Are Wages Really That Depressed?

Wall Street Journal: “A new piece of research from Stephen Rose, an affiliated scholar with the Urban Institute and a professor at George Washington University, has the modest premise that rumors of the demise of American well-being have been greatly exaggerated.”

“Since 1979, real earnings are up only 17%, after adjusting for inflation using the consumer-price index. For a period of nearly three and a half decades, it’s a disappointing run, although broken down by gender, the picture is more mixed.”

“When the cost of employee benefits is included in Mr. Rose’s chart … suddenly workers are doing quite a bit better. Real median compensation, adjusted for the consumer-price index, is up 25% from 1979.”

“But Mr. Rose argues that one more change is important: using the right inflation index. The personal consumption expenditures price index has generally shown inflation to be lower than the CPI. And many economists believe the PCE is the more accurate index, since it better accounts for the ways that consumers’ consumption behavior changes over time. The Federal Reserve, for example, prefers the PCE price index.”

Despite Wins, Supreme Court is not a Liberal Court

Nina Totenberg of NPR observes that “though the court is dominated by conservative justices — the liberal minority, disciplined and united, drove the direction in a startling number of cases, while the conservatives splintered into multiple factions.”

“The liberals won in 19 of the 26 closely-divided ideological cases and eight out of 10 of the most important ones … Even taking the most centrist of the conservatives, Justice Anthony Kennedy, out of the equation, one or more members of the conservative bloc crossed over to join the liberals in 14 of the most ideological cases, while the reverse was true for the liberals only three times.”

One reason: “The liberals are, for the most part, just trying to preserve the status quo.”

Other reasons: “conservative activists just pushed their agenda too far [and] that the five conservative justices on the court have very different legal philosophies, and the cases this term showed those splits in vivid color.”

The New York Times Editorial Board adds:  If the court’s decisions “reflect any particular trend, it is not a growing liberalism, but rather the failure of hard-line conservative activists trying to win in court what they have failed to achieve through legislation.”

Vaccine Panic Largely Among Rich, White Americans

Washington Post: “New data from a Pew Research Center poll examining American attitudes about a range of scientific issues suggests that the way that white, black and Latino adults think about vaccines is helping to drive another pretty complex but important health trend.”

“Parents who delay or avoid vaccines are largely, but certainly not exclusively, white, well-educated and well-to-do or outright rich.”

“The Pew data released Wednesday reveals some differences in the way that white parents think about vaccine safety compared to black and Latino ones — but not the type you would expect. White parents were far more likely to describe vaccines as safe but ranked behind Latino parents and just above the share of black moms and dads when it comes to whether the government should mandate vaccines.”

Pew Research Center June 30, 2015

Obama is the Health-Care Industry President

Philip Bump: “In the past three months, the health-care industry has added 135,000 jobs … Over the 78 months of Obama’s presidency, the industry has lost jobs in only three — all between May and December 2013. Otherwise: Up, up, up.”

“When we analyzed industries last December, with the November jobs data, you could see that the percentage growth in health care tracked pretty steadily with overall employment. Oil and gas, with far fewer employees, had grown much faster since the depths of the recession, thanks to the oil boom in North Dakota, Texas and Oklahoma.”

“So what’s Obama’s legacy? … If the percentage of oil and gas jobs slips, health care will become the bigger growth industry by both metrics.”

“Obama’s legacy was secured in part by the Supreme Court decision to uphold Obamacare last week. With these numbers, we might as well go ahead and call him the health-care industry president.”

California’s New Fracking Rules Are Toughest in the Nation

L.A. Times: “State officials on Wednesday formally adopted new rules governing hydraulic fracturing in California, setting in motion some of the toughest guidelines in the nation for the controversial oil extraction practice. The oil and gas agency also released its environmental impact report that concluded fracking could have ‘significant and unavoidable impacts’ on a number of fronts, including air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and public safety.”

“The regulations, which lawmakers approved in 2013, require oil companies to expand monitoring and reporting of water use and water quality, conduct broad analysis of potential engineering and seismic impacts of their operations, and comprehensively disclose chemicals used during fracking and other operations.”

The accompanying environmental impact report concluded that “fracking could, in a worst-case scenario, ‘generate greenhouse gas emissions that may have a significant impact on the environment.’ The operations could also increase pollutants ‘to levels that violate an air quality standard or contribute substantially to an existing or projected air quality violation.'”

Democrats Take the Lead in Party Affiliation

Gallup: “In the second quarter of 2015, Democrats regained an advantage over Republicans in terms of Americans’ party affiliation. A total of 46% of Americans identified as Democrats (30%) or said they are independents who lean toward the Democratic Party (16%), while 41% identified as Republicans (25%) or leaned Republican (16%). The two parties were generally even during the previous three quarters, including the fourth quarter of 2014, when the midterm elections took place.”

Americans' Party Affiliation, Recent Quarterly Trend

“Republicans have lost ground versus Democrats over the last three months in terms of the percentage of Americans who align with each party, essentially resetting the political map to what it had been in 2013 and early 2014, and putting the Democrats in a favorable political position as the 2016 campaign is getting underway.”

“Democratic gains in party affiliation may be partly linked to more positive views of President Barack Obama … The recent changes in party affiliation may also reflect Americans’ fading memory of the GOP’s electoral successes in the 2014 midterm elections.”

Could California’s New Vaccine Law Be a Model for Other States?

Katie Palmer in Wired writes that California’s new vaccine mandate “is a prime opportunity to carefully study the effects of legislation like this on both vaccination and disease rates.”

“Just take a look at the vaccination rates in other states, compared to where they stand on the two types of exemptions: religious and personal belief. The top-vaccinated state in the nation, Mississippi, is one of the only two states that doesn’t allow either exemption. Hey! Look at that! A correlation! But traveling down the list, the connection between exemption status and vaccination rate gets a little murkier. West Virginia, the other no-exemption state, doesn’t appear in the list of the top-ten vaccination rates (it’s number 18), and three states that allow both types of exemptions appear in the top-ten list.”

Vaccination_Rates_A-1

“If you look broadly at these figures, though, it does seem like states with more exemptions are more likely to have low vaccination rates. Now is the time to test that hypothesis. California is at a historical inflection point. If public health researchers and politicians can look carefully at the state of the state’s vaccination rates and disease numbers before and after SB277 is enacted, they’ll get a powerful tool to either support more bans of these exemptions—several of which are on the table in other states right now—or drive the United States toward different, perhaps more effective strategies to reduce vaccine-preventable disease. Let’s see what comes out of the lab.”

Overwhelming Majority Approve of Court’s Ruling on Obamacare Subsidies

Kaiser Family Foundation: “When told that the Supreme Court decided to keep the health care law as it is so that low and moderate income people in all states can be eligible for government financial help to buy health insurance, just over 6 in 10 (62 percent) say they approve of the Court’s decision and about a third (32 percent) say they disapprove. Approval is higher in this case than it was following the 2012 Supreme Court decision upholding most major provisions of the ACA. In the June 2012 Kaiser Health Tracking poll, the public was more evenly split, with 47 percent approving and 43 percent disapproving of the Court’s decision in the earlier case.”

Figure 4

“Despite the majority’s favorable opinion of the King v. Burwell decision, though, the new poll finds the public’s view of the ACA remains largely unchanged immediately after the June 25 ruling, with 43 percent viewing it favorably and 40 percent unfavorably.”

Jeb Bush Profited From Obamacare

New York Times: One of Jeb Bush’s financial endeavors “included serving as a paid director to the hospital company Tenet Healthcare, which backed President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The position invited questions for Mr. Bush, who as a candidate opposes the health care law.”

“Mr. Bush profited handsomely from his Tenet shares. According to the newly released tax returns, Mr. Bush acquired $441,203 worth of stock in Tenet Healthcare in May 2011. The stock doubled in value by the time he sold it in October 2013, earning him a profit of $462,013 in just 29 months.”

“Like other hospital stocks, Tenet rose sharply from October 2012 through March 2013, when President Obama’s re-election made it likely that the health care law would be carried out. The law was considered a boon for hospitals because it was expected to increase business and reduce the expense of caring for uninsured patients who could not pay their bills. Mr. Bush resigned from the Tenet board in 2014 when he was preparing for his presidential campaign.”

The Limited Impact of the Court’s Ruling on Gerrymandering

Washington Post:  “Our partisan Congress is a relatively new thing. In the 1970s, there were a significant number of Democrats and Republicans crossing over. But it’s slowly faded, to today, where it doesn’t happen much at all. Here’s that divide illustrated by Pew, with the House on the right.”

“So what if states suddenly adopted redistricting commissions en masse and we got state legislators out of the map-drawing business for good? There would almost definitely be more competitive districts, but perhaps not a ton more. The United States is a country very polarized between rural and urban, after all, and map-drawers’ goal is not to create competitive districts, but rather to create compact ones that bring together similar groups of people. In most areas areas of the country, there is simply no prospect of creating new, competitive districts.”

“So while the Supreme Court’s redistricting decision will be hailed as a sign of progress by good-government types, it’s important to note how limited its effect might be on the coming Congresses — to say nothing of how many states will actually join the few who have already adopted such commissions.”

All is Not Lost for Obamacare Lawsuit Supporters

Jonathan Cohn: “The activists, attorneys, and partisans who conceived of and then brought the King lawsuit to court still managed to achieve something. By pushing the case as far through the legal process as they did, and sending the political world into a tizzy over it, they were able to freeze the political debate in place — to maintain the fevered, highly polarized argument over whether the health care program should even exist.”

“That’s worked out pretty well for Republicans, because it’s meant they can keep using Obamacare to rally their activist supporters. It’s worked out poorly for Democrats, because it’s meant they can’t get serious about fixing the law’s very real shortcomings.”

“It’s impossible to know how the arguments about King v. Burwell affected perceptions of the Affordable Care Act. But the case certainly inflamed partisan hatred of the law, giving Republican leaders new opportunities to attack it and the president’s management of health care reform.”

“But Democrats and Republicans could probably find ways to at least make deals, with benefits for each side, if only they could have a constructive conversation about piecemeal changes to the law. The ruling in King v. Burwell makes it possible to imagine such a conversation taking place, even if it’s still a long way off.”