Barack Obama and George Bush have at least one thing in common when it comes to the second terms they won — the first year of their encores have been downers when it came to their public images. Both experienced falloffs in overall job approval and in Americans’ perceptions of their leadership, ability to get things done and trustworthiness.
Bush had won re-election in 2004 by a razor-thin margin over Democrat John Kerry, and while Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney more decisively, he was one of the few presidents to win a second term by a margin lower than his first.
Common to both men was a belief that their victories opened a door to opportunity in that first year after re-election. Bush declared, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” Obama, who had dueled Romney through the campaign over his plan to extend tax cuts for the middle class but not the rich said the election had sent a “very clear message” from Americans.
With more attention being paid to economic inequality in the United States, it’s also worth looking at how the nation compares globally. As it happens, the U.S. has one of the most unequal income distributions in the developed world, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — even after taxes and social-welfare policies are taken into account.
Income, of course, isn’t the only way to measure economic inequality, but it is the most common, especially when making cross-national comparisons. Income inequality often is expressed in terms of the Gini index, a summary statistic that measures the dispersion of incomes on a scale of zero (everyone has exactly the same income) to 1 (one person has all the income).
The OECD, a group of 34 mostly developed economies, calculates Gini coefficients for most of its member countries, both before and after taxes and transfer payments. That helps address criticism from some economists that income-based measures of inequality ignore the redistributive impact of such programs as Social Security, the earned income tax credit and unemployment insurance. (We looked at the 31 OECD countries that had both sets of Gini scores for a reasonably recent year, in most cases 2010.)
Before accounting for taxes and transfers, the U.S. ranked 10th in income inequality; among the countries with more unequal income distributions were France, the U.K. and Ireland. But after taking taxes and transfers into account, the U.S. had the second-highest level of inequality, behind only Chile. (Mexico and Brazil had higher after-tax/transfer Gini scores, but no “before” scores with which to compare them; including them would push the U.S. down to fourth place.)
It’s not that taxes and social-insurance policies in the U.S. have no redistributive effect. Before taxes and transfers, according to a new Congressional Budget Office report, the bottom 20% of Americans had 2.3% of all income, while the top 20% had 57.9%. After taxes and transfers, the bottom 20%’s share rose to 9.3%, while the top 20%’s share fell to 47.2%. (Thanks to The New York Times’ Economix blog for the chart below).
However, the OECD data show that U.S. tax and spending policy does relatively little, compared with its peers in the developed world, to reduce inequality (a point made elsewhere using a similar dataset). Among the 31 OECD countries for which recent “before” and “after” Gini scores are available, the average differential was 0.163; for the U.S. the differential was 0.119. The country where tax and transfer policies do the most to reduce income inequality? Ireland, which ranked highest before taxes and transfers but 10th after.
Topics: Income Inequality
Roughly four-in-ten Americans expressed a favorable view of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in September.
Ben Bernanke holds his final press conference today as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. And, five years after the 2008 economic meltdown thrust him into a major role in the nation’s struggle to climb out of the Great Recession, Americans have offered a mixed verdict on his time in office.
Bernanke pursued a strategy of trying to inject new life into the American economy by having the Fed aggressively buy U.S. Treasury and mortgage bonds in an effort to keep interest rates low and spur job creation. All eyes today are on what signals the Fed will send out about whether it will taper off the $85 billion-a-month purchases now that the economic recovery appears to be gaining more momentum.
The public offered mixed views on Bernanke in a September survey: 38% saw him favorably, 31% unfavorably and 32% expressed no opinion or were unable to rate him.
Category: Daily Number
From President Obama down to local minimum-wage ordinances, issues of economic inequality have been pushing their way back into the national conversation — particularly among Democrats. In a Bloomberg survey earlier this month, 71% of Democrats said the government should work to narrow the gap between rich and poor, while 68% of Republicans said the government should stand aside and let market forces operate freely.
But economists disagree on just how much inequality there is and how best to measure it. As Federal Reserve economist Arthur Kennickell wrote in a 2009 paper, ” ‘[i]nequality’ may seem a simple term, but operationally it may mean many different things, depending on the point of view.” Most researchers agree that wealth is much more unevenly distributed than income, while consumption is less concentrated at the upper end than either wealth or income.
Probably the most-familiar inequality measures involve income. The Census Bureau annually publishes two measures of income inequality each year; according to the most recent report, the top 5% of households received 22.1% of “equivalence-adjusted” aggregate income last year — nearly as much as the bottom 60% of households (27.2%). (The “equivalence-adjusted” estimates adjust for different household sizes and compositions.) Read More →
Dr. Google’s waiting room was crowded in 2013. Online search has become an easy way for people to learn more about what’s ailing them, either to self-diagnose or find a remedy. Six-in-ten U.S. adults looked online for health information in the past year, according to a Pew Research Center report, and a vast majority began their inquiry with a search engine. So what are Americans searching for? Google today released its year-end Zeitgeist, including the most searched-for health topics of the year:
More than half of Americans believe that Edward Snowden’s leaks about NSA surveillance programs have harmed the public interest.
The latest chapter in the saga of Edward Snowden, whose leaks of NSA documents set off a continuing debate about the NSA mass surveillance programs, is his offer to Brazil to help it investigate U.S. spying there if that country gives him political asylum. That follows on the heels of a U.S. court ruling on Monday that the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone data probably violated the Constitution — a ruling that Snowden and his allies said vindicated him.
But to date, Americans on balance have had a negative view of Snowden’s leaks. In a Oct. 30-Nov.6 survey conducted before the court ruling, 55% said the leaks had harmed the public interest while 34% said it served it, with 11% expressing no opinion.
There was little difference about the Snowden leak across partisan lines, except for those Republicans aligned with the Tea Party. Non-Tea Party Republicans were twice as likely (61% to 30%) to say the leak had harmed the public interest rather than served it. But Tea Party Republicans were split, with 45% seeing the leaks as harmful while 43% believed they had served the public interest.
The overall public was more divided last June when asked if the release that month of the classified information about the surveillance programs supplied to news organizations by Snowden served or harmed the public interest: 49% said it served the public interest and 44% said the public interest was harmed.
Category: Daily Number
The median pay for 550 chief executives of private nonprofit colleges ticked up by 3% in 2011.
The pay for college presidents ranks nowhere near what CEOs of large companies take home, but the number of them who have broken the $1 million barrier when it comes to total compensation increased in 2011, according to a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Overall, the Chronicle calculated that the median pay in 2011 for the 550 chief executives of private nonprofit colleges included in its analysis was $410,523, an increase of 3% over the previous year.
At the top of that list were 42 presidents earning more than $1 million compared with 36 in 2010, although the Chronicle notes that some of those compensation totals were inflated by deferred compensation payouts, which are often used for retention.
The publication also calculated the percentage of the colleges’ total expenses going to the top-paid presidents, which showed that it wasn’t necessarily the most elite schools that provided the top compensation for their chief executives. For example, Harvard University’s Drew Gilpin Faust is one of the least compensated university presidents relative to the school’s budget. She earned $230 for every $1 million in expenditures in 2011. That compares with Esther L. Barazzone, president of Chatham University in Pittsburgh, who earned $37,545 for every $1 million in expenditures in 2011.
Category: Daily Number
President Obama continues to have sky-high job ratings among liberal Democrats — 90% approve and just 8% disapprove in Pew Research’s poll earlier this month. Their approval of his job performance is twice the rating given by the public as a whole (which rose slightly to 45% after steadily declining over six months).
But many liberal Democrats are lukewarm about this approval. While 54% say they strongly approve of the president’s job, about one-in-three (32%) say they “not so strongly” approve of the president. (The remaining 4% approve of Obama, but do not say how strongly they approve.)
Although 90% approval among liberal Democrats is historically a solid showing for Obama, the 54% share who strongly approve is tied for worst among the 13 times over his presidency that Pew Research has asked about approval strength. This June, the most recent time we had asked about approval strength, 73% of liberal Democrats strongly approved of Obama and 17% approved not so strongly of his job.
Topics: Presidential Approval
Most Americans say it doesn’t matter if their co-workers are men or women. But for those with a preference, men say they would rather work with men—and so do women, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.
About three-quarters of adults, including 78% of men and 76% of women, say it doesn’t matter to them if their co-workers are women or men.
But to the remaining 22%, gender matters—and it’s men who get the nod from both sexes by about a 2-1 margin, according to the national telephone survey of 2,002 adults conducted Oct 7-27.
When the results are broken down by gender, men who express a preference are twice as likely to say they would mostly prefer having other men as co-workers than women (14% vs. 7%).
Women with a preference agree: About one-in-five (18%) say they would rather their co-workers be men while only 5% would mostly prefer to work with other women.
To test gender preferences in the workplace, respondents who are currently employed or have ever held a job were asked a series of three questions. The first two asked whether respondents thought men and women preferred working mostly with men or with women. (More about the responses to these questions in a moment.)
The third question asked respondents for their personal view: “And what about you, do you mostly prefer having men as co-workers, women as co-workers, or doesn’t it matter to you?” (For a more detailed analysis of gender in the workplace, see the Pew Research Center report “On Pay Gap, Millennial Women Near Parity—For Now.) Read More →
Category: Social Studies