Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

An addendum to McD’s budget advice

An NPR article and a Marketplace piece, which feature Milwaukee fast-food workers, highlight a hidden issue among low-wage jobs — many have such random work schedules, they can’t even get a second job to supplement their income.

A new NELP report highlights   “Taking the Low Road: How the Federal Government Promotes Poverty-Wage Jobs Through its Contracting Practices,” finds that three in four of low-wage federally contracted workers make less than $10 an hour, nearly 60 percent struggle to pay monthly bills and nearly 40 percent depend on public assistance to get by.

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Hunger Games USA

Paul Krugman writes in Hunger Games USA. Facts and figures at his column.

To fully appreciate what just went down, listen to the rhetoric conservatives often use to justify eliminating safety-net programs. It goes something like this: “You’re personally free to help the poor. But the government has no right to take people’s money” — frequently, at this point, they add the words “at the point of a gun” — “and force them to give it to the poor.”

It is, however, apparently perfectly O.K. to take people’s money at the point of a gun and force them to give it to agribusinesses and the wealthy.

Now, some enemies of food stamps don’t quote libertarian philosophy; they quote the Bible instead. Representative Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, for example, cited the New Testament: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Sure enough, it turns out that Mr. Fincher has personally received millions in farm subsidies.

Given this awesome double standard — I don’t think the word “hypocrisy” does it justice — it seems almost anti-climactic to talk about facts and figures. But I guess we must.

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McDonalds’ Suggests a Budget for Employees . . .

Partnering with Visa, McDonalds’ Suggests a Budget for Employees which Ironically Shows in the End Just How Impossible It is to Get by on the Minimum Wage. The budget does not include gasoline, food, or heating expenses and incorporates $20/month for Healthcare Insurance.

Screen-shot-2013-07-15-at-9_29_08-AM

Besides skipping certain expenses and skimping on others; to meet the income levels portrayed in the budget, McDonalds suggests associates to work not one but two jobs. A full time job at McDonalds and a part time job elsewhere totally 62 hours per week (if the worker resides in Illinois where the minimum wage is $8.25/hour). If perchance, the worker resides in one of the other 48 states; the total hours needed to hit the suggested income level jumps to 74 hours/week due to a lower minimum wage (the equivalent of a second full time job). The same as Wal-Mart employees, McDonalds associates will end up seeking public aid to get by because of low wages.

If you recall Spencer’s post of Labor’s Share; Spencer pointed out how Productivity Gains have been heavily skewed towards Capital and away from Labor (wages) since the seventies. The CEPR provides a graph with a another take on Productivity Gains when compared to Real Minimum Wage. When compared to Productivity Gains, Minimum Wage has trending downward.

min-wage1-fig2-2012-03

In earlier posts, Edward Lambert addresses the loss of real wages and the potential impact on the economy. As we can see, the only real option to avert another collapse is to raise labor’s share of income. This is not likely as businesses are even now fighting an increase in just the minimum wage. Businesses are trying to maximize their profits and do not want to raise labor costs. Yet this objective of theirs is going to kill the economy. The time bomb is ticking.

If you remember in the PPACA Healthcare Debate:

McDonalds was one of the restaurant employers (Papa Johns, Olive Garden, Applebys, etc.) stating the excessive cost of the PPACA would force them to cut workers hours to <30 hours to avoid providing healthcare insurance (doing so would not alleviate restaurants from penalties as the PPACA looks at total hours worked and not just employees working >30 hours). To my point, McDonalds is advocating >30 hours at its restaurants in its budget and also providing healthcare insurance(?) which by law has to be minimally equivalent to the least costly PPACA Bronze Plan. It would be interesting to see if McDonalds could provide healthcare insurance similar to the Bronze Plan at $20/month. If the plan is not the equivalent, a McDonalds associate could go on the State Exchanges and get a Bronze Plan with all of the free preventative care for ~$97/month (215% FPL – single 21 yr. old Adult) after subsidy. McDonalds would pay a penalty if full time workers sought insurance outside of McDonalds and onn the exchanges. Workers, however, under 30 years and those unable to find affordable insurance are exempt from the mandate and could purchase substitute catastrophic coverage (ACA – Standardizing Health Plans). Perhaps too, this is McDonalds strategy for providing healthcare insurance (catastrophic) to much of its workforce who are <30 years old and working within the PPACA.

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An Important New Book on Income and Wealth Inequality

I just got an email from LIS (the group that runs the Luxembourg Income Study and Luxembourg Wealth Study) giving notice of a new book:

Income Inequality: Economic Disparities and the Middle Class in Affluent Countries

Contrary to the title, there’s a whole section on wealth inequality.

The book’s 17 chapters by 17 established researchers/research teams all draw on the extensive LIS databases of micro-level income and wealth data from 28 affluent countries 1980–2004. That large-sample, carefully normalized database holds promise of delivering insights that have been unavailable from previous data sets.

Given my interest in inequality and growth in advanced countries, I’ve been watching LIS for a while. I’ve tried working with their data, but it’s so micro-level that a great deal of work would have been required — more than I as an interested amateur was prepared to devote. I’m excited to see what these researchers have done with it.

Unfortunately it’s $65, and I don’t see any indication that the researchers have made their compiled/analyzed data sets (much less spreadsheets/stata files,etc.) available in electronic form for vetting and consideration by the likes of me (and more-competent others). But I’ll probably break down and buy it anyway.

Cross-posted at Asymptosis.

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The Appalachia Map, Yet Again

Lots of desperation talk these days by Republicans hoping to win future national elections by increasing their share of the “missing” white vote, while ignoring all those brown people. (Sean Trende’s piece seem to be the epicenter at this moment.)

Nate Cone drives a very effective stake through the heart of that zombie ambition here, with a single map (below). Yes: that (“Southern“) strategy worked brilliantly for decades. (Johnson said that civil-rights legislation would lose the South to Democrats “for a generation,” and he was only wrong in underestimating the duration.) And it’s the only thing that’s kept Republicans from utter humiliation and abject collapse over the last decade or so. But Judis and Texeira will be right eventually; demographics is destiny, and there are only so many white people — an ever-decreasing percentage. Courting whites may be the most effective method of stemming the hemorrhage, but it’s nothing more than that.

Faithful readers will remember seeing this basic map here multiple times. This latest version shows Obama’s gains/losses in share of the white vote compared to Gore (this by a black man):

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Sequester Impact: 1 In 7 Seniors Struggle With Hunger

Crooks and Liars Diane Sweet writes about the impact the Sequester is having on something I used to do when working part time at an assisted care and nuring home in Bensonville, Illinois while pursuing my first BA. “Meals on Wheels” would bring a meal a day to the elderly. Since some were apartment-bound with no way to get to a store; potentially, this was their only meal for the day. Often times, I was also the only face they might see that day. In My Datsun 510 (college transportation), I would make a dozen or so stops when I did this. I can vouch for the gratitude I received from making the deliveries.

While Social Security has kept many afloat in today’s economy, 15% of the elderly still live in poverty as determined by the supplemental measurement.

65 and older poverty

As Diane Sweet points out, the Sequester has only made it worst for seniors who depend on this and other programs to make ends meet and to bring them the simplest of things . . . a meal and a face at the door.

Sequester Impact: 1 In 7 Seniors Struggle With Hunger

sequestercuts

Sequester cuts will total $1.2 trillion through fiscal year 2021. This year there is a 5.3 percent cut, totaling $85 billion. The cuts are indiscriminate and will impact nearly every federal program. Here are some of the ways this year’s cut is affecting food and hunger programs:

Meals for needy seniors lost in programs like Meals on Wheels (MOW): 4 million

Savings from cut of 4 million meals: $10 million

Rise in Medicaid costs due to cut of 4 million meals: $489 million

Net cost to U.S. federal budget due to cut of 4 million meals: $479 million

Loss of senior meals, California: 750,000

Loss of senior breakfasts, Palm Beach County, Fla.: 240 daily

Loss of senior meals in group dining facilities, Detroit suburbs and several counties: 86,000

Loss of home-delivered and group dining senior meals, La Crosse County, Wis.: 6,000

Ellie Hollander, president and CEO of the Meals on Wheels Association of America: “The real impact of sequester is that our programs don’t have the ability to expand to meet the growing need. We should be investing in these programs to ensure our seniors have the nutritious meals they need to remain healthy and independent.”

Patricia Hoeft, director of senior center nutrition, the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging (Missouri): “How do I decide which 300 seniors aren’t going to eat that day?”

Meals on Wheels recipient, home delivery program, La Crosse County, Wis.: “These meals are sometimes the only meal that I have a day. I don’t drive, so I have to rely on others to get around to doctors’ appointments. I only get $16 a month for food.”

References:

“Sequester Impact: 1 In 7 Seniors Struggle With Hunger” Diane Sweet Crooks and Liars
“Hunger and the Sequester, By the Numbers” Bill Moyers “What Really Matters”
“A State-by-State Snapshot of Poverty Among Seniors: Findings From Analysis of the Supplemental Poverty Measure” The Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation

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Medicaid Expansion in Michigan

States refusing to expand Medicaid to 133% of FPL has repercussions for those making less than 100% FPL. The PPACA was intended to setup State Exchanges where people could buy healthcare insurance and if they had an income beyond 133% FPL (Federal Poverty Level). Subsidies in the form of a tax credit would be given to each participant (sent to insurance carrier) based on their income. Remember, I said the PPACA was designed for those with incomes >133% FPL? While those with incomes >100% FPL can get subsidized healthcare insurance in the Exchanges, those with incomes <100% FPL can not get subsidized healthcare insurance in the exchanges and they would be covered by Medicaid. The states threatening to not expand Medicaid will leave a hole in healthcare insurance coverage. If the states do not expand Medicaid for single and childless married adults and expand it for married adults with children with incomes <100% FPL, they will not be able to get subsidized coverage on the exchanges either. Many state legislatures are not mentioning this to the constituency in the hope they can blame it on the PPACA, President Obama, and the Democrats. Here is how it is playing out in the State of Michigan . . . “the expanded program would cover as many as 450,000 Michiganders, according to projections. Michiagn State Senator Hune said there is evidence that about half of those in the expanded income category already have coverage of some kind” Press and Argus local newspaper. Michigan State Senator John Hune (my district) is worried about adding 450,000 more uninsured people to Medicaid if they expand it under the PPACA . I could understand the concern if:

• It was not funded. The Medicaid expansion is fully funded up to 100% for the first 3 years and gradually drops to 90% in 2020. The 90% still exceeds the unenhanced Federal Government Medicaid funding of 66% presently given to Michigan for Medicaid. Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) for Medicaid and Multiplier, State Health Facts, The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation.

• The State of Michigan already covered adults with and without children up to 100% of FPL. Michigan does not cover up to 100% of FPL for any adult. Jobless Adults with children are covered under Medicaid if they are <37% of FPL. Working adults with children are granted Medicaid coverage at <64% of FPL. Single adults were once covered at <35% FPL if jobless and <45% FPL if working. The program is closed for single adults and married childless adults. Adult Income Eligibility Limits at Application as a Percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), January 2013 The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation.

Recently, the Republican dominated Michigan State Senate went on vacation rather than voting, leaving the PPACA Medicaid Expansion issue to be decided upon when they return in Fall. State of Michigan Senator Hune’s reasoning was the lack of time (two days) to decipher the Medicaid Expansion. Now this happened in an automotive state where people who work in the automotive industry usually end up losing vacation and holiday time when a production line shuts down or a shipment needs to go out. Myself, I have faced such issues when managing a $200 million/year warehouse for a major Tier One. We hung around until the issue was resolved. This is also happening 2 years after the PPACA has passed, been decided as constitutional by SCOTUS, and rolled out piece meal. So why can’t they give up a couple of days and give it a yes or no vote?

The Republican dominated Michigan State Senate and “other opponents” to the PPACA are not acknowledging the resulting hole in coverage which the PPACA will not cover. Those people who do not have an income of at least 100% FPL will not be eligible for PPACA subsidies in the State Insurance Exchanges. For example, a working women with one child making $10,000 per year is at 64% of FPL and is ineligible for a subsidy to assist in paying the ~$4,900 insurance premium levied from the State Insurance Exchange. Pre-SCOTUS PPACA June 2012 decision, the Federal Government could force states to expand the Medicaid coverage by withholding funding already allocated to states for Medicaid. Since the 5-4 majority SCOTUS ruling, SCOTUS determined the Federal Government and Congress can not force states to expand Medicaid. Using the Kaiser Interactive Subsidy Chart, one can see in the chart below, the working Michiganders caught between 36% of FPL and 100% of FPL would not be eligible for PPACA Subsidies in the eventual Michigan Healthcare Insurance Exchange.

Subsidy1

So why is Michigan State Senator John Hune so concerned about the addition of these Michiganders to Medicaid when there is no other comprehensive coverage for those with income < 100% FPL; secondly, the funding is at 100%, drops to 90% in 2020, thirdly it is a net gain for Michigan; and finally Medicaid improves upon what they may now have (telemarketed mini-meds) and would result in healthier workers? Perhaps, Senator Hune is attempting to appease a Tea Party constituency as his reasoning otherwise lacks common sense. Missing out on the funding for additional Medicaid coverage is only one aspect of the issue as there other gains to be realized from expanding. Michigan’s Economy Will Benefit from Expanding Medicaid, Families USA and Michigan Consumers for Healthcare points to a host of other benefits Michigan will forgo if it does not expand Medicaid.

• In 2016, the new federal dollars would support approximately 18,000 new jobs across all sectors of Michigan’s economy, a 0.32 percent increase over the number of current jobs in the state. This is not limited to health care jobs. Because of the multiplier effect (described above), jobs would be created in a wide range of business sectors throughout the state.

• The increased federal funding and jobs created are projected to increase economic activity in Michigan by nearly $2.1 billion starting in 2016.

• From 2013 through 2022, the Medicaid Expansion could save Michigan ~$350 million in uncompensated cost, as more people would be insured. This would offset the decreased percentage in 3 years.

• Hospitals also absorb uninsured healthcare costs. It is estimated another $317 million could be saved with the Medicaid expansion.

• In 2008, the costs of uncompensated care increased family health insurance premiums by an estimated $1,017.

• Increased state revenue from more people working.

• In this conservative get a job or get out of the state of Michigan, insured constituents would be healthier and more productive in jobs.

Solely because of politics, the Republican held Senate in Michigan is stonewalling the Medicaid Expansion at the expense of thousands (6,000 in Livingston County alone) of their constituents. Again as taken by Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, there are 1.9 million people in Michigan who have incomes <100% FPL who would not be eligible for subsidies on the PPACA State Insurance Exchange. Only adults with children are eligible today for Medicaid and only if their income is a much lower percentage than 100% FPL.

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The PPACA Sky is Falling . . .

Chicken Little

Quelle Surprise, The White House Administration has decided to give “some” companies with >50 employees a one year extension in order to prepare and comply with the PPACA mandate. Given the amount of resistance the PPACA has received from the states in preparing for it and the House of Representatives, this delay should come as no surprise at all. While everyone has rushed into the fray claiming it is proof the PPACA is failing, the delay impacts a fraction of the employers with >50 employees. 94 – 96% of the ~200,000 employers who fall into this qualification already offer comprehensive healthcare insurance. The delay was to allow the 4 to 6% of the employers (8,000 to 12,000 employers) time to decide what they will offer. Former health policy administrator Ezekiel Emanual had this to say as reported by Bloomberg Health-Law Employer Mandate Delayed by U.S. Until 2015:

“Former White House health policy adviser Ezekiel Emanuel, now vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania, said today on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that the delay of implementation of the employer mandate will impact a limited number of companies. ‘I actually don’t think this is that big a deal,’ he said.

‘The provision only applies to employers who have 50 or more employees’, Emanuel said. He estimated that there are 200,000 total employers in the U.S. impacted and that “94 percent already offer health insurance” to employees.

‘We need to look for 2020 rather than moment to moment for changes in the system,’ Emanuel said.

Obama has confronted opposition from Republicans at every turn of the law, which passed Congress with only Democratic votes and was later challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Only 16 states have agreed to set up the new exchanges, or marketplaces to sell insurance to people who don’t get it at work. Twenty-four states have refused to expand Medicaid, as called for under the law, according to Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s secretary of health and human services.

Congressional Republicans, who have vowed to try to repeal the law, have refused Obama’s requests for about $1 billion more to help enact the statute and ensure it runs smoothly. Instead, they’ve started multiple investigations into the implementation.

Nor is this the first time Obama has been forced to scale back the law’s features. In March, the administration said small businesses wouldn’t be able to give their workers a choice of health plans in exchanges set up just for them. In January, a plan to create new nonprofit insurers in states was curtailed after Congress capped funding for the companies.”

Reports of companies limiting workers to 30 hours per week to avoid offering them healthcare insurance has been in the news with food chains and WalMart leading the way. It does not quite work that way as reported by Maggie Mahar at Health Beat Blog; The Employer Mandate is Postponed: What Does This Mean For Obamacare? Is Ezra Klein Right–Should the Employer Mandate Be Repealed?. Maggie goes on to say:

As I explained in a recent post, what the critics don’t seem to understand is that the ACA requires that employers offer health benefits if they have “30-time full-time employees or full-time equivalents.” Two workers who put in 15 hours a week equal one full-time equivalent. In other words, the government doesn’t count heads, it counts hours. To figure out how many “full-time employees and full-time equivalents” a business owner has, the government will add up the hours that all of his employees work, and then divide by 30.

The employer who cuts 12 of his 40 full-time employees to part time, and hires another 12 part-time employees to fill in the holes in his work schedule will wind up with 28 full-time workers and twelve “full-time equivalents.”

He will not have to insure the part-time workers, but he will be required to offer benefits to the 28 who actually work 30 hours a week.

As far as WalMart, people are already complaining about the lack of stocked shelving and service. This plays into the hands of WalMart competitors such as Target and Costco who appear to have their employees well being in mind. Should the Employer Mandate be removed. Some interesting commentary from Maggie Mahar. In 2009, Ezra Klein argued against the employer mandate and recently the same argument surfaced again.

“Again he quotes CBPP: ‘The employer mandate and penalties ‘would likely influence employer decisions about which of their employees to let go when they trim their workforces to cut costs, such as during a recession’ Workers from low-income families would cost the firm significantly more.’

Yesterday Klein repeated the argument, writing that ‘Eliminating” the employer mandate, or at least utterly overhauling it is probably the right thing to do.’

Maggie: I disagree. I admire both Klein’s Wonkblog and the CBPP, and applaud most of what each have written about health care reform. But in this case the argument is based on the false assumption that employers will choose to pay a penalty of $2,000 to $3,000 per employee rather than provide insurance. What both Klein and CBPP overlook is what Klein himself has explained in the past:

‘People simply misunderstand why employers offer health-care benefits. They’re not doing it as a favor to employees. . . Employers offer health insurance because employees demand it. If you’re an employer who doesn’t offer insurance and your competitors do, you’ll lose out on the most talented workers. An employer who stopped offering health benefits would see his best employees immediately start looking for other jobs.’

Research also shows the health benefits improve productivity and reduce absenteeism. As I pointed out: not long ago:: “This explains why 95% of employers with more than 30 workers offer insurance.”

The sky has a long way to fall before it hits your head. Do not be fooled by the commentary lacking substance. The habitual naysayers and pols are having a field day with this revision in implementation when the problem is only a small portion of the total. Most employers are ready to go forward.

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