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50 Years After the Kerner Commission: African Americans are better off in many ways but are still disadvantaged by racial inequality

February 26, 2018

Where do we stand as a society today? In this brief report, we compare the state of black workers and their families in 1968 with the circumstances of their descendants today, 50 years after the Kerner report was released. We find both good news and bad news. While African Americans are in many ways better off in absolute terms than they were in 1968, they are still disadvantaged in important ways relative to whites. In several important respects, African Americans have actually lost ground relative to whites, and, in a few cases, even relative to African Americans in 1968.

Failing on Two Fronts: The U.S. Labor Market Since 2000

February 9, 2015

This report argues that a key driver in rising inequality and a decline in the employment to population ratio is conscious economic policy, with a particularly important and under-appreciated role for macroeconomic policy. The paper first demonstrates the remarkable "flexibility" of U.S. labor markets relative to the situation in other rich economies. The paper then links this policy-induced flexibility to high and rising inequality and shows that such flexibility ceased long ago to contribute --if it ever did-- to greater job creation.

Who Would Pay More if the Social Security Payroll Tax Cap Were Raised or Scrapped?

January 2, 2015

On January 1, 2015, the maximum amount of annual earnings subject to the Social Security tax -- a.k.a. the payroll tax cap -- increased to $118,500. Every year, this cap is adjusted to keep up with inflation. However, many American workers are not aware that any wages above the cap are not taxed by Social Security.This issue brief analyzes Census Bureau data to determine how many workers would be affected if the Social Security payroll tax cap were raised or phased out. We find that the richest 6.1 percent of workers (less than 1 in 15) would pay more if the cap were scrapped. Only the top 1.5 percent (1 in 67) and 0.7 percent (1 in 140) would be affected if the tax were applied to earnings over $250,000 and $400,000, respectively.When we look at the wage earners according to gender, race or ethnicity, age, or state of residence, the share of workers who would be affected by increasing or phasing out the cap varies widely.

A College Degree is No Guarantee

May 20, 2014

The Great Recession has been hard on recent college graduates, but it has been even harder for black recent college graduates. This report examines the labor-market outcomes of black recent college graduates using the general approach developed by Federal Reserve Bank of New York researchers Jaison Abel, Richard Deitz, and Yaqin Su (2014), who recently studied the outcomes of all recent college graduates.

Scrapping the Social Security Payroll Tax Cap: Who Would Pay More?

April 29, 2014

There is currently $2.7 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, held in Treasury bonds. Since the program is currently taking in more revenues (taxes on payroll and benefits as well as interest on the bonds) than it is paying out, the Trust Fund will continue to grow to about $2.9 trillion.The Trust Fund was set up to help pre-fund the retirement of the baby boomer generation. In about 2033, these funds will be drawn down, so after that point, if no changes are made, beneficiaries would receive about 75 percent of scheduled benefits. This gap between what the program would be able to pay and scheduled benefits is equivalent to about one percent of Gross Domestic Product over the next 75 years.To help avoid a reduction in payments and alleviate the program's budget shortfall, one option is raising -- or even abolishing -- the cap on the maximum amount of earnings that are subject to the Social Security payroll tax. In 2014, that cap is set at $117,000 per year (it is adjusted annually to keep up with inflation). This issue brief analyzes Census Bureau data from the most recently available American Community Survey to ascertain how many workers would be affected if the Social Security payroll tax cap were raised or phased out.

Regulation of Public Sector Collective Bargaining in the States

March 10, 2014

While the unionization of most private-sector workers is governed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the legal scope of collective bargaining for state and local public-sector workers is the domain of states and, where states allow it, local authorities. This hodge-podge of state-and-local legal frameworks is complicated enough, but recent efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and other states have left the legal rights of public-sector workers even less transparent.In this report, we review the legal rights and limitations on public-sector bargaining in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as of January 2014. Given the legal complexities, we focus on three sets of workers who make up almost half of all unionized public-sector workers: teachers, police, and firefighters, with some observations, where possible, on other state-and-local workers. For each group of workers, we examine whether public-sector workers have the right to bargain collectively; whether that right includes the ability to bargain over wages; and whether public-sector workers have the right to strike.

Union Advantage for Black Workers

February 12, 2014

In this report, we review the most recent data available to examine the impact of unionization on the wages and benefits paid to black workers. These data show that even after controlling for factors such as age and education level, unionization has a significant positive impact on black workers' wages and benefits. The union advantage is particularly strong for black workers with lower levels of formal education.

Women Workers and Unions

December 9, 2013

This issue brief looks at the most recent national data available to examine the impact that being in or represented by a union has on the wages and benefits of women in the paid workforce. Even after controlling for factors such as age, race, industry, educational attainment and state of residence, the data show a substantial boost in pay and benefits for female workers in unions relative to their non-union counterparts. The effect is particularly strong for women with lower levels of formal education.

Has Education Paid Off for Black Workers?

June 26, 2013

Over the past three decades, the "human capital" of the employed black workforce has increased enormously. In 1979, only one-in-ten (10.4 percent) black workers had a four-year college degree or more. By 2011, more than one in four (26.2 percent) had a college education or more. Over the same period, the share of black workers with less than a high school degree fell from almost one-third (31.6 percent) to only about one in 20 (5.3 percent). The black workforce has also grown considerably older. In 1979, the median employed black worker was 33 years old; today, the median is 39. Economists expect that increases in education and work experience will increase workers' productivity and translate into higher compensation. But, the share of black workers in a "good job" -- one that pays at least $19 per hour (in inflation-adjusted 2011 dollars), has employer-provided health insurance, and an employer-sponsored retirement plan -- has actually declined. This paper looks at this trend and policies that would have a large, positive impact on the quality of jobs for black workers.

No-Vacation Nation Revisited

May 23, 2013

This report reviews the most recently available data from a range of national and international sources on statutory requirements for paid vacations and paid holidays in 21 rich countries (16 European countries, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States). In addition to our finding that the United States is the only country in the group that does not require employers to provide paid vacation time, we also note that several foreign countries offer additional time off for younger and older workers, shift workers, and those engaged in community service including jury duty. Five countries even mandate that employers pay vacationing workers a small premium above their standard pay in order to help with vacation-related expenses. Most other rich countries have also established legal rights to paid holidays over and above paid vacation days. We distinguish throughout the report between paid vacation -- or paid annual leave, terms we use interchangeably -- and paid holidays, which are organized around particular fixed dates in the calendar. Our analysis does not cover paid leave for other reasons such as sick leave, parental leave, or leave to care for sick relatives.

Making Jobs Good

April 24, 2013

A series of earlier CEPR reports documented a substantial decline over the last three decades in the share of "good jobs" in the U.S. economy. This fall-off in job quality took place despite a large increase in the educational attainment and age of the workforce, as well as the productivity of the average U.S. worker.This report evaluates the likely impact of several policies that seek to address job quality, including universal health insurance, a universal retirement system (over and above Social Security), a large increase in college attainment, a large increase in unionization, and gender pay equity.

Why Does the Minimum Wage Have No Discernible Effect on Employment?

February 13, 2013

The employment effect of the minimum wage is one of the most studied topics in all of economics. This report examines the most recent wave of this research -- roughly since 2000 -- to determine the best current estimates of the impact of increases in the minimum wage on the employment prospects of low-wage workers. The weight of that evidence points to little or no employment response to modest increases in the minimum wage.The report reviews evidence on eleven possible adjustments to minimum-wage increases that may help to explain why the measured employment effects are so consistently small. The strongest evidence suggests that the most important channels of adjustment are: reductions in labor turnover; improvements in organizational efficiency; reductions in wages of higher earners ("wage compression"); and small price increases. Given the relatively small cost to employers of modest increases in the minimum wage, these adjustment mechanisms appear to be more than sufficient to avoid employment losses, even for employers with a large share of low-wage workers.