Dealing yet another blow to the theory that “uncertainty” because of the so-called “fiscal cliff” was holding back the economic recovery, the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings hit a four-year low in December, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are 3.3 unemployed workers for every available job — the lowest ratio since November 2008 — down from a high of 6.7 to 1 in July 2009. Compared to November, “employers laid off 17,000 fewer workers than in October, and posted 11,000 more job openings. Some 46,000 more workers quit their jobs — a sign they see the job market as improving.” The economy created 155,000 jobs in December, while hourly earnings also rose.
Multimillionaire Lobbyist Suggests Slashing Health Benefits For Vulnerable Americans To Reduce The Deficit
During his annual “State of American Business” address on Thursday, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue — who made $4.7 million in 2010 alone — called for lawmakers to tackle America’s long-term budget woes by enacting legislation that would slash entitlement spending on Medicare and Medicaid, the public insurance programs that provide coverage for America’s poor and elderly populations.
At the beginning of his remarks, Donohue asked whether America had “the leaders to put the country first, ahead of their own careers, politics, ideologies and egos” by controlling the growth of entitlements — which, in Donohue’s case, is really a euphemism for cutting health benefits:
Donohue said that restraining entitlement spending and overhauling the tax code would be part of the Chamber’s broader push to expand economic growth and the labor market, an agenda that also touches on energy development, immigration issues, trade and regulations.
The focus on debt and deficits signals something of a shift for the Chamber, which supported President Obama’s stimulus package and has long made job growth a signature issue. But Donohue said Thursday that putting the U.S. on firmer fiscal ground would play a big role in allowing the private sector to do its part to help spur growth. [...]
The Chamber president said that Medicare, Medicaid and other U.S. entitlement programs were “unsustainable” and had come to dominate American spending.
While Donohue and the Chamber were happy to lobby the Obama Administration for pro-growth, deficit-increasing measures such as the stimulus when the economy was in free-fall, Donohue seems to want to pass the burden of austerity onto everyday Americans now that business growth has stabilized. Donohue’s prescription for clear-eyed deficit reduction through entitlement and tax “reform” did not also extend to raising tax rates on corporations or the wealthy, even though corporate profits are currently at an all-time high while corporate taxes have plummeted. Meanwhile, Americans have been forced to cut back on their health care spending as a result of the recent economic downturn.
With his call for entitlement cuts, Donohue joins a long line of business executives and conservative lawmakers striving to balance the budget on the backs of America’s most vulnerable citizens — even though expanding, not contracting, public health care programs is a much more efficient way to reduce total health care costs and average entitlement spending.
The 2013 flu season is in full swing, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, it will be the worst in ten years. The New York Times reported that “the country is in the grip of three emerging flu or flulike epidemics: an early start to the annual flu season with an unusually aggressive virus, a surge in a new type of norovirus, and the worst whooping cough outbreak in 60 years.”
The CDC recommends that those who experience flu-like symptoms “should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.” However, for a huge number of American workers, that option doesn’t exist due to a lack of paid sick days. 40 percent of private sector workers and a whopping 80 percent of low-income workers do not have a single paid sick day. One in five workers reports losing their job or being threatened with dismissal for wanting to take time off while sick.
This problem is especially acute in the food industry, with its high potential for spreading disease. 79 percent of food workers say they have no paid sick time.
Lack of paid sick time led to an estimated 5 million additional cases of H1N1 flu in 2009, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health. And as the National Partnership for Women and Families noted, paid sick days don’t just benefit workers, but businesses and the economy as well:
Replacing workers can cost anywhere from 25 to 200 percent of annual compensation. Paid sick days result in reduced turnover, which leads to reduced costs incurred from advertising, interviewing and training new hires. This is particularly important in lower-wage industries where turnover is highest. Employers also reap the benefits of greater worker loyalty…Paid sick days help to decrease the productivity lost when employees work sick – known as “presenteeism” – which is estimated to cost our national economy $160 billion annually, surpassing the cost of absenteeism. The majority of human resources executives agree that presenteeism is a problem because of potential productivity loss and the risk of spreading infection.
For an average family, “missing work for just three-and-a-half days results in lost wages equivalent to an entire month’s grocery bill.” Paid sick days guard against that outcome, while ensuring that businesses stay productive.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today released its final rule regarding the “ability-to-repay” provision included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. The rule requires lenders to consider whether a borrower can afford a mortgage before giving it to them, and it will make a significant difference in preventing the type of predatory lending practices that crashed the U.S. market and stripped families of trillions of dollars of household wealth.
According to CFPB Director Richard Cordray, who spoke in Baltimore today, the rule could have prevented the worst of the 2008 financial crisis:
I firmly believe that if the ability-to-repay rule we are announcing today had existed a decade ago, many people…could have been spared the anguish of losing their homes and having their credit destroyed. The events that caused the financial crisis might well have been averted. The tragic reverberations that continue to affect so many Americans today would never have occurred…We believe this rule does exactly what it is supposed to do: It protects consumers and helps strengthen the housing market by rooting out reckless and unsustainable lending, while enabling safer lending.
Under the Dodd-Frank law, lenders get special protections from liability if they make loans that are presumed to be safe and sustainable based on certain product features and underwriting practices. This category of loans is called a “qualified mortgage” or “QM.”
Over the past two years, regulators have pored over the finer details of the rule, including the legal implications of stamping a loan as a QM. Mortgage lenders have pushed for full exemption from liability — or “safe harbor” — for these loans, meaning borrowers can’t take the lender to court if it turns out the loan was improperly underwritten. Consumers are understandably leery of that sort of “get out of jail free” card, and have pushed to preserve some rights in the event of blatant fraud or other misconduct.
In the end, the CFPB chose a compromise. Under the final rule, lenders are granted a safe harbor on prime-rate loans deemed as QM, while the lenders are granted fewer protections on higher-priced loans that fit the QM definition. Unfortunately, the large safe harbor makes it more difficult for consumers to enforce this rule than was originally envisioned by lawmakers.
Deutsche Bank, like many major banks on both sides of the Atlantic, is under investigation for manipulating the LIBOR interest rate, which governs financial transactions the world over. German officials are “conducting a so-called special probe — the most severe form of investigation it can undertake — into Deutsche Bank as part of a broader global investigation of interbank lending rates.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Deutsche Bank made $654 million trading on LIBOR and other interest rates in 2008. And one former employee says that the bank’s executives blew off warnings about the riskiness of such trades because “the bank could influence the rates they were betting on”:
The interest-rate bets included an estimated potential profit of €24 million for each hundredth of a percentage point that the three-month U.S. dollar Libor increased compared with the one-month U.S. dollar Libor, according to the documents.
The former employee has told regulators that some employees expressed concerns about the risks of the interest-rate bets, according to documents. He also said that Deutsche Bank officials dismissed those concerns because the bank could influence the rates they were betting on.
Two major banks — Barclays and UBS — have already settled with regulators over charges stemming from LIBOR rigging.
While women who preside at the top of their companies are still a tiny minority, studies show businesses led by women often outperform industry averages. And this tendency applies to the hedge fund industry, according to a new survey from Rothstein Kass.
Hedge funds headed by women had higher returns of 8.95 percent, compared to hedge fund 2012 averages of 2.69 percent, the survey shows. However, female hedge fund managers are a rare find, The New York Times’ Dealbook reports:
Only 16 percent of the survey respondents said their firms were owned or managed by women. Of the respondents from hedge funds, 16.8 percent fell into this category, while 13 percent of those in venture capital and 12 percent of those in private equity said women were in charge.
The survey found that 18 percent of the firms surveyed had female chief investment officers, and 16 percent had chief executives who were women.
That is not the only evidence suggesting firms would be better served by more women: Hedge funds run by women fell only half as much during the financial crisis, and several other studies show “that women are more profitable investors, money managers and hedge fund managers, and they incur less risk in the process.”
Overall, businesses with women on their boards outperform those with all-male boards by 26 percent, yet 36 percent of U.S. companies still have no sitting women.
As the possibility of increased tax rates approached at the end of 2012, dozens of executives sold stock and took advantage of lower tax rates. According to the Wall Street Journal’s analysis, executives off-loaded millions of dollars in stock in December, avoiding the higher tax rates Congress approved at the beginning of 2013. And because Congress raised rates on capital gains income, executives who sold well-performing stocks saved the most, the Journal reports:
A Wall Street Journal review of securities filings found that 58 executives sold stock valued at $10 million or more in December as talks intensified over raising tax rates.
Capital gains were hit more than other types of income, according to David Kautter, the managing director of the Kogod Tax Center at American University in Washington, D.C. “So if you could move that into 2012, you saved the most of anyone.”
Many of the executives who sold stock in December said they did not do so for tax purposes, and according to the Journal, their selling patterns mirrored those in previous months. Others, however, admitted that the sales occurred for “tax planning” purposes. Cablevision CEO James Dolan, who also manages Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks, gained $26 million from stock sales in December. He had not previously sold stock since 2009. And Robert Kauffman, co-founder of an investment firm, retired and sold $180 million in stock after citing tax concerns as a main reason.
The decision to sell is certainly rational, though it is evidence for why Congress increased the capital gains rate from 15 percent to 20 percent. Capital gains were once taxed at 35 percent, but that rate has been steadily lowered over the last three decades. The result was a massive preference for investment income that allowed the wealthy to pay lower taxes on large segments of the money they made, concentrating wealth at the top. The low capital gains rate, in fact, was the biggest driver of America’s skyrocketing income inequality, according to a recent study. As the following two charts show, income concentrated with the wealthiest Americans as the capital gains rate fell:
According to a recent survey, workers prefer having retirement security via a pension than a host of other financial benefits that could come along with their job, including higher salaries, longer vacations, or bigger bonuses. However, as this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows, pensions over the last several decades have been disappearing:
BLS noted that pensions “are becoming rare for workers in private industry. In 2011, only 10 percent of all private sector establishments provided defined benefit plans, covering 18 percent of private industry employees.” Since 1985, 84,000 pensions plans have been eliminated, according to research by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Donald L. Barlett and James W. Steele. This accelerating demise will result in increased poverty for America’s seniors.
As former White House economist Jared Bernstein noted, “as [defined benefit] private pensions weaken, we need to strengthen public ones. The loss of DB private pensions — and their partial replacement by financial-market-dependent defined contribution plans — represents a shift in the locus of risk of retirement insecurity from employers to workers.” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has released a proposal to provide a more stable retirement option to American workers.
Welcome to ThinkProgress Economy’s morning link roundup. This is what we’re reading. Have you seen any interesting news? Let us know in the comments section. You can also follow ThinkProgress Economy on Twitter.
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will lay out new rules for home mortgages today. [Wall Street Journal]
- A new study shows that college graduates weathered the recession better than those without a degree. [New York Times]
- Chinese authorities are investigating allegations of bribery at Foxconn, a controversial manufacturer of Apple products. [CNN Money]
- California’s budget situation is looking up due to tax hikes approved by voters. [Associated Press]
- Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) is feeling some heat for his pronouncement that he’d be okay with the defense cuts scheduled to take place in two months. [The Hill]
- Robert Khuzami, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division, is stepping down. [Washington Post]
- Maryland is at risk of losing some of the $40 million it won under President Obama’s Race to the Top program. [Education Week]
- Why changing the Basel bank rules was a bad idea. [Reuters]