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Comparing unemployment statistics

by Colman Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 04:47:59 AM EST

Bumped by Jerome. Good conversation ongoing

One of the key complaints levelled against the European social and economic model by corporate capitalists is that it causes high unemployment. The examples chosen are generally France and Germany who are compared against the US.

Before we concede that EU unemployment is substantially higher than in the US we need to examine the numbers cited. Often the official national numbers are used despite the fact that they differ fundamentally on what they measure and how they measure it. Reporting the German rate as 12% and the US rate as 5.1% is lazy, clueless and dishonest work. The official German rate includes people working less than 15 hours a week but who want a full-time job as unemployed while the headline US figures count anyone who works for even one hour a week as employed.

I'm going to mostly use the OECD numbers, which are based on internationally agreed labour standard surveys. Eurostat, who are responsible for co-ordinating the EU surveys, define unemployment as

Unemployed persons are all persons who were not employed during the reference week, had actively sought work during the past four weeks and were ready to begin working immediately or within two weeks.

The first point to make is that the EU-15 rate from the September 2005 is 8.0% vs. a US rate of 5.1%, which is a rather smaller difference than the comparison normally chosen.

The normal comparison listed is

2005 Q1 9.7% 9.7% 5.3%
2005 Q2 9.6% 9.7% 5.1%

which appears to prove that the US has a much lower unemployment rate than France or Germany. How comparable are these numbers?

A 2000 paper from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics examined this and noted the following systematic differences between the way the US and other countries implemented the ILO standards for the labour force surveys:

  1. Passive job seekers were included in EU figures and not in US figures. Passive job seekers have looked in the newspaper for jobs but not taken any other action to find a job.
  2. People waiting to start a job are included in the EU, but not included in the US.
  3. The period of availability differs: in the US you only count as unemployed if you are available to work within one week. The EU use a two-week window.

Sorrentino concluded that, based on the limited information available, correcting for these differences would have made about a 0.5% difference to many EU figures, especially the French and German numbers. I can find no information on how current figures would be affected.

Two obvious structural issues affect the comparability of the numbers:

  • The US has 0.8% of it's population (not labour force) under arms, while in Germany and France only 0.3% of population serve in the military. The OECD figures are for civilian employment only, so that's 0.5% extra of the population removed from the labour force.
  • The US has 0.7% of the population in jail compared to 0.1% in the European countries. I think it is fair to speculate that most of that 0.6% extra jail population would show up in the unemployment figures.

We could hypothesise that these two factors might add a further 0.75% to the corrected US unemployment number, raising it to around 6.5%-7%.

A further complication, and probably both the most profound and most difficult to correct for, is the treatment of "marginally attached workers":

persons who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work recently.

I believe that the welfare systems in the EU tend to keep people in the official system so that I would expect the numbers of marginally attached workers to be lower 1 which could raise the unemployment figure substantially.

The OECD figures do not include these people and it seems very hard to correct for. The best I can do is compare German official figures, of 11.5% to the US U-6 figure (which includes the marginally attached and those working part-time for economic reasons) of 10%, which if you adjust as suggested above looks awfully similar. This is, of course, a comparison without any rigourous basis.

As an aside, and has often been said around these parts, the German unemployment figure includes a 20% unemployment rate in ex-East Germany's and a 7.5% rate in the old West. Germany is still paying the price for re-unification.

Also as an aside, a brief issued earlier in the year by Katharine Bradbury, Senior Economist and Policy Advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, caused rather a stir when she suggested that the US unemployment rate could be understated by 1% to 3% on the basis that labour force participation rates had not recovered in the way that they had in previous economic recoveries. I don't recall seeing a good refutation of this brief, but I may have missed it.

In any case, even the OECD standardised unemployment figures are not directly comparable, but they do show that while unemployment in the US is probably somewhat lower than in "Old Europe" the differences are not as massive as often suggested and certainly don't support the argument that the European social model is much worse than the US model on employment.

  1. My Google-fu is insufficiently well developed to find actual numbers to support or undermine this belief.. The best I can do is that the 1995(!) numbers show the rate of discouraged workers in the US to be 6 times that of France and three times that of Germany. Help from any of you technocrats with your fancy economics degrees would be appreciated here.

This is part of my Frivolous Friday series. Next week: "how to gnaw your own leg off".
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 10:51:59 AM EST
Excellent post, Colman. I'll be curious to see what others bring to this discussion. This damn issue ALWAYS comes up in a conversation around these parts, so a good start at really trying to lift the lid on this, and look at what is inside. This will have to go into our Wiki, for reference purposes....

Thank you!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 11:01:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great post Colman, I've been able to read through it and understand it (I guess) without my mind going blank, like it did during statistic-courses at the University.

Why is it so difficult to use the same system in all countries - is it on purpose? This way everyone can pretend they look better or worse off because of the system used to collect the data. Or is it just not possible to use just one system in all countries?

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 12:57:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Max Sawicky over at Maxspeak weighed in on this, and brought a pessimistic NYTimes 12,5 percent estimate for German unemployment down to a more realistic 7,5 percent.

High German Unemployment: Reporting is half the problem

Quote: "The problem with this reporting is that it refers to the official German government definition of unemployment. This definition of unemployment treats anyone who is working less than 15 hours a week, and desires full-time employment, as being unemployed. By contrast, the U.S. definition treats anyone who worked even a single hour in the reference period as being employed. It would really be incredible if a fulltime reporter stationed in Germany did not know the distinction between these two definitions."

I leave it to the Germans in this discussion to correct Sawicky if he's wrong, but it's good to see an American economist looking with some scepsis at these "official" statistics flying around.

by olddoc on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 06:29:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hopefully without being prickly :-) here are a couple of related comments.

There was rejoicing here at Eurotrib earlier today when the German and French unemployment numbers were reported, but the numbers can be interpreted differently depending on how you use the statistics--and were done so in the English-language press.

In the German case, a change in the statistical method means that "Unemployment in Germany, Europe's largest economy, jumped in September as people who'd been removed from the Federal Labor Agency's register at the start of the year were reclassified as jobseekers." By the old rules there are fewer unemployed, but by the new rules, more.

In the French case, unemployment fell if you used the national recording method, but stayed the same if you use the International Labor Organization standards.

So there is certainly some bending of the rules going on in this whole area.

It seems to me that trying to define exactly what you mean by "unemployment" is pretty tough. A highly paid consultant who is temporarily between contracts is a completely different situation from an unskilled laborer in a weak economy--yet both may be grouped together. And there is the complexity of how to count "working in the home" as employment; surely a mother at home caring for her young children is "working" just as much as the daycare center worker doing the same tasks. This even feeds into the "looking for work" issue, because I know at-home mothers who would work if they could find a job that paid enough to cover daycare costs, but many jobs don't.

It is a statistical nightmare.

by asdf on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 12:48:19 PM EST
Yep. That's why I was recommending the OECD figures, which are based around the ILO standards, while at the same time pointing out that even they aren't directly comparable.

Most of the  reporting ignores these issues. It goes back to a comment someone made - I think in my Bad Science posting - that the business reporting was the only stuff that wasn't bad. That's not true. Even the business reporting is rubbish.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 12:53:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Uh, no!

In the German case, a change in the statistical method means that "Unemployment in Germany, Europe's largest economy, jumped in September as people who'd been removed from the Federal Labor Agency's register at the start of the year were reclassified as jobseekers." By the old rules there are fewer unemployed, but by the new rules, more.

Following the "old" rules unemployment in September 2005 went down around 150,000 people. According to the new rules, unemployment went only down around 80,000 people.
But I´m sorry to say, it didn´went up. :)
Not according to media reports in Germany at least.

And as you said, we are counting unemployment differently. In Germany someone working 14 hours a week and willing to work a fulltime job is counted as unemployed. While in the USA someone working - in the worst case - 1 hour a week is counted as employed.

So comparing the numbers is difficult.

Just keep in mind that if you´re officially unemployed in Germany, you´re entitled to unemployment benefits. I wonder if that´s the same cases in the USA?

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 05:02:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is unemployment "insurance" in the U.S., paid for by companies based on their history of employee layoffs. The formula is pretty stingy and varies from state to state. Where I live the maximum amount is about $400 per week, depending on your recent pay history. The coverage expires after some period, maybe six months.
by asdf on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 07:09:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How is this kind of insurance called? I don't understand who is insured against what? Is the employer insured against employees trying to sue the company for being wrongfully fired or is the employee insured against being fired wrongfully at will ? Or are you simply talking about the Federal and State Unemployment Taxes paid for by the employer for the employees and the benefits that are paid to enemployed, if they meet the unemployment eligibility requirements?
by mimi on Thu Oct 6th, 2005 at 12:45:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you hold a job in the US you pay Federal and State Unemployment tax, but the benefits you get, if you lose your job, especially if you haven't worked yet a long time, are so low and are not paid very long, so you wouldn't be able to survive on those. So people work in any job for low hourly wages, which you can find more easily than in Germany, because of the different labor laws, less strict licenses  and opening hours of stores etc.

As Americans don't expect anything else and are used to move from job to job, they handle this pretty well. Europeans expect different and don't know anything else than what they have. So, when they are confronted with US labor market conditions and are not well educated professionals, they usually think that the US is not the place of their dreams.

Of course that is completely different for any immigrant from Asia, Latin America or Africa. Those immigrants are simply happy to make any money at all and usually their family structures are still that much in tact that they are doing well. Everybody is working and everybody goes to school somehow, slowly but they go despite the tuition costs.

by mimi on Sat Oct 1st, 2005 at 10:05:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Could you provide some facts and data for your statements: "in the US you pay Federal and State Unemployment tax, but the benefits you get, if you lose your job, especially if you haven't worked yet a long time, are so low and are not paid very long".  Like, how much is paid in, how much is received back?
by wchurchill on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 01:29:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the US has fifty states in which you can work and pay unemployment tax to, in addition to the Federal Unemployment Taxes.

I give the example for DC. Federal Unemployment Tax are 0.8 percent of your first $ 7,000.00 of your yearly salary. In addition you pay DC Unemployment Tax of 1.6 % of your first $ 9,000.00 of your yearly salary.

here and here some DC Info .

I don't know how regulations are in Germany, but in DC you must have worked for at least a year, must have lost your job without yourself being at fault.
I don't know in detail the eligibility requirements and I think they differ from state to state and it's a bit too much to ask that I research it here.

In DC you can't apply for benefits unless you lose your job without being yourself at fault, it means that if you get fired or if you are forced to accept to resign "deliberately", you have no way to apply for unemployment benefits as in both cases, getting fired with fault or accepting to leave deliberately, which is then also your own fault.At least that's how I understand the rule.

You seem to be eligible for unemployment benefits only, if your employer laid you off, because he is financially unable to continue to pay you a salary.  

I don't know if that is the same in Germany, I doubt it. According to this German site anybody who has at least worked for one year - and payed during that year unemployment taxes - within the last three years. There are no condition which make your eligibility dependent as to why and how you lost your job, it seems.

The amount of the benefits and the length they are paid out depends on how long you had worked and paid unemployment taxes. gives you an overview that states that if you paid unemployment tax for two years in your previous job, you will get unemployment benefits for one year.

When your eligibility for unemployment benefits are exhausted you still can apply for unemployment help, which are benefits lower than unemployment benefits.
I would say this goes a bit too much in detail and would cost me quite some time to come with all the links and information.

The difference to the US seems to be mainly in the eligibility requirements and in the different labor laws concering being employed "at will" in the US without formal work contracts and labor law protections against "firing" someone "at will" from one day to the other.

May be Detlef knows more about the current regulations in Germany and also how long they are paid out. I think they have changed these laws lately.

So, I see a big difference between the requirements an American must fullfil to be eligible for unemployment benefits (and thus most probably also to register as unemployed) vis a vis a German. In the US it is dependent on why and how you lost your job. In Germany it doesn't seem to be the case.

by mimi on Wed Oct 5th, 2005 at 02:41:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just to address your very first point here, you state, "the US has fifty states in which you can work and pay unemployment tax to, in addition to the Federal Unemployment Taxes."  However, this creates a misleading impression that these amounts are generally paid by the individual worker.

The Federal Unemployment Tax, at an effective rate of 0.8% (maximum $56 per year) is paid solely by employers, not workers, and is not counted in, nor deducted from, an employee's wages.  With the exception of three states (Pennsylvania being the only one of the three I could find), the state unemployment taxes are also imposed entirely on employers.  And the totals borne by employees are tiny -- for Pennsylvania in 2004 and 2005, the maximum was $7.20 per year, which is pretty close to an insignificant sum; in 2003 it was $1.60; from 1997-2002, it was zero.

Unless one contends that amounts paid by employers on behalf of their workers constitutes a "hidden" income tax on employees (a favorite argument of the extreme right, by the way, in their drive to completely unfetter businesses), unemployment taxes in the U.S. should be seen in the same manner as Workmen's Compensation taxes:  as part of the ordinary cost of running any business with employees.

by The Maven on Wed Oct 5th, 2005 at 07:09:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're correct, Maven.  I think the confusion comes in because, in my experience, social security is usually listed as a FICA withdrawal and, if you ask employers what it's for, they'll tell you it's the Federal Insurance Contribution Act for social security and unemployment.  I think mimi's central point, however, was that unemployment benefits usually aren't that great and don't last very long.

This whole thing brings me back to the point I made before about Republicans capitalizing on this problem.  I think there are real problems that the American poor and working classes are facing, but it's extremely difficult to discuss these problems with people on the left because of depredations that have been done by the right under the rhetoric of low taxes.  Any discussion about the tax burden on the poor triggers defensiveness (I'm not directing this at you, Maven, you're comment just brought it to mind).

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 5th, 2005 at 09:17:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course, one could propose a tax on the rich that improves the situation, but the Democrats don't do that because they are beholden to their rich contributors...
by asdf on Thu Oct 6th, 2005 at 08:51:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, I was aware of that. But I didn't mention it, because I think the issue I was commenting to was to find differences between Germany and US eligibility requirements to register as an unemployed and to apply for benefits.

The question was raised that I made general comments about length and amount of the unemployment benefits in Germany to be higher than in the US and I tried to respond in several comments to bring in some data about that.

That the unemployment contributions are made in the US by the employer and are not deducted from the employee's gross salary wasn't something I thought about in this context. Is it important (to the unemployed benefits receiver) who paid the unemployment taxes, when you just want to compare the difference on the amount and length the benefits paid out to an unemployed persons in Germany and the US?

by mimi on Thu Oct 6th, 2005 at 12:31:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose I was just getting a bit confused by such references as "If you hold a job in the US you pay Federal and State Unemployment tax", which I took to imply that the worker was responsible for the payment on these taxes.

Without spending too much time wandering afield from your basic point regarding differences between German and U.S. benefits and application requirements, I think that it is relevant to some degree "who paid the unemployment taxes".  Very briefly, here's why:

  1. Since unemployment taxes are essentially invisible to the worker, it's practically impossible for that worker to gauge whether any benefits they might be unfortunate enough to have to receive are truly at a proper or sufficient amount.
  2. As the tax burden in the U.S. rests solely with the employer, this has long been a source of resentment among business owners (especially smaller employers) which makes itself an issue at Chamber of Commerce meetings and generally causes those small business owners to ally politically with anti-tax and anti-worker Republicans, who promise to "ease up on regulations that stifle the great engines of job creation in America".
  3. In Germany, the unemployment tax is 6.5% of gross income -- with a fairly high ceiling -- divided equally between the employer and the worker (this is more than half the figure paid in the U.S. for Social Security taxes).
  4. Because the tax burden in Germany is shared between worker and employer, there is less incentive for businesses to attempt to minimize the tax rate through legislation or regulation; any movement in that direction would be instantly obvious to the employees as posing a potential direct harm to their benefits.

Sorry for getting a bit carried away here, but these differences in who pays the tax I think does end up having a lot to do with the nature of the benefits in each of the countries.  In the U.S., it is often the high cost of "hidden" taxes on business that is cited as a reason for layoffs.  Since the workers don't see this, they don't realize that a) they have a major stake in the issue, and b) this may be why their benefits are so low.  In Germany, by comparison, it seems like it would be difficult, if not impossible, for each worker to be keenly aware of these things.  With that knowledge, any discussion of potential changes can become precisely the type of hot-button issue in Germany as changes to the Social Security system would be for the U.S.
by The Maven on Thu Oct 6th, 2005 at 03:05:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I actually was wondering why SS und Medicare Taxes in the US are paid by the employer and employee, but the unemployment taxes only by the employer. I wouldn't mind to pay my share unemployement taxes as an employee, if the US would adjust the eligibility requirements for the unemployed to apply for them.

You are very right. Thanks for explaining too the differences in the payment modalities in Germany vis a vis the US.

by mimi on Fri Oct 7th, 2005 at 03:53:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I disagree with your first point. Anybody can go to their state unemployment site and see what they would get if they were to lose their job.

And you find out that the answer is "not enough."

The system is set up so that couples with both partners working are generally ok. If one person loses their job, the other can at least buy groceries even if they have a pretty low income. Most large payments (house and car) can be deferred for several months before things come crashing down. I lived next door to someone who made no mortgage payments for two years--the bank put up with it because their other choice was to foreclose and end up with a house to dispose of.

by asdf on Fri Oct 7th, 2005 at 06:37:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
German joblessness jumps to 4,83-million on revised figures  

NUREMBERG -- Unemployment in Germany jumped this month as people removed from the Federal Labour Agency's register at the start of the year were reclassified as job seekers, the agency said yesterday.

Unemployment numbers, adjusted for seasonal swings, rose 39000 from August to 4,83-million.

Economists had expected a decline of 12000, according to the median of 26 forecasts in a Bloomberg survey. The jobless rate rose to 11,7% from 11,6%. It reached a post-Second World War record of 12% in March.

Labour market figures have been climbing since the start of the year, when German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government added welfare recipients to the jobless rolls, cut entitlements and allowed cities and towns to opt out of the federal system.

The changes swelled the number of registered job seekers a total of 483000 in the first quarter, compared with an average monthly increase in unemployment of 10200 last year.

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 01:42:15 PM EST
Did something change in the legislation in Germany during the last ten years or so with regards to numbers of how many of those listed seeking a job, really seek a job and accept the offers they might get? Can listed unemployed refuse to take a job that has been found for them?

I remember that very many unemployment people rather got into some free job training programs to prolong their time to be electable for unemployment or social security benefits and worked "schwarz" in addition to make themselves an acceptable way of living. Is that still the case?

by mimi on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 02:03:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Yes, the statistics changed January 2005.
Till December 2004 the unemployment statistics only included "unemployed" workers. And not the people living on social benefits. That inclusion probably added around 100,000 people?

Some of them might actually earn less if they work in an official job instead of them staying unemployed?

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 05:22:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
did you crosspost this on an US blog?

I must save your article and have it handy, when someone in the US has the need to get all upset about those terrible economic problems and the high unemployment rates in Germany to make himself feel good.

Nobody likes to believe me, when I say that someone unemployed in Germany has a very good life compared to someone, who doesn't work in the US and who doesn't appear in their unemployment statistics. I don't like to say this too bluntly on other blogs, because it hurts too many feelings, but it is the truth.

In the US people who work are often homeless and live in shelters or in their cars. In Germany people who don't work have housing, living and educational subsidies and have health insurance. The problem is that Germans expect to have this social security net and become extremely upset easily when the net seem to have some small holes and may leak. The angst is creeping in very fast.

The Americans don't expect much other than not being betrayed too obviously, so they seem to accept or look the other way when people who work still can't make a living with that money and pay their own rent.

Those numbers tell you nothing about people's lives.

by mimi on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 01:57:14 PM EST
I didn't post it on a US blog, though I was half-thinking of cross-posting to Booman and dKos. I might let people here beat up on it a bit before doing that!

You're right about how meaningful the numbers are.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 02:07:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well of course we do!

First of all, first tertiary education, your first trip to an university is free. We do pay taxes for it.

Second, we do expect that everyone in Germany got health insurance. Even the thought that some citizens of the G-7 (most developed countries in the world) don´t have health insurance is totally foreign to us!

Third, if you and your family are unlucky, we care about you. You will get social benefits (and if necessary the rent).

Problem is that we heard from a lot of people that we can´t afford that kind of "social market".

Which is bu**shit in my opinion. :)

My father died when I was 14, my mother died when I was 17. So I was depending on the social services in Germany for my education. :)

Heh, guess what?
I was able to enter the (technical) university of Aachen. I didn´t have to pay anything for my education. And I got an interest-free loan to pay for my living expenses. (I´ll pay the last part of that loan back in December 2005.)

You know what?
They spend a few thousands Euros on me. My tax returns (not counting my student loans) probably already paid for it.

Given my personal experience I believe in the German social security net.It´s entirely up to you to decide if it works in the Southern Gulf states...

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 06:32:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You comment as if I would be in disagreement with what you said. Did your comment was in response to mine?

Sometimes I wished to explain to Americans some things about our security net, especially free education. How would Germans have gotten their education after WWII for their children, if we had US-like conditions?

Nobody had anything, many lost fathers. I have had altogether six half-orphaned cousins who all went to university and got degrees. If they had been in the US, according to what they had, they would have been classified as blue collar and most probably never "made it".

My own niece, whose father died early - she was considered half-orphan, here in the US was considered blue collar, just because there were no income to show for. She was really amused. Considering in what kind of household she grew up, nobody in Germany would have dreamt to put her in the "Arbeiterklasse".

The hardest thing for me to "get" and accept is the fact that Americans don't want to admit that their educational system is not fair to low income people. I have no idea why Americans don't revolt against it, are not ashamed of what they are doing to their lower income class. It's obviously not good for the morale of many Americans.

If a system of ours would work in the Gulf States? What are you getting at here? Of course it would, but nobody is interested in implementing it. Basically I don't know what exactly it is that is different in the financing of public education in the US and in Europe that it's possible to establish free education in European countries, but not in the US.

by mimi on Sat Oct 1st, 2005 at 09:06:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you have a bit of an exaggerated view of how bad it is in the U.S. For example, the starting wage as a cashier at Home Depot is around $10 per hour, or $400 per week, or about $20,000 per year. This is starvation pay if you have a family, but if you have a working couple that's $40k a year which certainly covers rent and groceries--and the junk car we were talking about recently.

There are people sleeping in cars, but I doubt that they're also working...

by asdf on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 07:19:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A few years ago, I was talking with the director of a charity that distributes free food, and she said that 100% of her client families had at least one person working.  Unfortunately, if they are working 20 hours/week at $7/hour, then that will not support a family.
by corncam on Sat Oct 1st, 2005 at 07:31:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
well, $ 20,000.00 a year for a single adult, means net around $ 1,200.00 per month for an 8 hour/day job.

A student, who doesn't want to share a room with someone else has at least to calculate $ 600.00 per month in rent. In any major US city you don't find efficiencies anymore under $ 850.00 per month. Add $300.00 fixed costs for a car (you can't survive without a car in the US - you can very well in German cities), gasoline, telephone, internet, TV and electricity and you have, if you are lucky $ 150.00 left for food.

On an average the tuition costs per month is well over $ 2,000.00 plus for the cheapest public university. Include outrageous prices for necessary books around $ 500.00  per semester and don't even start thinking about a private university. In addition I ask myself how any sane person can really study after a full-time day job without falling asleep.

The difference is that European parents don't have to include immense sums of money for their children's education in their budget.

I have very much respect for American students who often go through unbelievable tough schedules (timewise) of work and study at the same time. That doesn't mean that I think it's good neither for the work nor for the studies.  

Let's talk then about single women with babies, who work. I don't know how they live, but certainly not on their own. If they work in minimum wage jobs, I don't know where they leave their children to be taken care of, because there are no public baby nurseries and kindergardens. What time does a working mother have, who is alone and poor to bond with her child?

If two people live together and both work, you can make enough. If you are alone you are forced to share a room with another adult. I am just saying, people apparently survive and manage somehow such living conditions, but those  are certainly very bad ones. I rather live in a poor third world country than being a poor single mother with a child in the US. There at least almost everybody is poor and they know and still have a support net in extended families etc. But in the US? No thanks. Never.  

There are people who live in cars while looking for jobs. Books have been written about it by women, who managed to have job interviews and appear showered and with clean clothes at the interview after an ordeal to find a public place to wash themselves and keep their clothes clean. They won't tell you, but it exists. Those who went through such an ordeal usually are strong enough to get out of such situations as well.

Of course the real problem is that many are too "kaputt", addicted or mentally too unstable to be able to hold a minimum wage job. But that's another issue.

Unemployment statistics are worth as much as nothing. They don't tell you how the unemployed really live their daily lives. Many Americans live from paycheck to paycheck and if disaster strikes - like getting sick without having health insurance - it can destroy you. That is not the case in Europe. It's not comprehensible to me why Americans don't revolt against the lack of any common sense  security net that covers people from the worst, homelessness through joblessness and bankruptcy through sickness.

Sorry, this was a bit unorderly comment jumping from one thought to the next.

by mimi on Sat Oct 1st, 2005 at 09:49:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mimi, I've been reading your comments with interest and share your frustrations and bafflement with the American system (even though I am American).  Your description of your nephews in Germany "making it" mirrors my experience of watching my cousins in Britain.  

You read all this stuff about the American Dream and the land of opportunity, coupled with depressing tales of the bad economies of Europe, and when you look at reality, things just don't match up.  Life can be brutal in the US for the lower classes in ways it simply is not in some European countries.

You ask why we don't revolt?  Because we're alone, divided, and lied to.  We're constantly told there is no class here.  If we're having problems, it's not because of poverty or the system.  It's because of them -- the minorities, immigrants, women, elderly, disabled, criminals, gangs, rural Southerners, inner-city dwellers -- whoever you are, there's someone else to blame.

Because there is no real poverty in America, doncha know.  It's not that bad or not widespread or statistically irrelevent but certainly not systematic.   Ah... sorry.  That was all sarcasm not directed at you.  But I am frustrated and tired from arguing.  So many of our political problems, both national and global, are explained by poverty.  

It would probably do a lot of good to discuss systemic poverty in the US, both to help solve our own problems and to warn countries who may be admiring or adopting some of our economic policies, but it's a difficult discussion to have when few people believe the problem exists.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 1st, 2005 at 11:04:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess all of our experiences are different.  I have several European friends who are working in the US because they feel they can make far more money, and have upward mobility based on their job performance greater than in the UK or France (where they are from).  Both say they expect they will retire back to Europe, due to family and higher quality of life.  A Swedish friend did very well, and actually moved back to Europe in his late 30's, taking his lucre with him.

A lot of these personal stories are so related to individual circumstances.  Another acquaintance, on the other hand, took her child and moved to Scandanavia (I think Norway) where she claimed she was getting free education and full support--had to learn Norweigen.  That sounded like such a good deal I was suspicious of her story, but maybe it's true,,,,,

by wchurchill on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 02:16:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's an excellent point -- our system is great for those on the top or in the upper middle-classes.  This is why it looks so attractive and why I feel it's so important to discuss the hidden part.  Yes, a person can make a fortune here -- but what is that fortune built on?  

The kind of wealth you're describing -- the kind where a company can pay a worker enough to retire comfortably at 30 is absolutely based on a horribly inequitable class system.  You cannot support the top like that without what amounts to slave labor of some sort or fashion underneath it.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 02:51:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I meant to say in his 30s, not at 30.  Sorry!

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 02:59:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
these three friends all came from lower class to lower middle class families.  they were attracted by the opportunity and upward mobility.  as they perceived it, they thought these opportunities were much better over here.  felt that class barriers would restrict them in their respective countries--though in Sweden I believe it was not class, but tax structure.  (and the guy going back at 39 was a very, very unusual case.  very talented and hardworking guy, not doubt, but things just went his way in the dot.com, and he got out before the crash.

so these individuals would absolutely disagree with your point on class structure.  they came here to avoid the Europen class structure (2 out of 3 anyway).

sorry my previous post was not clearer on that point.

by wchurchill on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 03:44:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not saying Europe doesn't have a class structure -- of course it does.  And America supposedly doesn't which is why we find it so easy to deny things.

Perhaps my definitions of lower- middle- and upper- classes are different from yours?  In any case, I assume your friends had some benefit from European social structures that allowed them to work here -- education, job training, skills, experience? -- things that may not be obtainable for large chunks of our own population.

I'm sorry as well that I may not be making my distinctions correctly.  Our system does work very well for large amounts of people, not necessarily rich, but it works for them because it is so unfair to others.  It depends on a huge... what they call the underclass and say is not a widespread problem.  

For this population, the advantages your friends no doubt brought to the table are unobtainable for all practical purposes.  We deny this population exists, is that bad, or is caused or enforced by our own system.  In other words, it's not a problem and if it is, it's because of something else.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 03:57:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I just came across this perfect example of what I'm talking about.  In the BooTrib diary They Passed the Babies Forward about New Orleans, Shanikka left a comment and linked to a Wall Street Journal editorial.  Her comment and DTF's reply describe the situation I've been speaking about.  

Here we have this horrible disaster that has exposed a real problem -- thousands of people without transportation or means to evacuate.  Left to drown and starve when no one would help them.  Surely this is so big that it can no longer be denied, right?  The problem is exposed, there for all to see.  But the WSJ makes sure to reinforce the prejudice instead of looking at the problem.  As quoted in the comment:

. . . We have rediscovered the underclass. Newspapers and television understandably prefer to feature low-income people who are trying hard--the middle-aged man working two jobs, the mother worrying about how to get her children into school in a strange city. These people are rightly the objects of an outpouring of help from around the country, but their troubles are relatively easy to resolve. Tell the man where a job is, and he will take it. Tell the mother where a school is, and she will get her children into it. Other images show us the face of the hard problem: those of the looters and thugs, and those of inert women doing nothing to help themselves or their children. They are the underclass.

. . . The government hasn't a clue. Versions of every program being proposed in the aftermath of Katrina have been tried before and evaluated. We already know that the programs are mismatched with the characteristics of the underclass. Job training? Unemployment in the underclass is not caused by lack of jobs or of job skills, but by the inability to get up every morning and go to work. A homesteading act? The lack of home ownership is not caused by the inability to save money from meager earnings, but because the concept of thrift is alien. You name it, we've tried it. It doesn't work with the underclass.

. . . the statistical reality is that people who get into the American job market and stay there seldom remain poor unless they do something self-destructive. And behaving self-destructively is the hallmark of the underclass.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 04:12:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
i agree that there is a problem with our underclass.  And it can be heartbreaking.  My personal experience here is more on those with addictions, or with psychological issues that aren't being addressed.  Those are very difficult, and we don't have good solutions today--though lots of good efforts made by many with drug and alcohol treatment programs.

I have been looking unsuccessfully for something I read in that post on  Scandinavia among Most Competitive Economies.  They talked about successful welfare to work programs in the Scandanavian countries that had allowed them to distinguish themselves from France and Germany in this area.  i thought there might be some good ideas for us as well.  But i couldn't find what I was looking for.

But I'm not a proponent that the US has anywhere close to the perfect system.  I think the US can learn a lot from the European systems, and vice versa.  I just wish that we had better fact bases among the systems so they could be compared, and mined for ideas, in a more thoughtful manner that would yield results.  There tends to be a lot of flame throwing when these areas are discussed, though not really on this site--which I find more thoughtful and open to discussion than others I have been on.

Maybe we'll develop some of this here, as some of the other posts have pointed us to shared databases, like the OCED, and an attempt at the New Left Economic Manifesto, that might lay our case out in a more fact based way.

by wchurchill on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 05:33:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ok, let me then say, what I think as a European looking around myself in the US, IS the problem with the US underclass. The problem is that people don't get out of their class easily.

And because they can't get out of it easily, they get overly depressed and burdened with psychological problems. If you are a white poor or a black poor, both are burdened over their capacities and both have different ways to cope with it or not at all. You sound as if you just haven't found the way address those addiction problems, without giving a thought why those problems are so widely spread in the first place. The poor are not only deeply depressed, they are also immobile and forced into hopelessnes.

Many things are historically different. Germany (I think this is specific to Germany only) had a class society before WWI and WWII, where the aristrocracy still had money aside from societal power and political influence.

After 1945 Germany found its "nobles" shopping and looking for a roof over their head and something to put on the table the same way as their poorer and less noble neighbors or their poorer comrades they met in the POW camps in Russia and elsewhere. Somethings stay the same for humans, having been Nazi or not. Being in the same boat in times of war, ie. being poor and defeated was the same independent of which class you used to belong to before Hitler times.

Their "wealth" was levelled (gone). Everybody had to start from zero. Classes were destroyed in Germany, not the mindset, but the property of the upper class was gone as well as the property of the lower class.

Education was expected to be free in the 1947/48, because nobody had anything anyhow and it HAD to be free. It was also the first time, when women started to go to the universities in larger numbers, because they pretty much had learned during the war to fend for themselves and now often needed it even more, because men were MIA or POWs.

So when I grew up in the fifties and early sixties, there was no doubt that I would get a university education the same way as my brother. My mother never got considered for such an education by her father, because there was no money and she was considered to marry early and be a housewife. In my elementary school class in the fifites MANY girls didn't choose to reach for the highschool track that would have lead them on to a university track, because their working class or lower middle class parents had still a mindset of the 1920 to 1930. This changed dramatically by the sixties.

Most of the students in Germany in the fifties were extremely poor, but they could become whatever they wanted for free as long as they could handle the academic part. It would have been out of the question for Germans to accept a US-style educational system, which systematically denies the poor equal access to higher education or fiddles around with a little grant here, a little grant there for a couple of "alibi" minorities. In fact the tuition costs we still had in the fifties in Germany were completely eliminated by the end of the sixties, whereas in the US the poor and minorities had still to fight to get access to education for completely different reasons, aside from the fact that they also haven't the equal opportunities for economic reasons.

In the US affirmative action was absolutely necessary to at least try to level the playing field for the minorities and poor, civil rights came about only in the sixties. That was pretty late compared to European civil right standards.

So, if you ask me, the US has huge catch-up to play when it comes to educate their masses with excellence and true fairness and equal access for all. That's why the US classes stubbornly exist and will remain to exist, and why it's dividing the population in a painful unfair way.

What makes the whole thing even more remarkable, is that massive propaganda has convinced the majority of Americans that someone who doesn't make it in this country, is at fault all by himself. The denial of facts and the ruthless brainwashing propaganda of the haves vis a vis the have-nots is so socio-psychological sickening that vast parts of the population have serious psychological problems on top of just economically being poor.

by mimi on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 08:05:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I must be brainwashed, because that's sure not how it looks from this side of the pond.

There are plenty of examples in American politics and business where people moved up from the lower class. Obvious recent examples include Harriet Miers (nominee to Supreme Court), Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, etc. Conversely, John Kerry had a big problem trying to overcome his "spoiled rich brat" reputation. (Bush did a much better job of it!)

It would be interesting to find out whether there are senior politicians in Europe with comparably plebian backgrounds. Blair is a bad example, as are Chirac and Villepin. Gerhard Shroeder is perhaps an example of a middle class politician without an elite education? Perhaps also Sarkozy? I don't know enough to tell.

by asdf on Fri Oct 7th, 2005 at 07:02:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As I said in another comment, it is quite easy to move around if you're already above a certain level.  Under a certain level is almost impossible to get out of.  A few do, but they are usually really exceptional.

Out of your examples, the only one who I would say possibly came from this sort of background is Bill Clinton and I would also say that his intelligence and charm put him firmly in the category of "exceptional."

The other three came from solid backgrounds, not poor.  Cheney and Miers both had fathers with good employment and stay-at-home mothers.  Rice was the only child of two teachers, one who became a minister and who had ties to the Powells.  You're correct that these are not silver-spoon backgrounds, but certainly not impoverished and not from the underclass that's been discussed here.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 7th, 2005 at 08:02:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem for me to research the so-called class background of the childhood of today's German politicians or even the ones, who were one generation before me (ie born before WWII) is that there wasn't much class division left in Germany after WWII.

I would say every German was poor and borderline to a "blue collar worker" for some time after the war, at least til 1953. They all had experienced periods of hunger. At one point in time they even had all the same amount of money (Waehrungsreform 1948), they all lacked an "education", they sacrificed that for our dear leader as well in WWII.

What kind of "elite education' do you expect the German "kid soldiers" in WWII to have gotten other than may be a blown off limb and a "struggling widowed mother thereafter"?  

We don't have "elite education". We don't have private universities. All public universities are basically of same quality. In the fifites and sixties you still had some departments at some universities who stood out because of some "famous" scientists or philosophers, but that's it. Nobody in Germany would ever use the term "elite education" for a small group of its pool of people that had a university education. Education in Germany is not the entrance driveway to the "upper class". I bet you, almost noone is aware of the "class" background of our politicians, because there isn't much class. (oh, that is fun to say)

I don't know anything about France and England, just that I know their upper class was not destroyed by WWII. Germany's upper class (old money aristocrats) was. So, there might be a difference between Germany and other European countries, but honestly, I doubt it would be much. Since five decaded higher education is free in Europe. The poor people could get education and have taken advantage of it. Nobody seriously looks at your class background.

US media constantly "make a point" that everybody can be whatever he sets his mind to in the USof A. So, for a political candidate, it is really "of some use" to come from "modest beginnings", for media purpose. But all of that has really nothing to do with today's "peristant underclass of poor" in the United States, speak "ghetto kids, often lost to gangs and drugs and crime, and single moms in public project housing, rural folks, who can't get out of their mobile homes anymore, because even working two jobs sometimes doesn't make it happen and it sure doesn't pay the kid's kindergarden and college education.

Rice' parents were not poor, they might have been of modest means, but clearly not poor. She was very much loved and guarded by her parents. And I resent the fact that candidates have to sell their lifestories to the media consultants, so that they can weave a myth about the candidate for public consumption.

Clinton's life-story was way too much oversold on the convention. These were (and are) pretty fancy and shameless marketing tricks to enhance the candidate's sympathetic personality for the voters to buy into.

Making it as a politician out of the poor underclass doesn't guarantee that the political ideas supported by such a candidate are socially more compassionate, more fair and democratic, liberal, progressive or altogether morally decent, at least not in Germany.

I can name you one good example amongst German politicians who came out of the poor underclass, Hitler. So ... I guess let's not look at the class of a candidate, but rather look for a candidate's potentional to be "a class act". And it shouldn't be his money that makes him capable of pulling "a class act" show, fabricated, produced and broadcasted over the media landscape by his campaign consultants.

If their money and their ethnicity and religion wouldn't play a role (as they according to the constitution really should not) why would class and money play a role at all? But they do - in the US. They are talking all day long about it.

by mimi on Sun Oct 9th, 2005 at 01:22:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Chirac is not a bad example actually. He comes form a very provincial middle class background. He went "upper class" by succeeding at ENA and then marrying his aristocratic wife, but he started fairly low. Same thing for Alain Juppé, his first prime minister in 1995-97 who was, IIRC, an orphan from the lower classes. Mitterrand was middle class; his last prime minister , Beregovoy, was the son of Ukrainian immigrants and miners.

The French educational system is actually pretty good at unearthing local talent, even if it comes from the lowest classes, and push them into the Grandes Ecoles. And once they get in that, they are part of the elite, whatever their background was.

Of course, the children of the elite (and the children of teachers) who know the system and can help their children navigate it better have a better chance of getting in, but the really, really bright kids will always be brough to the top like they deserve.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Oct 9th, 2005 at 07:15:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, but what is different in the French educational system with its few, but distinct elite schools like the ENS and ENA, is that they are still free of cost, but very, very competitive to get into to, right?

This is why their system is really good to provide an elite education to everyone, who has an extraordinairy mind independent and unburdened by their parents capability of paying for this education. German universities don't produce an elite, neither intellectually, nor financially. I think France does.  

The difference to the US is that their system of elite universities, which more or less guarantee you an entry to highly paid and powerful positions and careers is burdened by the cost factor. Though they always pick a couple of "low income and minority students" through complicated somewhat systematic, but still not uniform or standaradized  methods, which is compared to French mechanisms rather unfair.

To prepare for elite universities in the US, you have to get into "elite" highschools, which you find mostly in "elite neighborhoods" of very well to do upper middle class families, all clustered geographically and clearly separated from lower middle class, working blue collar or poor neighborhoods. Even if you might find similar separations in Europe (mostly the division is between immigrant working class and the locals), it's not that much of a division as it is in the US.

We spoke here about the underclass, the real poor, which means today the class of broken, out and down people, who have given up and given in to all sorts of self-destructing lifestyles on top of being simply of very low income.

This class is the one you have difficulties to change in the US today. Whereas the older generation and the generation of the civil rights movement had a lot of hope, later options and strength to work themselves out of poverty, today there is few hope, fewer options and little strength left in many of them. I just see more people who silently and decidedly have given up on themselves and kids who disintegrate emotionally.

I think it's a development not older than ten to twenty years or so. People used to believe in upward mobility and fair opportunities for all. I don't think they still do today, even if they don't admit it.

Nevertheless the US produces a lot of politicians, who come from families of modest income and humble beginnings. It would be nice to know, if among the Republicans and Democrats especially among subgroups of conservatives and right wing libertarians or Christian fundamentalists and core moderate Democrats and leftist, progressive and decidedly very liberal Democrats there is a signigican relationship between their ideological view points and the income level of their parents and grand parents.

by mimi on Mon Oct 10th, 2005 at 10:08:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Geesh, I didn't proofread. I hope I still can be understood.

This paragraph should read: "The difference to the US is that their system of elite universities, which more or less guarantees you an entry to highly paid and powerful positions and careers is burdened by the cost factor. Though they always pick a couple of "low income and minority students" through complicated somewhat systematic, but still not uniform or standardised  methods, they are compared to French and German selection mechanisms rather unfair."


by mimi on Mon Oct 10th, 2005 at 10:15:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems to me that there are several things mixed together here. Perhaps when they're untangled there won't be much difference between Europe and America.

Over here there are certainly a few elite universities, the Ivy League schools. If you can manage to get accepted to one of them, the tuition is not really an issue because they are all very well endowed and provide generous scholarships. And after you get out you're in good shape. Harvard, in particular, feeds into government.

At the next level down, the "really good" schools are where you have to pay big bucks to attend. Then at the state level the schools are pretty inexpensive and pretty much anybody can find a way to pay for them. They aren't strictly "free," but there are a lot of ways to find the required money.

An associated issue is the social aspect of valuing education. Universities generally have few black students, way out of proportion to the population distribution. But they have a lot of Asians, also out of proportion, but in the other direction. This seems to be related to how much value is placed on education by various social groups, since there are affirmative action programs for blacks and reverse discrimination problems for Asians.

Another point is that you can go to a state university here and still end up as vice president, Cheney being the current example. But that seems possible in Germany also, and possibly in France. (Not sure about Britain.)

There is also the issue of how you define "class." Does class = money? There are poverty stricken titled aristocrats in Britain. And the Kennedy family in America was pretty low class until a whole lot of money sort of magically appeared in their bank accounts during prohibition. Clinton certainly wasn't poor in the most extreme sense, but now he rubs elbows with the rich and famous. At least in America there is no formal class structure with titles and heredity, although certainly you get a big boost if you have rich parents.

I have personal contact with three types of "upper class" people. One group is the old-time upper class, who had great grandparents in government, with lots of inherited money, and an established place in the system. Another group is the now-poor old-time upper class, who struggle to maintain their position because they can't afford symphony tickets, ski trips to the Alps, and fancy houses. A third group is the new rich, who are also struggling to make the point that they belong to the upper class, by using their money to join the right clubs, go to the right schools, wear the right clothes, etc. Members of all three groups might go to the same church or belong to the same club, but you know who are the old timers and who are the social climbers. But the point is that you CAN move up if you can get enough money.

Bottom line is that if you are smart and work hard you can get to the top pretty much anywhere, although it may be harder or easier in different countries. I don't think that in practice this is a large differentiator between systems.

by asdf on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 12:09:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with most of what you're saying as it applies to the population above a certain level.  At this level and above, there probably is not a whole lot of difference between Europe and the US as far as class structure and mobility issues.

What I've been trying to establish in my comments is that we have a certain population under that level and it's almost impossible to get out of.  Call it the underclass, call it the poor, call it whatever the fuck you want, but the fact of the matter is we have a huge portion of the population living under horrendous conditions -- in the ghettoes, the projects, the barrios, the trailer parks, the meth belt, Bible belt, boonies, on the streets, under bridges, in the fields, and innumerable other places we hide them out of and in plain sight in this enormous, gorgeous wealthy country of ours.  

And we ignore them and deride them and mock and dehumanize them.  We deny them welfare, medical treatment, education, housing, keep them out of the system and we are absolutely brutal in our blindness and when they become brutal themselves we lock them the fuck up and throw away the key.

I bring this up repeatedly and am met with argument after argument that it is not so and if it is so it is not that bad and if it is that bad it is certainly their own fault, whoever "they" are.  45 million with no medical insurance.  Millions of families, children living in poverty.  Millions homeless with tent cities cropping up here and there.  How many millions will it take for us to admit we have a problem?

This isn't about the upper strata trying to pretend they're high-class.  This isn't about the comfortable middle.  This isn't about the solid but shrinking working class who vote their fear -- if it's so great here, what the fuck are they so afraid of?  Do you think they're just stupid?  If we want to solve this political madness, we need to acknowledge what it's rooted in -- poverty.  Lots of it.  Deny it all you want, but nothing will get done.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 12:48:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you asdf for a good brief description of the American higher educational system.  Mimi's descriptions are so totally inaccurate that I frankly don't know how to respond.  Her earlier posts on this thread claimed the lowest public university tuition was $18,000 per year (later lowered to $12,000).  Following factual references pointed to colleges and universities with tuition of $2000 per year, and those were in California, where I doubt we find the lowest cost universities.  

Thank you asdf for your reasoned comments pointing out the use of scholarships (and I would add loans) for students able to qualify at all levels.  Mimi either doesn't have access to accurate data about the American university system, or has an agenda to present false data and unfairly criticize the system.  It concerns me because I wonder if those on the site with primarily European backgounds might think there was even some accuracy in these comments.

It would be interesting to see if there is an studies, or data, that would allow us to evaluate the upward mobility in the two different systems.  I must admit that my intuitive feel is different than yours, in that you think there may be equivalency.  Based on living in Europe for three years and spending significant portions of time there for 15 years, is that the French and British system still have significant barriers to upward mobility in the government, in business, and socially.  But though I had a lot of experiences, examples, and conversation about this, it's obviously still limited to my own contacts.  In other words, I wouldn't put this forward as a fact.

For example, France has a large immigrant population with Muslim religious background and primarily from Africa.  Are they moving up in the system?  The UK has large black, Pakastani, and Indian minority groups.  Are they moving up in the system?

Perhaps someone knows of comparative data in this area.

by wchurchill on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 12:01:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's various stuff on social mobility around, but you'll have to pull it together if you really care. Maybe if you start a diary on the topic people can bung in their links. I'd be interested in seeing it.

Here's a link from the LSE to get you started. Google is your friend: I searched on "comparing social mobility between europe and the US" and that popped up.

I suspect that maybe in Europe getting into the top 20% is harder, but in the US getting out of the bottom 20% is harder. Which way around is would be more desirable?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 12:24:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks, I too have been googling since my post.  I'm finding the same thing you refer to--a number of links.  But also finding that some of the better stuff is available in books, rather than online.  So it could be a heavy slog, getting at this one, I'm afraid.  I did download the pdf associated with the reference you link to.  It seeems to have reviewed UK, US, Canada, and Northern Europe--I think it's the one (I've skimmed a few now) that included Germany, but felt its sample size was too small.  I'm noticing that as I skim, there seems to be data on the UK and Northern Europe, but not France, Italy, Spain (data lacking on Germany), etc.  I hope that there is more data on the rest of Europe, because I think it's going to be difficult use only the Scandanavian countries as a benchmark for continental Europe, as I think they are somewhat unique in terms of homogeneous population as compared to the other countries, and in some cases natural resources.

this is looking a lot bigger than I can take on right now, unfortunately.  It's very interesting, but would require significant study to get it right.

by wchurchill on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 01:14:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
asdf is no more fact based than mimi.  They're both giving opinions based on what they've seen.  Almost everything in asdf's post could be challenged and/or refuted or said to be a generalization.  Mimi's statements are not totally inaccurate -- they just conflict with how you see things from where you are.  From where I am, almost everything asdf says is inaccurate.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 01:18:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and good to see you back, wchurchill.  Colman's right, we should probably have a throw down in a new diary. ;-)

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 01:35:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 but not their own facts."  Daniel Patrick Moynihan

thank you for the welcome Izzie.  Frankly it's always a pleasure to discuss and debate with you.

Without taking the time to analyze this one in detail, there are a litany of examples from the above thread, regarding Mimi's lack of accuracy.  Such as, Mimi says: "On an average the tuition costs per month is well over $ 2,000.00 plus for the cheapest public university."  A number of examples were given in the commentary of schools with lower tuition; 20+ California State Universities have a tuition per their website of $2000 per year, San Jose University per one poster is at $2500 per year, U of Wisconsin per Izzy is $5600 per year.  Needless to say, these are not the cheapest public universities, and her fact is of by a factor of, should we say, 8?

by wchurchill on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 03:24:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mimi is probably talking about the cheapest prestigious (i.e., research) public universities. Fees in the University of California system are quite steep, but not so at the California State University system and definitely not at  the community colleges. Now, considering that that there are 10 UC campuses, over 30 CalStates and every moderately large town has a community college, who do you think educates the most California undergraduates?

I suspect the same situation is true of most if not all US states.

It is actually rather shameful that the UC will conditionally admit undergraduates that don't meet its minimum English proficiency standards (concerning reading comprehension and essay writing), charge then UC tuition for a whole year while putting them on remedial courses, and throw them out at the end of the year if they fail to pass the infamous "subject A" exam. To cut costs, they have even started to outsource the subject A remedial courses to the University Extension centres and local community colleges, whicle still charging the students UC tuition fees. [The situation I am describing was current as of one year ago, during my last quarter at UC Riverside, the least prestigious of all UC campuses before Merced opened --- it might have changed, maybe for the worst]

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 04:18:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you, wchurchill!  I admit mimi's statement seemed false on it's face, but she later clarified that she was discussing non-resident tuition (the subject had been foreign students at some point, so I think the context got lost) and she also clearly said "costs" rather than tuition and was including books.  

All in all, with those added in -- non-resident status tuition plus books, her $2000/mo could be accurate for those conditions.  Wildly inaccurate for residents, of course, but not inaccurate for what she was discussing.

That said, I'm still working on that diary -- almost done!  And it's a thing of beauty if I say so -- all stories and emotion, sweeping generalizations and personal anecdote.  There's nary a statistic in sight -- you guys are gonna have a field day in the comments, I swear!  Dueling statistics at dawn, sir!  I will see you in the comments. :-)

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 04:19:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
heh, heh, we'll we've beaten mimi's comments to death, so i'm looking forward to your diary.
by wchurchill on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 06:05:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you want to compare data, then I would suggest we look at the same data in the same manner. The way to do this for tuition costs would be that we compare out of state tuition cost per credit hour at various public and private universities in the US. That's what I looked at, because as a foreign student that's what you have to deal with. Then compare to tution costs at French or German universities per credit hour.  

If you want to talk about upward mobility and compare those from the US vs. Europe, I think that's impossible.

First, define upward mobility, second, compare just two countries with each other, third, look at all factors that determine of why someone moves upward at all.

Education has not the same weight as a root cause for a person's upward mobility in different countries. Considering just higher education alone, tuition costs are not the only determining factor for access to it. Different countries have different ways of restricting or granting access to higher education. You would have to consider these differences as well to make comparisons meaningful at all.

France and Germany have both large immigrant  populations. You have to differentiate here to make any comparisons at all. Are you talking of immigrants, who come as adults to France and/or Germany with or without same mother language, with or without school exit diplomas that allow them to be admitted to universities. There are really several factors which you need to look at, if you want to judge something vague as "upward mobility" through the education you gain in the country you want to move upward in.

I wouldn't know how to comment any further here as long as so many different issues are lumped together.

by mimi on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 04:43:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with many things you say, though think that for some issues you offer your opinion rather than facts (like myself, of course).

I am not quite sure I would like to go into discussing those issue that I wouldn't judge in the same way you do and I therefore just leave it at saying that I don't agree with your fourth paragraph.  

In your fifth paragraph you try to compare something that doesn't quite fit, as Germany doesn't have private universities at all. It's not only possible in Germany for a German politician to come from a public university, it's impossible to come from anything else, as it doesn't exist.

In your six paragraph you try to get into a definition of what a class is in various countries. This needs a diary in itself, as it is different from the US to England to France and Germany.

And I think in your last paragraph you say something generally true. Luckily people adapt to their environments and it looks like they make it (to the top?) more or less everywhere. But then, if it were true, you wouldn't have huge population migrations. So somehow that might be just a bit smooth soothing talk over issues that might just be painful to face. But I am all for not hurting anyone. So, I agree. :-)

by mimi on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 05:25:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US educational system is very much prestige-driven. It matters more where you got your degree from than what you actually learned, and grade inflation means that grade avarages are pretty meaningless: any good student will average A. The system has several tiers of varying prestige levels: 2-year state community colleges, 4-year state universities, 4-year private liberal arts schools, state research intitutions and private research institutions. People focus on trying to get into Harvard when, in my opinion, they might be better served starting out at a community college (certainly in terms of value for money). However, it seems that most American students are after the connections and the prestige, not the education, and so it matters a whole lot to get into the most prestigious university possible. I think, however, that it is a waste to pay huge tuition and cost of living to be a freshman at a university full of nobel prize winners, because they don't teach freshmen. There is actually an underclass of lecturers with Master's degrees who have two or three part-time teaching jobs at different institutions and are in charge of teaching most of the younger students. Not that they are bad, but they are underpaid and overworked, and class sizes are huge. You are better served at a community college.

If you come from a poor background in the US you can do quite well in the Educational system given enough time. You would start by going to a community college for the first 2 years of your university education, possibly obtaining  an Associate's degree. At more prestigious 4-year, Research or private universities you will pay exorbitant tuition and be in larger classes with instructors who are primarily researchers or not exclusively teachers. At a community college, professional advancement is based entirely on teaching accomplishment, tuition is low and class sizes are small. The only problem is prestige. Community colleges are "where brown kids go to school", and as such they play a key role. It's a shame that they are so underappreciated.

However, if you do well at a community college you should be able to transfer to a 4-year state school and get some financial aid. Since American college students get mostly a general education in their first 2 years, it doesn't really matter that you got that at a community college. Then you can choose any major and graduate from the 4-year school in 2 or 2 1/2 years. Moreover, since these universities don't have graduate programs but the professors are evaluated on research as well as teaching, there are more opportunities for undergraduate research at a 4-year college than at a research university. Some of the best math educators in the US teach at 4-year colleges.

With a good degree from a 4-year state school and some undergraduate research you can get into a public research school for a master's degree with a scholarship or a teaching/research assistantship. Professors at these research intitutions are focused mostly on research and can be of world-class caliber even if the school is not very prestigious.

Now, with a master's degree from a public research university you can get anywhere: law school, medical school, or a Ph.D. program at UCLA or Berkeley, or the Ivy League.

It is a long and winding road, but it can be traversed. The problem is that, for many from depressed backgrounds, high school education is dismal and their community is so dysfunctional that going to a community college is out of the question. Smart kids from depressed backgrounds will tend to find a way in, though.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 02:33:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Even as we speak, I am attempting to write a diary to fullfil Colman's suggestion and gently back away from this thread.  And yet...

I can't help this one last comment -- you've given a great overview of the higher education situation.  My perception of the situation matches with everything you've written here with the exception of one small quibble about the smart kids from depressed backgrounds finding a way in -- that can be true and for the most part is true from merely depressed (marginal?) backgrounds.  

Lower than that, though -- the kids from the hard backgrounds generally don't make it, even through high-school.  Very rarely, exceptional kids make it.  And I refer to exceptional in either intelligence, talent, or drive and fortitude.  One of these usually is not enough and I think the fortitude is a required element.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 02:52:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Migeru, that was an excellent overview about the existing system in the US. It seems that my comments here suggested to the readers that for some reason my opinions were based on negative personal expereriences (for lack of money to pay for tuition) or lack of knowledge how the US system works. I just wanted to clarify that this impression is baseless.  

I am somewhat not agreeing with your very last sentence though.

If smart kids from depressed backgrounds tend to find a way in, then I assume that statistically spoken, the smart kids from depressed backgrounds are either not proportionally correctly represented in numbers, or there are statistically speaking fewer smart kids in the population group coming from depressed background.

If the first were true, then it would means that there is no equal access or opportunity for them to get in, if the second were true, it would mean "depressed backgrounds" would have a genetic impact on your "smartness" genes. Well, I can't live with either of these conclusions.

by mimi on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 05:00:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think I have to agree with both of you. Disadvantaged kids are underrepresented in higher education, and the poorer your background the more you have to compensate with intelligence, hard work, ambition, perseverance or, as Izzy puts it, fortitude. This is true everywhere, not just in the US, although there may be some qualitative and quantitative differences that I am not able to discuss. After all, I was a Math graduate student, not a social worker.

Unequal access or opportunity comes in many forms. Children of affluent parents will go to college even if they are not as bright as many from working poor backgrounds who do not. There is also "white privilege" even if overt racial discrimination is not there, and so on. You shouldn't think of equal opportunity as either existing or not, because then you have to conclude either that it does not exist, or you find yourself blaming victims of social inequalities for their "free" bad life choices. Neither conclusion is acceptable, nor does it follow from the analysis.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 05:33:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I doubt that. He most probably was avoiding restrictive regulations about who can work with what kind of license/degree in what kind of field and how long it would take for him to move up. The upward mobility in many European countries (most probably the better the security net, the more) is neither very easily upward, nor very mobile. In the US you can get lucky and have some "crazy" entrepreneur in an up-start company hires you out of the blue, especially in the IT environment in the nineties. Of course there is more mobility in the US, but that goes in both directions, up and down. You can rise fast and you can fall deep.

In Europe you rise eventually slowly and most probably never really fall down, more probably you are gently pushed to the side in a corner where nobody cares much what you are doing.


by mimi on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 07:24:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well, I know MANY Europeans, who have great opportunities in the US and they take their chances and make it ... for some time. But you need to realise a couple of things about them.

These Europeans come with the foundation of their European education, snap up something on the post-grad level or directly a job as professionals on post-grad level and of course, then they often have up-wards mobility and also job offers which they might not have found in their field in Europe, or let me say in Germany, as that is the only country I know well enough to make such a statement. (Academics in Germany have a hard time finding jobs in their fields, pretty often, which is not so much the case in the US). I have several examples in my family of those as well and many friends/colleagues. These people live in the upper-middle class level as professionals in urban environments.

How many of those do you know, that really stay in the US and educate their children up to university level in the US and retire in the US?

My guess is very few. Unless they are employees of the international organisations with a lot of job security and a lot of other perks and support. If you are dependent on an US company, even if you are doing well, there is still the question, why people return to Europe after a while? I can assure you that there are hundreds and hundreds of Europeans working in the US usually at their late twenties to mid fourties, who don't look beyond their own little US horizon they have.

These Europeans don't go through the experience that Americans go through, they usually don't go through the last four years of US highschool, they don't go through the crazy competition to College and/or University and they most definitely never went through the experience to pay for their tuition by themselves. They come already educated and as young professionals who get "the last polish" on post-doc level here in the US and then often are more competitive over their US colleagues, mainly for reasons that I think shouldn't count that much, but Americans see them as "special".

When these people have get their own children and learn through their children "what it means to grow up in the US and what it means for the parents to educate their children in the US" they usually find some "nice harmless reason" to return to their home countries. Well, let's say, they have been polite enough not to let you know what the true reason is for leaving the US and going home to Europe.

by mimi on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 07:14:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This was sort of how I was imagining it based on speculation and seeing my own family's relationship with Britain.  Homesickness so often sets in at a certain age, doesn't it?  Right around the time you start contemplating that your body might some day require medical care or, as you say, your children require an education.  ;-)

Seriously, the only time I went to the dentist when I was a kid was when my grandmother took me on a trip to Britain at age 6.  Going to the dentist was the first thing on the agenda.  She had them pull any suspicious teeth and would go there herself to get her dentures replaced every 5 years or so.  It cost less to take the trip than the dental work would've cost.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 07:55:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bless your grandmother and bless your teeth. :-)

Wow, it's more than just a bit of homesickness, but I get your "hint". I know also other European immigrants, who desperately would love to retire in the US and can't, because they are not allowed though they have lived here for their whole lives. But that's for another discussion.

by mimi on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 08:09:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mimi, are you a troll, or just incredibly misinformed?  "They come already educated and as young professionals who get "the last polish" on post-doc level here in the US and then often are more competitive over their US colleagues, mainly for reasons that I think shouldn't count that much, but Americans see them as "special".  I've spent decades hiring European and American people into global companies, and this is a total laugh.
Do you ever write anything that documents what you say?  Like your comments on tuition in America, the tax burden on someone making $20,000 per year, college students in American must have cars.  You provide no data on any of this, and just a quick search of facts prove them to be untrue.

If you think you are moving ahead the liberal cause by lying about these things, i think you're wrong, and you hurt the cause you purportedly support.

I guess trying to stay polite, can you document anything, rather than saying what your wide world and American experience seem to tell you.

by wchurchill on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 01:47:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Okay, let's calm down here!!  I don't think mimi is a troll or lying -- she seems to be sharing her experiences and anecdotal evidence.  Maybe I'm really tolerant of that because I do it so much myself. :-)

It's a big country and experiences are vastly different from region to region, so we could all be speaking truth here.  Mimi claimed about a $300 dollar a month tax burden and I don't think that's out of line in some areas.  We've established that the federal tax alone is just under $120/month, so depending on the state it's entirely possible.  You first asserted the federal income tax was zero, so we all sometimes make mistaken assertions.

And she didn't say people had to have cars on campus, just in general in the US.  I've found this to be true in many areas in the US, especially rural areas and in parts of Los Angeles.  Seattle and San Francisco are exceptions in my experience.

As to your comment below about tuitions, that also varies widely.  California used to have the lowest tuitions and one of the best university systems in the country.  Many people moved there from out of state just for that reason.  In general, I think the west is still cheaper than back east.  Here at the UW, resident undergraduate tuition for the school year is $5,610 and for non-residents it's $19,908.  We have pretty strict resident requirements.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 02:39:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
well, your advice may be good, and you are right I am a little hot about this--generally not a good place to be.  And I have spent a lot of my career so far, demanding facts and what I call "fact basis".  A business, in a competitive environment, can kill itself if it doesn't have a "fact basis" to work from--sales argues with manufacturing who argues with finance, all because they have their own set of facts.  Get everyone looking at the same data, in the same way, and you can really make progress.  So I really reacted strongly to the lack of data from Mimi, and seemingly the lack of accuracy.

And I appreciate our dialogue regarding understanding this tax issue that Mimi laid out.  However, just to be factual :),  I did start at 0% tax, but thought about it after I wrote it and came back and corrected my own post.  Then you argued a point that I was able to persuade you was not accurate, and then you corrected me on a point where my understanding was wrong.  But from my perspective, (not suggesting it is yours) this was a excellent example of the two of us being open about what we thought, accepting when we saw we were wrong, and building to a common understanding.  Including good natured humour on the way.  but I think you give Mimi too much of room on your comment on taxes--she implicitly suggested 28% tax, and you and I worked to a point where we agreed it was 14.something (afraid to go back and check my notes, as I lose the post sometimes).  But I'm in a very high tax state--California, or should I say Kalifornie, and the rate here is 9.5% at the highest income level--much, much less at the $20k level.

but Mimi went on to say the cheapest state universities are $2000 a month, $18,000 a year?!  While as I posted, I checked the California state universities (yo, not the cheapest), and they are $2000 per year. And izzie, note you quote instate tuition at UW of $5610 vs Mimi's $18000 for her cheapest University rates).  So UW is 1/3 of the cheapest public university rates--give me a break!!  UW is a fantastic education.

But let me not repeat the whole argument.  Your caution is a good one, and I note that Manfrommiddletown "2"rated me, and he seems from his posts to be a very reasonable guy.  

I am new to the site, and was extremely excited about bob's posts and TG's and others about developing a new left economic manifesto.  and then further turned on by the data bases that TG brought forward that might provide commonality, and good discussion.  As you can see from what I said previously, this really caught my interest.  i have also been really keen about the more global view of this site, and what I perceive as a higher level of intellectual dialogue than other site I've been on.

so it's probably a good time to take a few days off from the site and reflect, and I'll be tied up anyway on some other issues.  

but thank you for your gentle, and kind post, that i might be off base.

by wchurchill on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 03:35:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're not going anywhere, mate.  I have some corrections and updates to do to my post based on some of your comments and I'll be needing feedback on them, so don't go anywhere.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 05:33:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One correction. When you talk about tuition in California (which is where I live as well), you are only talking about tuition being $2000 / year, correct? My fiancee is in college right now, and she pays around $2500 / year in San Jose State University, plus she spends around $1000 per year on books and supplies. This does NOT, however, address any living expenses whatsoever, and even with that, we're talking $300 / month roughly, or $400 / month if you count it based on the academic year basis.  

Mikhail from SF
by Tsarrio (dj_tsar@yahoo.com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 12:46:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My .02 cents (or whatever the REAL opinion rate is!) is it was a lovely argument, wasn't it?  Fact based is good and I like how you doggedly kept dragging facts into all this.  Frankly, I don't quite understand WHY this subject gets people so whipped up, but I know it does, so thanks.  I also value the dialogue on this site in particular and think these kinds of conversations are necessary.  In my view, there's no need to go off and reflect over this.  Stay!  Really.  It won't hurt a bit!  ;-)

And I do think one of the big problems with discussing poverty issues in the US is that we don't have the facts.  We in fact have a lot of propaganda about how great things are here.  For instance the problem in the thread is unemployment statistics -- in my experience, these figures seem completely off.  

Also in my experience, many people are simply ignored by our system, so I can't see how they'd be included in the statistics. But I wouldn't begin to be able to prove any of this -- I have no facts about unemployment.  All I can do is tell more educated folks what it looks like from where I stand and hope they'll listen enough so we can figure it out.

Beverly Hills and Watts are not very far apart.  If you were to ask a resident of each place what the US or Los Angeles was like, any sane person would have to suspect one of those residents was a liar.  It's only logical.  That seems to me to be the heart of the problem -- things are insane here and there's no consensus about the truth.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 01:32:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since there's been a lively discussion on the subject...

There are data on state college tuition and other charges here from AASCU.

Hat-tip to Bonddad and his diary on Booman Tribune, which also includes a discussion of unemployment numbers and the job market.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 03:51:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry to have expressed myself not more clearly, I didn't know it would be necessary, because I think the general issue was to compare the living conditions of unemployed and poorer people in the US vs. European countries. I just made an example of an average (foreign) student in the US and what his tuition costs and living expenses in general are and what he earns on a typical job students work in to pull them through college.

BTW, when I said $ 2000.00 per month tuition, I was calculating in my mind about two semester per year of 3 to 3.5 months each. So, I was thinking about $12,000.00 per year for tuition for non-resident students at public universities (I was thinking about foreign students on a student visa who do have to pay out of state tuition). Almost all public universities around my area do cost $ 12,000.00 full-time for non-resident students. Here and and here see bottom table for some examples.

I am also not counting as living expenses data for students who live on campus. Most don't live more than one to max two years on campus (as far as I know) and then have to find housing off-campus.

I am not quite sure why we discuss this here, actually. It's off-topic. It's pretty clear that the financial burden of getting a university level education is much higher in the US than in Europe. I don't remember why I even felt compelled to make such a general comment, as the original topic of this article was to compare unemployment statistics. Sorry that I drifted away from the topic and for just talking about personal experiences.

As for my tax comments, they were derived approximately from this real life example.

Project:    xxxxxxxxx Washington - USA                Year:    2004
RE:    xxxxx                Month:    January
Payroll:    xxxxxxxxxx                Exemptions:    one

    Employee's Gross Pay:                    2,092.00 ($ 25,104.00 per year)
    to deduct:                   
    Metrochecks    Employee's Contr.        0.00       

    Gross Pay for Social Security(SS), Medicare Tax:                    2,092.00
    to deduct:                   
    401K    Employee's Contr.    0%    0.00       

    Gross Pay for Fed. Income Tax, State Tax:                    2,092.00
    to deduct:                   
    SS    Employee's Contr.    6.2%    129.70       
    MED    Employee's Contr.    1.45%    30.33       
    FIT    Employee's Contr.        214.00       
    State Tax DC    Employee's Contr.               
    State Tax MD    Employee's Contr.        130.08       
    State Tax VA    Employee's Contr.               
        Total FIT Tax Payments for Employee            534.06   
        Total State Tax Payments for Employee            130.08   

    Employee's Net Pay                     1,587.89

This is a real-life example for an $ 25,000.00/year salary ending up netting $ 1,587.89. I actually made a good guess how much less it would be for a $ 20,000.00/year salary with the same exemptions and State Tax. The whole issue is IMHO irrelevant, because your net is dependent on so many variables, which can be different from person to person and state to state.                   

I don't have a liberal agenda, am still a very foreign person to the US, so these labels don't mean much for me.

by mimi on Wed Oct 5th, 2005 at 01:17:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, you are right that I just talk about my own experiences and examples I have seen during the last twenty years in the US about Germans who came to US basically all of them post-doc or post-graduate level.

I have no "official statistics". Sorry, I am just giving you what I experienced. If that is but a small and unrepresentative sample of Germans, who come to work in the US, I apologize.

For the other items you accuse me about lying, I just tell you what I experienced. I don't know of any student in my area, who is without a car. I don't know of any student in my area who finds rentals (sharing with others) below $ 500.00 and efficiencies under $ 800.00 Of course this the Metropolitan area of Washington D.C. I also know that the average hourly rate in typical jobs students take at the side is aroun $9.00 to $ 10.00. As for my tax tables, of course they are different dependent on what you file, where you live and where you work. Let me tell this, I simply tried to say that working full-time and studying full-time is hard and not necessary in that form in European countries, where you don't have to pay tuition.

I am a bit confused about your accusations. May be because I am not the "professional researcher" who comes with "links" to "statistics" that tell the "truth", my comments are not valid. May be you are right. If this site is too professional for me to comment on, I will gladly keep myself out of here. Sorry for having you upset.

by mimi on Wed Oct 5th, 2005 at 12:23:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just a question, to start, on your first paragraph Mimi.  When you say you are getting $1200 per month net on your $20,000 per year job, that implies you are being taxed (?) at 28%?  Could you explain that calculation?  I think the Federal taxes on that income are 0%, and I guess it depends on the state, but I think most would be 0%--certainly not all and perhaps you are in one of those states that taxes lower income workers.  You are paying 6.2% to your "safety net" retirement program (social security) and another 1.2% into your health care program after age 65.  And depending on the state you are in, there may or may not be disability insurance (often the employer pays)--mine are very small.  So without disability, which you should subtract, my calculation shows you should be receiving $1543 per month.  And depending on your individual circumstances, I imagine you are aware that there is an "earned income credit" at this level of income, whereby the government would pay you additional funds.  I'm not eligible for that credit, but I wouldn't be surprised if that would add a couple of hundred dollars to your monthly net.  And actually that amount can be added to your monthly check.

And don't misunderstand me, I'm not trying to suggest that is a ton of money.  I'm simply wondering why your net is so much lower than what I would have expected.  I'm impressed that you are working your way through school, as I did the same several years ago.  But with scholarships, loans, subsidized state tuition and my jobs, while it was tough, I actually had no problem feeding myself, and certainly money left over for some good times at the bars, occasionally.

by wchurchill on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 03:41:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
i became curious about the earned income tax credit, and it looks like it's really aimed at families or single mothers with children--it applies to income of something like $34,000, but aimed at with child, so it sounds like this does not help you.

And, assuming you have no deductions, and are supporting yourself 50% or more, your fed tax would be something like 4.8%..  4.8 plus social security and medicare would be 13.2%--but quite a gap from 28%.

by wchurchill on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 02:07:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Where are you getting your numbers?  I live in one of the few states with no income tax, so based solely on Federal withholding mimi's numbers seem about right.  The Fed tax rate for a single filer at $20k is 15%.  

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 03:32:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I used the IRS withholding calculator.  http://www.irs.gov/individuals/page/0,,id=14806,00.html

you can run through it also, just putting 0's in for withholdings to date in 1995, and it ends up giving you your estimated taxes.

you are correct that the marginal tax rate is 15%.  But that is the number you use to calculate how much more tax you would pay on earning an additinion, say, $1000 over your base earnings--a very useful number, but not for estimating your total tax bill--only your marginal taxes.

there are some deductions that Mimi (and most of us) would get before the tax calculations would apply, according to the way she describes herself--kind of a personal deduction and what's called a standard deduction.  It more or less means that roughly the first $10,000 is taxed at 0%.  (these calculations are buried in that withholding calculator I directed you to above, but if you dig a little on the IRS site, doubt you'll want to as it's unbelievable boring, you'll see the detail of this).  then, I'm going a little from memory, the next $7500ish is taxed at 10%.  So in her case the only money taxed at the higher marginal 15% rate is the amount above the $17,500ish.  So her tax bill comes out to be pretty small.  And of course i don't know anything else about her life, but she may have some other deductions that would lower this--she sounds like someone that would donate to good charitable causes for example, or maybe pay interest on some student loans, maybe some work expenses.

oh and the way I read mimi, she supports herself more than 50%, and she would therefore get some benefit from being a household filer rather than a single filer.  Her parents I believe, would have to be giving her another $20,000+ before they could claim her as a deduction.

hope that helps  :)

by wchurchill on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 04:11:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, she cannot file head of household unless she has dependants.  A single filer making $20k a year and using the standard deduction per form 1040EZ owes $1,454 in Federal income taxes for the 2004 tax year.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 04:51:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
you're right, thanks for this correction.  (oddly enough I get a slightly different number on the site I referred you too--$1409--government efficiency I guess).  But accepting your revised number, we get 14.6% for social security, fed tax, and medicare.  Which still is quite a ways from Mimi's numbers, which infer 28%.  A truce?  :)
by wchurchill on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 05:22:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A truce you say!?!  I WILL NEVER... oh, nevermind.  A truce sounds excellent.

Since mimi's not weighing in here, we'll just have to give her the benefit of the doubt that the rest is in state taxes of some sort.  I'm not very good at percentages which is why I just looked for the hard numbers per year.  How much is social security and medicare, do you know?  Don't go to any more work to answer, though.  It's starting to feel like H & R block in here! :-)

Seriously, though, I think this whole discussion has illustrated one of the political problems that the Republicans have been capitalizing on.  A lot of the lower income folks here aren't making it financially.  If you can afford an IRA and medical savings and a mortgage, you can end up paying much lower taxes.

But if you're someone living and working in an expensive inner-city, someone who's struggling to pay their bills, that $200 a month or so in taxes really hurts.  All of your living expenses are sky high, you pay sales tax and taxes on your car, gas, and some utilities, you add those taxes up and wonder why the hell you're paying so much when Enron didn't pay any federal taxes some years.  

This is hard evidence to these folks that the system stinks.  It's why they vote "against their interests" for the "low-tax" Republicans.  We keep wondering about this working class "insanity" without addressing the underlying issues the Republicans are speaking to with their rhetoric.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 06:03:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
lol.  it was feeling like H&R Block.  thanks for the discussion.
by wchurchill on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 08:06:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I apologize to come back so late. Most of the time I only have a bit of time to make a comment and have to leave and sometimes it takes me a couple of days to come back. I wasn't aware I caused so much unrest here with my comment. I have now given some numbers and explanations in response to the accusations up-thread.

Sorry for all the confusion.

by mimi on Wed Oct 5th, 2005 at 01:24:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No need to be sorry on my account -- I've been thoroughly enjoying the discussion and have found the facts everyone has brought out to be enlightening.  Thanks so much for your numbers above as well.  I'd been wondering because of some of your estimates whether you were on the east coast and see I guessed correctly.  

Thanks for taking the time and I'm glad to see you again.  Between wchurchill's Wild Ass Guesses, my sweeping generalizations, and your experiences, we make a pretty good team, I think!  We even all dragged some facts in -- I'm quite pleased with us.  Now if Colman can just sort it all out...  ;-)

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 5th, 2005 at 01:41:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry to come back so late. I answered now up-thread to your questions.
by mimi on Wed Oct 5th, 2005 at 01:19:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
huh? Well, I will go in my tax tables tomorrow and look it up. I had no health insurance and was part-time with such an income. My son had something similar in the military as an enlistee. I will ask him what he got every two weeks without the extra allowances. May be it was 1,400.00, could be.  

And you got my comment wrong. I am in my late fifties and don't work myself through US schools for a degree anymore (well, I have something in mind, but...) My son does though. I myself was never working in the US in my original career field which would on the long run have put me in another income level. But I guess that's completely off-topic here.

And not to forget as a green card holder you don't have access to grants and loans the same way as US citizens do. If you are not a green card holder you are never eligible for resident tuition costs.

I am not familiar with all the "help" US citizens can get for their education, I have to admit. It's definitely something one has to take into account. Yet, I am involved in hiring some American students occasionally and so far I haven't found any, who was not completely overburdened with debt.

Also not to mention that fifteen to twenty years ago the tuition were not yet as high as they are today. Nevertheless they are definitely a factor in the life of any US student and they are absent for almost all European students.

by mimi on Sun Oct 2nd, 2005 at 08:22:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll skip your second paragraph for a moment, though it's hard to ignore your comment that you must have a car on campus.  Cars are a nice item for students, no doubt, but certainly a student watching their funds can easily live on campus without a car.  Many do not, because they want a car, but saying you "have" to have one is ludicrous.  I certainly didn't have one for my first two years, and then with extra jobs I could afford one and got a clunker.

but your comments on tuition are even more absurd: "On an average the tuition costs per month is well over $ 2,000.00 plus for the cheapest public university."  That is $18,000 per year for tuition over the normal 9 month school year.

Here's just one example:
"-- The California State University (CSU) system includes 23 campuses across the state. These multipurpose institutions serve more than 400,000 students annually and offer both undergraduate and graduate instruction for a variety of professional and occupational goals as well as broad liberal education
-- Statewide, CSU students who are California residents, pay fees of $1,188 annually for part-time (up to six units) and $2,046 for full-time enrollment."

California State Universities are NOT the cheapest public universities by any means, and they are 88.6% lower than what you say.

Could you explain this discrepancy?

by wchurchill on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 01:25:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just answering to your "car" comment. I am sorry, this is getting a bit personal, but ...

I pulled myself through six years of University education in Germany in the seventies with a small child on my own finances. I handled that "without a car".

I put myself through a graduate program in the US with elementary school child in a private University and went through the calculations as an almost retiree-aged person to go back to school at a public university in the US.

No way, that I could have survived this without a car. I think you have in your mind the eighteen-year old out of highschool American kid, who gets his grants, in-state tuition, a bit from mommy and daddy and lives on campus. This situation is common for US students for the first two years of their college education. Usually as soon as students have to live off-campus they need a car too, in the US.

Funny, this thread is drifting off a bit from what should be discussed here. :-)

P.S. I gave some explanations now up-thread to the other numbers.

by mimi on Wed Oct 5th, 2005 at 01:33:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The figure you present, $1200 a month, is a little less than what I make - but as I note below, I don't make anything at least 3 months a year.

However, you are exaggerating the cost of living. I pay a much lower rent than that (although, to be fair, I live in a city - Seattle - where if I didn't have some luck and "street knowledge," I would have to pay at least 600 dollars a month for my own apartment). However, the kinds of places in the US where one has to pay high rents also tends to be places where one also can function without a car (although there are exceptions - Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, for example).

Ben P

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 02:18:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the argument I have read in various places when we start arguing about this is that ILO numbers are supposed to be calculated using the same definition for all countries. You do mention that ILO numbers are "closer", and that these are used by the OECD which you quote, so would your criticism actually apply (i.e. haven't the ILO already taken into account the prison population and passive job seekers?

It's an honest question - I'd like to have an as definitive as possible answer when that debate crops up.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 03:52:40 PM EST
Then you have the altogether different question of how "excluded" the unemployed are in both systems:

  • in terms of living standards (certainly better in Europe)
  • in terms of personal well-being and social standing (not sure)
  • in terms of being able to find another job (likely better in the US, where long term unemployment does seem to be much less)

Who is unhappier - someone who has to struggle with one - or more - low paying job(s) to make ends meet, or someone who has no job. The perceived malaise in continental Europe suggests that it is the latter, but it's hard to know if that's what the actual workers/unemployed think or if the "common wisdom" of the times about the respective systems that has taken hold and spread around?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 03:57:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I purposely wasn't going to that place: this was based solely on their battleground of employment figures. Even the "hard" numbers don't show what they'd have us believe.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 04:59:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No they don't. They exclude everyone in institutions and the military, and they don't correct for passive job seekers as far as I can see. The OECD numbers certainly don't. The OECD uses the ILO agreed methodology. The ILO themselves charge for reports so I can't get at their info as easily as the OECD.

The agreed definition of unemployed is as above, and it's a matter of national policy of exactly what "actively sought work" means, as the document linked to discusses. The ILO guidelines are subject to interpretation in several places. Incidentially, I don't think the ILO have numbers - they use the numbers compiled by the national labour surveys with various corrections based on data available in the surveys.

The ILO requirements don't even tie down the two-week vs. one-week availability issue. I'm reasonably certain that no-one corrects for these things because no-one knows how to.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 04:57:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That 2000 paper from the BLS makes this clearer than I can at 10pm on a Friday night.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 05:00:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And there is no attempt to account for the discouraged or marginally attached in those figures. None at all.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 05:02:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You mention as an aside Katharine Bradbury's paper from July 2005. It can be found (pdf file) here.

Bradbury's contention -- that there was more slack in the US labour market than at comparable moments in past cycles, and that the unemployment numbers might be understated by from 1% to 3% -- was taken up by a number of economists and commentators.

Brad DeLong here ,

Paul Krugman here ,

and (useful post with a number of references), New Economist here .

A short refutation of Bradbury's brief was written by Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Hudson Institute. It can be found (pdf file) here .

Ms Furchtgott-Roth is a well-known free-market pundit whose take-no-prisoners style reminds me somewhat of Margaret Thatcher's. Her refutation seems heavy in breezy assertions and light on relevant substance, whereas Bradbury's paper relies on considerable statistical analysis.

In particular, Furchtgott-Roth states that the teens and women Bradbury deduces are "missing" from the unemployment statistics are in school (teens), at home minding the kids (women), and that this is voluntary, and proves how well the economy is working because "we are prosperous enough to devote more time to education and to our families." (sic). Further, "A decision by couples to live on one paycheck and to let one parent stay home with the children is not a labor market problem." (re-sic).

General Glut picks up the issue and says:

I suggest focusing in on a group of workers who over time are almost always in need of work, who do not wax and wane with educational or retirement opportunities, nor with social trends toward greater workforce participation rates: men age 25-64. ...snip...

As you can clearly see, at the peak of the last two economic cycles the ratio topped out in the 85.5-86.0 range. Currently the level is just 83.2, right where it was three years ago and nowhere close to the levels of the late 1990s.

So: I'm more impressed by Bradbury and supporters than by Furchtgott-Roth. It does seem likely the US official unemployment numbers overstate the dynamism of the US labour market.

End of aside.

People, if you're off to bed, sweet dreams. If you just got out of bed, having read all the above, you'll be going right back.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 04:17:37 PM EST
Great graph, afew, thanks for unearthing it!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 06:05:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great job Coleman.  Your great job has however caused me to spend the last couple of hours, being bored to tears, looking at the OECD and the States' BLS website.  But anyway, I guess it was worth it.  But for me, the highlight of what you have done is propose a source that has already done a lot, maybe of all, of the work for us in many statistical areas, and that is very exciting.

I do think we could drive ourselves crazy if we try to adjust these numbers.  As some of the above posts show, professional economists are spending weeks arguing back and forth over some of these concepts, and I doubt if we have the time or the expertise to do that.  A second reason is that if we make our own adjustments (and I think it would really be tough to gain agreement on some of the points), and then want to present that to any outside bodies, I think we would lose credibility by saying something like we used "adjusted' OECD figures as our base.  Isn't that the proverbial Pandora's Box?  I agree it's tempting to do this--the statistic I was most surprised with was the States' assumption that if you work one hour per week, you're employed!  Who ever thought that one up.  But I checked the BLS, and there it was.  But how in the world could we adjust for that?  And I imagine there are others that go the other way, if we really dug into it.

I did have opposite reactions than you to the two points you highlighted on the military and on prison populations.  First, on the military, I was shocked to see that they are not counted as employed, or in the work force.  And perhaps there will be cultural differences on this one.  But we count government employees, except for the military?  I think most Americans would view the military as an honorable profession.  We have prestigious universities focused on the military--the Military, Naval, Air Force and Coast Guard Academies.  These schools are very tough to get into.  Degrees from there are viewed as very honorable whether the person goes onto a career military career or to other professions outside the military.  I guess in the old days of the Draft, I could see an argument that it shouldn't count--but certainly not now, with an all volunteer armed forces.  My review shows there are 1.4 million in the armed forces today, not including reservists.  My SWAG calculation (scientific wild a.. guess) was adjusting the labor force and employed numbers both up by that amount would reduce unemployment by 1/2 of a percent.  And I see your proposed adjustment would add them to the labor force, but count them as unemployed--if i understood you correctly.  Which would mean that the 34th American President went from a lifetime of unemployment to the Oval Office.

On the prison population, the accepted methadologies seem to require that the potential employee be ready to work in one or two weeks.  So there would seem to be a pretty strong argument that they are not in the labour force.  However, I think this statistic is an important one, and should be included somewhere--but probably more in a quality of life area, rather than in unemployment statistics.

Thanks for your great story, and I look forward to continuing dialogue.

by wchurchill on Fri Sep 30th, 2005 at 08:50:52 PM EST
"My SWAG calculation (scientific wild a.. guess) was adjusting the labor force and employed numbers both up by that amount would reduce unemployment by 1/2 of a percent."
Big correction on the SWAG--including the military as proposed above would reduce US employment from about 5.000% to 4.985%--a drop of .015%/  Hopefully closer this time.
by wchurchill on Sat Oct 1st, 2005 at 02:09:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Figures can certainly be massaged within systems that have forms of social security (European sense). In times of high unemployment the Uk Governments have encouraged doctors to declare those with long term illnesses like chronic back pain "unable to work". That put them onto "Disability benefit" which is higher than unemployment payments and at the ame time removed them from the unemplyment figures. Now the Brown Treasury wants to save money and get more tax income as the number of vacant jobs is very closeto the number of unemployed so the rules for obtaining long-term diability benefits have been tightened. That situation does not necessarily mean technical full employment as there is a lot of skills not fitting those required for the jobs or the jobs being in areas where there are fewer unemployed - again some of them are jobs tha t pay too little to be worthwhile someone taking if they have to pay child care or lose other benefits such as free medecins or housing benefits. That's why the "Polish plumber" who the French fear so much is positively welcomed in the UK.
by Londonbear on Sat Oct 1st, 2005 at 01:42:20 AM EST
Very interesting.

I do wonder how I am categorized. I imagine I would be considered a "marginal worker" in both contexts in that I am a graduate student who is effectively unemployed at least 3 months a year. As such, I have to live off my parents and fiance from time to time. This said, being Grad student becomes in many ways a luxury of the fairly well-off and I think accounts for the rather static class nature of academia. Simply put, you have to live on the fringes of the economy for upwards of seven years to become a professor.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 02:14:42 PM EST
...ooh!  <waving hand in the air>  I think I found a fact!  

Or something close to factual in Bonddad's diary about the middle class.  The whole thing is excellent, but he says this about employment:

According to the Bureau of Labor Services, total nonfarm employment was 132,454,000 in January 2001 and 133,999,000 in August 2005 for a net 4.5 year gain of 1,545,000.  This breaks down to approximately 28,600 jobs/month over the period.  This is important because the economy must create 150,000 jobs/month to deal with natural attrition, people looking for new jobs, people entering the workforce etc....  In other words, Bush's economy has not created enough jobs to deal with the natural expansion of the population or generally economic conditions.  The next question to answer is "why is the unemployment rate so low?"  The unemployment numbers do not count people who have not looked for work in the last 4 weeks.  This is better documented by the labor participation rate which was dropped from 67.2% in January 2001 to 66.2% in August 2005.

I'm not sure, but I think that labor participation rate might have some bearing on things -- do we have other participation rates to compare them to?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 02:59:05 PM EST
Coming up soon - I'm afraid I've had to withdraw from the world and reorganise myself over the last couple of days as things were getting away from me, but a major revision of this post is on my list.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 01:11:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the paradoxes I've never understood is the amount of immigration in both Europe and the US.

Regardless of the actual differences in percentage there are plenty of legal and illegal immigrants. Most are coming for economic reasons and are apparently finding jobs.

Somehow the argument about the jobs being unwanted by citizens doesn't seem an adequate explanation. When government or pundit answers defy common sense there is probably more to the issue.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 11:10:05 PM EST
not sure I'm following you.  haven't you answered your own question.  the immigrants are coming for jobs and economic reasons, but likely also for a mixture of other things like safety, upward mobility, freedoms of many kinds.

there are jobs, and if the immigrants were kept out, it would be harder to fill those jobs, so either the wages would go up, or the jobs would be automated, or shipped outside the country--probably some of each.

by wchurchill on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 02:14:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The immigrants fill those jobs for lower wages, and if they are illegal the employer can usually save on social security contributions as well. By increasing the supply of work at lower cost, the immigrants hurt the domestic workers, but if the immigrants were not there not all their jobs would be filled: each worker would be more costly and so fewer would be hired. So, if you had as many illegal immigrants as unemployed citizens, removing the immigrants would not reduce the unemployment to zero. Far from it, actually.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 06:06:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As far as saving on Social Security and taxes this is false (in the US). Because of the present laws employers must employ only legal immigrants.
So what happens in practice is that the illegals get fake papers. The employers then use the SSN and subtract the witholding taxes.

A study showed that very few of these people ever collect the benefits and thus somewhere between 4-7% of SS collections are coming from these people. So they are, in effect, subsidizing everyone else.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 12:06:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You are right. In fact, the US Internal Revenue Service used to not be allowed to communicate information to the Immigration and Naturalization Service so that illegal immigrants would pay their taxes without fears of deportation. I say "used to" because I am not sure what the status is now that the INS is part of the Department of Homeland Security and all US domestic policy is subordinated to "security".

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 12:40:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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