EPI News

Making an impact

EPI concepts in Obama speech
As Sen. Barack Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination before a crowd of 80,000 in Denver, those who know EPI’s work may have noticed a certain familiar phrase in describing “that old, discredited Republican philosophy” — “you’re on your own.” EPI senior economist Jared Bernstein, an informal advisor to the Obama campaign, introduced the phrase in his 2006 book All Together Now: Common Sense for a Fair Economy. Obama’s speech highlighted many of the problems that EPI has long emphasized, and the day after, EPI applauded this recognition of failure in our current economic approach.

Visiting EPI fellow David Kusnet, a former speechwriter for President Clinton, critiqued the speech for the Huffington Post, dubbing Obama the next Great Communicator. In The New Republic, Kusnet described mixed messages at the Republican convention.

Jobs continue to shrink
The August jobs numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics were grim, again. As EPI economists Jared Bernstein and Heidi Shierholz noted in their analysis, the unemployment rate jumped to 6.1% last month, the highest in five years, and payrolls fell by 84,000 jobs, the eighth month in row of consecutive declines. Job losses were accelerating, and the underemployment rate (which includes part-time workers wanting to be full time) was at a recessionary level. And lest anyone think that rising unemployment was due to the recent extension of unemployment insurance benefits, Shierholz produced a second paper, arguing that the trend “is not about deciding whether or not to accept job offers, it is about the absence of job offers.”

The picture is even bleaker for African Americans and Hispanic Americans, as unemployment rose for both groups. Algernon Austin, director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy noted that the jobless rate for African Americans reached double digits for the first time in years. More than half a million more blacks were unable to find work last month compared with August 2007. Hispanic unemployment shot up 2.5 points over the past year, and in both groups, women’s unemployment rates are significantly higher than men’s.

Spending and income
In three compelling Economic Snapshots, EPI confronted common misconceptions about economic spending. Josh Bivens showed that while the rising cost of fuel is on everyone’s mind, Americans spend significantly more on health insurance — and health insurance costs are rising even faster than gasoline. The simple bar graph goes a long way toward showing why American paychecks do not go far these days. Ethan Pollack examined spending on school construction, finding that despite increases in school enrollment, the amount spent on school construction has dropped drastically. And Jared Bernstein explained the differences between the 1990s business cycle and the current cycle: In the ’90s, median household income improved along with the economy. This time around, median income is dropping, despite strong economic growth.

Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy
On the evening of Thursday, September 18, EPI will officially launch its new Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy, with remarks from EPI board member Dr. Julianne Malveaux, President of Bennett College for Women, and program director Algernon Austin. Austin will also deliver highlights from an upcoming paper on the recent economic experience of African Americans. The invitation is here. Reservations will close on Monday.

The further adventures of Jared Bernstein
EPI senior economist Jared Bernstein has been discussing job security and the need for further economic stimulus from Orlando to Capitol Hill. On September 10 in Florida, he spoke to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers at their conference, “Defending Our Freedoms, Defending Our Jobs.” He returned to Washington on September 11 to testify to Congress on the need for a second economic stimulus package. On Friday, Bernstein heads to Crystal City to discuss privatization with the American Booksellers Association and the Book America Expo. Finally, on Sunday, he will be at New York’s noted 92nd Street YMCA for a panel discussion with economist and Nobel-Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz and author Naomi Klein on America’s Economic Outlook.