Eviction Moratorium Expired and the House of Representatives Left Town. What now?

Eviction Moratorium Expired and the House of Representatives Left Town. What now?

Eviction Moratorium Expired and the House of Representatives Left Town. What now?

eviction family

Late on the evening of August 3rd, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control announced it was extending its eviction moratorium for people in an area of “substantial and high transmission” of the COVID-19 virus. This was followed up by the astounding statement by President Biden that he suspected any attempt to extend the moratorium would be legally doomed even as his administration celebrated the CDC action. Nevertheless, government attorneys argued this was not an extension but rather a new order that would not be set aside by the courts. 

The Supreme Court recently ruled the original policy illegal, but allowed the original deadline of July 31st to stand to give Congress a chance to act prior to the expiration of the order, if it chose to do so. In keeping with the dysfunction we’ve seen in Congress, no legislation was passed, the moratorium expired, and the House of Representatives left town. 

Setting aside the legal questions surrounding the CDC’s eviction moratorium, many people across the nation are facing eviction now and will be again in 60 days when the moratorium expires. The Household Pulse Survey indicates 52,167 Georgians say they are very likely to be evicted and 155,302 say they are somewhat likely. These renters are overwhelmingly African-American and many of these families have children. Should all or most of these folks be evicted, it would be an unimaginable tragedy.

Despite $46.6 billion in federal emergency rental assistance passed into law last December and March,  relatively little money has made it into the hands of people who need it. According to a press release from the U.S. Treasury, nationally only $1.5 billion was delivered to eligible households in June, which exceeded the amount delivered “for all three previous reporting periods combined.” That’s a paltry 3.2% of the funds distributed in six months.

The situation in Georgia is not much better, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:“As of July 20, only about 6% of the $710 million that Georgia and select local governments received in federal aid had gone to households at risk of eviction or behind on rent.”

 The U.S. Treasury is relying on state and local housing assistance agencies to reach the people in need. According to a count by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are 484 state and local programs charged with determining eligibility and dispensing the benefits nationwide.

The Treasury fanned out responsibility to counties and cities with populations over 200,000 plus state governments. Each governmental unit set up their own system for administering the program funds, which can be by the state agencies or county governments themselves, or through public housing authorities or non-profits charitable organizations.

In Georgia, for example, responsibility fell to 13 governmental units: Atlanta City, Augusta-Richmond County Consolidated Government, Chatham County, Cherokee County, Clayton County, Cobb County, DeKalb County, Forsyth County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Hall County, Henry County, and the State Department of Community Affairs. 

These governmental units structured their responses differently, creating new administrative structures or funneling the money through non-profits that were quickly overwhelmed. Many people report complicated paperwork and some landlords have refused to take partial payments on back due rent.

It appears unlikely the situation for tenants will improve much before the extended eviction moratorium expires in 60 days. And we haven’t touched on the millions of small landlords who are behind on mortgage payments, taxes, and other liabilities. Sadly, this situation has the markings of a slow-moving economic and humanitarian disaster.

 

 

What can be done? 

For the long term, the solution is clear. The entire fiasco could have been avoided if our vision of a fully integrated eligibility system were in place. Georgia is partially there with the Georgia Gateway that coordinates applications for food stamps, Medical assistance, child care, and two other programs. Rental assistance also needs to be part of the Gateway.

Moving forward, Georgia should continue to add additional safety net programs to its Gateway unified eligibility system. Federal housing programs are not currently part of the system. Adding these programs would allow for a much swifter determination of eligibility and distribution of emergency money in times like these. 

Clearly, governments must speed up the distribution of aid money to tenants and landlords. Governments can also extend the same grace to landlords they are demanding landlords extend to tenants. Additionally, Congress should resist the urge to extend enhanced unemployment benefits and remove other disincentives to work such as the exacerbated benefit cliffs found in the emergency SNAP benefits. The problem of looming evictions will only continue to grow until more people return to work and are able to pay rent on their own. 

 

 

Putting Georgia’s employment numbers in perspective

Putting Georgia’s employment numbers in perspective

Putting Georgia’s employment numbers in perspective

homeless no job

Is there any reason not to cheer? Georgia’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.1 percent in May. 

Here are three reasons why this looks good for Georgia. 

First, the unemployment rate is declining, giving optimism that the economy is bouncing back from the pandemic.

Second, there were only two periods in recorded history when Georgia’s unemployment rate was this low or lower. Starting from 1976—the extent of available data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on unemployment rates for the states—the first period was between October 1998 and July 2001 when the rate reached as low as 3.4 percent. This period occurred after the long economic expansion of the 1990s. 

The other period—from April 2018 to the start of the pandemic—just occurred with Donald Trump in the White House. During this period, Georgia broke its best record by achieving 3.3 percent.

Third, Georgia’s rate is the 16th lowest in the country, beating out 34 other states. For comparison, the United States as a whole has a rate of 5.8 percent rate, considerably higher than Georgia’s.

 

 

But wait. Is the unemployment rate artificially low?

While optimism is merited, it is important to put the unemployment numbers in perspective.

Unemployment percentages do not capture those who do not participate in the labor force. According to the BLS, anyone not employed who had not actively looked for a job during the prior four weeks is not part of the labor force. Therefore, any person temporarily not looking for work is not accounted for when the BLS calculates the official unemployment rate. Especially now with all the repercussions of the pandemic, all those potential workers who have been sitting on the sidelines for the last four weeks are simply not counted.

The behavior of labor force participation is a loose link for unemployment numbers. Normally, when economic times are good, sidelined workers and even retirees come back into the labor force, which can push the unemployment rate up. When times are bad, the opposite happens. Workers drop out of the labor force, artificially lowering the unemployment rate.

During the depth of the pandemic, and as expected, the labor force participation rate in Georgia dropped—to 59.4 percent to be precise, compared to 62.9 percent just prior to the pandemic. In terms of real people, there were an estimated 260,575 fewer workers participating in the labor force—who were not counted among the unemployed, to emphasize the point. Participation bounced back some to 61.7 percent, but still there are 40,934 fewer workers in the labor force.

Other ways to measure it

BLS’s U-6 labor underutilization metric is another way to shed light on unemployment. It adds to the unemployed those discouraged and other “marginally attached” workers as well as part-time workers wanting full-time work but cannot find it. 

Nationally, the U-6 rate hit a historic high of 22.9 percent in April 2020 representing 36.3 million people. It has since dropped to 10.2 percent representing 16.5 million people. However, in the months prior to the pandemic, the rate was at historic lows—in fact, as low as 6.8 percent. Obviously, while 10.2 percent is far better than 22.9 percent, it is significantly worse than 6.8 percent, representing a difference of 5.3 million workers.

Unfortunately, monthly U-6 data is not available for the states, making any comparison difficult. The BLS currently publishes only experimental U-6 state data averaged over a year’s time.

More useful for the states is the Nonfarm Employment estimates from BLS’s Current Employment Statistics survey. Only two states—Utah & Idaho—have caught up with employment from where they were in February 2020 before the pandemic hit. In contrast, the U.S as a whole is still 5% behind. Georgia ranks 16th among the states and is 4.0 % behind. Hawaii (-14.8%), New York (-9.6%), and Nevada (-8.6%) are the three states furthest behind. 

If we use standard economic ARIMA Model time-series forecasting to estimate where employment would have been absent the pandemic, no state is back on track. The United States is 6.8% behind, and Georgia ranks near the middle in 27th place at −6.1%. Utah and Idaho lead the pack being the furthest ahead, while Hawaii, Nevada, New York, California, and Massachusetts trail the pack.

Observations on state differences and policies

In viewing the differences in employment among the states, the more rural states appear to be doing better. The states more dependent on tourism appear to be doing worse. State governments that implemented less severe lockdowns appear to be doing better. To test these observations, we will be running regression analyses to tease out any correlations. We will post the results when completed.

In the meantime, it is important for government to adopt policies that will help businesses to rebound and make it easier for startups. The goal should be not to just lower unemployment but also to bring those sidelined workers back into the labor force.


Erik Randolph is the Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

GCO signed coalition letter urging policymakers to prioritize high-speed broadband in rural Georgia

GCO signed coalition letter urging policymakers to prioritize high-speed broadband in rural Georgia

GCO signed coalition letter urging policymakers to prioritize high-speed broadband in rural Georgia

The Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) has signed on to a coalition letter urging policymakers to prioritize the use of federal emergency dollars for high-speed broadband in rural, underserved areas of Georgia.The letter makes four recommendations:

  • Target funds to areas without access to high-speed broadband, defined as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload

  • Avoid investments in government-owned networks
  • Reduce red tape around deployment
  • Ensure adequate resources for permitting approval

 

Buzz statement rural broadband

 

GCO’s take: “Broadband for rural areas should’ve been a priority prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it’s an emergency,” said Buzz Brockway, GCO’s vice president of public policy. “Good Internet access will be a boon to rural Georgia. Broadband is also crucial for some of our state’s most vulnerable students, and expanding Internet access is closely aligned with GCO’s mission to expand educational opportunity. In the middle of all this, we can’t afford to get mired in bureaucratic red tape, either. That’s why we must avoid working through government-owned networks and instead quickly review and approve applications to get this done.”

 

Many Special Needs Students Have Struggled with Virtual Classes

Many Special Needs Students Have Struggled with Virtual Classes

Many Special Needs Students Have Struggled with Virtual Classes

Special Needs

For some students virtual classes during the past year have been fine. Some have even thrived. But for many special needs students, it has not gone well, as a parent tells the Georgia Center for Opportunity:

A virtual classroom worked fine for Jennifer’s two older children, but her youngest son, 10-year-old Joey, has Down syndrome. Online learning is entirely unworkable for him due to his special needs.

For example, DeKalb is following a normal bell schedule but staying engaged on Zoom for hours on end is not working. Morning classes will sometimes go well, but by lunchtime Joey is tuned out. It is impossible to get him back online after the lunch break for specials, such as music and art, and Jennifer cannot stay tied up until 2:30pm every day. She has seen academic and social regression for her son as he has little to no interaction with peers.

Additionally, his academic growth is limited due to repetitive practice of current skills on worksheets with no new individual instruction to learn new concepts in language arts or math. As a highly visual and experiential learner, he is missing the magic that happens in a classroom that cannot be replicated on a Zoom call.

“It’s day-by-day and minute-by-minute,” Jennifer shares. “One class he is engaged and on task, and the next minute he is hiding under the bed or taking his shirt off.”

All children, no matter their needs, deserve the opportunity for a high-quality education that meets their individual requirements. 

Today, Axios wrote about a newly released report on 130 studies on the safety of school reopening. The report found:

  • Any benefits to closing schools are far outweighed by the grave risks to children from remote-only schooling — risks that intensify the longer it continues, the report says.
  • The harms include academic loss — so severe that it could set children back for life — and mental health problems related to loneliness and isolation.
  • There are also severe hardships on parents — mothers in particular, about two million of whom have left the workforce to care for their kids as part of remote learning.
  • “Schools are not super-spreaders,” observes the report, written by John P. Bailey, a former deputy policy director at the Department of Commerce.

Fortunately almost 73% of Georgia’s school districts are open for face to face learning. The rest need to reopen ASAP, and plans need to be made to help students who fell behind catch up.

 

This post originally appeared on PeachPundit.com on March 11, 2021.

 

Why the Minimum Wage is Bad News for Small Business

Why the Minimum Wage is Bad News for Small Business

Why the Minimum Wage is Bad News for Small Business

payday

Why that’s bad for everyone else, and how raising costs can have disastrous economic consequences.

In a prior blog, I explained how empirical research supports the side of the debate asserting negative consequences due to minimum wage laws. Now we’ll look under the hood to understand more why this might be the case.

After the stock market crash of 1929—yes, I’m taking you back that far—President Herbert Hoover rolled into action to get the U.S. economy out of the recession that would become the Great Depression. Among his activities were efforts to boost prices and wages, including White House conferences to cajole business leaders to maintain wage rates. 

His successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, went further to promote higher prices and wages, especially with the Wagner Act intended to strengthen labor unions and the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) that established a system of industry cartels that regulated, among other things, wages and prices. 

In 1935, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the NIRA. In response, the minimum wage became a platform issue for his 1936 reelection campaign, and FDR succeeded in getting a federal minimum wage of 25¢ per hour in 1938.

Economists seemingly agree on little, but one thing they do agree on is that the policies of Hoover and Roosevelt did nothing to get the U.S. out of the Great Depression. Keep this history in mind when you hear advocates who want to raise the minimum wage. 

Importance of small business

Small businesses are at the heart of the American economy. They are a major engine of prosperity and job growth, enriching society and helping to spread wealth at a time when economic disparities are receiving more attention. 

Examples of small businesses are too many to list but include your local restaurant, hair salon, construction firm, dentist, bakery, and small-town law firm. It also includes many franchisees who may own your local McDonald’s, Subway, UPS store, hardware store, senior home care service, or handyman service. 

 

worker and coin stacks

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration

  • There were 31.7 million small businesses in the U.S. in 2017.
  • They employed 60.6 million people, or 47.1 percent of the private workforce in 2018. 
  • That number included 4.2 million self-employed persons of color.

Small businesses created 1.6 million net jobs in 2019.

Not all about profits

Also according to the Small Business Administration, there were 249,000 business start-ups creating 863,000 new jobs in 2018. However, those gains were partially offset by 222,000 businesses shutting down, taking 762,000 jobs with them. 

This comparison is a good way of exposing a common myth about economics: It is not all about profits. It is also about losses. 

If you took an economics course in college or high school, you probably found yourself spending time looking at the impact of losses and how much a business can lose before it must shut down.

What it takes to run a small business 

Running a small business is hard. It requires dedication, resources, and daily decisions to keep operations viable without the benefit of an array of professional managers and departments that large businesses typically have. When a small business owner makes a mistake, he takes a direct hit. If the mistake is large enough, it could threaten his or her livelihood.

Politicians, on the other hand, can make a policy mistake impacting business, but they do not take a direct hit. Because every business is different, it is impossible for politicians to know what it takes for every type of business to stay viable and make a profit. Yet changes in government regulations, taxes, and wage laws can have devastating impacts on businesses.

The ability of businesses to withstand changes in minimum wage laws depends on the circumstances of the business and their profitability. It is naive to assume that every business relying on low-cost labor would be able to pay its employees more just because the government mandates them to do so. 

Many businesses operate on thin profit margins. If their costs go up, they may substitute technology for labor, if they can, which naturally and unfortunately results in workers losing their jobs. 

Worse, the business may have to shut down. It makes no sense to expect businesses to continue operating if they are losing money. Many small business owners who shut down may need to find a job themselves or risk landing in poverty. This helps no one, least of all the laid-off employees.

Final warnings

Beware of large corporations like Amazon or Walmart who might support minimum wage laws. It could be because they see it as a way to drive out competition from small mom and pop businesses.

Forcing small businesses to raise wages, especially after they sustained a financial hit from a pandemic, only promises to weaken an all-important job growth engine for the U.S. economy at a time when we need to bolster the small business sector and get the economy rolling again. This strategy of mandating wage increases certainly did not work out well during the Great Depression. There is no good reason to think it will work now.

So, what do our state and national legislators need to be doing? They need to concentrate on getting the economic job engine revving up again, and this is done by finding ways to reduce costs for businesses (not raising them), making it easier for entrepreneurs to start their own businesses (not making it harder), and making sure the financial markets are working properly so small businesses can access much-needed funds.

Where does all this leave the worker stuck in a low-wage job? Stay tuned. I’ll answer that question in my next blog. 

 

*Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This blog reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

 

Does the Minimum Wage Hurt or Help the Poor?

Does the Minimum Wage Hurt or Help the Poor?

Does the Minimum Wage Hurt or Help the Poor?

pizza delivery

What economic research really tells us

Finally, we have the definitive answer on a longstanding debate on whether empirical studies show that minimum wage laws negatively impact employment. 

You may have heard conflicting summaries, perhaps from economists themselves, on the economic research on this important topic. Some summarize the research to say that indeed raising the threshold of minimum wage laws comes with a cost of lost jobs, especially for poorer individuals who tend to lack experience and job skills. Others summarize the research to suggest that no such evidence can be found or there might be even slight benefits. And, still, others claim that the evidence is mixed, and you can’t conclude anything. 

Last month, David Neumark—an economic research associate at the University of California, Irvine, and Peter Shirley with the Joint Committee on Government and Finance for the West Virginia Legislature—released a study that answered the question. 

What does economic research tell us about the minimum wage?

In their National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, the researchers assembled what they believe to be the entire set of published empirical economic studies on the minimum wage in the United States since 1992. They did not include unpublished papers, simulations, or studies using methods considered to be less empirically rigorous. 

Of the total 66 papers they identified and examined, they found that 79 percent of them showed a negative impact. 

In summarizing the demographic groups most impacted by the minimum wage, the authors said the following:

There is strong and consistent evidence of negative employment effects for teens, young adults, the less-educated, and directly-affected (low-wage) workers, with the estimated elasticities generally larger for the less-educated than for teens and young adults, and larger still for directly-affected workers.

By the way, in case you don’t know, “elasticity” is simply an economic measurement of sensitivity. In this case, it refers to employment’s sensitivity to a change in the wage rate. 

Interpreting the research scientifically

Some might want to spin the results to say that because 21 percent of the studies showed no adverse impact, we cannot conclude anything. Or, worse, they may argue that raising the minimum wage in this case may have some positive effects on employment.

However, this is what is known as cherry picking—a no-no when reviewing statistical evidence. We need to keep a few things in mind.

First, when reviewing statistical studies, there is always the chance you get false results. These are known in the profession as Type I or Type II errors, depending on whether you reject your null hypothesis when you shouldn’t have, or its opposite. 

We have to look at the confidence level. (Not to be confused with the confidence interval or margin of error.) A 90 percent confidence level, which is usually the standard for national employment data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, means that 10 percent of the time, your results will be totally wrong. (That is, outside your margin of error.)

Because of these reasons, the science tells us to look at all valid studies—methodologically valid, that is—and go with the preponderance of the evidence. In this case, because 79 percent of the studies show negative impact, this is the conclusion we need to go with.

When it comes to empirical studies applied to economics, there is another consideration. The design of the study must be consistent with economic reasoning. 

This is harder than it sounds. For minimum wage issues, economic reasoning says that negative impacts will occur only when price floors—minimum wages in this case—exceed the market equilibrium. Absent that condition, there would be no impact, but then also no point in establishing the price floor. 

This adds a level of complication that, if anything, would increase the error rate. In this case, a 21 percent error rate would be consistent with what we should expect. By the way, this is also why it’s important to do multiple empirical studies to replicate the results. You can’t rely on just one study.

If raising the minimum wage is not the answer, what is?

For advocates of the minimum wage, the empirical evidence will be disappointing. Take heart. There are better solutions out there.

The main reasons people support the idea of a minimum wage are to help wage earners keep up with inflation and to enable them to earn a decent living. In response, I suggest a three prong approach: attack inflation, promote economic growth, and improve education and job skills of the population, especially low-income workers.

Few people realize that inflation is government policy. The Federal Reserve Board of Governors has adopted an annual inflation target of 2 percent, and since the start of the pandemic the board eased its policies to allow inflation to exceed its target. 

From my perspective, this inflation target is crazy. It’s a hidden tax that hits the poor the worst. My recommendation is to eliminate the inflation target with a new target so prices remain stable or decline slightly every year to match general gains in productivity. 

Of course, economists are divided as ever when it comes to macro policies, and a host of them will cry that eliminating the inflation target is dangerous. They’re wrong, but I’ll save my rebuttal for another day. 

 

worker and coin stacks

“I suggest a three prong approach: attack inflation, promote economic growth, and improve education and job skills of the population, especially low-income workers.”

 

Second, the more the economy grows, the better it is for the labor market, increasing the demand for jobs. This is a natural and excellent way to push up wages for workers. When you have a growing economy, businesses can afford to pay their workers more—and they will do so without government cajoling them because it will be in their economic interest to do so. We only need to look at the increase in employment and wages over the several years leading up to the COVID-19 recession for evidence of how this works. 

Conversely, when you have a recessionary time, like now, it is the worst time—not that there is any good time—to force businesses to pay their workers more when they can least afford it. Politicians take heed. Follow the science on this one.

There are countless stories of this in action. For example, the restaurant Boca Nova in Oakland, California, implemented dramatic changes to its pay structure after the city mandated a $12.25 minimum wage in 2015. In lieu of gratuity, the restaurant tacked 16 percent onto customers’ bills: 4 percent went directly to servers and the remaining 12 percent covered the cost of raising salaries for other workers. The results were that about 60 percent of the restaurant’s servers quit because the policy slashed their average hourly earnings by around half—from between $38 and $70 an hour to $22 to $28 an hour.

Finally, our public education systems have been failing us and our children, especially for students  stuck in underperforming schools or lacking resources at home. The consequence is too many workers unable to secure higher wages in our current job market. 

This last prong is where the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) really shines. It is actively promoting improved education and job training. And GCO is collaborating with other nonprofits to help place people in employment with a career ladder to improve their earning capacity over time.