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Jared Bernstein

Jared Bernstein

Jared Bernstein joined the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in May 2011 as a Senior Fellow. From 2009 to 2011, Bernstein was the Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, Executive Director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, and a member of President Obama’s economic team. Prior to joining the Obama administration, Bernstein was a senior economist and the director of the Living Standards Program at the Economic Policy Institute, and between 1995 and 1996, he held the post of Deputy Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Articles by Jared Bernstein

The King of the Blues Birthday!

3 days ago

Google tells me that today would have been BB King’s 94’th birthday, so I got my booty over to YouTube to queue up one of my fav BB jams–Let’s Get Down to Business! BB crushes it, of course, but also dig busy-yet-funky electric bass playing by Jerry Jemmott.
“Whatever made us breakup baby
I don’t know til today
But if it was my fault
I swear I’ll change my ways!”

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How hot labor markets can lead to misleading median comparisons.

9 days ago

The Census income and earnings data sometimes have a confusing characteristic that is not uncommon in these sorts of data, especially in periods of tight labor markets, as was 2018. The issue has to do with changes in medians from one year to the next.
For example, the data that came out this morning showed that for both men and women full-time, full-year workers, real annual earnings rose 3.4 and 3.3 percent, respectively, 2017-18. But for all ft/fy workers, combining both genders, earnings fell 0.6 percent. The decline was statistically insignificant, but jeez–that’s confusing, right? Why would earnings fall, overall, in a year with a clearly solid job market, especially when both genders did pretty well?
A number have folks have asked me about this today–a similar dynamic is in the data

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The 2018 Poverty, Income, and health coverage results: a tale of three forces.

9 days ago

This morning, the Census Bureau released new data on health insurance coverage, poverty, and middle-class incomes. While the data are for last year, they shine an important light on key aspects of families’ living standards that we don’t get from the more up-to-date macro-indicators, like GDP and unemployment.
As the economic recovery that began over a decade ago persisted through 2018, poverty once again fell, by half-a-percentage point, from 12.3 percent to 11.8 percent. Other results from the report show that anti-poverty and income support programs lifted millions of people out of poverty, including 27 million through Social Security alone. Though the real median household income—the income of the household right in the middle of the income scale—increased slightly less than 1 percent

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Payrolls slow and the trade war is hurting manufacturing. But underlying job market still solid.

13 days ago

Payrolls rose by 130,000 last month and the unemployment rate held at 3.7 percent, close to a 50-year low and the same level as the past 3 months. Still, job growth is cooling (25,000 of this month’s gains were temporary decennial Census workers), as the pace of monthly gains, while still strong enough to support low unemployment, has slowed. Wage growth also stayed parked at about where it has been in recent months, and there’s some evidence that the trade war is taking a toll on factory jobs. However, the job market remains strong, real wages are growing, and consumer spending will continue to be supported by these dynamics.
The slowdown in payrolls
To get a clearer take on the underlying trend in job growth, our monthly smoother shows the average monthly gain over 3, 6, and 12-month

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The NYT wrote a woefully imbalanced piece on Opportunity Zones.

16 days ago

A number of people (OK, four…but it’s early) have asked me to respond to the NYT piece from last Sunday on how the Opportunity Zone tax break is nothing but a boon to the rich. As I’ve written in a few opeds, I’ve been a cautious supporter of the program, though I’ve been careful to make the points that a) it’s too early to say much about outcomes, and b) while OZs have the potential to become a wasteful tax shelter mechanism, some early signs are hopeful. And, as the Times points out, some early signs are not.
The problem is, the piece was a list posing as an analysis. It just lists many examples of rich people getting the tax break through the program without a shred of evidence that poor people and places aren’t getting helped. That’s largely because, as noted, it’s simply too early to

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Recession Readiness and State UI Trust Funds

28 days ago

Given the recent dramatic spike in media coverage of our economic headwinds and recession readiness over the past week, we decided to take a closer look at the balance sheets of state unemployment insurance (UI) trust funds. While the Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for overseeing the UI system and paying administrative costs, the basic program is managed and mostly funded by the states. Using the most recent final data available from the Treasury Department, we analyzed the number of state UI trust funds that meet DOL’s recommended minimum solvency standard. This standard is measured using a ratio called the  “Average High Cost Multiple,” where a value of 1 means that trust fund reserves could pay out at least 1 year of benefits during a recession of average depth– states with an

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A quick note on China’s devaluation

August 5, 2019

Source: WSJ
Just back from ranting about this on CNBC so I’ll quickly share some thoughts on the news that the Chinese yuan broke 7/$, in a depreciation that threatens trade-war escalation.
Bottom line: the trade war may be about to get worse, and that won’t be good for markets, consumers, and the global economy. It’s hard to see a way out between these two sides, though electoral politics could force Trump to stand down next year.
The numbers:
–Depreciations offset tariffs. That is, a 10% tariff, paid by importers and passed forward to consumers, is fully offset by a 10% depreciation. This is especially relevant in the case of Trump’s latest plan to place a 10% tariff on $300 billion more in Chinese goods, two-thirds of which are consumer goods (shoes, apparel, toys, cell phones). Earlier

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Still a solid job market, but with a cloud or two

August 2, 2019

Payrolls rose 164,000 last month and the unemployment rate held steady at 3.7 percent. Wage growth accelerated very slightly–3.1% in June to 3.2% in July (year-over-year nominal hourly pay)–but it has been roughly stalled just north of 3 so far this year.
Downward revisions for the prior two months–May and June–appear to have slowed the underlying trend in job growth. In our report from last month, we showed the 3 and 6-month trends to be 170K jobs per month. As this month’s jobs smoother shows, both the 3 and 6 month averages are now about 140K.

Part of this is deceleration is because two big job months–January and April–dropped out of the 6 and 3 month averages, so this slowdown may not stick. But if it does, it raises the question of whether job growth is slowing because long expansion

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Sharing the wealth, or at least the compensation

July 30, 2019

Twitter econ asked for my historical ECI series, so here you go. See tab “finaltbl.” For columns B and C–pvt industry–I do a small splice re older data which you can track through the spreadsheet. For cols D & E–these are “all civilian” and are the series we use for our wage mashup–I don’t bother splicing. I doesn’t really make a difference as splice factor is tiny for toplines (they matter more for industries).
Now, in return, I want gobs of twitter love and a wage series to be named later.

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Some responses to the responses to my “4-economic mistakes” piece.

July 22, 2019

I got lots of interesting feedback on a piece I wrote for Vox about long-held but empirically wrong assumptions in some key areas of economics, assumptions that have been asymmetrically harmful. That is, their costs consistently fall on those with low- and moderate incomes and their benefits help the wealthy.
Some argued that I didn’t go far enough. Dean Baker, a friend and frequent co-author, argued that I pulled punches regarding globalization, which “…was designed to hurt workers. We could have had globalization where we reduced IP barriers and trade in professional services (e.g. doctors).” (Baker explores such themes in his book Rigged, a close, older cousin of themes in my Vox piece.) Various respondents added other harmful policies supported by bad economics, such as Kevin Drum’s

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Here’s a simple way to tell if someone (like the Nat’ Restaurant Assoc.) is abusing numbers to mislead.

July 19, 2019

One sure way to tell in someone is making a biased argument is showing up in various statements by those who oppose the proposal to raise the minimum wage. I wanted to be sure to elevate this dastardly ploy, as it’s a tell that someone is trying to win an argument based on their bias, not on the evidence.
Here’s a tweet from the National Restaurant Association, a group that’s honor bound to oppose the minimum wage, and here’s the same ploy from a Texas Republican member of Congress. In both cases, they exclusively characterize the CBO’s job loss estimate from the agency’s recent minimum wage report as “as many as 3.7 million.”
Now, if you’ve been following the debate over the CBO’s findings, you’ve probably heard the number of jobs lost cited as 1.3 million, not 3.7 million. Here’s how the

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No question, the unemployment rate paints an incomplete picture…and yet…

July 15, 2019

It’s long been understood by anyone trying to assess the labor market that the unemployment rate is, by itself, not up to the task. Most importantly, it leaves out those not looking for work, but it’s also not adjusted for demographic change, nor does it factor in those who are working fewer hours than they’d like. It combines racial groups with persistently different levels of unemployment. At times like now, these shortcomings can lead this premiere indicator to underestimate the extent of slack in the job market.
This WSJ article from yesterday–“For decoding labor market, unemployment rate may not do the job”–is but the latest salvo in this healthy discussion about the need for a dashboard, not a single dial.
And yet, most of us, when trying to provide a quick overview of economic

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Judy Shelton and her sponsor—President Trump—want to tie the hands of the Fed

July 10, 2019

When someone seeking confirmation to high office has a paper trail fraught with positions antithetical to their confirmation, their theme song quickly becomes Shaggy’s It Wasn’t Me, as they flip and flop to disavow their earlier convictions.
The most recent purveyor of this strategy is Judy Shelton, one of President Trump’s most recent likely nominees for the Federal Reserve. Ms. Shelton, who worked on Trump’s campaign and transition team, currently holds a Senate-confirmed position as the U.S. representative to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
After reviewing her writings and comparing them with what she’s saying in her current campaign to get the Fed job, I’m convinced that her appointment would be extremely problematic for at least two reasons. One, she would try to

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Why a Fed rate cut makes sense

July 9, 2019

[written with Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics]
This is a post about one-quarter of one percent.
That’s the amount by which the Federal Reserve is expected to reduce the federal funds rate, the key interest rate they control, when they meet at the end of this month. If that sounds like too small a change to get worked up about, we assure you, Fed rate changes can be a big deal, especially when they change direction. The central bank had been steadily raising rates over the past several years, and only just a few months ago was predicting further rate increases this year and next.
The decision to cut rates has become a bit more complicated, as last week’s solid jobs report weakened the case for the cut. Why add interest-rate stimulus to an economy that’s already going

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More evidence–this time from CBO–that higher (even much higher) minimum wages largely do what they’re supposed to do.

July 8, 2019

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025 would lift the pay of 27.3 million workers—17 percent of the workforce—according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office. It would raise the incomes of poor families by 5 percent and thus reduce the number of people in poverty by 1.3 million. Since these low-end gains would be partially financed out of profits, the increase in the wage floor would reduce inequality.
CBO also estimates that “1.3 million workers who would otherwise be employed would be jobless in an average week in 2025.” Because economists’ estimates of the job-loss effects from minimum wage increase are so wide-ranging—some studies find little-to-no job loss impacts; other find more—CBO estimates that there’s a two-thirds chance that the actual change in

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July jobs: nice pop on payrolls but flat wage growth

July 5, 2019

[This jobs report is an important one in terms of assessing the impact of headwinds on the job market, but because it’s sort of a holiday, I’ll just offer up a truncated, bullet-point report. As always, thanks to Kathleen Bryant, who got up early on vacation to help me out!]
Toplines:
–Payrolls rose 224,000 last month, well above expectations for ~165K. Though we never want to over-weight one month of noisy data, that’s an important number, suggesting that building economic headwinds haven’t dented job creation much yet at all.
–Our monthly smoother shows average monthly job gains over 3, 6, and 12-month windows. Even including May’s weak 72K (revised) gain, the average over both the past 3 and 6 months has been around 170K jobs/month. That’s a slight downshift from the 12-month average

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The economic outlook: The importance of getting ready for the next downturn sooner than later.

June 28, 2019

Yesterday, some colleagues and I gave a talk on the urgency of being ready for the next downturn before it hits. Here’s the PowerPt (as a PDF) and below is an annotated version. To be clear from the outset, you will not learn from this presentation when the next recession will be upon us because no one knows (as you’ll see, the presentation features some headwind and tailwind slides). What we do know is that there are some important and unique attributes re the current expansion that makes planning now for the next downturn especially urgent.

What do I mean, “limited monetary space?” The arrows in the next slide shows how much–how many percentage points–the Fed funds rate has fallen in downturns since the 1970s–north of 5 ppts, on average. Note that cute, little arrow at the end of the

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Three observations about current monetary policy (the last one is the most important)

June 21, 2019

If you follow such things, you know that earlier this week, the U.S. central bank shifted its bias from patient waiting to a bias toward rate cuts. Here are three observations about this moment in monetary policy.
1. The market reaction has been interesting as bond yields have tanked while equity prices have climbed. Such a dynamic is not a mystery, as both movements reflect a dovish turn by both the U.S. Fed and the European Central Bank. Also, as has been the case throughout the expansion, low yields for fixed income investments can juice risk appetites for stocks.
But there’s also an ongoing argument between the two sides of the market, with the bond market more worried about global growth (and thus expecting bigger Fed rate cuts i.e., not just insurance cuts, but recessions cuts*) than

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Should they cut or should they hold?

June 18, 2019

Should they cut or should they hold?If they cut there will be trouble.If they pause it will be double.Tell me quick, I want to know.Should they cut or should they hold!?
Pretty much everything has been said about whether the Fed should take out an insurance cut in the fed funds rate when their FOMC meeting concludes tomorrow afternoon. But not everyone’s had a chance to say it. So, I’ll briefly weigh in. My punchline: There are good arguments on both sides, but I’d hold for this meeting and signal forthcoming cuts as necessary. I’m not convinced that an insurance cut would have much upside relative to dovish forward guidance, and my bar for surprising the markets is high.
The case for a cut:
–Inflation is not only soft, but more importantly from the Fed’s perspective, inflationary

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Un- vs. Under- (K. Bryant in the house!)

June 7, 2019

[My CBPP/Full-employment-project colleague Kathleen Bryant has a new paper coming out next week with Dartmouth econ professor Danny Blanchflower (et al) on measures of labor market slack and their correlation with wage growth. A key focus of the paper involves the underemployment rate, and since we learned today that u6 hit a cyclical low last month, I asked Kathleen to dash off a note to get folks ready for the paper’s release.]
By Kathleen Bryant:
Today’s jobs report showed that the U6 rate – a measure of underemployment including the unemployed, involuntary part-time workers, and those who aren’t currently employed or job-hunting but still interested in working – hit its lowest level since December 2000, at 7.1%. While the unemployment rate is the slack variable that receives the most

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Headwinds in the job market? Payroll gains slow and wages fail to accelerate

June 7, 2019

Payrolls were up 75,000 last month, less than half of what was expected, though the unemployment rate held steady at its 50-year low of 3.6 percent. Despite the low jobless rate, wage growth failed to accelerate, and has been stuck around 3 percent for a few months now. Downward revision shaved 75,000 jobs off of payrolls over the previous two months and our smoother, below, shows a mild deceleration in the pace job gains.
All told, it’s a weaker jobs report than we’ve become used to seeing, but what is it telling us? Is it a warning signal of weakening demand or is it more that the job market is closing in on full capacity? This sounds like a technical distinction–are the constraints on the demand or supply side?–but it’s a critical one. If we’re hitting supply constraints then the threat

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Trump and the Mexican tariffs: How far is this administration willing to go to achieve their protectionist, anti-humanitarian goals? Maybe farther than we thought.

May 31, 2019

As you know if you’ve looked at any morning paper, the Trump administration has proposed an escalating tariff on all imports from Mexico, starting at 5 percent on June 10th and rising by five percentage points each month until it reaches 25 percent. The tariffs are intended to force Mexico to take actions to reduce the flow of migrants into the U.S. Trump said the tariffs will remain in place until Mexico “substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory.”
Here’s a Q&A on this proposed action. Initially, it may not look like a big deal for us (much more so for Mexico). But if it doesn’t fizzle quickly, and I don’t think it will, it could turn out to be important along various dimensions.
Q: Isn’t this is an unusual use of tariffs?
A: It is. The majority of

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The Trump administration’s proposed “update” to the poverty threshold is a wolf in sheep’s clothing

May 22, 2019

The Trump administration’s proposal to change the way the poverty line is annually adjusted for inflation is the policy equivalent of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sounds technical and weedy, but a new paper by CBPP’s Aviva Aron-Dine and Matt Broaddus shows just how damaging the change will be for the health coverage and benefits of millions of low- and moderate-income people. (An earlier CBPP report focused on other forms of assistance that would be less accessible under the change.)
Because the change will make the poverty line grow more slowly than it would otherwise, fewer people will be counted as poor and thus, fewer will benefit from government programs whose eligibility or benefits are keyed to the poverty line. Over time, millions will lose health coverage or face benefit

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Pushing back gently but firmly on Michael Strain’s non-stagnation argument

May 16, 2019

A few folks have asked me about my friend Michael Strain’s recent Bloomberg piece where he argues against wage stagnation (it’s “more wrong than right”). It’s an old argument but one worth having, and Michael makes some important points and misses some big ones too (5, to be precise).
Larry Mishel and I counter a much shorter-term version of Michael’s case here but similar issues pertain. Certainly, the evidence he presents doesn’t change the basic wage story that I and many others carry around in our heads.
I think Michael’s most germane point is that nobody defines “stagnation.” If you think stagnation means real wages for low-wage workers have never gone up in the past four decades, you’re wrong. The figure below, from a recent piece I published (one I’ll get back to re a key point

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Jobs report: no one wants to be incautious re inflation, but…Laissez les bon temps rouler!

May 3, 2019

Payrolls rose by a larger-than-expected 263,000 last month and unemployment rate ticked down to a 49-year low of 3.6 percent. Yearly wage growth held steady at 3.2 percent, which is also its average over the past 12 months (raising the question: are wage gains on pause?). Since consumer inflation is running at around 2 percent, this implies real wage gains of a bit more than 1 percent, a welcome development for workers who are clearly benefiting from the persistently tight job market (see more on the wage story below).
The tick down in the unemployment rate is not, however, as positive a sign as it appears to be, because it fell in April for the “wrong” reason: people leaving the labor market, not people getting jobs. This negative change should be discounted because the household survey

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Sen. Warren’s debt cancellation plan: Should progressive policy aim for narrow targets or structural change?

April 29, 2019

Introduction
Sen. Warren’s college debt cancellation plan, which I explain here, has gotten a mixed reception. While many progressives and, predictably, student debt holders give it high praise, it has taken flak from two broad groups: those who just don’t like cancelling debt and those who view it as insufficiently progressive. The latter group objects to the extent to which it helps higher income debtholders who, in their view, don’t need the help relative to those with lower incomes.
Their critique provides a microcosm of a major policy debate for Democrats between progressive targeting on one side versus a broader approach aimed at reducing structural inequalities that have grown to historical proportions. It’s an important debate, as it plays out in Medicare for All versus Medicare

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It takes two to tango: The complementarity of the derigging project and expanded tax credits.

April 14, 2019

In a hearing last week, an exchange between Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) and JPMorgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon caught my eye. Dimon was touting the bank’s new minimum wage of $16.50, increasing to $18 in high-cost areas, for entry level workers. That’s a decent minimum wage, above the $15 that most progressive plans call for (and those proposals typically include a phase-in of numerous years). According to recent EPI analysis, $16.50 is well north of the national 40th percentile wage of just under $15.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting the highly profitable bank—market cap about $380 billion; Dimon made over $30 million last year—is fairly compensating its entry-level workers (Dimon says such workers tend to just out of high school). My point is an empirical one: given the nation’s wage structure, its

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Ch-ch-ch-changes! (Both personal and fiscal impulse)

April 10, 2019

Good changes: I continue to recover from the brain hemorrhage I sustained on March 23. Today’s my first meds-free day and I’ve been blessedly headache free. Thanks again for the outpouring of support–it’s been really uplifting.
Neutral Changes: As I slowly rev up Ye Olde Analysis Shoppe, I found the figure below (by GS fiscal analyst Alec Phillips) to be worth a close look. It underscores a point that even seasoned budget analysts sometimes miss: the role of fiscal impulse. 
One of the more important policy-driven determinants of near-term US growth is under debate right now: setting discretionary spending levels for 2020/21. Because of 2011 legislation that set caps for such spending, avoiding a sharp drop requires Congress to pass a bill approving spending above the caps. They’ve done so

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An update on my condition

April 4, 2019

Friends and followers —
As some of you know, on March 23 I had a brain hemorrhage, technically known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage.  This is a very serious condition, often fatal or disabling.

But I appear to have been very lucky.  After spending nine days in the ICU at Fairfax Hospital, I was discharged and am now recovering at home.  The recovery period is likely to take quite a while, with good days and bad days.  It could be a matter of months before I’m back to some version of my pre-hemorrhage self.

I’ve benefited immensely from a tremendous outpouring of love and support from family, friends and colleagues, for which I am enormously grateful.  I’ve also benefited from excellent medical care.

I’m not sure when I’ll be posting or writing about the economy, but I plan to do so as

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A personal update

March 27, 2019

I won’t be posting for a couple of weeks due to a medical emergency. However, the prognosis is good and I look forward to returning to my blog soon.

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