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September 3, 2011

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links for 2011-09-02

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 10:01 PM PDT

Mean vs. Median Income Growth

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 12:42 PM PDT

Comparing income growth per capita to median income growth is telling:

What Does 'Economic Growth' Mean for Americans?, by Uwe E. Reinhardt, Economix: ...The third chart, below, exhibits the growth path of real G.D.P. per capita in the United States over the period 1975-2009 and the corresponding path of real median household income. The data show that over the 34-year period, real G.D.P. per capita rose by an annual compound rate of 1.9 percent. ... [H]owever, median household income in the United States rose by less than 0.5 percent a year..., that 1.9 percent average economic growth does not mean much for the experience of the median household in the United States.

Sources: Economic Report of the President (GDP); Census Bureau (income)

In this regard, I found even more interesting this comment...:

Average real income per family in the United States grew by 32.2 percent from 1975 to 2006, while they grew only by 27.1 percent in France during the same period, showing that the macroeconomic performance in the United States was better than the French one during this period. Excluding the top percentile, average United States real incomes grew by only 17.9 percent during the period while average French real incomes — excluding the top percentile — still grew at much the same rate (26.4 percent) as for the whole French population. Therefore, the better macroeconomic performance of the United States and France is reversed when excluding the top 1 percent.

In other words, if one took away the top 1 percent highest-income recipients and their share of income and focused on what was left for the bottom 99 percent, the median representative of that cohort should not be all that impressed by economic performance in the United States relative to their peers in other countries.

It can help explain why the so-called median American voter ... seems so angry at this time... It also can help explain why the high-income groups in the United States have accounted for a growing share of total federal taxes paid in the United States.

I wonder how many people know that our superiority over France during this time period is only because of the top 1%?

How Will the Fed Respond to Today's Bad News on Employment?

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 10:08 AM PDT

There is a lot of discussion on how the Fed will react to the jobs report in its meeting this month, e.g. here and here. My view is that if the Fed is moved to action by the report -- and it is not at all certain that they will be -- they will do the least they possibly can while still looking like they are doing something about the problem.

What is the least they can do while still satisfying the demand for action? One option is to change the average duration of the assets they hold on their balance sheet by trading short-term for long-term assets (i.e. lengthen the average duration of the portfolio). This could bring down the long end of the yield curve a bit -- not much as there isn't all that much room for long-term rates to fall -- and perhaps stimulate economic activity. However, it's hard to see how a fall in long-term interest rates of such a small magnitude will produce a change in investment and a change in the consumption of durables such as cars and refrigerators of the magnitude that is needed. If there is a response from consumers and businesses to a small drop in the long-term rate, it will be far, far short of what we need.

Another option would be to cut the rate the Fed is paying on reserves held in banks. Ben Bernanke has stated this would disrupt the overnight federal funds market, so I think this is unlikely, but it could be cut, say in half from its current level of 0.25%, or even to zero. Any change in this rate can be reversed quickly if needed, so it's not a very risky option -- that's why I think it is one potential response -- but again I don't think it would do a lot of good. The problem isn't the supply of loans, it's the demand, and this wouldn't do much to stimulate new demand.

The Fed has already used up another option that doesn't require much actual action -- committing to low interest rates for an extended period of time -- but so far that hasn't seemed to have helped much. The options after that such as QE3 or adopting (and then trying to hit) a higher inflation target require much more action from the Fed and are likely to be resisted.

But things are much worse than the Fed thought they would be, the green shoots they keep pointing to whither away as soon as they depend upon them, and it's time -- way past time actually -- to quit hoping things improve and take the possibility of an extended period of stagnation seriously. I blame fiscal policymakers more than the Fed, fiscal policy is our best hope for job creation and we should have had a large job creation program in place long ago. But we need both policy barrels pointed at this problem, it's too large to solve without both policies working together, and it's time for the Fed to quit hoping a miracle saves them from the hard decisions they need to make and to move forward with more aggressive policy.

[Also posted at MoneyWatch.]

The Employment Report: Employment was Unchanged In August

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 07:47 AM PDT

Here's my reaction to today's employment report:

The Employment Report: Employment was Unchanged In August

Let me add that we should have moved aggressively on a job creation program already, it takes time to get these programs in place and there's been plenty of warning this was coming. Yeah, I know, political realities prevented action before now. But the unemployed don't want to hear about political realities, they want policymakers to understand their reality -- it's not pleasant -- and at least try to do something about it. Think, for example, about how much discussion there has been about taxes and the wealthy, the deficit, etc., and how little of the discussion in Washington and in the media has been about the problems of the unemployed and how to help. The unemployed have been neglected -- they have good reason to be disillusioned with Washington and to suspect that any help they do get is more for political purposes than from true concern for their welfare.

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