Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Census reports poverty down, health insurance coverage down too

Yesterday the Census Bureau reported that the poverty rate fell for the first time this decade, while the number and percentage of individuals who report they have no health insurance rose in 2006.

Declines in self-reported insurance coverage among African Americans and Hispanics were responsible for the overall rise in the uninsured.

Health insurance is a funny thing in this country, because for many workers and companies, it's basically optional. One manual laborer I knew once said that she didn't need health insurance because she never got sick. She also may have had a larger family or extended family and thus a larger informal support network. But mostly, I think the reason she had no insurance was because she was an independent contractor and probably faced relatively high rates on her own.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Gains to marriage, divorce, and NYC real estate

Maybe the next standard topic of New York conversations will be coupling or decoupling and how it's tied to real estate prices. The Times reported on divorce and capital gains in housing last week.

Apparently couples frequently do see marriage as an economic institution, or at least one that is constrained by financial considerations, among others. When housing prices rise and increase wealth, they facilitate divorce. Gary Becker is quoted as finding this consistent with his vision of marriage as an economic arrangement, with benefits that could be eroded or overshadowed by other events like an unexpected windfall in wealth.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New Demography Institute

The City University of New York has a new and vital component, the CUNY Institute for Demographic Research, or CIDR for short.

CIDR will be the new focal point for demographic research in the City University system, and it will provide an interdisciplinary setting available to researchers in and around New York. Look for our inaugural seminar series at the CUNY Graduate Center this fall.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Political and demographic tides

The September issue of The Atlantic contains an article about political futures in the U.S. in which the author cites the increase incidence of divorce and fractured nuclear families as presaging greater political appetite for interventionist policies. The idea is that without as many close family members to provide non-market insurance, people might increasingly look to the state to provide insurance against economic and other vicissitudes.

This viewpoint is certainly not without historic parallel, even if it is a stretch to assume outright that children of divorcees are destined to be Democrats. As Gary Becker and other have described, the evolution of the family during the last several centuries went hand-in-hand with the rise of market-based substitutes for traditional family roles. One could also see the rise of the modern welfare state as an endogenous response to the declining role of the extended family.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Women's work in Japan

Today's New York Times features an article on female labor force participation in Japan that discusses some of the challenges facing Japanese society. Aging in Japan is further along than elsewhere in the industrialized world, so in one sense their experiences offer a preview of what may await the rest of us.

Japan's labor force is already shrinking in absolute size, and it will continue to shrink as a result of smaller birth cohorts --- due to lower fertility --- replacing the aged.

As the Times article points out, you would think this kind of problem might facilitate greater female labor force participation. The nation needs more workers; where else will it get them? But unfortunately, the economic forces for change seem to be at least somewhat restrained by social pressures against change. It sounds like it is extremely difficult to be a female employee in Japan because of glass ceilings and issues with childbearing and maternity leave.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

An inversion of the gender gap in wages

Queens College's Andy Beveridge is quoted in the Times as revealing evidence that in 2005, the median annual wage for young full-time female workers in several big cities was perhaps $5,000 more than males in the same category.

The article cited a lawyer who speculated the reason might be that females are more driven to begin their careers earlier in life, in order to be well established before engaging in childbearing. It would be interesting to see whether this kind of life-cycle compression really could be seen in data.