With the unemployment rate down to 5.6% as of December (the lowest since mid-2008), Americans are at long last feeling better about the economy. According to a new Pew Research Center report, 27% of U.S. adults say economic conditions are excellent or good, about twice the percentage who said that at the beginning of 2014. 31% expect the economy to be better a year from now, versus 17% who expect it to be worse, and for the first time in five years, more Americans say President Obama’s economic policies have made conditions better (38%) than worse (28%).
With Obama likely to discuss the improving economy in his State of the Union address next week, we decided to compare the latest payroll figures with the data from January 2009, to get a sense of how the nation’s employment structure has changed since Obama took office.
The takeaway: An overall gain of 6.4 million more non-farm payroll jobs last month than in January 2009, which represents a 4.8% increase. All of that growth came from the private sector, while the public sector shrunk: Private payrolls have added 7 million jobs over Obama’s presidency, while government payrolls (federal, state and local) have contracted by a combined 634,000 jobs.
The new Congress that convened this month includes a record 108 women — 88 in the House (including four nonvoting delegates) and 20 in the Senate. While women still account for only about a fifth of each chamber, that’s a considerable increase from where things stood not too long ago.
A new Pew Research Center report looks at American women in leadership roles, both in business and politics. Women have served in Congress almost continuously for nearly a century. Although in the early decades a common route for women to Capitol Hill was succeeding their deceased husbands, nowadays nearly all women in Congress were elected on their own. Recently, their ranks have surged: Of the 278 women who’ve served in the House, more than half have been elected since 1992, and 23 of the 46 women who’ve ever served in the Senate took office in 1996 or later.
Last week’s killings in Paris at a kosher market have raised new fears among Jews of growing anti-Semitism in France and elsewhere on the continent. The recent violence, carried out by an Islamic radical apparently linked to a separate attack at the headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, also has raised concerns among Europe’s Muslim community about reprisal attacks and Islamophobia.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted last year shows that the French held more favorable views of both Jews and Muslims than many other Europeans. Indeed, 89% of French adults held favorable views of Jews, while 72% felt similarly about Muslims.
In nearly every other European country surveyed, majorities rated Jews favorably, including Britain (83%) and Germany (82%). One outlier was Greece, where as many people said they have a favorable view of Jews (47%) as an unfavorable view of them (47%). In addition, roughly one-quarter of the general public had an unfavorable view of Jews in Poland (26%) and Italy (24%).
Positive views of Muslims were also common in Britain (64%) and Germany (58%). But elsewhere, fewer people had a favorable view of Muslims, including roughly a third of the public in both Poland (32%) and in Italy (28%).
Many in U.S. followed Charlie Hebdo story closely, but past terrorist incidents abroad drew more attention
The attack on the offices of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo claiming 12 lives was the most closely followed news in the U.S. last week, but interest in the story was not as high when compared with four previous terrorist incidents abroad.
About three-in-ten Americans (29%) say they had followed the news from Paris very closely, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Read More →
Almost one-in-five members of the House and Senate are a racial or ethnic minority, making the 114th Congress the most diverse in history. However, Congress remains disproportionately white when compared with the U.S. population, which has grown increasingly diverse in recent decades, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
Overall, non-whites (including blacks, Hispanics, Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans) make up 17% of the new Congress, but that is below these groups’ 38% share of the nation’s population. This difference also exists among the newly elected members of Congress, as minorities account for 11 of 71 (15%) new members of the House and Senate. (No new senators are a racial or ethnic minority.)
For the first time in his presidency, Barack Obama now must deal with a Congress completely controlled by Republicans. That’s led some political observers to predict that Obama will be using his veto pen a lot more in his last two years in office than he did in the first six. (The White House already has threatened to veto bills authorizing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, changing the Affordable Care Act’s definition of a full-time worker, and delaying certain provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law.)
A look at recent history indicates that presidents do, in fact, veto more bills when both houses of Congress are controlled by the opposing party. We examined more than four decades of legislative data, courtesy of the Library of Congress’ THOMAS website, and found that when presidents are of one party and Congress is controlled by the other, they vetoed 3.6% of all public bills presented to them, versus just 1% when both House and Senate were controlled by the president’s party. When control of Congress was divided, presidents vetoed 1.9% of the public bills that reached their desks. (Public bills are those of general applicability, and account for the overwhelming number of laws Congress makes.) Read More →
Last month, the Pew Research Center released a survey showing that a question about gun policy we have been asking since 1993 had passed a key milestone: For the first time in more than two decades, a higher percentage (52%) said it was more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns than to control gun ownership (46%).
The survey question has drawn criticism from gun control advocates and some experts on gun violence, who called it simplistic, misleading and even biased. They say that forcing respondents to choose between polar positions – “gun control” or “gun rights” – assumes that all regulations on gun sales infringe on gun owners’ rights.
This question presents respondents with simple, stark alternatives: When the issue of guns is raised, do you find yourself more on the side of protecting gun rights or controlling gun ownership? There is no indication that people have any difficulty answering this question or are ambivalent about the topic. In fact, when asked a follow-up about the strength of their opinion, 81% of those who said it is more important to control gun ownership felt strongly about that position; 91% of those who said it is more important to protect gun rights felt strongly.
Next weekend, Pope Francis will make his first visit to the home of Asia’s largest Catholic population, the Philippines. The pontiff, who also will be making a stop in Sri Lanka, is very popular in the Philippines and should expect an enthusiastic welcome during his five-day visit.
The Philippines’ Catholic majority has its origins in the islands’ long period as a Spanish colony, and popes have made the more than 6,000-mile trip from the Vatican a few times before. Pope Paul VI visited the country in 1970, and St. John Paul II traveled to the Philippines twice as pope (in 1981 and 1995). Read More →
Trade is shaping up as a major issue on the 2015 legislative agenda, with Congress potentially voting on both expedited presidential trade negotiating authority and a yet-to-be concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a U.S. trade and investment agreement with nations bordering the Pacific Ocean. Congressional leaders and Obama administration officials have touted both these initiatives as opportunities for bipartisan cooperation after years of partisan political gridlock in Washington.
Indeed, a Pew Research Center survey suggests such bipartisan efforts could find public support. Despite conventional wisdom in Washington that Republicans are free traders and Democrats are protectionists, there is no partisan divide on trade outside the Washington Beltway. Both Republicans and Democrats voice the view that trade is good for the United States. But that won’t necessarily make passage of either trade initiative a slam dunk. Both the GOP and Democrats also agree that trade may not be good for them personally. Read More →
In naming his second group of cardinals, Pope Francis has continued to shift the balance of the Roman Catholic Church’s leadership away from the continent it has long called home.
The pope – the first modern pontiff born outside of Europe – announced 15 new cardinals on Jan. 4, including representatives from three Southeast Asian countries (Burma, Thailand and Vietnam) as well as New Zealand and the Pacific island nation of Tonga. Another three are from Latin America – Mexico, Uruguay and Panama – while two are natives of sub-Saharan Africa (Cape Verde and Ethiopia). Out of the 15 incoming “princes of the church,” only five are from Europe.
In less than two years, Francis has changed the geographic breakdown of the cardinals. The conclave that elected Francis in 2013 was heavily European: 52% of those cardinals were from Europe, a continent that was home to only 24% of the world’s Catholics as of 2010.
Based on the distribution of the global Catholic population, Europe is still overrepresented among cardinals who are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote for a new pope. But Europe no longer has a majority. After the new cardinals are installed Feb. 14, Europe’s share of the 125 cardinal electors will have fallen to 46%.
Meanwhile, Francis’ appointments have boosted voting-age cardinals from the Asia-Pacific region (from 9% in 2013 to 13% in 2015) and sub-Saharan Africa (from 9% to 11%).
Topics: Catholics and Catholicism