All posts by douglasd

The Neighborhood Effects of Vaccines By Deborah M. Figart, Ph.D.

The Neighborhood Effects of Vaccines

By Deborah M. Figart

Recently I had a conversation with my doctor about the new measles outbreak in the United States. Then I went to check my immunization record. This paper record is a small, decades-old 2×3 inch booklet kept by my mother in the 1960s. I am surprised you can still read the yellowed pages. It records my immunizations by type, date, year, and doctor. My mother also logged when I had the chicken pox. She even noted when I had my tonsillectomy and my first X-ray—of the skull when I fell straight down on my forehead while sledding one winter.

Measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000. But in an open country, international travelers and tourists can bring in the disease. The recent outbreak as a result of exposure at the Disneyland resort in California over the last Christmas and New Years holiday has multiplied. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 644 cases in 27 states 2014, the greatest number since 2000. From January 1 to February 13, 2015, there have been 141 reported cases thus far in 17 states and Washington, DC, including New Jersey. We are on track for a record number of measles cases in 2015, a large step backward from 2000 when we eliminated the disease in our homeland. Starting with one case of a potent virus leads to many; the rise is easily predicted in public health models. This current eruption has adults reviewing their medical records, reading over the government’s vaccination guidelines, and checking with their doctor.

The spike in measles has also reopened debate between public health officials and medical experts who seek to control the disease and opponents of vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics are on one side, according to Parents magazine. Opposition can be found in the United Kingdom and the United States among autism advocacy groups, some professional chiropractors, and local or state groups such as My Kids, My Choice in New York. In medical circles, the debate has long been settled through evidence of the worth of vaccines. Still others remain unconvinced.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), people born before 1957 in the United States are generally considered immune to measles and mumps. In 1963, I was vaccinated for measles; there was no vaccine for mumps or rubella at the time (also known as the German measles). Today the three vaccinations are packed together and known as MMR. The MMR vaccine given to children in the U.S. since 1971 has been highly effective. But there a period from 1963-1967 with competing measles vaccines. Within this window, some received a live vaccine and others received an inactivated vaccine which was later pulled from the U.S. market in 1967. I was in that window.

That brings me back to my doctor. She tells me that the HHS guidelines state that persons who received inactivated (killed) measles vaccine or measles vaccine of unknown type during 1963–1967 should be revaccinated with two doses of MMR vaccine. I opted to be revaccinated as an adult, which only required one shot instead of the two given to children.

I am not a medical doctor. I must rely on the medical experts to help educate me on the safety and benefits of (largely) compulsory vaccination. But I have a doctorate in economics. It is easy for me to see the benefits through the eyes of an economist: it has to do with externalities.

Many of our decisions and actions affect other people. Economists refer to theses effects as positive or negative externalities. The term “externalities” means that the activity or product affects someone who is neither the buyer nor the seller, someone outside or external to the economic transaction.

Cigarette smoking obviously has negative externalities because second-hand smoke affects nonsmokers, but also because a higher incidence of illness tends to push up health care and insurance premiums for everyone. Society taxes cigarettes heavily to offset these costs and to discourage young people from smoking. When the housing bubble burst in 2008, we found that vacated and foreclosed homes lowered property values for others in the same neighborhoods, even if they kept up with their payments and were not overly in debt. So the decision to issue risky mortgages affected people with no voice in the process. That’s why another term for externalities is “neighborhood effects.”

Externalities can be good things too. We ask the taxpayers to shoulder part of the costs of public colleges and universities because the benefits of an educated work force and citizenry go beyond the individuals attending college. Public transportation helps those who take the bus, but also alleviates traffic for those who still drive. These are positive externalities.

Vaccines have positive neighborhood effects as well. No vaccine is 100% effective. Therefore, you are better protected if your neighbors are not carrying the disease. That happens if we are all vaccinated. So … it’s the neighborly thing to do.

Don’t Sneeze On My Caesar Salad – Deborah M. Figart

Don’t Sneeze On My Caesar Salad

By Deborah M. Figart

Vick’s, a Proctor and Gamble company, has a popular television ad running during this current cold and flu season. It is about a father ailing from the flu. Looking red-eyed and dabbing at his nose with a tissue, he goes into his young toddler’s room and apologizes that he needs to take a sick day. The ad concludes with a tagline: “Dads don’t take sick days. Dads take NyQuil.” You can see the ad on YouTube. By the way, Vick’s has a similar ad for Moms.

Though meant to be humorous, the NyQuil ads raise a serious issue in America. More than 40 million U.S. workers do not earn paid sick days. Those disproportionately affected are low-wage workers, women workers, and Latino/a workers, especially in the food service industry.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2014, paid sick leave benefits were offered to 74 percent of full-time workers but only 24 percent of part-time workers. Similarly, 72 percent of employees in medium and large establishments had access to a paid sick leave benefit but only half for those working for small employers did.

San Francisco was the first city in the U.S. require paid sick leave for most workers; a successful ballot initiative in November of 2006 led to enactment of a law. California cities such as Long Beach, San Diego, and Oakland followed suit. Washington, DC passed similar legislation in March 2008. Cities that followed included: Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Eugene, OR; and Philadelphia, PA.

Connecticut was the first U.S. state to enact a law effective July 1, 2011, followed by California and Massachusetts. The California and Massachusetts laws go into effect in July 1, 2015. And the movement for paid sick leave is gaining momentum in New Jersey. Cities that have enacted annual paid sick time include Trenton, Jersey City, Newark, Montclair, East Orange, Paterson, Irvington, Passaic. This adds 140,000 New Jerseyans to the pool of employees with paid sick days, but leaves 1 million still uncovered.

Many of these state and municipal laws require employers with 10 or more employees to provide up to 40 hours (5 days) of paid sick leave per year. Some cities include even smaller employers while others cover employers with 50 or more employees (or even larger). The varied laws have limits in other ways, as analyzed by the organization A Better Balance. Most allow sick time to be used to care for a child or another relative. So the mom or dad in the Vick’s NyQuil commercial could actually take a paid sick day from the workplace if they are sick or if their child is sick.

Using arguments akin to opposition to raising the minimum wage, opponents refer to paid sick leave legislation as harmful to employment growth. Unlike the minimum wage, however, that applies to each hour of paid work, sick leave legislation normally covers 40 hours (5 days) of pay per year, or about 2 percent of a full-time employee’s annual hours. So the impact is less, termed “modest” by business surveys, and could be far less if limited to the food service industry.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that workers preparing food for others should not handle food until at least 48 hours after symptoms of the Norovirus cease. The State of New Jersey Department of Health provides for dealing with influenza: “Stay home if you are sick.” Workers at the bottom of the labor market cannot afford to stay home if they are sick. Just 5 days of paid sick time would help us all.

I enjoy dining out. I want neither a fast food worker nor a sous chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant to report to work when they are ill. Don’t sneeze on my Caesar’s salad.

Human Trafficking: Saving One Life at a Time

Human Trafficking: Saving One Life at a Time

By Deborah M. Figart, Professor of Economics and Education, and Brittany Benedetti, Stockton Honors Student

Anguish. Abjection. Agony. These are only a few of the burdens of millions of men, women, and children who are exploited across the globe due to human trafficking. At this very moment, human beings are being abused and sold into sex slavery for monetary gain. Across the globe. And close to home.

The 2014 Global Slavery Index estimates that 38.5 million persons are enslaved each year. Even in the United States, across every state. The U.S. contains a plethora of seaports, airports, and major highways that make it easier to traffic people throughout the country. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Child Exploitation Task Force recounts that “It’s sad, but true: here in this country, people are being bought, sold, and smuggled like modern-day slaves.” Locally, the FBI takes about 30-to-50 children off the streets of Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland counties each year. Like Ashley Boyer.

One cannot avoid being moved by Ashley’s story. The then 17-year old senior from Ocean City High school became a victim of human trafficking. Her tale is relayed eloquently by Linda Cohen, staff writer for the Press of Atlantic City. Ashley was wooed to a potential meeting with a music producer. Instead of taking her to a music studio, a man she refers to as “the Monster” entrapped her into sex slavery for three years by threatening her and her family. Ashley’s story, as is turns out, is not unusual.

Modern-day slavery can victimize anyone regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status. Yet traffickers typically prey on young men, women, and children who are living in or near the poverty line. Recruitment for sex trafficking is far more prevalent that labor trafficking according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the U.S. In Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour, the International Labour Organization reports that sexual exploitation worldwide accounts for approximately two-thirds of the estimated $32 billion of global annual profit from sex slavery and child pornography.

This multi-billion dollar industry operates largely in an underground economy. Traffickers, otherwise known as “pimps” use different manipulative tactics to force women (and girls and boys), including physical violence, rape, sexual assault, and in some cases will administer illegal drugs to prohibit a victim from moving and escaping. It can be as easy as being forced into a van on a street corner while waiting for a bus. Or sweeping through hangouts for homeless teenagers. Economic inequality and social immobility within societies gives traffickers leverage to recruit their victims. Many will lure persons with false promises of a better quality of life, a decent-paying job, or other aspirations.

The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was first signed in 2000, and reauthorized and refunded in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013. Multiple government agencies (Health and Human Services, FBI, Department of State, and Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement) all have roles to play to pursue and prosecute traffickers. Non-profit organizations also provide services to victims. Unfortunately, the number of sex trafficking incidents has been on the rise since 2008, as documented by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The Hustle, a new study released by the Urban Institute sheds light on how much money is generated by the underground commercial sex economy in American cities. According to the Urban Institute, “Knowing the size of the economy is the critical first step for enabling law enforcement, the judicial system, and policymakers to make informed choices about how to fight the harm that happens within these black markets.” The research provides the first rigorous estimates (2007) for the revenue generated in the underground commercial sex economies of Atlanta ($290 million), Miami ($235 million), Seattle ($112 million), Washington, DC ($103 million), Dallas ($98.8 million), San Diego ($96.8 million), and Denver ($39.9 million).

Becoming trapped in modern-day slavery is harmful to the victim’s physical, emotional, social, financial, and career well-being. Many are scarred for life. Some commit suicide. Ashley Boyer was lucky; she got out, escaping with her life. But she lost her youth and is still healing. As in the case of homeland security, one step we can all make to combat trafficking is: “Is you see something, say something.” Report any tips to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, operated by the Polaris Project. From December 7, 2007, through December 31, 2012, the Center answered 65,557 calls, 1,735 online tip forms, and 5,251 emails, totaling more than 72,000 interactions. Maybe your call can help get someone back home for the holidays or off the streets in a cold winter.

The Unbanked in America – Deborah M. Figart, Ph.D.

The Unbanked in America

By Deborah M. Figart

Relatively few free checking accounts. High monthly service fees or low balance fees. Especially high overdraft fees. When is having a bank account just not worth it? Amply, to the tune of 25 million people in the U.S. (out of a population of about 319 million). This is a key finding of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) latest biennial National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, released on October 29, 2014.

The percent of households without a bank account (unbanked) declined slightly from the previous survey (2011), as more households are recovering from the Great Recession. Now only 7.7 percent of U.S. households are unbanked, compared to 8.2 percent two years before. This is the sliver of good news. The highest unbanked rates are still among lower-income households, younger households, non-Asian minorities, households with at least one person unemployed, and working-age disabled households.

Underbanked households do have a checking or savings account, but utilize non-bank services—e.g. check cashing stores, payday lenders, pawn shops—at least once or twice per year. Such services are often located in poor communities and used by those who cannot afford, do not have access to, or are uncomfortable with banks. The percent of underbanked households remained the same between 2011 and 2013. But at 20 percent of households, this amounts to 24 million U.S. households with an estimated 68 million people living in them.

Consistent with the FDIC’s previous two biennial surveys, about 46 percent of unbanked households previously had bank accounts. What caused them to leave mainstream banks? The FDIC asks survey questions about this. While a spell of unemployment is a typical reason for closing a bank account, other common motives included: balances were too low to maintain an account, bank fees were too high, banks were not welcoming or were not trusted, or there wasn’t a perceived need to have an account.

Check cashing places and other alternative financial service providers (AFSPs) have stepped into fill the void, and that industry is doing well. As in the previous FDIC surveys, about one in four households shared that they used at least one AFSP in the previous year. In addition to cashing paychecks and government checks, U.S. check cashing stores, for example, offer prepaid debit cards. Similar to a checking account, these ever-more-popular cards can be used to pay bills, withdraw cash at ATMs, make purchases, deposit checks, and receive direct deposits. A large proportion of unbanked and underbanked households now use these cards.

This helps make alternative financial services big business, according to the trade association of its members, the Financial Service Centers of America, Inc. According to FISCA industry statistics: “Through its 13,000 locations nationwide, the industry conducts more than 350 million transactions each year, providing an estimated $106 billion in various products and services to an estimated 30 million customers.” As long as customers do not feel satisfied with banks and there are reasonably priced alternatives that are responding by offering needed services, AFSPs will be here to stay.

One reliable and safe way to offer inexpensive financial services is the U.S. Postal Service, as I argued in an op ed article for the Press of Atlantic City in 2012, following publication of the previous FDIC survey of unbanked and underbanked in America. The local post office is often one of the geographically closest retail outlets for millions of Americans. There are over 30,000 post offices in the U.S. We had a postal savings system for accepting and insuring small deposits from 1911 to 1967. It was discontinued when the FDIC extended deposit insurance at private banks. According to the CGAP/World Bank Group (2009) survey of 139 countries, Financial Access 2009, more than 70 percent of countries use post offices to provide financial services.

Using post offices as financial service providers was endorsed by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in a blog with the Huffington Post on February 1, 2014. Senator Warren wrote that “We need innovative ways to create pathways for struggling families to build economic security, and this is an idea that falls in that category.”

The FDIC concludes the new 2013 survey with implications from its findings, pointing to possible ways to help households renew their relationships with mainstream banks. Yet, as long as there is great need for alternative financial services (“nonbanks”), then there will be a gap between financially included and financially excluded households. That is not necessarily a bad thing, argues Lisa Servon, Professor of Urban Policy at the New School in New York City. Professor Servon spent some time working as a “teller” at two check cashing stores in the U.S. where she interacted with hundreds of customers. She shared her reflections with The New Yorker magazine in a recent essay titled “The High Cost, For the Poor, of Using a Bank.”

Of course, not all AFSPs are created equal. Pawn shops and payday lenders that charge upwards of 1000% interest for a short-term loan are located at one extreme. The other is a local, licensed check-cashing store in a highly regulated state, such as New Jersey, with clearly posted fees and policies. New Jersey fees are among the lowest in the U.S., according to data from the New Jersey Financial Service Centers, Inc. So the way forward in terms of public policy may not be to castigate the AFSPs or the people who use them. Rather, state departments of banking and insurance may want to consider stronger regulations of AFSPs, using a state like New Jersey as a model.

Voter Turnout: More Important than You Think – By Deborah M. Figart

Voter Turnout: More Important than You Think

By Deborah M. Figart

Voter turnout in Scotland was 85% in the September 18, 2014 election referendum on Scottish independence. Scotland voted 55%-45% to remain in the United Kingdom. Even in a quadrennial presidential election in the United States, voter turnout is typically 20-25 percentage points lower. According to the Center for Voting and Democracy, U.S. voter turnout is well below other democracies. The Center’s comparative data show that the leading industrialized countries have turnout rates of about 70%. In the U.S., about 60% of the voting eligible population votes during presidential election years, and about 40% votes during midterm elections. Some countries with compulsory voting have almost 90% voter turnout.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance has a useful web tool called a “Voter Turnout Analyzer” that illustrates statistics on voter participation around the world. You can generate your own comparisons and graphs to use for discussion, other educational purposes, and/or social media. You can compare individual countries against one another or regions of the globe. I wanted to see where the United States stacked up against other regions. What I found was disappointing. In parliamentary (non-presidential) elections, U.S. voter turnout, with few exceptions, was lower than turnout in Asia, Africa, and South America. If you don’t think comparing older and newer democracies is a fair comparison, what about Europe? Again, Europe’s voter turnout is much higher than the United States, closer to the greater global average.

I have heard cynics say that “They are all politicians. What difference does it make?” When we cast our votes, we are not simply voting for one person. Take the U.S. presidential election, for example. U.S. Presidents make thousands of appointments—judicial and executive branch appointments—like Supreme Court and federal judges, cabinet secretaries and assistant secretaries, ambassadors, directors of regulatory agencies, the chair and members of the Federal Reserve Board, to name a few.

On November 7, 2000, the U.S. election for President of the United States was decided by a mere 537 votes in the State of Florida (0.0092% of the Florida vote). Candidate Al Gore had won the popular vote: 48.4 percent to 47.9%. The electoral college majority was up for grabs. After a partial recount in Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that George W. Bush won the State of Florida and therefore the presidency by winning the electoral college by a vote of 271 to 266.

In 1948, in the democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Texas, candidate Lyndon B. Johnson won by just 87 votes. Would he have served as Vice President and then President after the assassination of John F. Kennedy if he had lost that 1948 election? In 2008, then-comedian Al Franken won his U.S. Senate seat by 312 votes. Also in 2008, Rick Santorum won the Republican caucuses in the State of Iowa by a whisker, 34 votes. On primary night, Mitt Romney had originally been declared the winner. And governors, too, have been elected by very narrow margins. In 2004, Christine Gregoire was elected Governor of the State of Washington by only 133 votes.

In elections across the country for mayors, commissioners, sheriffs, town supervisors, freeholders, and even state assembly or senate candidates, a candidate can be declared the winner by just one vote. One vote. That’s all it takes.

Voting matters, according to Project Vote, a national non-profit organization that works to empower, educate, and mobilize low-income, minority, youth, and other marginalized and under-represented voters. The right public policies at the state level can make voting more accessible in our modern world. The wrong public policies increase barriers to voting.

Don’t use the excuse that you do not have enough information about the candidates. Tools such as, a website by an independent non-profit organization, enable you to search the voting records and positions of your federal and state representatives and their opposing candidates. You also see how groups from Clean Water Action to the New Jersey Taxpayer Alliance rated the candidates.

The first step is registering to vote. The next step is to become a regular seen at the polls. Whatever your politics, the next midterm congressional election and state elections are Tuesday, November 4, 2014. Election information for candidates and voters is always provided by the New Jersey Department of State. In New Jersey, there are two public questions on the ballot that could amend the New Jersey State Constitution, if passed by a majority of voters.

Ballot questions are just as important as voting for candidates. Ballot Question No. 1 is an amendment to allow a court to order pretrial detention of a person in a criminal case. That is, no possibly of bail. Ballot Question No. 2 would dedicate state revenue for open space, farmland, and historic preservation, and change existing revenue dedication for water programs, underground storage tanks, and hazardous site cleanups. A ballot question next year could consider whether the state should allow casinos in northern New Jersey.

Get to the polls. Be there, rain or shine. Your vote could be the difference.

Sports Betting: The Pros vs. the Amateurs By Deborah M. Figart

On August 11, 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made the right call when he vetoed the Legislature’s bill (S2250) to move forward with sports betting in New Jersey. The Governor’s veto was spot-on for two reasons—though not exactly the same reasons he cited. One has to do with the implications of flouting federal law. The other has to do with the treatment of amateur versus professional athletes.

First, flouting federal laws. In his public statement, Governor Christie noted that sports betting is contrary to the 1992 federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), that bans sports betting in all states except those four that authorized it prior to 1992: Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon. According to the American Gaming Association, Nevada is the only state that is actually placing sports bets in casinos. (The other three states have experimented with sports lotteries.)

Under PASPA, New Jersey had the opportunity to be “grandfathered in” with a special loophole designed explicitly with Atlantic City in mind. The federal law gave states with a ten-year history of casino gambling up to a year to jump in and authorize sports wagering. Meeting the 1993 deadline would have required an amendment to the state constitution, but the effort was stalled in the State Assembly. The one-year window was lost. Any attempt to institute sports betting now would, as the Governor made clear, violate federal law.

Of course, states scoffing federal laws is becoming a trend, starting with states that are ignoring federal drug laws. Beginning with California in 1996, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have authorized marijuana to be dispensed for medical purposes.  Colorado and Washington have gone a step further and legalized marijuana for recreational use. Such sidestepping of the Controlled Substances Act (1970) is taking the “states rights” stand too far. It undermines the fabric that knits us together as a nation and sets a dangerous precedent.

But don’t assume that I am opposed to the medical and recreational use of marijuana. Quite the contrary. The federal legalization of marijuana, like the passage of the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that repealed the 18th Amendment prohibiting sale of alcohol, would be a boon to our sluggish economy.

The U.S. alcohol industry contributes over $400 billion to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and supports million of workers. One economic study estimates that legalizing marijuana could add over $100 billion to GDP. Analysis by the Tax Policy Center suggests that legalized marijuana could add $9 billion per year to federal and state tax revenues.

So while states have been great laboratories for experimenting with a range of important legislative reforms—from the early minimum wage laws in the 1910s to marriage equality a century later—these initiatives were pursued within parameters set by federal law and Supreme Court rulings. The sports betting initiative just isn’t comparable. And once New Jersey adopted the practice, would other states have eventually followed us in skirting federal law? Which law would be next? The Civil Rights Act of 1964?

The second reason Christie was correct in vetoing sports betting in New Jersey is that the proposal did not differentiate between professional and amateur athletics. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I amateur athletes have recently stepped up their complaints over the way that some universities make money off of their performance as well as their names and likenesses. Think about all that ticket and television revenue, plus football and basketball jerseys and other memorabilia sales. Protesting their treatment (are scholarships and per diem travel monies enough?), Northwestern University football players have sought to form a labor union. This past April, the players cast secret ballots in an official union recognition election. Results are not yet public.

The NCAA is officially opposed to wagering on college sports. I agree. Amateur players do not get paid. Creating a business based on amateur athletes, on top of universities taking in revenue from their performances, is a line we should not cross. I love completing my March Madness basketball brackets for women’s and men’s teams. We should encourage informal pools of friendly competition and fantasy leagues. I applaud the college players who are standing up and questioning the money being made off of their backs and I applaud the NCAA for looking into what they can do to improve the living standards of these players.

But let’s draw a line with sports betting. Allow wagering on professional sports, not amateur sports. Amateurs are competing for the love of the game, the collegiality, and the leadership-building skills —and, yes, college scholarships, too. Only a handful will garner opportunities for professional careers. Pros are paid (relatively) handsomely in individual and team sports, from their earnings/winnings and from endorsements. Professional athletes have agents. They understand that it is a business. Sports betting can be a part of that business.

So no sports betting in New Jersey for now. The governor is straightforwardly accurate to accept federal law. Indirectly, though, the decision to stop sports betting in its tracks also allows us to pause and reconsider wagering on professional versus amateur sports.

A Renewed Focus on Working Families By Deborah M. Figart

A Renewed Focus on Working Families By Deborah M. Figart

President Obama addressing the White House Summit 6-23-2014v2A panoply of policies—from raising the minimum wage to paid family leave—to help Americans better balance work and family “shouldn’t be bonuses, they should be part of our bottom lines.” And “twenty-first century families deserve twenty-first century workplaces.” These were two key phrases from President Barak Obama’s address delivered to the White House Summit on Working Families. I had the honor of being invited to attend this event alongside roughly 750 policy makers, business leaders, academic experts, and activists on June 23, 2014, in Washington, DC.

The President made two policy announcements at the event.

First, he would return to the White House and sign a presidential memorandum to require all federal agencies to expand access to flexible work schedules. The federal government is the nation’s largest employer with 2 million workers on the payroll. Only 15 percent of them (300,000) work in the nation’s capital. (Walmart is the nation’s largest private sector employer with 1.4 million workers in the U.S.) The Obama Administration seeks to demonstrate that the federal government can serve as a model employer, just as the President has done with two other recent initiatives: raising the minimum wage for federal contractors and making pay transparent by prohibiting retaliation against workers for discussing their salaries with one another.

Second, President Obama pointed to the difficulty faced by some adults covering child care costs while considering federally-funded job training or retraining programs. Working parents, he argued, should not have to choose between taking care of their children and trying to train for a new career. To make it easier, the President announced that he asked Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez to make available technical training grants to low-income individuals training for in-demand industries.

I was very interested to hear from panelists from a wide variety of businesses in the U.S., including CEOs from accounting firms, a craft brewery, a bookstore, restaurants, technology firms, and entertainment companies. These leaders detailed aspects of their workplace policies and programs to help employees balance work and family. Each one discussed how their policies have helped recruit new talent, lower turnover, increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and increase profit. One executive said that in her company, when she offered unlimited sick time, the usage of sick time actually declined!

What realized these efforts, according to the business leaders, was not merely the commitment of the top of the organization, like the CEO and the Board, but the middle of the organization. When middle manager performance was tied to how well they were helping employees achieve balance, businesses did better at achieving this goal. A phrase repeated several times was that “employees bring their whole selves to work.” They just don’t shut off their home lives at 9:00 am and pick them up again after work.

As an economist, I wanted more than anecdotes. So I was keen to hear what Betsey Stevenson, member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, had to say. She reviewed the empirical evidence on the impact of family-friendly policies on the economy and the business bottom line. The evidence is summarized in a series of new fact sheets and reports published by the Council of Economic Advisors, with titles such as “Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility,” “The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave,” and “Nine Facts About American Families and Work.”

President Obama is obviously frustrated with the gridlock in Washington. And the President recognizes that turning a bill into a law takes time. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, signed by Bill Clinton, was first introduced in 1985. He is utilizing tactics to try to move policy along as much as his executive powers allow without the legislative branch. It also seems to me that he employing skills from his early career as a community organizer, acting as “Organizer in Chief.” That’s because his initiatives can only be sustained in the long run if policies discussed at the White House Summit become dinner table conversations around America that lead eventually to legislative action at the state or federal level and/or voluntary changes in how businesses operate.

Dr. Deborah M. Figart is a professor of Education and Economics in the School of Education and a Contributing Policy Analyst for the Hughes Center.

“Washington Redskins”: Time for a Name Change

“Washington Redskins”: Time for a Name Change

By Deborah M. Figart

The sport of football has a lot of things on its plate. Retired players with dementia. College players that want to unionize. And then there is the Washington Redskins, a team whose owner Daniel Snyder refuses to change its name.

In its Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc. decision on June 18, 2014, pending any appeal, the United States Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the team’s trademarks on the basis that it is “disparaging to Native Americans.” Royalties from the Redskins name and their maroon-and-gold brand will plummet. Sales of copycat shirts and merchandise will not be prosecuted, and sales revenue will not go to the NFL and therefore be shared across all teams, including the Redskins.

Words matter. They have meaning. They conjure up images. Culture evolves. What was once acceptable in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual identity may no longer be legal and/or tolerated. “Washington Redskins” is a name that is passé—oh-so-twentieth-century, and even eighteenth century. The original pro team was not even named that. They were the Boston Braves in 1932. One year later, the new owner changed the name to the Redskins, and the team moved to Washington in 1937.

Changing a team’s name when it relocates is not unusual. The Tennessee Titans were originally the Houston Oilers. In fact, the original football Titans were the New York Titans, renamed the New York Jets in 1963. Imagine: Joe Namath might have won Super Bowl III, one of the greatest upsets in football history, as quarterback of a team called the Titans!

The Charlotte Hornets NBA team initially took their name with them when they moved to New Orleans. When the New Orleans team became the Pelicans, the Hornets name was available. Charlotte Bobcats team owner Michael Jordan changed his relatively new team’s name back to the Charlotte Hornets.

Professional teams have rebranded themselves for other reasons as well. Names that have evoked guns, violence, and sin were dropped in favor of more positive terms. Baseball’s Houston Astros were once the Colt .45s. And the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and now just the Rays. Basketball’s Washington Wizards were once the Capitol Bullets.

The Redskins have an opportunity to reboot and rebrand. It should be seized and not feared. Doing nothing is not costless, especially with the trademark decision. A name change would instead be profitable for the team and the NFL.

Of course there are legal costs to rebranding any team, such as securing trademarks, ordering new uniforms and equipment, new signage, etc. According to a recent Washington Post article, these costs would amount to less than $5 million for the Redskins. But a reboot could result in millions and millions of dollars of new merchandise sold. The fan base may expand wider than Washington, DC, to fans who would proudly wear a logo whose name was no so offensive. Sports branding experts, like Anthony Fernandez quoted in the Washington Times, agree that new markets and new business would result from a name change.

When the NBA’s first openly gay player, Jason Collins, signed this past season with the Brooklyn Nets, I bought a Jason Collins tee shirt. I was not the only one. Millions were sold on the NBA’s website, making it the #1 or #2 selling jersey for several months during the season.

My Jason Collins shirt is black, the color of the newly branded Brooklyn Nets, who changed uniforms when they moved from New Jersey to New York. Black is cool. Sports teams have been adding black to appeal to their fans. So what new color mix might a newly rebranded Washington team wear in the NFC East, a division with the Giants, the Eagles, and the Cowboys? How about black and orange—which would really be black. After all, “Orange is the New Black.”

Dr. Deborah M. Figart is a professor of Education and Economics in the School of Education and a Contributing Policy Analyst for the Hughes Center.


87% – NJSpotlight


June 13, 2014

While Washington politicians argue whether to provide more access to a college education financially, almost all (90 percent) New Jersey college graduates believe it was worth the cost, according to the Stockton Poll of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy. Yet, 87 percent of those polled believe change by colleges is needed.

The poll showed that most Jersey college graduates believe that going to college changed their life — primarily (33 percent) that it led to a better job or specific skills (9 percent). But they also said it led to a better understanding of the world (22 percent) or to becoming a better citizen (7 percent).

Yet if colleges want to improve the value of their degrees, they should provide more practical experience like internships (33 percent) or better career counseling (19 percent). Other ideas to increase value include better academic counseling (17 percent) and a more focused education (11 percent).

Opinion: Next Up on the Bridgegate Hearings Agenda – Finding an Exit Strategy

Opinion: Next Up on the Bridgegate Hearings Agenda – Finding an Exit Strategy

Carl Golden | June 13, 2014

Wisniewski & Co. have been fair-minded and diligent, now’s the time for closing arguments

carl golden

Carl Golden

For the select committee investigating last September’s access-lane closings at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, the Legislature’s budget break comes at an opportune moment. It affords the committee and its staff several weeks to review what it has learned in the past six months, assess the value of the information gleaned from subpoenaed documents and under oath in personal testimony and, most importantly, devise an exit strategy.

While Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the committee’s cochair, indicated it would reconvene sometime in mid-July to hear additional testimony from as-yet unnamed individuals, the six-week delay will further sap the investigation’s momentum.

There have already been signs of an increasing weariness with the investigation and its cost, and it will be a difficult task to regenerate interest in it in mid-summer when attention is focused on long planned family vacations rather than following a political drama that has lost much of its drama.

Wisniewski has led the committee admirably, maintaining its focus and demonstrating his skill as an interrogator. In the face of concerted attempts by committee Republicans to force a suspension of the panel’s work and defer to the United States Attorney, Wisniewski’s calm demeanor kept the investigation from deteriorating into a partisan political brawl.

The hard reality, however, is that after months of hearings and scrutinizing tens of thousands of pages of memos, emails, and phone logs provided by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the governor’s office, there has not been a shred of credible evidence directly implicating Gov. Chris Christie or his top staff in the madcap plot to close the access lanes.

Each of the administration witnesses has related the same story: They knew nothing in advance about the scheme prior to its implementation, were not involved in any way in its planning or execution, and were shocked by the disclosures. Despite differences in specific dates or timelines, the core of their testimony emerged unshaken.

In point of fact, their testimony cemented the administration’s case that the closures were the brainchild of former Port Authority staffer David Wildstein, that former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly was aware of it, and that former Christie confidant and campaign manager Bill Stepien had some level of involvement.

The administration has stuck steadfastly to its account and, for the most part, it has held up — considerable cynicism, skepticism, and outright disbelief notwithstanding.

They all accepted the initial representation by Wildstein and former Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni that closing the lanes — or “realigning” them as the two preferred to characterize it — was part of a traffic study that had gone awry due to a failure to inform local officials and law enforcement.

Their story unraveled quickly when Authority engineers claimed the study was altogether bogus and was slapped together by Wildstein without any of the normal planning and preparation that precedes such studies.

Despite warnings and early evidence that the lane closures were a cover story to disguise an attempt at political retribution and that governor’s office personnel had knowledge of it, the top staff failed to pursue the issue beyond a perfunctory “we’re looking into it,” and asking other staff members whether they knew about it.

It was largely dismissed as a Port Authority issue, rather than an administration matter, and could be ignored.

Wisniewski and his Democratic colleagues on the committee voiced their incredulity that, in spite of the intense media attention and speculation, no one in the administration undertook to determine what had occurred.

The committee, as one member expressed it, was “curious about the lack of curiosity.”

While that conclusion is understandable, the more likely explanation is that the administration’s strategy was to keep the issue at arm’s length, confine it to the Port Authority and out of the governor’s office, and play for time in the belief that it would be overtaken and swept aside quickly in the crush of other more pressing matters.

That strategy collapsed, producing a major political uproar and career-threatening scandal with the revelation of the “time for traffic troubles in Fort Lee” email from Kelly to Wildstein.

    In developing an exit strategy, Wisnewski is in an excellent position to recite what the committee’s activities have revealed:
  • An administration that chose to disregard growing evidence of possible misconduct and abuse of government power in its ranks.
  • An administration obsessed with securing political advantage to an extreme point at which a part of the governor’s office became a partner in his reelection campaign, pushing relentlessly against and arguably exceeding the boundaries separating official duties from political involvement.
  • An administration in which an ugly mindset had taken root, one which not only encouraged beatdowns of political opponents, but celebrated them.
  • An administration in which the number of “I don’t recall” or similar responses suggested that amnesia had become a communicable disease.

Wisniewski deserves much credit for standing firm in the face of mounting political pressures. Had it not been for his perseverance, none of the foregoing would have been become widely known, nor — and perhaps most importantly — would the United States Attorney have begun an investigation.

Leading a legislative committee investigation into actions of the executive branch controlled by the opposition party is a task that requires sober judgment, a clear-eyed sense of balance and proportion, a recognition that an end has been reached and a conclusion necessary.

Wisniewski has demonstrated those qualities. Now is the time to take advantage of the Legislature’s preoccupation with the state budget and secure his committee’s place as having carried out its duties in a responsible and fair-minded fashion.

U. S. attorney Paul Fishman is waiting in the wings.

Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.