Posts Tagged ‘Brookings Institution’

Rising Gas Prices Send Americans to Mass Transit

Monday, March 19th, 2012

American public transportation ridership rose 2.3 percent last year as gas prices rose to their highest-ever annual average, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).  The 10.4 billion trips recorded last year was the highest since 2008, when gas prices hit more than $4 a gallon nationwide for seven weeks in the summer.

APTA said economic recovery, that sees more Americans commuting to and from work, added to ridership.  Approximately 60 percent of commutes are for work.  Greater use of smart-phone apps, which “demystify” schedules for riders, also boosted ridership, the APTA said.  Increases in public transportation were reported in communities of all sizes and among light rail, subway, commuter train and bus services, the APTA said.  The largest increase — 5.4 percent — occurred in rural communities with populations of less than 100,000, said Michael Melaniphy, APTA’s president and chief executive.

Spending on public transport totals in the region of $50 billion a year, Melaniphy said.  Funding for public transportation is split nearly 50/50 between federal dollars from the gas tax, money from state and local property and sales taxes, and ridership fees.

In Boston, where unemployment has fallen two percent since the beginning of 2010, ridership rose four percent last year to an average of 1.3 million passenger trips a day on weekdays, said Joe Pesaturo, of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Because of the recession, transit agencies were forced to operate more efficiently and better care for existing systems and equipment, said Robert Puentes, senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.  That has resulted in better service.

In terms of specific modes of transit, light rail (including streetcars and trolleys) led with a 4.9 percent increase.  This was followed by heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) at 3.3 percent; commuter rail at 2.5 percent; and large bus systems at 0.4 percent.

It’s ironic that these increases occurred despite the fact that transit agencies have had to increase fares and decrease service because of budget cuts, according to Melaniphy. “Can you imagine what ridership growth would have been like if they hadn’t had to do those fare increases and service cuts?”

Minorities Driving U.S. Population Growth, Congressional Redistricting

Monday, February 14th, 2011

The results of the long-awaited 2010 U.S. Census are in and reveal some interesting statistics.  One is the fact that 85 percent of the nation’s population growth over the last 10 years is attributable to minorities – primarily Hispanics, who make up the gains made in states that will add new seats in the House of Representatives. Early results also indicate that the number of multiracial Americans climbed approximately 20 percent since 2000 to more than 5 million individuals.

“The growth of the Hispanic community is one of the stories that will be written from the 2010 census,” Census director Robert Groves said, previewing major demographic trends, including the movement of many minorities from cities to suburbs.  We should see a big difference from 2000 to 2010.”  E. Mark Braden, a former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee who now advises state governments on redistricting, agrees noting that “There are going to be a lot of additional Hispanic officials elected when redistricting is done.”

The minority growth seen in the 2010 Census is the largest in generations.  Only the influx of European minority immigrants – primarily Italians, Poles and Jews – towards the end of the 19th century rival it in scope, said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.  “The new engines of growth in America’s population are Hispanics, Asians and other minorities,” Frey said. “But it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  For the under-18 population — potential voters in the not-too-distant future — minorities accounted for virtually all the growth in most U.S. states.  Political strategists and advocates, especially in growing states, cannot afford to ignore this surging political wave.”

Four of the eight states that are gaining House seats as a result of the 2010 Census owe approximately half of their population gains to Hispanics.  They include Texas, which picks up four seats; Florida, which adds two seats; and Arizona and Nevada, which gain one seat each.  In Georgia and Washington, which are picking up one seat each, Hispanics and other minority groups represent a majority of their growth since 2000.

Among states losing House seats, Louisiana and New Jersey each would have posted a net population loss, and Michigan would have seen more significant declines, if it hadn’t been for Hispanic growth.  Latinos also made up nearly 60 percent of the growth in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa and Massachusetts — each of which loses a House seat.

Not surprisingly, minority births are driving diversity.  Record levels of births among minorities over the past 10 years are moving the United States a step closer to a demographic milestone in which no one group commands a majority, according to Census estimates. Minorities accounted for nearly 49 percent of births in the year ending July 1, 2009, a record high level.  “There are more than 500 counties which have a majority of minority children,” says Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute.  “The population is changing to minority from the bottom up.”

Federal Reserve Comes Clean on Who Received Bailout Money

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Federal Reserve Comes Clean on Who Received Bailout MoneyAt the instruction of Congress, the Federal Reserve has released the names of the approximately 21,000 recipients of $3.3 trillion in aid provided during the financial meltdown –without doubt the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Not surprisingly, two of the top beneficiaries were Bank of America and Wells Fargo, who received approximately $45 billion each from the Term Auction Facility.  American units of the Swiss bank UBS, the French bank Societe Generale and German bank Dresdner Bank AG also received financial assistance.  The Fed posted the information on its website in compliance with a provision of the Dodd-Frank bill that imposed strict new financial regulations on Wall Street.

One of the biggest surprises on the list is the fact that General Electric accessed a Fed program no fewer than 12 times for a total of $16 billion.  Although the Fed originally objected, Congress demanded accountability because there was evidence that the central bank had gone beyond their usual role of supporting banks.  In addition, the Fed purchased short-term IOUs from corporations, risky assets from Bear Stearns and more than $1 trillion in housing debt.

Reactions to the revelations are both positive and negative.  On the positive side, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker said “We owe an accounting to the American people of who we have lent money to.  It is a good step toward broader transparency.”  Sarah Binder, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, disagrees, noting that “These disclosures come at a politically opportune time for the Fed.  Just when Chairman Bernanke is trying to defend the Fed from Republican critics of its asset purchases, the Fed’s wounds from the financial crisis are reopened.”

Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) said “We see this (list) not as the end of a process but really a significant step forward in opening the veil of secrecy that exists in one of the most powerful agencies in government.  Given the size of these commitments, it is incomprehensible that the American people have not received specific details about them.”

Half of Americans Worry About Making Mortgage Payments

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Approximately 53 percent of all Americans are concerned that they will not be able to pay their mortgage or rent.  A recent Washington Post poll found that 53 percent of all Americans are concerned that they will not be able to pay their mortgage or rent, despite the fact that they believe the economy has shown some improvement since the dark days of 2008.  The worry is driven by slow job creation, said Karen Dynan, who served as a Federal Reserve economist and on George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors.  According to Dynan, “The unemployment rate is still very high, so if you think of it as being about the odds of someone losing their job and not being able to find another there’s good reason to be concerned about being able to make mortgage payments,” according to Dynan, who is now co-director of economic studies at the Brookings Institution.

More than half of Americans want the Obama administration to impose a moratorium on foreclosures on homeowners who are unable to make payments.  The president and his economic advisors oppose the idea, saying it is dangerous to a housing market that is still on shaky ground.  The push for a moratorium is driven primarily by people’s worries about personal finances and the economy as a whole.  Not surprisingly, the people most worried about making their payments are strong supporters of the moratorium.  Compounding the situation is the fact that several lenders – notably Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial – were found to have significant errors in some of their foreclosure documents.  Of those polled, 52 percent support the moratorium, while 34 percent oppose it.

So who do Americans think is responsible for the foreclosure mess?  The mortgage lenders are to blame, according to 45 percent of poll respondents; 26 percent thought that homebuyers who purchased beyond their means are the guilty party; another 20 percent blames both sides.  Cara Habegger of Akron, OH, summed up the last point of view.  “Certainly they are both at fault.  Most people tend to blame the big institutions and that’s valid but if you’re making poor financial decisions and buying houses you can’t afford, that’s also not excusable,” she said.

Anthony Downs On Financial Reform

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Anthony Downs discusses the ins and outs of financial reform.  The nation’s financial system needs significantly more regulation than exists now.  The lack of tough regulatory powers strongly impacted the recent financial crash and the Great Recession that ensued.  The good news is that the Obama administration is moving firmly in this direction with financial reform legislation a critical item on its agenda.  This is the opinion of Anthony Downs,  a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and former President of the Real Estate Research Corporation.  In a recent interview for the Alter NOW Podcasts, Downs said that between 1980 and 2007, the value of international capital markets – including bank deposits, assets, equities, public and private debt – quadrupled relative to the world’s GDP, lifting millions of people out of poverty.  Although unprecedented, this growth relied heavily on borrowed money to finance higher living standards and highly leveraged loans with limited reserves backing them.  In the end, the growth was unable to be sustained.

The financial reform legislation currently undergoing reconciliation by a Senate-House conference committee is not a reinstatement of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act – which separated investment and commercial banking — because banks will still be allowed to deal with securities.  Under the new law, banks will have to register derivatives with some type of formal exchange and maintain records on who is borrowing money and under what terms.  This marks a significant change from before the Great Recession, when derivatives were traded with virtually no oversight.

Downs believes that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan contributed to the financial crisis in two ways.  In 2001, when Greenspan was informed that there was fraud in the subprime housing market and that he should do something about it, he refused to take action because he didn’t believe in regulation.  According to Downs, “that was a terrible mistake and meant that all the horrible loans made in the subprime market could continue unchecked.”  Greenspan’s second error was to maintain low interest rates for as long as he did at a time when an enormous amount of capital was coming into the United States economy from overseas.  Because investors were avoiding the stock market, they put their money into real estate.  That drove the price of properties sky high and destroyed the concept of intelligent underwriting and evaluating the risk before approving the loan.

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Texas’ Big Economy Sets the Stage for Post-Recession Growth Surge

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Texas leads the recovery.  Is there something special in the water in Texas?  After surviving the Great Recession in relatively good shape, the Lone Star State can claim that it has more jobs than it did two years ago, as well as the lowest unemployment rate of the 10 largest states at just 8.3 percent.  According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the state has created more jobs in the private sector – 724,300 in December of 2009 alone — than any other state in the last 10 years. Boasting the world’s 11th largest economy, Texas reported a gross state product (GSP) of roughly $1.25 trillion during 2009 as it expanded its presence in knowledge-based industries.  Additionally, Texas leads the nation in export revenues for the last eight years, shipping $163 billion in product last year.

“Texas, so far, is the big winner,” said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.  “Big Texas metros are doing well because they avoided a lot of the pitfalls of the housing boom and bust.”  Frey specifically points to Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston as high-growth cities with expanding economies, particularly in energy, technology, government and education.  Austin, Dallas and Houston are expected to experience a seven percent job growth rate over three years.  San Antonio, which is close to four military bases, is expected to experience an 8.32 percent increase in employment over the next few years.  What sustained Texas through the recession?  Civic leaders think it was the diversified economy, low taxes, reasonable regulatory rules, government incentives and funding, as well as a skilled, highly educated workforce.

Austin, for example, has long been a magnet for entrepreneurial businesses that thrive in Texas’ capital. “There’s an old saying in Austin:  If you come here and can’t find a job, start a new business,” notes Rebecca Melancon, executive director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance.  Austin’s Small Business Development Program is extremely supportive of would-be entrepreneurs with databases to research demographics, free counseling and even classes on how to operate a business.  Additionally, the “Keep Austin Weird” support for unique cultural events supports local businesses.  “The biggest thing our city does to promote local business is not something that city hall does.  It’s our culture.  We don’t want to be Anywhere, U.S.A, and we work hard not to be,” Melancon said.

Downsizing Detroit

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Philanthropic dollars are helping to shrink Detroit to half its current size in an effort to save the city.  Detroit is undergoing a radical downsizing – the most ambitious urban makeover in American history – that will shrink the city’s current 139-square-mile footprint to approximately half that size as abandoned neighborhoods are consolidated and returned to productive farmland. Mayor Dave Bing, a former Detroit Pistons player and All Star, is determined to shrink the city because it can no longer afford to serve its dying neighborhoods.  In addition to neighborhood consolidation, failing schools are being closed; money is being invested in new-economy job creation to counteract Detroit’s 25 percent unemployment rate; and improvements are being made to the inadequate public transit system.

Bing has brought in urban planner Toni Griffin, whose salary is being paid with a grant from the Kresge Foundation, to oversee the Motor City’s transformation.  Other foundations are contributing to the city’s makeover.  For example, Data Driven Detroit (DDD), which recently completed a plot-by-plot analysis of the city, is backed by both the Kresge and Skillman foundations.  “The foundations are making investments to augment the capacity of government,” according to Bruce Katz, founding director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.  “They’re pooling funds to take on a monumental task, which is, how do you begin to change the trajectory of an entire metropolitan community?”

This enormous task is not without controversy.  The Michigan Citizen compared the effort to a “modern day ‘Trail of Tears’ for Detroiters”.  Mayor Bing remains optimistic:  “I think the city and philanthropy organizations will continue working together.”  Charles Pugh, Detroit City Council president, agrees, noting that “Detroit is a textbook case of a city that needs this kind of assistance, and we welcome it with open arms.  I’m jumping up and down.”

Migration Leads Thousands to Georgia, Arizona, Despite Recession

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Arizona, Georgia and Texas lead the nation in new household formations.  Arizona, Georgia and Texas are the growth centers in terms of new residents in the last few years, according to an Associated Press analysis of Internal Revenue Service migration data. The IRS compared the states where taxpayers filed their returns from 2007 to 2008 to arrive at their conclusions.

Texas led the nation, with 62,827 new households; the largest number of families moved there from California and overseas.  Georgia ranked second, with 37,559 new households, many of whom moved there primarily from Florida and New York.  Arizona reported a net gain of 20,300 new households, with the majority relocating there from California and Michigan.

The IRS statistics indicate that Americans are not moving much at present, with the annual migration rate at 11.9 percent – the lowest number in decades.  United States Census Bureau estimates released at the end of 2009 confirm the IRS numbers.  According to the AP analysis, counties with better-educated taxpayers typically see the highest county-to-county migration gains.

“People who move tend to be younger and have lower incomes,” according to William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.  “Normally, if there is a big influx of young people, that could pull down the income of an area; and if there is a big outflux of young people, that can raise income in an area.”

TARP Savings Could Finance Jobs Program

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Returned TARP funds could finance jobs creation program.  The $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) cost $200 billion less than originally anticipated,  according to a new Treasury Department report.  That reflects faster repayments by big banks, as well as less spending on rescue programs as the financial sector recovers more quickly than expected.

And it’s good news for President Obama’s new job creation stimulus.  In a speech delivered at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution,  President Obama outlined a wide-ranging plan to create jobs that could be partially financed by the $200 billion in TARP funds that the government now expects to get back.

Among the job creation proposals detailed by President Obama are:

  • A tax cut for small business to encourage hiring.
  • Eliminate capitals gains on these businesses for one year.
  • Redirect leftover TARP money to support small business growth.
  • Invest new money in rebuilding roads, bridges and other infrastructure improvements.
  • Start a “Cash for Caulkers” plan that would give rebates to people who make their homes more energy efficient.

“Small businesses, infrastructure, clean energy:  these are areas in which we can put Americans to work while putting our nation on a sturdier economic footing,” according to President Obama.  “That foundation for sustained economic growth must be our continuing focus and our ultimate goal.”

The President’s proposals require Congressional approval.