matters most to the subset of companies that are most successful in worldwide markets. – think of the Internet and software giants, big pharma, and brands like Coca Cola.  If both sides are prepared to cast them aside, there might be a deal that trades a lower corporate tax rate for the prompt taxation of foreign earnings.

It doesn’t make much sense economically:  Since most other countries have “territorial” tax systems, deferral helps level the playing field on taxes for U.S. companies in foreign markets. But economics doesn’t seem to matter much anymore – and consider that the White House could trumpet rolling back deferral as a powerful way to Make America Great Again by convincing companies to produce more goods and services at home, and Democrats could sell it as a way to keep jobs in America.

Democrats also generally favor taxing the investment income of wealthy Americans at the same rates as the wages and salaries of everyone else.  Their call for an end to lower tax rates for capital gains, interest and dividends, of course, is the opposite of the GOP’s current economic faith and tax plans.  Nevertheless, perhaps Trump and the Democrats could agree to raise the tax rate on capital income to the level of labor income in exchange for lowering the tax rates on all income.  Wall Street Republicans would hate it, but some in the GOP might just remember that it’s precisely what Ronald Reagan did in 1986.

There is also a variation on this deal based on Democratic support for higher payroll taxes on high-income people.  Schumer and Pelosi might be willing to trade lower personal tax rates, especially at the top, for subjecting capital income to the payroll tax.  This deal would also require tinkering with Social Security to ensure that payroll tax payments on capital income did not figure into the size of a taxpayer’s subsequent Social Security benefits.  But Democrats could also insist that the Treasury divide the additional revenues between the Social Security Trust Fund and the funding for lower personal tax rates.  This scenario may seem far-fetched until you consider that it would give Trump the opportunity to claim credit for lowering tax rates and saving Social Security.

In the end – and perhaps it’s a good thing — none of these scenarios is likely to happen for two reasons.  The Republicans probably will split over tax reform, but the odds they can stick together are greater on taxes than healthcare: It’s always easier to agree on how to give away money than on how to take it away.  Beyond that, agreeing on taxes would require more imagination and nerve by the White House, and probably Democratic leaders too, than either has displayed recently.  Nevertheless, the bare possibility of collaboration on taxes between President Trump and the Democrats reminds us that governing can divide a political party, and being in opposition can unite it.

An earlier version of this essay was published by the Brookings Institution: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2017/09/22/a-gop-nightmare-trump-and-democrats-cut-a-deal-on-taxes/



The Trump Administration is Disrupting the 2020 Census – And it Matters More than You Think

September 5, 2017

The decennial Census is a genuinely powerful institution in American life. I didn’t understand its impact until I oversaw the Census Bureau as it prepared and carried out the 2000 decennial Census, when I was Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs. Believe me, the upcoming 2020 decennial Census will matter more than you think. Yet, Congress and now the Trump administration have set the 2020 decennial on a course that threatens its basic accuracy. In so doing, they put at risk the integrity and effectiveness of some of the national government’s basic missions.

Normally, the Census Bureau spends the first six years of each decade planning the next decennial Census. The Bureau’s funding ramps up in years seven, eight and nine of the decade, when it tests and purchases its technologies, conducts a nationwide inventory of residential addresses, orders forms, letters and advertising, and begins to lease local offices and train temporary workers. It is expensive to accurately locate and count 325 million people in 126 million households (2016). That’s why, for example, Census funding jumped 96 percent from 1997 to 1998, and more than 60 percent from 2007 to 2008.

The problems began in 2014, when the Congress decreed that the 2020 Decennial Census should cost no more than the 2010 count without adjusting for inflation, or some $12.5 billion. The Obama administration objected, but to no effect – although it’s worth recalling that Bill Clinton took a different tack in 1998, when he vetoed an omnibus budget bill and risked a government shutdown to get rid of a provision that would have barred the Census Bureau from using statistical sampling to verify the 2000 count.

The Census Bureau did what it had to do to live within its new budget constraints: it drew up new plans to cut costs by replacing thousands of temporary Census workers and hundreds of temporary offices with new technologies and online capacities. It also had to do what it shouldn’t have done: To save money, the Bureau aborted a planned Spanish-language test census and didn’t test or implement new ways to more accurately count people in remote and rural area. Census also ended its plans to test a range of local outreach and messaging strategies to get people to fill out their census forms, which are crucial to minimizing undercounts in many minority and marginalized communities.

Even so, the Census Bureau prepared to ramp up funding in 2017 and 2018, as it normally did, udner the $12.5 billion cap. Enter the Trump administration, which cut the Obama administration’s 2017 budget request for the Census Bureau by 10 percent and then, this past April, flat-lined the funding for 2018. It is no coincidence that the Director of the Census Bureau, John Thompson, resigned in May, effective in June. It’s a serious loss, since Dr. Thompson directed the 2000 decennial count and is probably the most able person available to contain the coming damage to the 2020 count. For its part, the administration hasn’t even identified, much less nominated, his successor. It is no surprise that the Government Accountability Office recently designated the 2020 Census as one of a handful of federal programs at “High Risk” of failure.

The costs of starving the decennial Census could be great. It not only paints the country’s changing demographic and geographic portrait every 10 years. Its state-by-state counts determine how the 435 members of the House of Representatives are allocated among the states; and its counts by “Census block” (roughly a neighborhood) shape how members of state legislatures and many city councils are allocated in those jurisdictions. That’s just the beginning.

Consider as well that every year, the federal government distributes about $600 billion in funds to state and local governments for education, Medicaid and other health programs, highways, housing, law enforcement and much more. To do so, the government uses formulas with terms for each area’s level of education, income or poverty rate, racial and family composition, and more. The decennial Census provides the baseline for those distributions by counting the people with each of those characteristics in each state and Census block. Similarly, the Census Bureau conducts scores of additional surveys every year on behalf of most domestic departments of government, to help them assess the effectiveness of their programs. Here again, the decennial Census provides the baseline for measuring each program’s progress or lack of it.

Without an accurate Census, many states and cities will be denied the full funding they deserve and need, and the federal government will have to fly blind for a decade across a range of important areas. Moreover, many businesses also rely on decennial data, from retailers and commercial real estate developers to the banks that finance them. Data on the demographics and locations of potential customers not only inform their planning and investments. In some cases, the data actually make their projects possible, for example, when an investment qualifies for special tax treatment if it occurs in places with certain concentrations of low or moderate-income households.

The Trump administration cavalier approach to the 2020 decennial Census is evident in ways other than its funding deficit. A draft executive order, leaked but not issued so far, would direct the Census Bureau, for the first time in over 200 years, to “include questions to determine U.S. citizenship and immigration status.” The Census Bureau is legally required to protect the privacy of all Census data from requests by anyone, including government officials. Unsurprisingly, many people remain skeptical and avoid answering the Census out of fear that other government agencies will access their information. Requiring that Census 2020 probe each respondent’s citizenship and immigration status would turbo-charge those fears among Hispanics and other immigrant groups. The result would be systemic undercounting and underfunding of states, cities and towns with substantial populations of Hispanics and other immigrants.

There is still time for a course correction that could rescue the 2020 decennial Census, in next month’s negotiations over the 2018 budget. With some GOP members of Congress exhibiting a measure of newly-found independence from the Trump administration, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell could need Democratic support to pass a budget. A wide range of minority advocacy and business groups, along with most big city mayors, have vital interests in an accurate decennial Census. It’s up to them to pressure Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to make adequate funding for the Census one of their top priorities. Otherwise, one of the basic mechanisms for fair and competent governance could be disabled for a decade.



How to Raise Incomes and Delay the Next Recession

May 23, 2017

Last October, mulling over the economic environment the next President would face, I sent Hillary Clinton memos on how she should provide some stimulus to sustain the current expansion and raise incomes by boosting business investment and productivity. Alas, she did not become President; but that didn’t change our current economic challenges. To be sure, President Trump’s manifold troubles may preclude Congress from doing anything meaningful until after the 2018 elections. But if that’s not the case, here’s some advice for both sides.

The White House, above all, should appreciate the stakes: Without some form of serious stimulus, the U.S. economy almost certainly will slip into recession well before 2020. From Trump’s recent statements about “priming the pump,” he already understands that the eight-year-old expansion needs a boost. The GOP plan for sweeping tax cuts won’t work here, even if it could pass Congress. To begin, it devotes most of its resources to high-income people and shareholders, who will just save most of their tax savings. More important, the plan would vastly expand federal deficits on a permanent basis. If that happens, the Federal Reserve almost certainly will hike interest rates considerably higher and faster than they now contemplate, and those rate hikes would likely end the expansion.

Washington needs to prime the pump in a way that directly supports employment over the next two years and carries no long-term costs for the deficit. As it happens, Trump and Democrats already support a reasonable way to do just that – enact a large, two-year increase in public investments in infrastructure. But the plan will attract Democratic support only if Trump gives up the idea of using tax breaks to leverage private investment in new infrastructure projects. Democrats won’t (and shouldn’t) go along, because that approach tilts the program towards infrastructure projects in high-income areas that can generate strong profits for its investors.

I assume that the President’s economic advisors also have briefed him on the recent, serious slowdown in business investment and productivity growth. Unless Trump addresses those problems as well, most Americans will make little income progress. The challenge here is to focus on changes that will boost business investment in way that strengthen productivity, and do it without raising deficits on a permanent basis.

One approach that congressional Republicans and some Democrats could support entails allowing businesses to “expense” their investments in equipment – that is, deduct the entire cost in the year they purchase the equipment. This change focuses on equipment investments, because they have the greatest impact on growth and productivity. The catch is that this approach still costs the Treasury many tens of billions of dollars per-year, especially if it covers both corporations and privately-held businesses (like the Trump Organization), as it should.

Trump could draw some support for the plan from congressional Democrats by insisting that Wall Street pay for it. First, he could deliver on his campaign promise to end the notorious “carried interest” loophole that lets the managers of private equity, venture capital and hedge funds use the capital gains tax rate to shelter most of their income from their funds. Fund managers certainly can afford to pay the regular income tax like the rest of us: In 2016, the top 25 hedge fund managers altogether earned $11 billion or an average of $440 million each.

To pay for the rest of equipment expensing, Trump should support the call by many Democrats for a small tax on financial transactions – three one-hundredths of one percent of the value of all stock, bond and derivative purchases should do it. (Stock and bond IPOs and currency transactions would be exempt.) Wall Street will howl in protest – music to most Americans’ ears – but the economics are sound. On the plus side, the tax would reduce market volatility by discouraging short-term speculation and ending most high-frequency computer trading. Moreover, today’s short-term speculators and high-frequency traders will have to invest those resources in more productive ways.   The negative is that the tax would raise transaction costs and thus dampen investment on the margins. But since the tax would finance a serious reduction in the cost of business investments in equipment, the overall impact on the markets will be positive.

This plan is far from the dream agenda of either party. A Hillary Clinton presidency would have included many other measures to boost productivity and incomes, from access to tuition-free college for young people and greater access to bank loans for new businesses, to broad retraining opportunities for adults and a path to citizenship to expand job opportunities for immigrants. For their part, congressional Republicans still believe in their trinity of huge tax cuts, drastic deregulation, and deep cutbacks in Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare benefits. But the economics of stimulating an aging expansion and restoring business investment are non-partisan, and both parties should have an interest in reviving income progress for most Americans.

For President Trump, this plan has three simple parts consistent with his positions: Increase public infrastructure investments, lower the cost of business investments, and make Wall Street pay more of its fair share. If he can cut this deal, nearly everybody will win – but if he can’t, no one will lose more than he will.



The Case for Guaranteed Access to Prescription Drugs

December 15, 2016

Everyone complains about the prices of prescription drugs. Yet, 60 percent of us use them, because they help relieve our pain, improve the quality of our lives, and extend our lifespans. The older we are, the more prescription drugs we consume — and not only because older people usually have more healthcare issues. Equally important, older Americans have guaranteed access to Medicare-backed private insurance coverage for their prescriptions through Medicare Part D plans.

My advice for Medicare “reformers” emboldened by the recent elections is to keep your hands off Part D. Here’s why: Prescription drugs can now treat millions of people for conditions that otherwise would require other costly medical procedures and services, saving taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.

Last week, the Progressive Policy Institute published a new analysis I did of the operations and finances of the Part D program. We reviewed the many, many studies that have investigated the effectiveness and costs of prescription drugs. One particularly extensive analysis found that each prescription filled or refilled by a Medicare beneficiary lowered other healthcare costs by $104 in 2000, or by $173.61 in 2014. We also know from the Kaiser Family Foundation that Americans ages 65 and older fill and refill prescriptions, on average 27.9 times per year.

Based on these findings, I estimate that the use of prescription drugs by the 23.4 million Americans people covered by Part D plans in 2014 saved the Medicare system an average of $4,844 each, or $113.5 billion altogether. Because Medicare Part D cost taxpayers $68.4 billion in 2014, this access to prescription drugs saved taxpayers $69.6 billion in 2014, on a net basis. Include as well the 14.4 million beneficiaries with drug coverage through Medicare Part C Advantage plans, and the use of prescriptions drugs by Medicare beneficiaries in 2014 produced a net savings for taxpayers of $110.2 billion. This is compelling evidence that misguided efforts to cut federal support for Part D and Part C would cost lives and drive up Medicare costs.

To learn more, go to The Value of the Part D Program for Its Beneficiaries and the Medicare System.



What You Earn Does Not Depend on Whether You Attend a For-Profit University or a Traditional, Not-for-Profit Institution

August 24, 2016

Young people respond to incentives like everyone else; and years of evidence showing that most well-paying jobs go to those with post-secondary degrees have been followed by rising numbers of young people attending college. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that from 1995 to 2015, the share of Americans ages 25 to 29 with an associate’s degree jumped from 33 percent to nearly 46 percent, and the share with a bachelor’s degree rose from 25 percent to nearly 36 percent.

In recent years, a new debate has emerged over what type of higher education leads to a well-paid career. In particular, a number of commentators have claimed that a degree from a for-profit college or university produces much smaller income benefits than a degree from a traditional, public or private non-profit institution. To test this claim, I analyzed the first systematic data available on the incomes of young graduates based on where they earned their degrees.

Over the last decade, five states — Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Texas and Virginia — have tracked the first-year incomes of graduates by their major fields of study, using state unemployment insurance records. Those data covered a total of 273 traditional, public and private not-for-profit colleges and universities. A leading for-profit institution, Kaplan University, agreed to provide comparable data on their graduates using the Department of Labor Wage Record Interchange System, and asked me to investigate.

In a new study released this week, I found not only that the graduates of the for-profit institution achieved much larger income gains than comparable young people without a degree. I also found that Kaplan University graduates with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree earned incomes generally comparable to the graduates from the 273 traditional, public and private non-profit institutions in those five states.

The data show, first, that a Kaplan University degree produced substantial income benefits. Six years after finishing an associate’s degree, Kaplan graduates earned an average of 82 percent more they did before entering Kaplan ($15,290 to $27,890), while their counterparts who did not pursue any degree are estimated to have earned barely 4 percent more ($15,290 to $15,964). Similarly, six years after earning a bachelor’s degree, Kaplan University graduates earned an average of 38 percent more than they did before starting ($30,358 to $41,947), compared to the estimated 4 percent gains of their counterparts with only a high school diploma ($30,358 to $31,698). (The difference in the earnings premiums for the two degrees is largely based on the low prior earnings of those who went on to earn an associate’s degree.) Indeed, the estimated gains are actually likely to be conservative, since the analysis excluded those programs in which the students’ median income before entering Kaplan University was less than a full-time minimum wage.

The first-year earnings of new graduates provide perhaps the clearest evidence of how employers view and value the institutions that their new employees attended. So, I compared the first-year earnings of the graduates of the traditional public and private institutions in the five states, by their major field of study, and the first year earnings of Kaplan University graduates in the same major fields. These data tell us that from an employer’s vantage, Kaplan University bachelor’s and associate’s degree graduates look and perform much like other graduates.

• In the first year following their graduation, young people with a Kaplan University bachelor’s degree, on average, earned more than their counterparts in the same major fields from traditional public and private institutions in three of the five states — Arkansas, Florida, and Virginia — and less than their counterparts from traditional institutions in Colorado and Texas.

• Kaplan University associate’s degree graduates had higher median first-year earnings than their counterparts from traditional institutions in the same major fields in two of the five states — Arkansas and Virginia — and lower median earnings than their counterparts from traditional institutions in Colorado, Florida and Texas.

• The data also show, however, that the average first-year earnings of Kaplan University master’s degree graduates were less than the average of their counterparts from traditional institutions in all five states.

The finding that Kaplan University bachelor’s and associate’s degree graduates do generally as well economically as graduates in the same fields from traditional colleges and universities is particularly striking, because the data provided by four of the five states tended to overstate their graduates’ average or median earnings. The data from Kaplan University and Texas covered all graduates with any earnings; but Arkansas, Colorado, Florida and Virginia provided data only on graduates who earned at least the equivalent of a full-time, year-round, minimum wage. In effect, four of the five states excluded graduates who worked only part-time or part of the year in their first year after graduating. Even so, the Kaplan University graduates, on average, out-performed the graduates of traditional institutions in three of those four states at the bachelor’s degree level, and in two of the four states at the associate’s degree level.

These results are heartening as Americans try to address issues of inequality, because minority and poor students comprise a substantially larger share of the student bodies of Kaplan University and other for-profit institutions, compared to traditional not-for-profit colleges and universities. NCES data show that in 2014, African-American, Hispanic and other minority students comprised 50.2 percent of all full-time students at degree-granting for-profit colleges and universities, compared to 28.3 percent of the full-time students at private not-for-profit institutions and 37.5 percent at public institutions. For-profit colleges and universities clearly provide disproportionate access to higher education for minority students.

This analysis carries certain caveats. It draws on income data for graduates from one major for-profit university and 273 traditional not-for-profit institutions in five states. The economic results of attending a for-profit institution certainly vary substantially across those institutions, as do the results of attending a traditional college or university. However, the data clearly show that the graduates of one leading for-profit institution derive economic value from their education and degrees generally comparable to the value derived by graduates from attending traditional, not-for-profit public and private institutions across five states.



Whatever Some Candidates Tell You, the Incomes of Most Americans Have Been Rising

April 4, 2016

After a decade when most Americans saw their incomes decline, the latest Census Bureau income data contain very good news: A majority of U.S. households racked up healthy income gains in 2013 and 2014. The facts may not fit the narratives of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Bernie Sanders.  But they do help explain why President Obama’s job approval and favorability ratings have passed 50 percent.

They also show that Hispanic households made more income progress in 2013 and 2014 than any other group, which may be one reason for their growing support for Demovrats.  A third surprise: Households headed by Americans without high school diplomas racked up their first meaningful income gains since the 1990s, thanks to the large job gains in 2013 and 2014 and the Obamacare cash subsidies beginning in those years.

These findings come from using the Census data on the median incomes of American households by the age, gender, race and education of their household heads, to track their income progress as they aged from 2009 to 2012. I focused first on millennial households headed by young women and men who were 20- to 29-years-old in 2009, which makes them 27- to 36-year-old voters today.

For decades, younger households have been the group with the fastest-rising incomes, and the recent period is no exception. Despite colorful stories of millions of young people living in their parents’ basements, the data show that the household incomes of these millennials (adjusted for inflation) grew 3.6 percent per year from 2009 to 2012, and those gains accelerated to 4.5 percent per year in 2013 and 2014.

The data also show that the incomes of millennial Hispanic households grew 5.4 percent per year in 2013 and 2014, outpacing the progress of white and African American millennial households of the same ages. To be sure, not all millennials did nearly so well: The household incomes of those without high-school diplomas, which had declined an average of 1 percent per year from 2009 to 2012, rose 3.1 percent in 2013 and 2014 — while the incomes of households headed by millennials with high school diplomas or college degrees grew 5 percent per year.

Two main factors are at work here, as well as in the big gains by Hispanic households, First, businesses created almost 2.5 million net new jobs in 2013 and 3 million more in 2014, and such strong job growth disproportionately helps those at the economy’s margin. Second, Obamacare’s cash subsidies for lower-income households kicked in the same years, and Census counts government cash subsidies as a form of income.

The years 2013 and 2014 also were good for most of Generation X. My analysis here focused on households headed by people who were 35 to 39 in 2009, which means they are 42- to 46-year-old voters today. In those two years, the median income of those Gen X households rose 2.3 percent per year — a major turnaround from 2009 to 2012, when their incomes had declined 4 percent per year.

As with the millennials, Gen X households headed by Hispanics made more income progress in 2013 and 2014 than did their white or African American counterparts. And thanks once again to the robust job growth and the Obamacare cash subsidies, Gen X households headed by people without high school diplomas made substantial income progress in 2013 and 2014 — in fact, more progress than Gen X households headed by high school or college graduates.

For many decades, the income gains of most Americans have slowed as they aged. Nevertheless, the new income data contain moderately good news for households headed by late baby boomers, those who were 45- to 49-years-old in 2009 and today are voters ages 52 to 56.  Their median household incomes rose in 2013 and 2014 by an average of .5 percent per year; but even that was a big improvement from 2009 to 2012, when their incomes fell 1.1 percent per year.

As with the millennials and Gen Xers, the Hispanic boomer households again fared better than their white and African American counterparts in 2013 and 2014: The median incomes of these Hispanic households grew 2.8 percent per year in 2013 and 2014, compared to gains of 2 percent per year by African American boomers and .1 percent per year by white boomers. Also, once again, the data show that the incomes of households headed by boomers without high school diplomas grew faster in 2013 and 2014 than the incomes of boomer households headed by high school or college graduates.

The Census Bureau will release the 2015 incomes data in a few months. We already know that the economy created another 2.65 million new jobs in 2015. If, as expected, the broad income progress seen in 2013 and 2014 persists in 2015, it will rebut much of the economic message touted by Trump, and badly weaken Sander’s critique of Hillary Clinton. These data may not penetrate those campaigns and the media that surround them, but American voters know when their own incomes have improved — and that will alter the landscape for next November in ways almost certain to favor Democrats and their nominee.



Donald Trump’s Chutzpah: His Tax Plan Doubles Down on Inequality and Gives His Own Company a Huge Tax Windfall

March 3, 2016

Donald Trump, often a master of snide generalities, has been very precise about not only his plans for undocumented immigrants and Obamacare, but also his approach to taxes.  The presumptive GOP nominee has laid out detailed proposals to cut tax rates, expand the standard deduction, and sharply shift the approach to business taxes.  I’ve reviewed his proposals, and the conclusions are sobering.  For a starter, Trump’s tax cuts are so expansive, they would decimate either the federal budget or the U.S. credit rating.  Moreover, the GOP “populist” channels most of the benefits from his tax cuts to the country’s wealthiest individuals and businesses.  So, Trump characteristically doubles down on the Democrats’ central meme of income inequality, and ensures that one of the biggest winners would be the Donald himself, through a giant tax windfall for The Trump Organization, LLC and other privately-held enterprises.

Just to begin, Trump’s proposals are wildly reckless as fiscal policy.  According to the Tax Policy Foundation, a joint enterprise of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, Trump’s tax plan would gut federal revenues by $9.8 trillion over 10 years.  In 2020, his plan would reduce personal income tax revenues by $695 billion or more than 36 percent, and gut corporate income tax revenues by $196 billion or 50 percent.   All told, the revenue losses under Trump’s plan in 2020 come to $915 billion, equal to all defense spending projected for that year ($570 billion), plus 44 percent of all Social Security retirement benefits in 2020 ($793 billion) .  If Trump wants to finance his tax plans by borrowing instead of cutting spending, he should know that such a large, additional burden on credit markets would push up interest rates and slow growth, and likely trigger a U.S. debt crisis.

Turning to the details, one feature of Trump’s plan that would help some middle-class Americans is his proposal to expand the standard deduction from $6,300 to $25,000 (singles) and from $12,600 to $50,000 (couples).  His plan also simplifies and lowers marginal income tax rates to 10 percent, 20 percent, and 25 percent.  But these changes provide nothing for the 45 percent of U.S. households with low or moderate incomes, because they are not liable today for any federal income tax.

Apart from the big standard deduction, Trump channels virtually all of his tax benefits to high income people and businesses.  Trump’s plan would save an average household that pays income taxes $2,732 in 2017, mainly from the expanded standard deduction.  Those in the 95th to 99th percentile, however, would save $27,657 in 2017, 10 times the benefits for an average taxpayer.  Further, households in the top 1 percent would save $275,257 in 2017, 100 times the benefits for the average taxpayer.  And those at the very top of the income ladder, the richest one-tenth of 1 percent of households including Donald Trump, would save $1,302,887 in 2017, or 480 times the benefits for average taxpayers.

These windfall gains are driven mainly by Trump’s proposals to reduce the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent and slash taxes on businesses.  So, Trump would cut the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent.  Trump’s enthusiasts will note that his business tax reforms include ending the right of U.S. multinationals to defer their U.S. tax on income earned abroad, much as President Obama has proposed.  But only Trump would cut the U.S. corporate rate to 15 percent.  Some 96 percent of the foreign income of U.S. companies is earned in countries that tax corporate income at rates of 15 percent or more, and those U.S. companies get U.S. tax credits for the taxes they pay abroad.  So, under Trump’s 15 percent corporate tax rate, 96 percent of the foreign-source income of U.S. multinationals would be free of any U.S. tax – much more than under current law.

Trump provides equally large tax windfalls for non-corporate businesses such as LLCs and partnerships, which account today for more than half of U.S. business revenues and profits.  Here, Trump appears to agree with Obama and Hillary Clinton about closing down the “carried interest” loophole, which taxes most of the income earned by hedge fund and private equity fund partners at the 23.8 percent capital gains rate.  But Trump’s version of this reform is meaningless, because he also cuts the top tax rate for income earned in all “pass-through” entities such as hedge funds and private equity funds to 15 percent:  So, they would pay even lower taxes under Trump’s plan than under the current, carried interest loophole.

That’s not even the worst of it:  This 15 percent rate would apply not only to hedge funds and private equity funds, but to all partnerships and privately-held businesses, including the Koch Brothers’ companies and The Trump Organization, LLC.   Instead of paying taxes at the current 39.6 percent top personal rate, or the current 23.8 percent capital gains rate, or even the 25 percent top personal rate under Trump’s plan, the Koch brothers, hedge fund partners and the Donald himself would pay 15 percent.  Under Trump’s plan, he and his company would pay a lower tax rate than an average American earning $47,750 today.  That’s chutzpah even for Donald Trump.



GOP Hopefuls Understand Little about Older Americans and Social Security

February 1, 2016

In last Thursday’s GOP debate, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie avoided any mention of their common proposal to “reform entitlements” by raising the Social Security retirement age from 67 to 70. Their silence was the right decision: Their proposal demonstrates their lack of understanding about the demographics of older Americans, especially the dramatic disparities in their life expectancy associated with education and race.

Recent research on life expectancy indicates that their proposed change would effectively nullify Social Security for millions of Americans and sharply limit benefits for many millions more. While many people in their 30s and 40s today can look forward to living into their 80s, the average life expectancy for the majority of Americans who hold no college degree hovers closer to 70, or the average life expectancy for all Americans in 1950.

A recent study in Health Affairs explored the average life expectancy of Americans who were age 25 in 2008, or 33 years-old today. It reports that the average expected life span of 33-year-old high school educated men is now 73.2 years among whites and 69.3 years among black—n compared to 81.7 years for whites and 78.2 years for blacks for their college-educated counterparts. American women on average live longer than American men, but their differences based on race and education also are dramatic. The average life expectancy of high-school educated women age 33 today is 79 years for whites and 75.4 years for blacks, compared to 84.7 years for 33-year old whites and 81.6 years for blacks of that age with college degrees. The projected life spans of Americans now in their 30s without a high school diploma are lowest of all, ranging from 68.2 years (black men) and 68.6 years (white men) to 74.2 years (black and white women). Surprisingly, the data suggest that Hispanics have the longest life expectancies of any group, even though they also have the lowest average years of education; but those anomalous results may reflect sampling problems.

(The Brookings Institution just issued a more detailed version of my analysis, with tables, which you can find here.)

Using Census data on the distribution by education of people age 30 to 39 in 2014, we further know that 20,292,000 thirty-somethings or 54.9 percent of all Americans in their 30s fall in educational groups with much lower life expectancies. Some 45.4 percent of whites in their 30s or 10,613,000 Americans have a high school degree or less, and their average life expectancy is 9.4 years less than whites in their 30s with a B.A. or associates degree. Similarly, 64.4 percent of blacks in their 30s or 3,436,000 Americans have a high school degree or less; their life expectancy is 8.6 years less than blacks in their 30s with a B.A. or associates degree. Finally, 75.6 percent of Hispanics in their 30s or 6,243,000 Americans have a high school degree or less, and their life expectancy is 5.0 years less than Hispanics in their 30s with a B.A. or associates degree.

Across all communities – white, black, Hispanic — improvements in secondary education to prepare everyone for higher education, and measures to ensure full economic access to higher education, would add years to the lives of many millions of Americans.

These findings have special significance for Social Security, because the number of years Americans can claim its benefits depends on how long they live. Americans in their 30s today will be able to retire with full benefits at age 67; but depending on their education and race, they should expect to collect those benefits, on average, for a period ranging from 1.2 years to 19.3 years. The most pressing cases involve white men, black men, and black women without college degrees. Among Americans age 33 today, white and black men without high school diplomas and black, male high school graduates can expect to live long enough, on average, to claim Social Security for less than three years. Similarly, white and black women without high school diplomas and black, female high school graduates, on average, can expect to collect their monthly benefits for less than eight years. By contrast, white college-educated men and women age 33 today can expect to receive Social Security for between 14.7 and 17.7 years, respectively; and 33-year old black men and women with college degrees, on average, will claim benefits for 11.2 to 14.6 years, respectively.

These findings dictate that proposals to raise the Social Security retirement age should be rejected as a matter of basic fairness. As noted earlier, GOP hopefuls Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie all have called for raising the retirement age to 70 years. Among Americans in their 30s today, their proposal would mean that black men without a college degree and white men without a high school diploma, on average, would not live long enough to collect any retirement benefits. White and black women without high school diplomas, and in their 30s today, along with 30-something white men with a high school diploma and black women who graduated high school, on average, would live long enough to receive Social Security for just 3.2 to 5.4 years. All told, the GOP proposals would mean that after working for 35 years or more, 25.2 percent of white Americans now in their 30s and 64.4 percent of blacks of similar age would be able to claim Social Security benefits for about five years or less. And that alone should disqualify any proponent of a higher retirement age from the presidency.