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EconDebates Online

EconDebates Online keeps you informed on today's most crucial economics policy debates. Each EconDebate, created by John Kane (SUNY-Oswego), provides a primer on the issues and links to background information and current, in-depth commentaries from experts around the world. Review the brief introductions and, for EconDebates of interest, select the full debate.

Income Distribution and Poverty



Are American Overworked?

Full Debate

While individuals generally report that they feel increasing time pressure, an analysis of time-use diaries find that the mix of leisure and work time has not changed substantially in recent decades. Robinson and Bostrom (1994) and Sundstrom (1999) suggest that there may be an upward bias in reports of hours worked by those workers who report relatively long workweeks. Jacobs (1998), however, provides evidence suggesting that the Robinson and Bostrom results may be the result of random errors in the data and not the result of biased reporting of hours worked.
Does U.S. immigration policy harm domestic workers?

Full Debate

Most U.S. residents today are the descendants of immigrants who arrived in the U.S. during the past 150 years. Concern over the effect of immigration on domestic workers, however, have resulted in the passage of several laws designed to restrict immigration. Unions, in particular, have argued for more restrictive immigration policy on the grounds that immigration lowers the wage and employment levels for domestic residents.
Does the anti-sweatshop movement help or harm workers in low-wage economies?

Full Debate

The anti-sweatshop movement in the U.S. and other industrialized economies has, in recent years, attempted to use consumer boycotts to eliminate sweatshop working conditions and child labor in less developed economies. Unions and college student groups have been leading the drive for sweatshop boycotts.
Does an Increase in the Minimum Wage Result in a Higher Unemployment Rate?

Full Debate

Minimum wage laws in the U.S. were first introduced during the 1930s in response to the Great Depression. This period was characterized by falling output, falling prices, and falling employment. The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of 1933 attempted to stop this downward spiral by encouraging the formation of trade association agreements that established price floors and minimum wages. This was the first national attempt to introduce minimum wages in major industries. Those firms that participated in the trade association agreements were able to display a "blue eagle" logo in their establishments. In 1935, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the NIRA was unconstitutional, and these initial minimum wage agreements were terminated.

Does a gender wage gap still exist?

Full Debate

The average wage rate for female workers has been below that for male workers for as long as statistics have been recorded. In recent years, female wages have been approximately equal to 3/4 of the level of male wages. At first glance, statistics such as this may suggest that females are the subject of substantial discrimination in the labor market. There is, however, a fair amount of disagreement among economists concerning the cause of this wage differential.

Is a college education a good investment?

Full Debate

One of the questions asked every year by many college students and their parents is: "Is a college education a good investment?" A large body of statistical evidence indicates that, on average, college graduates have higher lifetime earning streams than high school graduates. The rate of return to a college degree, however, is affected by a variety of factors, including: choice of college major, choice of occupation, labor market conditions, college quality, and individual ability. There are, however, several problems that make it difficult to measure the return to education for an individual.

Is Workfare Working?

Full Debate

In the last few years, welfare caseloads and expenditures have declined substantially. Advocates of workfare argue that this is the direct result of workfare requirements. Opponents of workfare suggest that much of this reduction in welfare expenditures is the result of the prolonged expansion that has substantially reduced unemployment. They express concern about whether workfare can survive when the expansion ends and a recession begins.

Will Social Security survive into the 21st century?

Full Debate 

The online resources listed below provide a wide range of opinions concerning the magnitude of the problems facing the social security system. Part of the reason for this is that forecasts of future social security revenue depend on factors such as future rates of economic growth, the level of future unemployment and labor force participation rates, and similar factors. Small differences in rates of economic growth can have dramatic effects on the level of output (and tax revenue) over the course of a 20-30 year period. Different assumptions about such future outcomes result in very different conclusions about the future solvency of the social security system.

Is there a need for health-care reform?

Full Debate 

Health-care reform was one of the major issues in the 1992 U.S. Presidential campaign. While no major reform bill was passed during Bill Clinton's first term in office, health-care reform has remained a major topic of congressional debate.

Should the Death Tax Be Abolished?

Full Debate

The current federal estate tax, less formally know as the "death tax", was introduced in 1916 to help provide revenue to support military expenditures during World War I. While the federal estate tax was originally introduced to provide a source of wartime revenue, it has been kept primarily as a means of redistributing wealth.

How should we reform the current tax system?

Full Debate 

While virtually everyone agrees the the current tax system is excessively complex, there is no tax simplification plan that is universally accepted. The major problem is that most proposed changes in the tax structure will benefit some taxpayers and harm others.

What accounts for the recent increases in income inequality?

Full Debate 

Recently, the United States has enjoyed a strong economy with low levels of inflation and unemployment. The strong economy, however, has not resulted in a steady rise in income for all Americans. In fact, for the last twenty years, the gap in income between rich and poor has increased. What accounts for the recent increases in income inequality in the United States?

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