Published, Washington State Wire, April 5, 2021 (With Aaron Katz)
We all know the massive toll that COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout have taken on us all. But at long last, we are starting to see hopeful signs of better days ahead – increased vaccinations, restrictions lifted, and plans for kids to return to school. So now – right now – is when Washington state needs to invest in proven strategies that will ensure our state’s long-term health and economic recovery.
House Bill 1297, which funds an updated Working Families Tax Credit, is just that kind of proven strategy. It puts direct, flexible cash into the hands of those who need it most. In our respective fields of economics and public health, we know that this kind of direct cash is a powerful tool for getting our economy on track and improving the collective health and well-being of people in our state.
Modeled after the highly successful federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), this policy would provide working families with an annual base credit of $500 to $950, depending on family size, with the credit phasing down as incomes rise. Because nearly a half-million Washington state families would qualify for the credit, it would reach one in four kids. This type of direct, flexible cash can be the lifeline that helps someone start a microbusiness, or allows them to pay for needed medical care or unexpected car repairs. Continue reading
Published October 26, 2020 in Puget Sound Business Journal
The coronavirus is not just a health disaster, but an economic one as well. There are, of course, the steep declines in income and consumption we are experiencing. But in addition, the economic tumble has translated into reduced state revenue and a gaping budget deficit.
Washington State’s budget problem is of course not unique. All other states across the nation are equally challenged, and most are responding by cutting spending and shutting down programs. Yet the case for finding new revenue sources instead has never been stronger. Especially here in Washington.
According to the most recent state forecast, Washington State’s current biennial budget is $2.4 billion below pre-Covid19 projections, an amount equaling about 5 percent of general state revenue. Meeting this shortfall with cuts only would be devastating.
With Turan Kayaoglu, Published May 31, 2020 in Tacoma’s News Tribune
Since Covid-19’s arrival, prejudice and fear may be spreading more rapidly than the virus itself. As healthcare workers around the world bravely toil against Covid-19, we must pitch in to combat this disturbing side effect.
In the U.S., discriminatory practices in the face of this disease may be traced to President Trump’s regrettable labelling of Covid-19 as “The Chinese virus.’’ Nationwide, Asians are reporting surges in racist treatment. Just a few days ago the TNT (5/25) reported numerous incidences where Asian residents of Seattle were harassed, spit on, chased down and threatened, with a man yelling “Chinese disease!” after them.
Such responses are not new: Unknown and unfamiliar diseases, especially deadly ones, often leave us searching for outsiders to blame.
With Cynthia Stewart, Published in Tacoma’s The News Tribune December 7, 2019
Few topics are less understood or more quickly put the public to sleep than tax policy. Yet especially in our state, it’s essential knowledge.
And not just because public oversight of government depends on it. If you care about redressing our nation’s racially biased past, it is necessary to recognize how tax policy furthers our regrettable history of disparate treatment for different races.
The inequalities in our state’s tax code are well known, and have gained us the ignoble designation of “the most unfair state and local tax system in the country.”
This medal of dishonor from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy is based on ITEP’s assessment of how fairly the tax burden is spread among residents in the 50 states. Washington ranks dead last.
The problem is that our state and local governments rely heavily on sales and excise taxes, which fall disproportionately on the poor. Meanwhile, Washington lacks the income or wealth taxes to rebalance the burden towards those with the means to carry it. Continue reading
Published March 5, 2019 in the Seattle Times
“The Fleecing of the Millennials.” This is the provocative headline of a recent opinion piece by a New York Times columnist. David Leonhardt convincingly makes the case that the income gap between younger and older generations has been widening.
There’s nothing alarming about an older generation having more income and wealth than a younger one, of course. But Leonhardt investigates trends in this gap over time. He found that, on average, today’s young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 earn the same now as they did nearly half a century ago. Meanwhile over this same time period, the income of those between 55 and 64 grew by a quarter; and it grew by 75 percent among the retired population.
Published in the Seattle Times Dec. 3, 2017
This fall the U.S. Census Bureau brought good news when it informed us that the nation’s poverty rate had fallen from 13.2 to 12.7 percent.
But now more than ever, we should be suspicious of this news.
Published September 27, 2017 in The Hill
Linda Gorman, director of the Independence Institute’s Health Care Policy Center, recently argued on these pages for a repeal of ObamaCare. Gorman claims that the movement toward a more European-style health care system, such as Obamacare steers us toward, leads us in the wrong direction. For support, she compares our health care system with Switzerland’s.
I’ll address that comparison toward the end of this article. Before getting there, though, I want to engage Gorman’s broader argument, both because it draws for support on my research comparing health care financing in the US with other countries, and because it misses basic health care economics.
To tackle the essence of Gorman’s argument that Americans are better off with a health care system leaving some uninsured, let’s step back from the specifics of Switzerland’s health care system. Let’s instead examine the “European (or Asian)” model of health care. Continue reading
Published November 15, 2015 in Tacoma’s News Tribune.
BERGEN, Norway. Should college be free for students, as Bernie Sanders contends?
Those who take this position usually support it with two claims: We need the best-educated workforce in the world, and cost should not deter young people from developing their talent.
In other words, free tuition would lead to a more prosperous and equitable America. And since college in countries such as Denmark and Norway is free, why can’t it also be free for Americans?
Yet if we follow Sanders’ suggestion and look abroad for inspiration, it’s not so clear that “free tuition” is the take-home message. Look closely at other nations, and it is apparent that we almost excessively invest in college. Continue reading
Published in Tacoma’s News Tribune February 1, 2015
The start of the 2015 legislative session has brought stiff competition for the most suitable image of Washington’s tax code. Reuven Carlyle, chairman of the House Finance Committee, called it a Ford Pinto, the automotive jewel once named by Forbes as “The Worst Car of All Time.”
A bit more kindly, Gov. Jay Inslee evoked earlier transportation history, finding the moniker jalopy more fitting to the tax system’s barely functioning condition.
Sticking with the transportation theme, my vote is with the sedan chair, that 17th-century European conveyance in which the rich and royal rode, carted around by bearers.
There is much to dislike about taxes, of course, but those we pay in Washington are especially onerous. Start with the hundreds of tax breaks, each one no doubt enacted some point in the past to encourage a worthwhile pursuit. Or not. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, March 27, 2013
Two months ago, economists from around the world converged in San Diego for their annual convention. Dozens presented papers on the hot topic of growing income inequality in the United States.
These papers led to lively and at times heated debates, some of which have subsequently spilled over onto blogs as well as the nation’s opinion pages.
The tendency to focus on the U.S. and our troubling upward trend in inequality is a natural one. But it also misses astonishing progress on the inequality front. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, March 14, 2013.
Another encouraging sign of slow economic recovery came last week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It reported that nationwide, February experienced a net increase of 236,000 new jobs.
A year ago, unemploy-ment sat at 8.3 percent; today it is 7.7 percent. A painfully slow improvement, for sure, but at least the labor market is headed in the right direction.
Or is it? Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, February 27, 2013.
Each year as a nation, we spend more than $150 billion on research to find health-improving products. Such research has led to spectacular advancements in the health of those born prematurely or afflicted with heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
Yet when it comes to promoting a healthy population, we shouldn’t be so quick to congratulate ourselves. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, November 22, 2012
Often, holiday meals like those at my house consist of a range of separate contributions which collectively add up to the Thanksgiving Dinner. As we sit down to partake of the varied assortment of dishes, no one would think of criticizing the turkey because the mushroom soup dish contained more fried onion rings than green beans, or because someone insisted on adding a bag of marshmellows to the sweet potatoes.
The fact that different dishes are on the same table doesn’t somehow turn them into one “Dish” called “Thanksgiving Dinner” that deserves a singular judgment. Instead, we pass judgment on the successful (and quietly perhaps, the less successful) features of each individual dish. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, October 25, 2012
Are we better off today than we were four years ago? For too many people, the answer is no.
As disappointing as this fact is, it’s mostly due to the cycles that modern economies are prone to. Four years ago we had just passed a cycle’s crest; today we’re slowly climbing out of its trough. To compare these two periods is to contrast two points in the economy’s short term ups and downs.
This detail of course doesn’t make it any easier for those suffering through this cycle. It’s just that such a perspective doesn’t reveal much about the true direction in which our economy is headed. Continue reading
Published in The Seattle Times, October 22, 2012
Three previous swings at establishing public charter schools in Washington came up empty, so why are proponents for them still at bat?
Passion for charter schools is part of the reason Initiative 1240 is on the Nov. 6 ballot. Another reason is that hope springs eternal — a changing political environment opens up new possibilities and with it, perhaps, a different outcome. Finally, a new campaign for charters might succeed in dispelling common arguments against them that could change the debate.
One common argument is that there’s no evidence the average public charter school outperforms traditional public schools. While true, this fact shouldn’t lead to the conclusion that charters aren’t good for Washington’s children. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, October 11, 2012
What President Ronald Reagan liked to say about our relations with the Soviet Union, “Trust, but verify” is also true of education. This is why I think the charter school initiative, I-1240, is a good idea: it strengthens our trust in schools and it provides new ways to verify that this trust is deserved.
Comparing international relations and negotiations over nuclear disarmament treaties with education and charters schools deserves explanation. To do that let’s turn back the clock. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, August 2, 2012
The Supreme Court’s decision this summer to uphold the most controversial part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – the “mandate” requiring individuals to buy health insurance – was both historic and a critical victory for those battling to achieve universal health care in the United States.
However, while most of the public’s attention has rightly focused on the Court’s determination that the federal government can indeed require us to buy health insurance, this wasn’t the only provision in the ACA that opponents argued was unconstitutional: They also claimed that the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid to more of the nation’s poor coerced states’ participation by setting the penalty for nonparticipation too high. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, June 6, 2012
With the latest news that tuition at our state’s public institutions of higher education will probably rise another 16 percent next year, it’s easy to imagine that our public colleges soon will be as expensive to attend as are the private ones.
But in fact for many students, private colleges have already become the more affordable option. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, March 28, 2012
Over the last six months Washington’s unemployment rate has fallen from 9.3 to 8.2 percent. That’s terrific news. The same is occurring in states across the nation as employers are now hiring at a record pace.
Yet as some pessimistic sage surely said, every silver cloud has its dark lining.
The problem with our labor market is one I’ve been highlighting this month: too many citizens have inadequate job-market skills with few options for upgrading them, and receive too little support for navigating what for them is an unstable job market.
Published in The News Tribune, March 14, 2012
In my last column I argued that the life line we’re throwing to those at the bottom rungs of society is increasingly beyond their grasp. Truth is, we also don’t provide them with many chances to rise up. With neither a hand out nor a hand up, too many citizens are consigned to pretty dim life prospects.
What’s more, other efforts taken to assist them have been akin to the actions taken by Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca. The Captain famously responded to a shooting of a Nazi by a known assailant with the unforgettable instructions to “round up the usual suspects.” Renault hoped that the appearance of vigilance would protect him from his evil superiors, and we all hope he was right. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, March 2, 2012
The Obama Administration’s recently-proposed budget continues what has become a troubling trend in federal policy. And it isn’t the growing debt I’m referring to.
What is is the large number of citizens who we seem to have given up on. In fact, so forsaken are they, and dire the consequences to us of this abandonment, that I’ll use my next two columns to pick up where this one leaves off.
The trend is this: We’re supplying our most vulnerable and low-skill citizens with fewer and fewer public dollars. Instead, our nation’s “safety net” increasingly targets the rest of us, particularly those with jobs and a working- or middle-class income. I’m all for helping the gainfully employed – especially those with low income — but when public dollars are scarce, the marginalized are the least capable of competing for them because few advocate on their behalf. Not surprisingly, they’re losing out in the competition for public dollars. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, November 24, 2011
These are divisive times.
It’s easy to see why. Jobs are scarce, millions have lost their health care coverage, college debt exceeds credit card debt, income inequality is rising, more people are hungry, and state and federal governments look to be on unsustainable paths. In the past, a robust economy and rising tax revenue succeeded in keeping some degree of division under wraps.
Today’s more austere times means that we now have to establish priorities rather than add new ones. We’re faced with the inevitable – and unenviable — task of choosing between higher taxes or less spending. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, October 25, 2011
With little fanfare, a Class Act died earlier this month.
Formally known as Community Living Assistance Services and Supports, Class Act was a short-lived health care program created as part of the recent health care overhaul. The Obama Administration has just now cancelled it.
Class Act’s demise is noteworthy — certainly much more than would be indicated by its placement on the back pages of the newspapers. Its end helps remind us of a present and growing problem we have yet to solve. It also reminds us of the inadequacies in current health care policy. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, July 8, 2011
The University of Washington has made an interesting choice for its new President. Michael Young, who this week took over UW’s realm, does not seem to fit the liberal reputation of this institution. But let’s hope he proves successful in addressing the conservative features of the University. Such conservatism marks most of the nation’s public colleges and universities, and poses one of higher education’s largest challenges.
Some background is needed to understand this. Let’s take what is fast becoming one of the most challenging issues in higher education: providing an affordable education for the state’s students. Continue reading
Published in The News Tribune, June 16, 2011
It’s not quite the dog days of summer, but dogs are making the news.
First came the story of the dog Trouble who just passed away. Although she preferred to call her dog “Princess”, “Trouble” was the name the billionaire Leona Helmsley gave her beloved Maltese. You may recall that Trouble gained fame four years ago after Helmsley’s death. Leona, concerned that her dog might have to live out her life leading – well, a dog’s life — left Trouble a $12 million inheritance so that her dog could continue leading the life to which she had become accustomed. Continue reading