NDN Blog

Are Trump’s Mounting Legal Problems Making It Impossible for Him to Be President?

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

Imagine if a CEO of a publicly traded company, or a university president, or the principal of your local high school, or even a Congressman or Governor, did half of what Donald Trump has done. Would they still have their jobs? The obvious answer is no, and in fact in just the last few months many chief executives and elected officials have had to resign or have been fired due to unethical or criminal behavior.

What is true of our democracy, and most institutions in the United States, is that no one person is bigger than the institution they serve. There are mechanisms in place to ensure the executive performs and behaves with honor. Boards can remove a CEO or university Presidents. Congress can expel corrupt Members. Governors can be recalled, and in parliamentary democracies, governments can fall and new elections called. In our system, there are two “boards” that oversee the President: 1) voters, in midterm and Presidential elections 2) Congress, both in its oversight and impeachment/removal authorities. Voters may act this fall, or in 2020; and of course Congress has done virtually nothing to reign in Trump even though the case for doing so is long and serious. Let’s review some of the reasons other boards would have acted against a chief executive like Trump by now:

1) epic levels of personnel turnover, difficulty finding qualified help, repeated promotional of unqualified candidates, nepotism, verbal abuse of staff in public and private 2) daily instances of lying, attempts to mislead the public 3) intemperate public remarks, erosion of common civility, attacks of perceived opponents some of which could quality as defamation and slander 4) serial adultery and extraordinary efforts to conceal the affairs 5) exploding outside legal problems, involving a wide array of potential charges including treason, tax fraud, public corruption, campaign finance violations, money laundering, sexual harassment, incitement to riot 6) an unprecedented number of high level public scandals with senior officials in the government, suggesting deeply lax internal ethical controls 7) indictment of core staff close to the leader, including top political and policy staff, and now his own personal attorney and longtime business partner has had his records seized and is facing imminent criminal charges 8) clear abuse of the power of his office through his attempts to discredit an investigation into his team, the firing of prominent officials including the acting Attorney General and Director of the FBI and intimidation of those opposing him 9) appeasement of a hostile foreign power in ways inconsistent with the American national interest, including a refusal to condemn them for unprecedented attacks on the homeland of the United States.

Okay, okay some Republicans say. Not a perfect guy, but he is doing a good job as President and deserves a pass. Really? America’s standing in the world has taken an historic hit. There is far more chaos on the global stage today than before, and no clear progress of any of our most vexing problems. The economy is no better than when Trump took office and is by many measures worse — job growth is slower this year, inflation fears are rising, the deficit is exploding, and the Dow is trailing similar marks in both the Obama and Clinton Presidencies. The opioid crisis continues to worsen, health care premiums are rising as is the uninsured rate, and energy prices seem to be on an upward slope. I’m sorry, the country is not demonstrably better off today due to Trump’s Presidency — so no Mad Men like performance exemption for the legal and ethical rot we’ve had to endure.

So while I don’t have hope Congress will take meaningful action against Trump due to his outrageous behavior, there is another reason Congress may be forced to act this year — Trump’s mounting legal problems are making it hard for him to do the already impossible job of President. Just look at the last week. Despite all that is going on in the world, the overwhelming majority of Trump’s tweets have been about Mueller, Comey and Stormy. The RNC’s big new initiative is to attack Comey, not sell the President’s agenda. The President took the time to pardon Scooter Libby last Friday, an event the Administration made front and center in the hours leading up to their late Friday strike on Syria. There has been public confusion and mixed signals about critical issues facing the nation — stay/go in Syria, implementation of new Russian sanctions and whether to rejoin TPP. He cancelled his participation in a really important regional gathering of leaders in Latin America at the last minute. The President’s choice for Secretary of State, after firing the previous one on Twitter, doesn’t have the votes to get confirmed in the Senate. A new story out this morning has Republicans blaming the President’s erratic behavior in recent weeks for a steep decline in the standing of their signature 2018 issue, their tax cut. And the resignations in the Administration and retirements in Congress continue at rates perhaps never seen before in all of US history. He may be an ethical nightmare, but in recent weeks his government has also become a dangerously dysfunctional mess.

Yesterday the Washington Post reported on the President’s response to the latest grave new legal challenge, the raid on his consigliere’s home and office: “Trump was so upset, in fact, that he had trouble concentrating on plans that were laid out for him that day by his national security team about potential options for targeted missile strikes on Syria.” And, as the story reports, the President is spending a great deal of time just trying to find legal counsel to represent him in all these matters as the lawyers he had quit, or in the case of Cohen, are themselves facing imminent criminal charges. One of the reasons Trump is so overwhelmed right now is no lawyer will actually go work for him — a shocking turn of events.

Any other executive of any other American venture, facing the same set of serious legal challenges, would be forced to either take a leave of absence to deal with the matters or would be forced to resign or be fired. For the reality is that any leader facing the kind of serious legal problems Trump is facing now would have a hard time finding time to do their normal job. Trump is no different. His performance these last few weeks makes it clear that the government of the United States is suffering, and that is something that Congress cannot ignore much longer.

Of course there is another way for the President to remove the legal pressure on him right now — he can move aggressively to shut it all down. Which is why Mitch McConnell needs to get behind the new bi-partisan bill that would wall off the Mueller investigation from any future Trump interference. It is my own sense from watching Trump these last few weeks that he is at a breaking point, and can no longer both be President and defend himself. So something has to give. And of course what would be best is for Trump to give, and not our democracy.

If the President’s legal problems continue to mount, and his performance continues to degrade, it will be time for his “board” to get off their rear ends and put the interests of nation and its 330 million people over the interests of this one terribly flawed man. It is how our democracy and broader civil society has been designed and functioned for many years now, and what has made us perhaps the most successful political project in the history of the world. Absent any significant change in coming weeks, it is time to start talking publicly about whether our President, for the good of the nation, needs to resign in order to allow him to spend the time required to address the grave legal matters facing him and his family.

Young Voters A Huge Opportunity for Democrats in 2018

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

The Pew Research Center recently released some new data about younger voters in the US that was eye popping. It is long been known that younger voters lean towards the Democrats. But there is a post Trump shift manifesting among younger Americans in these midterms that should be scaring the Rs, and causing Democrats to be thinking about how to best to take advantage.

Let’s look at a few graphs from the new Pew study. First, Congressional vote intent. In 2014, Dems led this age cohort 50–41, 9 points. In 2018, it is 62–29, 33 points. Yes, 33 points.

Next, the total number of Millennials and Post-Millennials eligible to vote has increased from 60m in 2014 to at least 76–77m this year.

Let’s do a little math here. In 2014, the 60m eligible Millennials broke 50/41 D/R, yielding 30m Dem eligible voters and 24.6m Rs. In 2018, the 77m eligible Millennials and Post-Millennials are breaking 62/39 D to R, yielding a 48m to 22.3m Dem advantage. The net Dem advantage among eligible voters of this age cohort has grown from 5.4m to in 2014 to a whopping 25.7m this year.

Even at a 30% to 40% turnout rate that is an awful lot of new voters available for Democrats this cycle. At 40% turnout it is a net gain of 8m new voters, at 33% it is 6.6m, at 20% it is still 5m. Importantly Pew isn’t picking up as big a difference in vote intent this time between younger and older voters, so the Millennial/Post-Millennial turnout is likely to be closer to the historical midterm average of 40% for all voters.

In the 2014 and 2016 elections the GOP received about 5 million more votes for the House each time, so this net pick up of between 5m and 8m votes for Democrats among this age cohort is no small matter.

Seem extreme to you? It did to me at first, but these large spreads for younger voters also appeared in recent elections in Virginia, Alabama and PA-18. According to the 2016 and 2017 exit polls in Virginia, there was a very big shift of younger voters in the 2017 Governor’s race. In 2016 Clinton won 18–44s 54%–38% (16 points) and 18–29s 54%–36% (18 points). In 2017 Northam won 18–44s 64%-34% (30 points) and 18–29s 69%-30% (39 points). This is a huge shift.

There aren’t such easy apples to apples comparisons in AL and PA-18, but we did see similar spreads. In Alabama, according to the exit poll, Senator Doug Jones won 18–44 year olds, 61%-38%, 23 points. It was 60%-38% with 18–29s and 61%-30% with 30–44s. The final independent poll taken in PA-18 race had Lamb winning 18–49 year olds 68%-30%, though the poll was a little more Lamb than the final tally. So let’s say it was a 33–35 point spread, not 38; but factoring out the Gen Xers here could easily have had under 37 year olds in the high 30s in a plus 11 GOP House district.

So, yes, if these numbers hold there are 20 million more eligible voters under the age of 37 this year who consider themselves Democrats than in the 2014 midterms. 20 million. For context, 20 million is 6% of the total population of the US. If 8m of these 20m vote in 2018, they would be equal to 11% of the 75m who voted for House candidates in 2014; at 5m 6%. So no matter how you measure it, the movement of young voters this cycle appears to be shaping up to be a consequential political and cultural development.

It should be noted that a new poll just released by Harvard’s Institute of Politics has very similar findings, including 30 plus net advantage for Democrats and dramatically elevated 2018 vote intent.

A few thoughts on what all this means for the 2018 election:

Democrats Need to Lean Into This Opportunity — Democrats should be having a big and loud conversation about what this big shift means for their 2018 strategy, and how to begin to remake the Party for a rising new generation in earnest. This movement obviously won’t play out the same in every state or district, but Millennial heavy places like California and Texas and even some mid-Western cities are looking at a very different electoral landscape than in 2014 or 2016. These newly available voters need to be brought into the polling and modeling of the campaigns, and campaign resources — adspend, candidate time, turnout targets — need to be adjusted to make sure these voters are being touched and asked to vote. Democrats can increase the turnout of these voters by designing campaigns crafted to speak to them, and in the process also accelerate the transformation of these new and irregular voters to more regular and reliable members of the emergent Democratic coalition.

Recent reports by CIRCLE at Tufts University’s Tisch College provide interesting insights into both places where the youth vote could make the biggest difference in 2018, and the chronic underinvestment made in reaching these voters in recent elections.

As these voters are less accessible by traditional television advertising, other ways of targeting them, including both paid and organic digital content (think Beto O’Rourke) will have to be more widely deployed. And efforts should be made to put younger, compelling political and cultural leaders out in front this cycle (Joe Kennedy III for example). If the movement begun by the courageous Parkland students is still going strong this fall it too could really matter, as younger voters will see their direct contemporaries taking bold action and encouraging voting in ways we’ve haven’t seen in the Millennial era; and every high school and college will be in session at the time of the November election, making mass school based mobilization easier.

Republicans See This Data Too, Will Not Let These Gains Go Uncontested — Democrats should also expect very aggressive traditional and digital campaigns coming from the Rs this cycle, designed to disqualify their candidates with this age cohort. It is likely to come not just from the GOP campaigns themselves, but the many dark money groups out there and whatever it is that Trump and his new campaign manager Brad Parscale are cooking up (#ArmyofTrump). While Cambridge Analytica may not be a player in 2018, the Republicans and their allies, here and abroad, learned a lot about how to damage Democratic politicians using these new digital tools in 2016. We should expect many locally tailored, copycat digital efforts in 2018, ones that will feed into a localized right wing media ecosystem that not only includes millions of dollars of dark/independent television ads, long established local talk radio show hosts, but now dozens of new Sinclair television stations too.

For all the talk of the Trump base and Obama-Trump voters, there are also signs of backlash to Trump out there this year. I’ve written about the erosion of the GOP brand in the Southwest Border region, and clearly women are driving a great deal of the big shift in US politics these days. But the scale of the rejection by younger Americans of Trump’s GOP is huge by any measure, and will impact not just 2018 but American politics for years to come.

(A note on the data in this post — see here for how Pew defines Millennial, which is a bit different than others. For 2018 Pew has Gen Xers 38–53 years old, Millennial 22–37, Post-Millennials 18–21. In this post, we treat Post-Millennials as Millennials as there is not a lot of data about their political views out there, and initial evidence is that they are tracking Millennials in political orientation).

Asking about Citizenship Status in the 2020 Census Is Dangerous and Politically Inept

This essay was posted originally at The Pointwww.sonecon.com

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision last week to “reinstate” a question on citizenship status in the 2020 decennial Census (it was last asked in 1950), almost certainly will vastly increase the number of people who ignore or evade the 2020 decennial Census.  The policy will certainly discourage undocumented immigrants from filling out a Census form, and so lower the official population count of nearly every state. Those states that would be most disadvantaged, however, are not those with simply the most undocumented people, such as New York and Illinois, but those 12 states whose undocumented populations account for more than the national average of 3.5 percent. That group is led, in order, by Nevada, Texas, California, New Jersey, Arizona, Florida and Maryland.  For those states, the results could well mean fewer seats in Congress, fewer electoral votes, and smaller shares of more than $800 billion in annual federal funds allocated based in part on Census population data.

This is an offense to a functioning democracy, but the damage could well be even more far-reaching. When Ross announced this decision, he said he did it at the behest of the Department of Justice and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, so DoJ could better enforce the Voting Rights Act by more accurately measuring how many people in each of the nation’s 72,000 Census tracts are eligible to vote. In so doing, Ross and Sessions explicitly tied the collection of 2020 Census information to federal law enforcement. That’s what makes his directive so remarkable and so dangerous.

My arithmetic, detailed below, suggests that some 24.3 million people would have good reason to skip the 2020 Census if they believe their names and addresses could be shared with law enforcement. Moreover, because most of them are not concentrated in the big blue states, and most of the federal funding tied to the Census involves programs like Medicaid, Section 8 housing assistance, and support for school lunches, the new Ross-Sessions policy would target the cuts in federal funding to the 23 mainly solid red states with poverty rates above the national average.

Your Census Answers Are Legally Confidential

To be sure, federal law protects the confidentiality of the personal information collected in the Census in no uncertain terms. Under Title 13, sections 9 and 214 of the federal code, Census employees cannot lawfully share anyone’s name and address with anyone, including law enforcement. The reasoning is clear: Without a guarantee of strict confidentiality, many people would avoid or refuse to respond to the decennial Census.

I witnessed just how seriously the Census Bureau and the law approach this question when I was the Under Secretary of Commerce overseeing the 2000 decennial Census. The Bureau received a filled-out Census form, complete with the respondent’s name and address, and a scrawled threat to the president’s life across the front. We followed the law, informing the Secret Service and telling them that under Title 13, we could not share the name and address. In this case, we thankfully knew that President Clinton’s life was not in danger, since the Census form came from a federal inmate in California. But if the threat had come from someone not behind bars, the Secret Service would have had to find another way to identify him.

But most Americans have never heard of Title 13, so what matters here is their perceptions and beliefs about the confidentiality of their Census information.  In that regard, Ross and Sessions eagerly publicized the change, no doubt appealing to the administration’s anti-immigrant supporters and President Trump’s meme about undocumented voters costing him the popular vote.  But tying the Census data to law enforcement in this way will be a flashing red light for not only undocumented immigrants. Millions of other Americans will be very sensitive to any intimation that filling out their Census forms might help law enforcement officials locate them, including students in default on their federal loans, parents who owe back child support, anyone with an outstanding warrant, and more. Using conservative assumptions, they add up to more than 24 million people.

To be sure, the decennial Census is never 100 percent accurate or 100 percent complete. Certain groups are routinely undercounted for various reasons – native Americans and poor minorities – and the fact that undocumented immigrants or people with outstanding warrants are wary about participating is not new.  But the Ross-Sessions Census policy is virtually guaranteed to greatly exacerbate those issues and lead to unprecedented undercounting across large parts of the country.

Who Would Be Wary About a Census They Believe Could Help Law Enforcement

To begin, the policy will likely cost the Census participation of not only most undocumented immigrants, but also many of the 8.8 million U.S. citizens and legal residents who live in households with 4.3 million undocumented friends and family members.  If half of those households simply misstate the citizenship status of the undocumented person and the other half ignore the 2020 Census, the Census undercount from this issue alone would be 4.4 million. Add them to the other 6.8 million undocumented people in households without anyone with legal status, and the undercount comes to 11.2 million.

Millions of other Americans would have good reason to hesitate about providing their names and addresses, if they believe their data might be shared with federal law enforcement. For example, 43 percent of the 22 million Americans with federal student loans are in default or very behind in their payments arrears, which covers about 9,460,000 young Americans. If we assume, conservatively, that one-third of those in such arrears will opt for discretion and skip the 2020 Census, it comes to 3,120,000 people. Moreover, the Census collects its information from households, and most of those in default or way behind in payments on their federal student loans live in households with people not in such arrears. Again, assume that half simply leave out the household member in arrears (another 1,560,000 for the undercount) and the other half opt out of the Census. Since an average household consists of 2.54 persons, Americans in arrears on their federal student loans could add a total of another 5,522,400 people to the undercount [(1,560,000 + (1,560,000 x 2.54)], bringing the total potential undercount to 16,722,400.

The Census Bureau also reports that in 2015, 48.4 percent of the 6,807,000 parents who had custody of their children did not receive their lawfully-awarded child support. So, 3,292,000 people were in arrears on their child support. Local governments now routinely suspend the driver’s licenses of deadbeat dads (and moms), and sometimes jail those with long records of withholding child support payments. It seems reasonable that two-thirds of those in such arrears (2,195,764 people) would forgo affixing their names and addresses to forms that they believe might be shared with law enforcement. In this case, we would expect that most of their households would opt out with them, adding 5,577,241 people to the undercount. That brings the total potential undercount to 22,299,641 people.

We should also count households that include “fugitives from justice.” It’s difficult to know how many Americans have that status, because last year the DoJ purged some 500,000 people from its database of fugitives under a new policy to clean up the data on people who cannot pass background checks to buy a gun. Even so, the FBI says that some 789,000 people are currently evading outstanding warrants for felonies and serious misdemeanors, because their addresses are unknown. It is safe to assume that none of them will respond to the 2020 Census if they believe their whereabouts could be shared with law enforcement officials. When we take account of their households, they add another 2,004,060 people to the potential undercount and bring the total to 24,303,701.

None of these calculations include the normal undercount of poor minorities and others – the Census Bureau acknowledges that the 2010 Census missed, for example, about 1.5 percent of all African Americans – or the double counting of others such as retirees with two homes.   The focus here is on the particular, additional impact of the Ross-Sessions policy on a citizenship-status question in the 2020 Census to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Why should we worry about counting people who entered America illegally, welched on their federal loans, or are fugitives from justice?  For starters, Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution mandates a decennial census of “the whole number of free persons,” not just citizens or commendable people. (Alas, the Constitution did count African-Americans as equivalent to 3/5 of a free person and excluded untaxed Indians entirely.) Anyway, failing to count any person or household harms everyone in that person’s or household’s community, since the community’s representation and access to federal funds are tied to its numbers.

The Policy Could Boomerang on 14 Deep Red States

The damage of such an unprecedented undercount will not be distributed evenly or randomly across the states. As we noted, 12 states with disproportionately large undocumented populations will bear the greatest burden when it comes to losing seats in Congress, led by Nevada, Texas, California, New Jersey, Arizona and Florida. While every state has students and parents in arrears and people with outstanding warrants, cuts in federal funding based on Census data also will not be distributed evenly across the states. That’s because most of $800 billion per-year in such funds involve programs for low-income Americans, such as Medicaid, school lunches, and the S-CHIP program. The distribution of those funds across the states is based on their shares of all poor households, so the states with the most at stake are those with above-average shares of poor people. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia had poverty rates above the national average of 13.7 percent over the years 2014 to 2016. Ironically, only two of them (California and New Mexico) plus D.C. are blue states. The other 14 states facing serious cuts in federal funding are solidly red states, led by Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas.

So, the Ross-Sessions Census policy could be a political boomerang for Donald Trump and the GOP. To be sure, of the 12 states plus D.C. that could lose seats in Congress based on disproportionately large undocumented populations, eight of them plus D.C. are blue states with 143 electoral votes—compared to four red states with 94 electoral votes. However, by vastly expanding the potential pool of uncounted people apart from undocumented immigrants, the Ross-Sessions Census policy also could result in federal funding cuts for 14 red states with 181 electoral votes—compared to two blue states (California and New Mexico) plus D.C. with just 63 electoral votes.

This essay was first posted by The Brookings Institution.

Going Forward, Not Back – Support NDN in 2018

Dear Friends,

As is our tradition, we come to you with asks for support only a few times a year, and only when it matters.  We are aware of how critical it is that our collective political capital stays focused on the upcoming elections, which are perhaps the most important in my many years in politics.  So we are not asking to divert too much of your limited capital today towards NDN – just enough to keep us doing the important work we do to get ahead, tackle the next challenge, define the terms of coming debate – the work we’ve been doing for more than a decade now.

To meet that work is more important than ever because whatever Trump represents he has jumbled the issue and political landscape of the country.  Everything is different now, and many long held assumptions need to be rethought completely.  For the center-left to succeed in the coming years, we will need a comprehensive response to Trump, and one that cannot be about restoration but more about reinvention and innovation – going forward, not back. 

Going forward, not back – that is what this organization has been about in its many forms for many years now.  We have always been guided by a simple belief that the world was changing – globalization and the “rise of the rest,” advances in tech, large changes in our demography and our media – and these changes required new and compelling responses.  We may have to add another disruption – the Trump presidency itself – to that list of disruptions if we are to be successful in the coming years.  Which is why we keep doing our work, offering data-driven thoughtful analyses to help guide our leaders through these turbulent times. 

If you want to keep supporting our important work, please do so today.  Any amount matters – $25, $50 or more.  Our goal is to raise $25,000 from our community in the coming weeks, and if we can do so we can make our budget targets for the spring and keep contributing to the national debate in ways that add value, and move things forward.  Join with us in any way you can, today, and thanks again for your interest and support of our work.

Best, Simon

GOP Agenda "An Albatross" - Simon's Quick Take on Lamb's Big Win

In a thread this morning Simon offered his quick take on PA-18.  Greg Sargent of the Washington Post described it this way:

The Trump/GOP agenda may be a big albatross for Republicans. Republicans had banked heavily on selling their tax cuts to voters as proof that they’re getting things done for working- and middle-class people. But in the final days, Republicans dialed down their messaging about the tax cuts, because it wasn’t working. Lamb appears to have kept GOP foe Rick Saccone’s margins down in the deep-red counties while also doing very well in the Pittsburgh suburbs, suggesting that the tax plan is not working as planned either among blue-collar white Trump voters or among more-educated suburban whites, who were supposed to respond to it by suppressing their gag reflex about Trump and voting on taxes instead.

Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg suggests that the results show not just that the GOP tax plan is failing, but also that the whole Trump/GOP agenda is an albatross for Republicans. Trump has fully embraced Paul Ryan’s plutocratic agenda — trying and failing to repeal a huge chunk of the safety net and passing a huge permanent tax cut for the wealthy and corporations — while continuing the drumbeat of racist and xenophobic cultural provocations (with a hasty, haphazard gesture toward protectionism in the form of the tariffs thrown in). But Lamb won back large numbers of disaffected blue-collar Democrats — exactly the people who are supposed to believe Trump when he tells them his tax plan is good for them — and the surge of suburban voters against Trump appeared to continue. In short: The pluto-populism isn’t working.”

Moving on From Discourse

As some of you may know, I’ve been working for the past several months outside of NDN to get a new company off the ground in the info/disinfo space.  Called Discourse Intelligence, it did good work in both the Virginia and Alabama races last year, and is gearing up to play a major role in 2018.  The company grew out of research NDN commissioned last year from our long-time friend and collaborator, Tim Chambers.  You can read his compelling paper here

Unfortunately, due to unresolvable disagreements among the founders about direction and strategy, this week I decided to leave this promising company.  These things happen in startups, and I felt it best to walk away before these disagreements became even more debilitating to the company and its important mission. 

I have learned a lot about the new media ecosystem in working with the talented team at Discourse over the last few months, and intend to apply it aggressively in my work with NDN and others in the days ahead.  

All of us have to do our part in the coming days to make our democracy and our discourse far healthier.  With your help, we here at NDN will continue to try to lead the way.  

Best, Simon

Thank you for joining us for our Feb. 8th "Patriotism and Optimism" event

Thank you to everyone who joined us for today's luncheon event.  We appreciate you taking the time to discuss what we at NDN believe is the important need to own the successes of the Obama and Clinton Administrations. This is NDN's part in the much larger project of developing a comprehensive response to the rise of Trump's new politics and the building of the future of the Democratic Party.

We hope you join us again soon and please stay in touch!  You can always check the next showings on our schedule, and please invite your friends to join!

As requested, we are making two graphs from the deck available below and as a PDF attachment:

 

 

Job Prospects for Working Class Americans Continue to Deteriorate

This essay was posted originally at The Pointwww.sonecon.com

Many political observers still seem flummoxed by the fact that millions of working-class Americans voted for Donald Trump after supporting Barack Obama not once but twice. One important reason may lie in certain large-scale changes in America’s job market over the last decade. The growing role of a college degree in landing a job is well documented. Now, new household employment data reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that over the last decade, Americans with college degrees can account for all of the net new jobs created over the last decade. In stark contrast, the number of Americans with high school degrees or less who are employed, in this ninth year of economic expansion, has fallen by 2,995,000.

We use the household employment survey here instead of the business establishment survey, because it tracks the education of everyone who gains or loses a job month by month. In the latest survey covering December 2017, the number of college graduates with jobs jumped by 305,000 – while the numbers of employed Americans with no high school degree fell by 132,000, high school graduates with jobs dropped by 38,000, and employees with some college but no degree declined by45,000. That’s a window into what’s happened across the U.S. economy throughout this business cycle.

The near decade from January 2008 to December 2017 covers every facet of the current business cycle, except its very end. The first five years from January 2008 to January 2013 included the recession and financial crisis followed by a modest recovery, and the second five years from January 2013 to December 2017 have seen a reasonably steady expansion. In a normal cycle from recession to recovery, economists expect to see substantial job losses followed by offsetting job gains. In the aggregate, that is just what happened in the first five years of this cycle: Millions of jobs were lost from January 2008 to December 2010; but by January 2013, the number of employed Americans had recovered to nearly the same level as in January 2008.

But the composition of that workforce – who lost their jobs compared to who landed new jobs – changed in decisive ways. From January 2008 to January 2013, millions of people without college degrees lost jobs and never regained them, while all of the job gains went to the one-third of the labor force (as of January 2008) with at least a B.A. degree. (See the Table below.) So, while total employment in January 2013 was just 341,000 less than in January 2008, the number of Americans without a high school diploma who were employed fell by more than 1.6 million, the number of high school graduates with jobs fell by more than 2.8 million, and the number of working people with some college training but no BA degree fell by 227,000. Over those same five years, the number of college-educated Americans with jobs increased more than 4.3 million.

In the following five years of economic expansion, employment rose rapidly. From January 2013 to December 2017, the BLS household data show that the number of Americans with jobs increased by 10,997,000, for net job growth of 10,656,000 (10,997,000 – 341,000). Every educational group saw net job gains – but the distribution of those gains very badly short-changed Americans without college degrees.

Consider, to start, the country’s high school graduates. In January 2013, they comprised 27.3 percent of the labor force – but their job gains of 720,000 from that time to last month account for only 6.8 percent of all employment growth. Similarly, Americans who attended college but didn’t earn a B.A. degree accounted for 27.9 percent of the U.S. labor force in January 2013, and they claimed only 15.3 percent of the subsequent job gains. Strikingly, people without high school diplomas found jobs in this period at a rate that more nearly reflected their share of the labor market: They comprised 8.2 percent of the workforce in January 2013 and claimed 7.0 percent of net new jobs created from that time to the present. The only big winners were college graduates. They accounted for 36.5 percent of the U.S. labor force in January 2013; yet, they claimed 71.0 percent of the net new jobs created since then: Of the 10,656,000 net new jobs created from January 2013 to the December 2017, 7,564,000 went to college graduates.

Changes in the Employment of Americans, by Education, 1/2008 to 12/2017

As these above show, the skewed distribution of job opportunities has affected the composition of the labor force. As job opportunities have increased for college-educated Americans, their share of the U.S. labor force climbed from 33.6 percent in January 2008 to 36.5 percent in 2013 and 39.9 percent in December 2017. Similarly, as job opportunities narrowed for non-college educated people, more became discouraged and bailed out of the labor force. Over the last decade, the share of the U.S. labor force comprised of people without high school diplomas fell from 9.3 percent to 7.3 percent, the share with no more than a high school degree fell from 28.9 percent to 25.7 percent, and the share with some college training but no B.A. fell from 28.2 percent to 27.1 percent. Too often, the downward spiral has not ended with joblessness. Researchers have found that nearly half of working-age men who have left the labor force use pain killers on a daily basis. Moreover, new research shows that on a county by county basis, each percentage-point increase in unemployment is now accompanied by a 7.0 percent increase in hospitalizations for opioid overdoses and a 3.6 percent increase in opioid-related deaths.

 Americans without college degrees, who continue to comprise 60 percent of the labor force, are now effectively penalized in every phase of the business cycle. From the first month of the last recession in January 2008 to December 2017, well into year nine of this expansion, the number of employed Americans with high school diplomas contracted by 2,095,000, and the number of people working without a high school diploma fell by 900,000. Further, the share of all job gains claimed by Americans with some college but no B.A. degree was just over half their share of the labor force. Through it all, the number of college-educated Americans with jobs jumped by 11,909,000. That’s 1,253,000 more than the total 10,656,000 net new jobs created across the economy, suggesting that college grads are also now claiming new jobs that used to go to people without a B.A. degree.

Invite: Thur 7/26 - Patriotism and Optimism Luncheon Presentation

We are excited to invite you to join us on Thursday, July 26th at noon for an in-person showing of Simon's compelling new deck, "On Patriotism and Optimism – Thoughts On The Future of America's Center-Left."

We will host the presentation in the penthouse event space at our new office location, 800 Maine Avenue SW. This room overlooks the new Wharf neighborhood of DC, and has a great view of the Capitol and even the Jefferson Memorial. Our event will run from noon to 1:15 pm and lunch will be served. All are welcome, but seating is limited so please sign up today to ensure a seat.

You can learn more about the big arguments behind this presentation here, access background readings here, and RSVP to our July lunch here

In the presentation Simon will make the case that America is not in decline and is in fact doing as well as it has in any point in its history. It is meant to be an implicit rebuttal to the core argument Trump is making about America and its decline, an argument which is malevolently selling America and its people short every day. 

This deck, and the arguments within it, are Simon's effort to help fashion a comprehensive response to the rise of Trump’s new politics. It has evolved over dozens of showings over the web and live in person to policy makers here in Washington and around the country.

Do join us - we promise you will leave feeling better about this challenging moment in our history. 

Background Readings for "Patriotism and Optimism" Presentation

Patriotism and Optimism, Not Pessimism – Thoughts on the Future of America's Center-Left (Preview Slides), Simon Rosenberg and Chris Murphy, NDN.org, 4/27/18. Here are key slides from deck which demonstrate through various economic and societal data that America is not in decline and in fact doing as well as it has in any point in our history.

The Case for Optimism: Rejecting Trump's Poisonous Pessimism, Simon Rosenberg, Medium, 6/2/17. In an essay that originally was published on Medium, Simon argues that the great rationale of Trump's Presidency  –  that America is in decline – simply isn't true, and must be challenged more forcefully.  This is the piece that spurred the creation of the presentation. 

Chin Up, Democrats, Simon Rosenberg, US News and World Report, 1/20/17. In his column Simon argues that Democrats should have pride in their historic accomplishments and optimism about the future of their politics. This one is very relevant to the presentation itself. 

Rediscovering the Democrats' North Star, Simon Rosenberg, US News & World Report, 12/9/16. In his column Simon offers some thoughts on the path forward.

 

Does Science Prove that the Modern GOP Favors the Rich?

This essay was posted originally at The Pointwww.sonecon.com

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.

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