News & Commentary

October 24, 2014

New claims for U.S. unemployment benefits held below 300,000 for a sixth straight week, suggesting that the labor market is “shrugging off jitters” over a slowing global economy.  Both Reuters and the New York Times conclude that despite an increase from last week’s jobless claims, weekly applications remain at historically low levels that suggest the labor market is slowly but surely recovering.  This is confirmed by The Conference Board’s economic indicators index, which shows “solid increase in September after no gain in the previous month.”  Slow economic growth in the EU and China has caused significant unrest in the global financial markets, but U.S. activity is expanding steadily, with growth in the third quarter expected to top a 3 percent annual pace.

The New York Times reports that many states are considering passing legislation to ease former-convicts’ reentry to society by forbidding employers to ask about criminal history on job applications.  This summer, Washington D.C.’s City Council approved legislation that forbids asking about criminal history on most job applications, and the policy is currently being considered by Georgia, Michigan and New York.  During the past several months, states and cities as varied as Illinois; Nebraska; New Jersey; Indianapolis; Louisville, Ky.; and New Orleans and have adopted so-called “Ban the Box laws.”  The national-level effort is part of a “bipartisan re-evaluation of the criminal justice system and reflects a growing concern that large numbers of people, especially African-Americans — who have been jailed disproportionately — remain marginalized from the work force and at greater risk of returning to crime.”  The reforms endeavor to expunge the criminal records of nonviolent offenders and reassessing parole, decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, and probation rules so violators are not automatically reincarcerated.

New York Times opinion columnist David Brooks responds to an essay by William Galston of the Brookings Institution, entitled “The New Challenge to Market Democracies.”  Brooks refutes Galston’s assumptions that the era of “broad and growing prosperity for the middle class” is over and “economic problems degrade the national spirit and lead to a loss of faith in the whole enterprise.”  Brooks believes that high rates of unemployment and low general labor force participation are the main drivers of the current “emotional recession.”  He claims that the solution to America’s employment woes is for the federal government to take actions that would increase the number of middle-class, satisfying jobs: borrowing money to build infrastructure, reducing aid to unemployed people and increasing aid for the working poor, institution a progressive consumption tax, turning our immigration system into a “talent recruiting system,” and investing in human capital through education.

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