Four Pinocchios – the gender pay gap

In an aggressive attempt to turn attention away from other issues less favorable to them as the midterm elections approach, Obama and the Democrats are yet again trying to generate some return from their “war on women” mantra. This time they’re highlighting with carefully choreographed actions what they insist is gender pay inequity.

On Wednesday, the Senate fell short on the number of yeas to move forward on the so-called “Paycheck Fairness Act”. Bluntly revealing the political nature of the entire effort, Democrats leaped at the opportunity to send out a fundraising solicitation bemoaning the loss within minutes of the vote.

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Obama routinely cites U.S. Census data showing that the average full-time female worker earned 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. (The U.S. Department of Labor says women in full-time jobs earn 81 cents for every dollar men earn.)

But the pay situation is not quite as simple as Obama and his Democratic colleagues say. Today the New York Times featured a story on the issue: Democrats Use Pay Issue in Bid for Women’s Vote, making that point.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) makes the same point in its annual report, “Highlights of women’s earnings in 2012”: “In 2012, women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median usual weekly earnings of $691. On average in 2012, women made about 81% of the median earnings of male full-time wage and salary workers ($854).” That appears to support Obama’s assertions.

But every “full-time” worker, as the BLS notes, is not the same: Men were almost twice as likely as women to work more than 40 hours a week, and women almost twice as likely to work only 35 to 39 hours per week. Once that is taken into consideration, the pay gap begins to shrink. Women who worked a 40-hour week earned 88% of male earnings.

Then there is the issue of marriage and children. The BLS reports that single women who have never married earned 96% of men’s earnings in 2012.

The supposed pay gap appears when marriage and children enter the picture. Child care takes mothers out of the labor market, so when they return they have less work experience than similarly-aged males.

The reality is that multiple factors affect the earnings data, including the types of jobs worked by women, the number of hours they worked, their area of specialization/college major, hours worked and the career progression of some women.

One factor affecting the pay women receive is their work/home patterns. Women who leave the workforce to care for their children at home and later return to work often find that lower wages await them than if they had kept working. A Pew Research Center study released on April 8 revealed that the share of mothers who stay home with their children has steadily risen in recent years.

According to Pew, the share of mothers who don’t work outside the home rose to 29% in 2012, up from a modern-era low of 23% in 1999.

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Another Pew study in 2013 found that mothers are much more likely than fathers to have reduced work hours, take a significant amount of time off, quit a job or, by a small margin, turn down a promotion in order to care for a child or family member.

Pew said today’s young women are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men. Pew pointed out, however, that there’s no guarantee that today’s young women will sustain their near parity with men in earnings in the years to come. Recent cohorts of young women have fallen further behind their same-aged male counterparts as they have aged and dealt with the responsibilities of parenthood and family.

Still, it would be wise not to ignore that while the public sees greater workplace equality between men and women now than it did 20 to 30 years ago, most believe more change is needed, the Pew Research Center notes. Among Millennial women, 75% say this country needs to continue making changes to achieve gender equality in the workplace, compared with 57% of Millennial men.

So there’s still a lot of work to do.

Not all that glitters is gold; With crowdfunding it’s caveat emptor

Crowdfunding must be legit, right? After all, even Caroline Channing, the tall blonde in the TV show “2 Broke Girls,” went on a crowdfunding website, gofundyourself.com, to raise $1,500 for a new pair of pants.

But as millions of Americans jump on crowdfunding websites, some ugly truths are surfacing.

Some contributors are finding out the hard way that their munificence can enrich others at their expense.

In 2012, the Oculus Rift Project, developers of what they called “the first truly immersive virtual reality headset for video games”, brought in $2.4 million from 9,522 supporters across the country in a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.

In March 2014, Facebook acquired the company, then called Oculus VR, for $2 billion. The venture capital investors in Oculus are expected to see a 2000 percent return on their money. The Kickstarter contributors’ return? Zero. Zip. Their money was a gift, not an investment.

A lot of Kickstarter donors were bitter. Some because they opposed the fledgling company selling out to a corporate behemoth, others because they felt cheated. Clearly they didn’t really understand the rules of the game when they pitched in.

Other crowdfunding supporters are finding that the whole process is more like the wild west, with little real oversight and no assurance that those seeking donations are legitimate.

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The GoFundMe crowdfunding website, for example, is pretty loose in its oversight. “With hundreds of thousands of campaigns, it’s not feasible for GoFundMe to investigate the claims stated by each campaign organizer,” the website says.

PandoDigest, issued by PandoDaily (http://pando.com), a web publication focusing on technology news, analysis, and commentary, recently wrote about a crowdfunding campaign run on Indiegogo for a device called the Healbe GoBe (http://bit.ly/1hAamf2), “the first and only wearable device that automatically measures the calories you consume and burn, through your skin.”  So far HealBe has raised $984,787.

PandoDigest questioned the legitimacy of the product. “…keen to be the first reporter to cover this marvelous piece of technology, I started asking questions,” James Robinson, a Pando reporter, wrote on March 20, 2014. “What I discovered was something far from the slick, bay area startup Healbe purported to be. Rather, I found a publicity shy company, operated remotely from Russia, promoting a device unsupported by any medical or scientific evidence whatsoever.”

“For someone looking to lose weight, it sounds like a wearable sent from heaven,” PandoDigest reported. “The only problem is, there’s no evidence that Healbe actually works. Worse than that, many medical experts have told our James Robinson that the device’s underlying technology has no way of doing what it claims to do. One doctor called it “some straight Ghostbusters, Peter Venkman bullshit.”
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Questions about the device have led many contributors to ask for refunds.” I would like a refund of my pledge Dual Pack $325,” said Richard Torriani. “I am now skeptical of the claims made on your campaign page and have concerns about the legitimacy of the campaign itself. If the GoBe proves to be everything that is promised, I will gladly purchase one when they are released publicly.” Some commenters are also asking Healthbe to step in and sort out people’s concerns.

According to Indiegogo, it’s free to sign up, to create a campaign, and to contribute to a campaign. When a campaign raises funds, Indiegogo charges a 9.0% fee on the funds raised. If you reach your goal, you get 5.0% back, for an overall fee of 4.0%. the Healbe GoBe campaign’s original fundraising goal was $100,000, which has obviously surpassed. That means Indiegogo has earned almost $40,000 on the $987,592 of contributions to date, a nice haul, indeed.

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Given all the questions and concerns, does Indiegogo have any responsibility to halt the campaign? “Our team of anti-fraud experts focuses on keeping our community safe,” it’s website says. “They’re responsible for developing new features to create a more secure and trustworthy environment for you. Our anti-fraud systems constantly monitor the performance of our product, helping us identify and eliminate fraudulent activity and scams.”

 

The real war is on our children

Democrats are again pulling out from their rhetorical basement accusations that Republicans are waging a “war on women”. Meanwhile, they’re ignoring another war that’s real, the “war on our children” that government spending addicts are prosecuting.

Our children are going to pay a heavy price for the fiscal insanity that has already led to national debt in excess of $17 billion.

Obama-National-DebtThe increase in our national debt over the past 25 years. years has been mind-boggling. In 1990, it was $3.2 billion, in 2000 $5.7 billion. By 2010 it was $13.6 billion. Now it has leaped to $17.5 billion.

But Democrats, in the spirit of “see no evil”, want to keep the issue under wraps and focus on other things. During a February 2014 House Financial Services Committee hearing, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) even complained about two real-time running national debt clock displays in the hearing room. Ellison said it was just intended to send an ideological message.

Obama says his FY2015 budget proposal is an “opportunity agenda”. Yes, an opportunity for $564 billion more debt, an opportunity to increase total national debt to nearly $25 trillion over the next 10 years and an opportunity to pander to Americans who want it all without paying for it.

As Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said, Obama’s budget is a declaration that “deficits don’t matter, debt doesn’t matter, and that reality itself doesn’t matter.”

Some Democrats are arguing that annual deficits are dropping, so we can all back off worrying about the problem.

But the most recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) budget forecast projects that after a few years of lower deficits they’ll climb again for an indefinite period. In addition, the national debt will increase annually by much more than the amount of the deficit because a considerable amount of federal borrowing is not counted in the budget.

As a result, the CBO projects $7.9 trillion will be added to the nation’s cumulative public debt over the next decade.

That’s because revenue will keep up with economic growth, but spending will grow even more. “Spending is boosted by the aging of the population, the expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance, rising health care costs per beneficiary, and mounting interest costs on federal debt,” the CBO said.

According to the CBO, interest payments will soon become the third largest item in the federal budget, after Social Security and Medicare. Right now, interest on the debt costs $233 billion. CBO projects that interest costs will reach $880 billion by 2024. As interest costs grow, they could crowd out investment in other priorities, including education, research and development, and other programs that could help our economy grow.

Large and growing federal debt that restrains economic growth will give policymakers less flexibility to respond to unexpected challenges, and eventually increase the risk of a fiscal crisis.

A Peter G. Peterson Foundation survey released on March 25, 2014 concluded that 67 percent of people say their concern about the national debt has increased over the past few years and 79 percent say that addressing the national debt should be among the President and Congress’ top 3 priorities.

And yet, Democrats continue to resist deficit-lowering efforts.

Deficit reduction surged as a policy priority during Obama’s first term: Between 2009 and 2013,  the share citing the deficit as a top priority rose 19 points, according to a January 2014 report from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. In the most recent 2014 survey, majorities of Republicans (80%) and independents (66%) continued to say reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority for the president and Congress, but just 49% of Democrats viewed it as a top priority, the lowest percentage since Obama took office. Going back 20 years, the gap between Republicans and Democrats on the issue has never been as large as it is today, Pew said.

Not exactly a hopeful sign for the emergence of bipartisan cooperation on the issue.

 

 

 

 

The Merkley Razzle-Dazzle: Both ways is the way I want it

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) can’t seem to make up his mind.

In 2012, he voted for a bill to reform the federal flood insurance program, a bill everybody knew would mean higher insurance premiums for property owners to deal with a $24 billion debt the program had built up.

Now he’s portraying himself as a champion of the besieged middle class by lambasting those premium increases and voting to roll them back.

Merkley’s situation is captured perfectly in A.R. Ammons’ terse poem: One can’t have it both ways
 and both ways is the only way I
 want it.”

Merkley is obviously assuming that Oregonians just don’t know his voting record or have very short memories.

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In 2012, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was $24 billion in debt, partly because of big losses associated with damage from hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.The program was widely criticized for its below-market insurance rates and huge losses associated with multiple claims on homes and businesses that had flooded repeatedly.

Merkley voted for a bill designed to improve the program’s solvency by having property owners pay insurance rates that better reflected flood risks and reimbursement costs. The bill became law as PL 112-141 on July 6, 2012.

It was abundantly clear from the get-go that affected property owners were going to have to pay a lot more money for federal flood insurance. “The solvency and debt-reduction requirements imposed…by the 2012 reforms…virtually ensures that premiums will be going up across the board,” said an Association of State Floodplain Managers’ summary of the legislation.

But then Congress started hearing from constituents outraged that their flood insurance premiums were rising, some by hefty amounts.

Merkley responded by adopting the “Give ’em the old Razzle Dazzle approach, holding a September 2013 Senate hearing that gave him and others an opportunity to vent about problems with the flood insurance reform.

“The flood insurance bill, in combination with flood zone remapping, is delivering a massive financial blow to middle class families,” Merkley said. “This is unacceptable and substantial changes in the program are needed.”

In March 2014, Congress backtracked on the reform law, passing the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act that reversed some rate hikes and capped annual increases.

In a March 18, 2014 e-newsletter to his constituents, Merkley called the 2012 flood insurance reform law (that he had voted for) “misguided” and said he’d been hard at work to fix the huge rate increases resulting from it. Didn’t he understand what was in the 2012 legislation when he voted for it? If not, why did he vote for a bill he didn’t understand?

President Obama signed the rollback bill on March 21, 2014, even though his administration had argued in January that abandoning the 2012 reforms would “further erode the financial position of the NFIP.”

Members of Congress from both parties and around the country fell all over themselves in an effort to celebrate and take credit for the rollback of the 2012 reforms.

But negative reaction was also swift. “The new legislation will perpetuate a broken system by keeping premiums unrealistically low, encouraging coastal communities to continue to build — and rebuild — in high flood-risk areas, exposing them to growing risks and costs,” said Rachel Cleetus, an economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It makes no sense for taxpayers to continue to subsidize flood insurance in high-risk areas that are only going to become riskier with rising seas and worsening storm surges.”

The rollback of the flood insurance hikes may take the heat off Congress for now, but it will have to tackle the issues again because the program’s debt problems have not been fixed. But, hey, that’s for another Congress to worry about.