University of California, Davis and University of Minnesota
The accuracy of the census has far-reaching implications. Not only does the decennial census determine how many representatives each state can elect to the House of Representatives, but it also determines how half a trillion dollars in federal funds will be distributed to state and local governments.
The decennial census provides a uniquely comprehensive data source. Its accuracy affects not only political representation but whether adequate funding is disbursed to where it is needed the most in areas ranging from potholes to health insurance to education. The degree to which an inaccurate count will impact state and local finances varies from one location to another depending on their characteristics and the federal programs from which they receive assistance. Many states have established their own, multi-million dollar census media and outreach campaigns to ensure that all of their residents are counted.
Low-income students with strong academic credentials are less likely to attend a highly selective college than students from higher-income homes. This is especially puzzling, given that selective schools tend to offer low-income students more generous financial support and have greater resources that increase the students' chances of completing a degree.
While education is often thought of as a potential route for income mobility, the fact that strong students from low-income families are more likely to apply to less selective colleges (or to no schools at all) likely contributes to educational and income inequalities. Undermatching in the face of generous options of financial aid supports the notion that barriers of confidence, information and distance stand in the way of a college education for low-income students. Fortunately, our experience indicates that there are low-cost options for addressing some of these concerns.
(Click here for a bigger version of the map.)
State legislatures play an increasingly important role in setting social and health policies. Earned income tax credit laws, enacted at the state level, offer a potentially fruitful area for policy action. The programs have been shown to play an important role in reducing poverty while encouraging participation in paid work. However, state EITCs vary tremendously in terms of generosity and many states still lag behind in this income support program.
Extending the EITC in states that do not provide one and increasing the generosity in those that do can result in sizeable benefits. More generous state EITCs can raise incomes, encourage employment, increase private health insurance coverage, and improve health – outcomes with numerous individual and public benefits. However, these benefits need to be considered along with the monetary costs of providing the credit.
Since the Great Recession, employers have cited a skills gap in which workers lack the education and experience needed to fill vacant jobs. While job requirements increased for many openings during the recession, the inverse has happened as the labor market has recovered: some employers have been lowering education and experience requirements to fill open positions. Does a skills gap exist and if so, what should public policy do about it?
The fact that the levels of education and experience required for job openings changes depending on the tightness of the labor market raises important questions regarding the existence of a skills gap. If, rather than being an indication of specific "learned" skills, companies use educational attainment as a screening mechanism for characteristics that are hard to observe — such as determination, work ethic, communication, teamwork or leadership — then providing general training might not be the most efficient policy response. Alternatively, is it that companies are more willing to provide on-the-job training when the labor market is tight? Or, do they change their production process to accommodate the characteristics of available workers? The finding that employer skill requirements are driven — in part — by the available supply of labor helps our understanding of how the labor market works and potentially makes a difference for workforce policy. As a result, education and training programs need to be designed with this cyclicality in mind. In addition, workers are not always aware of more specific skill requirements beyond education, especially in fields where certifications do not already exist for the skills needed or the skills themselves change rapidly.
There can be big differences in GDP growth depending upon whether that statistic is calculated over a given year, such as from the end of the previous year to the end of the current year, or by comparing GDP in one calendar year to GDP in the previous year. The differences in these calculations can make, and have made, a sizable difference in reports of how the economy is performing.
The discrepancies across the two main ways of calculating GDP growth do not reflect incorrect mathematics or the distortion of statistics, it is simply a reflection that these methods can yield different results. When discussing growth that took place during a given year, it is better to use Q4/Q4 statistics if possible, but in some cases, only annual data are available. As with any statistical methodology, it is important to know the way in which differences can arise across different types of calculations, to recognize that consistency of methodology across time allows for fair comparisons, and to make sure that changes in methodology are not undertaken purely for reasons of messaging or to distort results for political gain.