Expand Social Security? Sure, For Low Earners.

Here is Steven Hill in the Los Angeles Times today:

The real problem with Social Security is not a shortfall but that its payout is so meager. Social Security is designed to replace only about 35% of wages at retirement, yet most Americans need twice that amount to live decently. With the other components of the retirement system looking wobbly, and with incomes low, Social Security is too skimpy to be the nation’s single pillar retirement system.

The obvious solution is to expand it. There are numerous revenue streams that would allow the nation to greatly increase the monthly payout for the 43 million Americans who receive retirement benefits....First, we should eliminate the Social Security payroll cap....stop exempting investment income....scrap income tax shelters for wealthy households and businesses....end or reduce tax breaks for private retirement accounts, including 401(k)s and IRAs....Just these four revenue streams would come close to raising the $662 billion necessary to double Social Security’s monthly benefit.

This kind of thing pisses me off. It may be true that Social Security is "designed" to replace only 35 percent of wages at retirement, but that statement is wildly misleading. Here are the latest replacement rates for future retirees according to the Congressional Budget office:

  • Low earners: 82 percent
  • Median earners: 44 percent
  • High earners: 22 percent

There are two things to note here. First, replacement rates have steadily gone up for low earners and will keep going up in the future. Scheduled replacement rates for low earners are about 63 percent for those born in the 1960s; 79 percent for those born in the 1980s; and 82 percent for those born in the 2000s.

Second, and more important, replacement rates are far higher for low earners than for higher earners. This is exactly how it should be. Low earners typically have very few sources of other retirement income and rely almost entirely on Social Security. If I had my druthers, Social Security would replace 100 percent of working-age income for low earners.

But higher earners don't need those high replacement rates because they have other sources of retirement income: savings, 401(k) accounts, IRAs, pensions, etc. Obviously this differs from person to person, but the Social Security Administration estimates that, on average, the total replacement rate for median earners and above—which includes all sources of retirement income—is 80 percent or higher (Table 11 here).

Expanding Social Security to double its monthly benefit is dumb. It would be a massively expensive solution to a problem that doesn't exist. We should instead focus on increasing benefits for the low earners who need it. That would cost far less and solve a problem that really needs solving.

In a new paper using an interesting approach, Roland Fryer finds that police officers treat blacks and Hispanics more roughly than whites, but they don't shoot them any more frequently:

The results obtained using these data are informative and, in some cases, startling. Using data on NYC's Stop and Frisk program, we demonstrate that on non-lethal uses of force—putting hands on civilians (which includes slapping or grabbing) or pushing individuals into a wall or onto the ground, there are large racial differences. In the raw data, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to have an interaction with police which involves any use of force.

In stark contrast to non-lethal uses of force, we find no racial differences in officer-involved shootings on either the extensive or intensive margins. Using data from Houston, Texas—where we have both officer-involved shootings and a randomly chosen set of potential interactions with police where lethal force may have been justified—we find, in the raw data, that blacks are 23.8 percent less likely to be shot at by police relative to whites. Hispanics are 8.5 percent less likely.

Analyzing data from cities in California, Texas, and Florida, Fryer found that lethal force was used more often against whites than blacks.1 This is from the New York Times:

In officer-involved shootings in these cities, officers were more likely to fire their weapons without having first been attacked when the suspects were white. Black and white civilians involved in police shootings were equally likely to have been carrying a weapon. Both of these results undercut the idea that the police wield lethal force with racial bias.

…A more fundamental question still remained: In the tense moments when a shooting may occur, are police officers more likely to fire if the suspect is black?

To answer this question, Mr. Fryer focused on one city, Houston. The Police Department there allowed the researchers to look at reports not only for shootings but also for arrests when lethal force might have been justified. Mr. Fryer defined this group to include suspects the police charged with serious offenses like attempting to murder an officer, or evading or resisting arrest. He also considered suspects shocked with Tasers.

And in the arena of "shoot" or "don’t shoot," Mr. Fryer found that, in tense situations, officers in Houston were about 20 percent less likely to shoot a suspect if the suspect was black. This estimate was not very precise, and firmer conclusions would require more data. But, in a variety of models that controlled for different factors and used different definitions of tense situations, Mr. Fryer found that blacks were either less likely to be shot or there was no difference between blacks and whites.

Fryer calls this "the most surprising result of my career." Needless to say, it's based on limited data (the city of Houston) and a new way of looking at police shootings, so Fryer's results should be considered tentative. And it's worth keeping in mind that lesser uses of force are far more common in encounters with blacks than whites:

"Who the hell wants to have a police officer put their hand on them or yell and scream at them? It’s an awful experience," he said. "I've had it multiple, multiple times. Every black man I know has had this experience. Every one of them. It is hard to believe that the world is your oyster if the police can rough you up without punishment. And when I talked to minority youth, almost every single one of them mentions lower level uses of force as the reason why they believe the world is corrupt."

Food for thought. Fryer is a careful and highly respected researcher, and he was motivated to conduct this study by the events in Ferguson a couple of years ago. Both of his conclusions are worth taking seriously and warrant further study.

1The results weren't statistically significant, so technically Fryer's conclusion is that there's no difference between the shooting rate of whites and blacks.

Friday Cat Blogging - 8 July 2016

I really don't think I can face another few hours of reading the news, so I'm calling it a day. There's plenty of good coverage of the day's events over at the mothership and at every other news organization on the planet. I'll be back on Monday, and in the meantime stay calm, stop obsessing over finding someone to blame, and do something nice for someone.

Also: Hilbert is not happy with us humans. He wants us to get our act together.

Today's Big Campaign News

Is it really big news that Donald Trump released a non-idiotic statement responding to the shootings in Dallas? Judging from the headlines today, I guess it is. What a world. We sure do set the bar low for reporting on Trump's every move.

For what it's worth, here's how Pollster's head-to-head matchups between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have evolved since the beginning of the year. Hillary's support has been pretty stable, while Trump's has declined steadily. He doesn't have much time left to turn that trend around.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in June

The American economy added 287,000 new jobs last month, 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at a very robust 197,000 jobs. This makes up for May's miserable jobs report, and suggests that economic growth is still chugging along at decent rate. The labor force expanded considerably in June and the number of unemployed also went up, producing a rise in the unemployment rate to 4.9 percent. This may be an artifact of graduating college students who haven't yet found work.

Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees were up at an annual rate of about 2.3 percent compared to last month, a bit higher than the inflation rate. That's not great, but at least it's progress.

Overall, this jobs report was a relief. Employment growth over the past six months hasn't been great, but at least it hasn't been driven into a ditch.

Weekly Flint Water Report: June 24-30

Here is this week's Flint water report. As usual, I've eliminated outlier readings above 2,000 parts per billion, since there are very few of them and they can affect the averages in misleading ways. During the week, DEQ took 148 samples. The average for the past week was 9.97.

Pew has another of its surveys out, this time a fairly generic presidential poll. They do this in June every four years, and they have a pretty good track record. Without further ado, here are the topline results:

Hillary Clinton is 9 points ahead of Donald Trump regardless of whether Gary Johnson is in the race. A subsequent question makes clear there's very little wiggle room here: among voters who support a candidate, nearly all of them say their choice is firm. Bottom line: there are very few undecided voters—who will probably break pretty evenly anyway—and everyone else says their minds are solidly made up.

So does Trump have a chance? Sure—though it's slipping away. Voters are pretty non-thrilled with their choices this year, which means that turnout could make an even bigger difference than usual. But running a ground game requires lots of money and great organization, both of which Trump lacks. At this point, then, it looks like Trump's only real chance is some kind of dramatic external event that suddenly turns voters his way. But I'm no longer sure what that could be. Serious economic problems are unlikely over the next 17 weeks, and terrorist attacks don't seem to help him in the polls. So what is there?

I'm not sure. But if you're wondering why Trump hasn't broken through against a candidate who obviously has plenty of weak spots, I think Pew provides the answer. Trump's campaign is fundamentally based on appealing to people who think they're getting a raw deal from a lousy economy. But views on the economy are actually pretty positive:

Overall economic optimism is back to where it was in 2008, before the Great Recession. That's not very fertile soil for Trump's campaign. Add to that his apparently inability to hold a coherent thought for more than a few minutes at a time, and it's really hard to see a way for him to make up his current polling deficit.

POSTSCRIPT: Even Trump will probably get a post-convention bounce, but don't let that fool you. Wait a couple of weeks and it will almost certainly go away.

Today's grilling of FBI Director James Comey was probably a dumb move on the part of Republicans. He didn't give them anything new to work with, but he did offer up plenty of answers helpful to Hillary Clinton. Here's a small sampling:

Did Hillary Clinton lie?
To the FBI? We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.

Did Hillary Clinton lie under oath?
Not to the FBI. Not in a case we're working.


Do you agree with the claim that General Petraeus "got in trouble for far less"? Do you agree with that?
No, it's the reverse.

What do you mean by that?
His conduct, to me, illustrates the categories of behavior that mark the prosecutions that are actually brought. Clearly intentional conduct, knew what he was doing was a violation of the law, huge amount of information. Even if you couldn't prove he knew it, it raises the inference that he did it. An effort to obstruct justice. That combination of things makes it worthy of a prosecution.


If you're going to classify something, there has to be a header on the document. Right?
Correct.

Was there a header on the three documents that we've discussed today that had the little "C" in the text someplace?
No…There was no header on the email or the text.

So if Secretary Clinton really were an expert at what's classified and what's not classified and were following the manual, the absence of a header would tell her immediately that those three documents were not classified. Am I correct in that?
That would be a reasonable inference.


I understand why people are confused by the whole discussion. I get that. But you know what would be a double standard? If she were prosecuted for gross negligence.


Did you get any political interference from the White House?
None.

Did you get any political interference from the Hillary Clinton campaign?
None.


This last one is from Rep. John Micah of Florida, who spent most of his time laying out a full-blown conspiracy theory about collusion between Comey, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Loretta Lynch about this investigation. Then he claims there's something "fishy" about the whole thing:

Tomorrow we'll go back to our districts and we have to explain to people, in a couple cafes where I see folks and have meetings. They're going to ask a lot of questions about what took place…One week ago, former president Clinton meets with the attorney general in Phoenix. The next Friday, last Friday, Mrs. Lynch, the AG, says she's going to defer to the FBI. On Saturday morning I saw the vans pull up…Then on Tuesday morning…you basically said you're going to recommend not to prosecute. Correct? And then Tuesday we had President Obama and Secretary Clinton arrive in Charlotte at 2:00. Shortly thereafter we had the attorney general closing the case. This is rapid fire. I mean, my folks think there is something fishy about this. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but there are questions on how this came down.

I hope what you'll tell the folks in the cafe is, look me in the eye and listen to what I'm about to say. I did not coordinate that with anyone. The White House, the Department of Justice, nobody outside the FBI family had any idea what I was about to say. I say that under oath, I stand by that. There was no coordination. There was an insinuation in what you were saying. I don't mean to get strong in responding, but I want to make sure I was definitive about that.

I don't know that this hearing will have any real effect one way or another. But there was no reason for Republicans to hold it other than inchoate rage at not getting the indictment they so desperately believed they were due. It accomplished nothing for their side, since Comey had already delivered a pretty blistering assessment of Hillary Clinton's "carelessness" and was unlikely to go further in front of Congress. But it did give Democrats a chance to get Comey on record refuting several conservative talking points and conspiracy theories. That was dumb. But that's what happens when you live in a bubble where Hillary Clinton is an obvious villain and it's simply inconceivable that she did nothing illegal.

Donald Trump Has Never Read the Constitution

Donald Trump had a meeting with congressional Republicans today, but it turns out that plenty of people had other plans and couldn't make it:

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told reporters he had "a longstanding appointment downtown." Another member said he had to be at the doctor's office and couldn't make it. A third said he had a "breakfast meeting." The member—who asked not to be named—then pulled out his schedule for Thursday morning. When he saw that there wasn't any event on his schedule, the member took out a pen and wrote "Breakfast meeting" on it. "See, I have one!" he joked.

By an amazing coincidence, the same thing is happening to the Republican convention: A surprising number of people are totally booked that week and just can't make it. Still, today's meet-and-greet took place, and there were plenty of attendees. So what did Trump say?

Another Republican in the meeting who declined to go on the record so he could speak candidly told TPM that Trump was asked pointedly if he would defend Article I of the Constitution. "Not only will I stand up for Article One," Trump enthusiastically stated, according to the member in the room. "I'll stand up for Article Two, Article 12, you name it of the Constitution."

The Republican member said that Trump's lack of knowledge about how many articles exist, gave him "a little pause." (The Constitution has seven articles and 27 amendments.)

Translation: Trump has no idea what Article 1 is about. But he'll stand up for it!