Sep 23, 2014 1:49 pm

Congress still on track to be among least productive in recent history

congressProductivityCongress made big news last week when it managed to pass a bill that both keeps the government running through Dec. 11 and authorizes the Obama administration to arm and train Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State. The vote, unlike so many in Congress, blended party lines: 176 Republicans and 143 Democrats voted for it in the House; 44 Democrats, 33 Republicans and one independent in the Senate. That was arguably the biggest accomplishment of the short September sitting, as the 21 other measures (most not yet signed into law) that made it through Congress mainly ran toward the relatively noncontroversial — reauthorizing existing programs, extending advisory committees, and other tinkering around the edges of statute law.

Even so, the current Congress remains on pace to be one of the least legislatively productive in recent history. As of Monday, 165 laws had been enacted since January 2013, 124 of which were substantive by our deliberately generous criteria (no post-office renamings, commemorative-coin authorizations or other purely ceremonial laws). Both those figures are the lowest of any Congress in the past two decades over an equivalent timespan. Read More

Topics: Congress

Sep 23, 2014 7:00 am

Polls show most Americans believe in climate change, but give it low priority

Stark partisan divide over global warming, threat of climate changeThe United Nations is bringing together world leaders on Tuesday to focus on the challenge of climate change. In the U.S., a solid majority believe there is evidence that global warming is happening, but they do not rank global climate change as one of the top threats facing the country.

Last month, nearly half of Americans (48%) rated global climate change as a major threat — well behind concerns such as the militant group ISIS (67%), Iran’s nuclear program (59%) and North Korea’s nuclear program (57%). In an international survey of 39 publics last year, Americans were among the least concerned about climate change threatening their country.

Global warming also ranked near the bottom of Americans’ 2014 priorities for President Obama and Congress (28% said it was a top priority). Similarly, when asked last November about long-range foreign policy goals, 37% named global climate change as a top long-range goal; by comparison, 83% cited guarding against terrorist attacks and 81% named protecting American jobs as top goals. Read More

Topics: Energy and Environment, Political Attitudes and Values, Political Issue Priorities

Sep 22, 2014 12:05 pm

5 takeaways about religion and politics before the midterms

Although there has always been a separation of church and state in the U.S., it has never prevented religion and religious groups from playing a big role in the country’s political life. Now, as the nation heads into midterm elections, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that many Americans support a role for religion in the political arena and lament what they see as religion’s declining influence in society.

The survey asked Americans a series of questions about the intersection of faith and public life; here are a few of the key findings:

Rising number of Americans say religion is losing influence in society1 A growing percentage of U.S. adults (now 72%) think that religion is losing influence in American life. Moreover, most people who feel this way think this is a bad thing. Overall, a majority (56%) of the total U.S. population perceives religion as losing influence in American life and says that’s a bad thing.

2 Perhaps as a consequence, our survey found a growing share of Americans express support for religion in politics in a few different ways. About half of U.S. adults (49%) say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political questions – up from 43% four years ago. And while they are still a minority, the percentage of Americans who say that churches should endorse candidates in elections is up 8 percentage points since 2010 (from 24% to 32%).

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Topics: Religion and Politics

Sep 22, 2014 11:03 am

Census confirms more data problems in sorting out the number of U.S. gay marriages

View our interactive map to see how state policies on same-sex marriage have changed from 1995 through the present.
Click to view our interactive map to see how state policies on same-sex marriage have changed from 1995 through the present.

The Census Bureau last week released a new estimate of the number of U.S. same-sex married couples: 252,000. The data show a sharp increase, but come with a caveat because agency officials acknowledge the estimates are flawed and say they are still working to improve their accuracy.

The 2013 total is 38% higher than the bureau’s 2012 estimate of 182,000 same-sex married couples; both come from the American Community Survey. Accounting for a significant part of the increase, according to a bureau official, was a change in how the agency reported data from survey forms with incomplete responses. Read More

Topics: Gay Marriage and Homosexuality

Sep 22, 2014 9:00 am

In some European countries, church membership means paying more taxes

European Countries With Church TaxesAn increasing number of Germans – Protestant and Catholic alike – are leaving their churches, according to statistics compiled by The Wall Street Journal. Among the reasons cited for the decrease in membership is an unwillingness to pay a de facto increase in Germany’s church tax, which is collected by the government from registered members of churches to fund those religious organizations.

The fact that church taxes even exist might surprise Americans, as the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment prohibits the government from collecting taxes for religious groups. But last year, Germany reportedly collected $13.2 billion in revenue for churches. Read More

Topics: Religion and Government, Religion and Society, Western Europe

Sep 22, 2014 7:00 am

Despite ongoing crisis in Venezuela, Maduro hangs on

Despite on-going crisis in Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro hangs on
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (AP Photo/Alejandro Cegarra)

The recent announcement that Venezuela’s inflation rate is now the highest in all of Latin America is just the latest in a series of setbacks for a nation that earlier this year was roiled by massive protests. In line with the mood on the streets, a new Pew Research survey finds that more than three of every four Venezuelans (77%) think the country is headed in the wrong direction. Yet despite mounting public frustration, the late Hugo Chávez’s successor as president, Nicolás Maduro, continues to enjoy as much public support as the political opposition.

Many in Venezuela view Nicolas Maduro and his political opponents negativelyVenezuelans are clearly worried about the economic situation in their country: a 71%-majority in the poll describes the economy as bad. Meanwhile, more than eight-in-ten say rising prices (89%) and a lack of jobs (83%) are very big problems. Crime (86% very big problem) is the only other problem seen in such a dire light.

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Topics: Latin America

Sep 19, 2014 9:30 am

Hispanics only group to see its poverty rate decline and incomes rise

Hispanics are the only major racial or ethnic group to see a statistically significant decline in its poverty rate, according to 2013 Census Bureau figures released this week. The drop in the poverty rate among Hispanics – from 25.6% in 2012 to 23.5% in 2013 – contributed to the first decline in the nation’s overall poverty rate since 2006.

Hispanics only group to see its poverty rate decline Hispanics also were the only group to see a decline in the number of people living in poverty (the year-to-year changes in the overall U.S. number was not statistically different.) From 2012 to 2013, the number of Hispanics in poverty dropped from 13.6 million to 12.7 million, even as the Hispanic population grew by 1 million over the same time period.

Meanwhile, the median household income of Hispanics increased by 3.5% to $40,963, the first annual increase since 2000, according to the Census Bureau. Income changes for whites, blacks and Asians were not statistically significant.

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Topics: Hispanic/Latino Demographics, Hispanic/Latino Identity, National Economy, Work and Employment

Sep 19, 2014 7:00 am

Census: Computer ownership, internet connection varies widely across U.S.

Nearly 25 years after the birth of the world wide web, most Americans have computers and internet access, but the nation remains a patchwork of connectivity, with some metro areas full of high-speed connections and other areas much less plugged in. That’s according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the Census Bureau’s first estimates of computer use and internet connections for local areas, released yesterday.

Computer ownership varies in the nation's 10 largest metro areasFor example, in the Boulder, Colo., metro area, more than eight-in-ten households not only have an internet connection, but it’s also an always-on, faster-than-dialup broadband subscription. In the Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas, metro area, though, only about half of households do.

The bureau has previously published national and state data, but the new estimates from the 2013 American Community Survey add a vastly more detailed geographic dimension to analysis of  online and offline Americans.

Overall, 84% of U.S. households own a computer, and 73% of U.S. households have a computer with a broadband connection to the internet, the bureau reported. These findings are right in line with survey findings of the Pew Research Center, which found that 70% of Americans have broadband access.

The new Census Bureau figures show wide variance by state and local area, though. In New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Utah, about eight-in-ten households have a broadband connection, according to the new data. In Mississippi, only 57% do. Among the 10 largest metro areas, the share ranges from 73% in Miami to 84% in Washington, D.C.

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Topics: Digital Divide, Internet Activities, Technology Adoption

Sep 18, 2014 2:56 pm

The nation’s wealth recovers, but largely for those at the top

The nation’s aggregate wealth continued to show signs of recovery, ascending to $81.5 trillion as of June 30, after bottoming out at $55 trillion in 2009, according to a new Federal Reserve report  released Thursday.

Net Worth of Households and NonprofitsThe Fed’s aggregate wealth figures, which measure the total net worth of all U.S. households and nonprofits, suggest that inflation-adjusted wealth per household has significantly increased since 2009 (roughly growing 29%) and has surpassed its pre-Recession peak. (The chart to the right does not show these figures adjusted for inflation or number of households.)

But as other economic reports and indicators suggest, that wealth recovery has been concentrated on the wealthiest Americans. Although there is some evidence that those at the bottom are also seeing an economic lift, the aggregate net worth for America’s economic middle is actually declining. In August, the Census Bureau released detailed wealth tabulations that imply that the minimum wealth level needed to qualify for the wealthiest 1% of American households increased from $2.3 million in 2009 to $2.4 million in 2011.  That in itself indicates there were wealth gains at the very top of the wealth distribution.  On the other hand, the minimum wealth level needed to be in the wealthiest 4% of households fell from 2009 to 2011, from which one infers that wealth declined for households at the wealthiest 4% level. Read More

Topics: National Economy, Socioeconomic Class, Wealth

Sep 18, 2014 10:00 am

Families may differ, but they share common values on parenting

Parents see responsibility, hard work as most important trait to teach childrenA new report released today by the Pew Research Center shows how the values Americans bring to parenting are strongly linked to their own ideological leanings. But aside from ideology, the survey finds widespread agreement among parents over the traits that children should be taught.

Moreover, there are only modest differences in these attitudes among parents with one child or several, and among those with children of different ages. For the most part, married mothers and single mothers also share common ground on the values important to teach children.

These findings are based on a Pew Research Center survey conducted April 29-May 27 among 3,243 adults, including 815 parents, who are part of Pew Research’s new American Trends Panel, a nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults surveyed online and by mail.

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Topics: Demographics, Education, Parenthood, Political Polarization, Social Values, Teens and Youth