Sunday, March 03, 2013

Almost cut my hair

People, we almost lost the semi-sacred KPC monthly tradition of Christina Romer writing an Economic View column in the NY Times and then me mocking it here.

Almost but not quite.

Almost,  because 90 percent of the column about the minimum wage makes total sense.

Not quite because of the following two passages:

1.  some minimum-wage workers are middle-class teenagers or secondary earners in fairly well-off households. But the available data suggest that roughly half the workers likely to be affected by the $9-an-hour level proposed by the president are in families earning less than $40,000 a year. So while raising the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour may not be particularly well targeted as an anti-poverty proposal, it’s not badly targeted, either.

Yikes! What a low bar Romer has for government. A program that under the most charitable of definitions only hits an intended target less than half of the time is "not badly targeted"?

The official "poverty line" for a family of 4 is $23,000. So less than half of the policy effects hit a population defined as almost double the poverty line. Even for our poor blind doddering Uncle Sam, that is shitty targeting.

2. Then there are the last two sentences of the piece:

And pre-kindergarten education, which the president proposes to make universal, has been shown in rigorous studies to strengthen families and reduce poverty and crime. Why settle for half-measures when such truly first-rate policies are well understood and ready to go?

Please note that pre-K had not been mentioned at all in the previous 16 paragraphs of the op-ed. Only in the penultimate sentence does Romer pull the pre-K rabbit out of her hat, informing us that "rigorous studies" show it reduces poverty, among other wondrous things. She links to a review article which does not present any evidence that pre-K reduces poverty!

Yes, the EITC is a much better targeted and effective anti-poverty program than is the minimum wage. Good on Romer for saying so. But throwing in universal pre-K as a "well understood and ready to go" poverty reduction program is what kept our KPC tradition alive for another month at least.

I feel like I owe it so someone.

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