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Archive for November, 2012

6th Annual ABA Journal Blawg 100

November 30, 2012 Comments off

6th Annual ABA Journal Blawg 100

Source: American Bar Association

With six Blawg 100 notches on our belt, we have developed a bit of a sixth sense when it comes to knowing what it takes to have a successful blog. We know that bloggers who are passionate about their chosen subjects are more likely to have lively, engaging blogs we enjoy going back to day after day, year after year.

Success is relative, of course. Some law bloggers measure success by the business they develop. Others by the networks they’re creating. And still others get satisfaction from how blogging gives them a voice, a creative outlet.

This list includes blogs that can measure success in a number of different ways. And for the first time, we’re tipping our hats to the cream of the law-blogging crop. We’d like to introduce our inaugural Blawg 100 Hall of Fame, featuring law blogs we can’t imagine not making our favorites list each year.

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New From the GAO

November 30, 2012 Comments off

New GAO Reports

Source: Government Accountability Office

transportation icon, source: Corbis

HIGHWAY SAFETY

Selected Cases of Commercial Drivers with Potentially Disqualifying Impairments

GAO-13-13

international icon: Art Explosion

NONPROLIFERATION AND DISARMAMENT FUND

State Should Better Assure the Effective Use of Program Authorities

GAO-13-83

HIV Infections Attributed to Male-to-Male Sexual Contact — Metropolitan Statistical Areas, United States and P uerto Rico, 2010

November 30, 2012 Comments off

HIV Infections Attributed to Male-to-Male Sexual Contact — Metropolitan Statistical Areas, United States and Puerto Rico, 2010

Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections attributed to male-to-male sexual contact comprised 64% of the estimated new HIV infections in the United States in 2009 (1). Assessing the geographic distribution of HIV infection by transmission category can help public health programs target prevention resources to men who have sex with men (MSM) in areas where HIV infection from male-to-male sexual contact is most frequent. In 2004, CDC published data on acquired immunodeficiency syndrome diagnoses among MSM and others by metropolitan statistical area (MSA) (2). To examine geographic differences in the prevalence of HIV infection from male-to-male sexual contact among persons aged ≥13 years in the United States and Puerto Rico, CDC estimated the number of HIV infections in persons newly diagnosed in 2010 and analyzed them by transmission category and location. Results indicated that HIV infections attributed to male-to-male sexual contact made up the largest percentage of HIV infections in MSAs (62.1%), smaller metropolitan areas (56.1%), and nonmetropolitan areas (53.7%). Of the 28,851 infections attributed to male-to-male sexual contact, 23,559 (81.7%) were in MSAs, and 11,410 (48.4%) of those infections were in seven MSAs that represented 31.7% (53,169,004 of 167,919,694) of the overall population aged ≥13 years in the MSAs that were assessed. These data support planning for targeted interventions to prevent HIV acquisition and transmission by male-to-male sexual contact among MSM, particularly in those areas most affected.

Active Vs. Passive Decisions And Crowd-out In Retirement Savings Accounts

November 30, 2012 Comments off

Active Vs. Passive Decisions And Crowd-out In Retirement Savings Accounts

Source: Harvard University

From Executive Summary (PDF):

Subsidies for retirement savings are among the largest tax expenditures in the United States and other developed economies. This fiscal year, the estimated cash-flow expenditure on retirement savings accounts such as 401(k)’s and IRA’s exceeded $100 billion in the U.S. (JCT 2012). The goal of these subsidies is to increase national saving and income security in retirement. Our study evaluates whether these subsidies accomplish this goal. Do tax subsidies encourage families to save more or do they induce them to shift money they would have saved anyway into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, with no net increase in savings?

Despite extensive research over the past three decades, we do not have a conclusive answer to this question because of a lack of high quality data on household wealth in the U.S. (Bernheim 2002). We therefore turn to data from Denmark, where we obtain 45 million observations on household balance sheets from administrative tax records. The Danish data provide useful insights for policy in the U.S. for two reasons. First, the structure of retirement savings plans in Denmark is broadly similar to the U.S. Second, savings decisions within retirement accounts – where good data are available in the U.S. – are similar across the two countries. Hence, we expect savings decisions outside retirement accounts – where the Danish data are of much higher quality – to be similar as well.

We begin by studying a reform in 1999 that sharply reduced the tax subsidy for contributing to retirement accounts for those in the top income tax bracket in Denmark. We find that the subsidy change had small impacts on total savings for two reasons. First, only 15% of individuals reduced retirement savings when the subsidy was reduced; the remaining 85% of individuals did not change their pension contributions at all. Second, the 15% who reduce pension contributions shifted nearly all the money they withdrew from pensions to other non-retirement accounts. Combining these two effects, we estimate that each $1 of government tax expenditure on retirement savings raises total national saving by 1 cent.

If subsidies have little impact on retirement saving, are there other policies that are more effective? Recent studies have shown that “nudges” such as automatic enrollment or defaults – which have no fiscal cost to the government – increase pension contributions (e.g., Madrian and Shea 2001, Thaler and Sunstein 2008). Again, however, it is unclear whether automatic contributions raise total savings or just induce individuals to save more in pensions while running down their balances in non-retirement accounts, leaving total saving unchanged.

We study the impacts of automatic contributions on total savings using two quasi-experimental approaches. First, we track individuals’ savings rates when they switch to jobs with higher or lower employer retirement contributions. These contributions are automatic in that they require no active choices by individuals. We find that increases in employer contributions substantially increase total savings: most individuals do not change their savings in non-retirement accounts at all when their employers contribute more to their pensions. Second, we study the impacts of a mandatory government savings plan that required everyone to automatically contribute 1% of their earnings to a retirement savings account from 1998-2003. Again, we find that this policy raised total pension savings and did not reduce savings in other accounts.

Why are automatic contributions so much more effective at raising savings than price subsidies? We find that there are two types of people in the economy: 15% are “active” savers who plan for retirement and respond to incentives, while 85% are “passive” savers who are not focused on their retirement savings and do not pay attention to policy changes. Price subsidies induce active savers to shift assets across accounts but have no impact on passive savers’ behavior. In contrast, automatic contributions raise the savings of passive savers. Passive savers tend to be less wealthy and financially prepared than active savers. As a result, automatic contributions not only have larger effects on aggregate savings than price subsidies, but also do more to increase the savings rates of those who are least prepared for retirement.

In sum, the findings of our study call into question whether tax subsidies are the most effective policy to increase retirement savings. Automatic enrollment or default policies that nudge individuals to save more could have larger impacts on national saving at lower fiscal cost.

The Best (and Worst) of Mobile Connectivity

November 30, 2012 Comments off

The Best (and Worst) of Mobile Connectivity

Source: Pew Internet & American Life Product

Some 85% of American adults own a cell phone, and these mobile devices now play a central role in many aspects of their owners’ lives according to a new survey. For many cell owners, their phone is an essential utility that they check frequently, keep close at all times, and would have trouble functioning without:

  • 67% of cell owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating. Some 18% of cell owners say that they do this “frequently."
  • 44% of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night.
  • 29% of cell owners describe their cell phone as “something they can’t imagine living without."

Despite this connection to their devices, most cell owners don’t worry too much (or get many complaints from their friends) about spending too much time with their phones:

  • 11% of cell owners say that they themselves sometimes worry that they are spending too much time with their phone.
  • 12% of cell owners say that people they know tell them that they are spending too much time using their phone.

2012 Public Pension Funding Study

November 30, 2012 Comments off

2012 Public Pension Funding Study

Source: Milliman

The Milliman Public Pension Funding Study independently measures the aggregate funded status of the 100 largest U.S. public pension plans using basic actuarial principles and reported plan liabilities and assets. The aggregate accrued liability information provided has been determined on a uniform basis with respect to the interest rate assumption across all of the plans in the study. This uniform approach allows for an accurate picture of the overall funded status of these 100 pension plans based on an independent application of Actuarial Standards Board (ASB) standards of practice, actual investment portfolios, and current capital market assumptions. We are not aware of any other study that has taken this approach and we feel this is an important story that needs to be told.

During the past year, the 100 largest U.S. public pension plans (as measured by accrued liability) reported assets of $2.705 trillion and accrued liabilities of $3.600 trillion, for an aggregate underfunding of $0.895 trillion and an aggregate funded ratio of 75.1%. The asset values the plans use for reporting purposes reflect asset smoothing techniques, which are designed to minimize fluctuations in contribution amounts but may deviate significantly from market value. The liabilities the plans report may not reflect current views on future investment return levels. Using current market values of assets and current views on investment returns, these plans have assets of $2.513 trillion and accrued liabilities of $3.706 trillion, resulting in aggregate underfunding of $1.193 trillion and an aggregate funded ratio of 67.8%.

U.S. Birth Rate Falls to a Record Low; Decline Is Greatest Among Immigrants

November 30, 2012 Comments off

U.S. Birth Rate Falls to a Record Low; Decline Is Greatest Among Immigrants
Source: Pew Social & Demographic Trends

The U.S. birth rate dipped in 2011 to the lowest ever recorded, led by a plunge in births to immigrant women since the onset of the Great Recession.

The overall U.S. birth rate, which is the annual number of births per 1,000 women in the prime childbearing ages of 15 to 44, declined 8% from 2007 to 2010. The birth rate for U.S.-born women decreased 6% during these years, but the birth rate for foreign-born women plunged 14%—more than it had declined over the entire 1990-2007 period. The birth rate for Mexican immigrant women fell even more, by 23%.

Final 2011 data are not available, but according to preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the overall birth rate in 2011 was 63.2 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. That rate is the lowest since at least 1920, the earliest year for which there are reliable numbers. The overall U.S. birth rate peaked most recently in the Baby Boom years, reaching 122.7 in 1957, nearly double today’s rate. The birth rate sagged through the mid-1970s but stabilized at 65-70 births per 1,000 women for most years after that before falling again after 2007, the beginning of the Great Recession.

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