[Economic Report of the President (2013)]
[Administration of Barack H. Obama]
[Online through the Government Printing Office, www.gpo.gov]

 
CHAPTER 1


RECOVERING FROM THE
PAST AND PREPARING
FOR THE FUTURE

Although economics has long been called ``the dismal science, it is
more appropriately viewed as a ``hopeful science.'' The right mix of
economic policies and leadership can help a country to recover from a
deep recession and point to the investments and reforms that will build
a stron�ger, more stable, and more prosperous economy that works for
the middle class. Conversely, government dysfunction or misguided
fiscal policy can cause self-inflicted wounds to the economy. This
year's Economic Report of the President highlights the progress that
has been made in recovering from the deepest recession since the Great
Depression, together with the policies that the Obama Administration is
advancing to address the fundamental imbalances and threats that have
built up for decades and that have created severe stress on the middle
class and those striving to get into the middle class.

As President Obama embarks on a second term, the U.S. economy
unquestionably stands on firmer ground than when he first took office,
but more work remains to be done. Our Nation's economic recovery
continued to make progress in 2012: payroll employment rose by more
than 2 million, the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in four
years, new cars sold at the fastest rate since 2007, and the housing
sector showed clear signs of turning a corner for the first time in
more than five years. In the near term, sustaining and building upon
this progress must be a priority. At the same time, the Obama
Administration also remains focused on addressing a number of
underlying, structural problems, many of which developed over the
course of decades. Some of these problems--like stagnant middle-class
incomes and excessive risk-taking in the financial sector--played a role
in bringing our economy to the brink of collapse in late 2008 and early
2009. Other challenges--like the dangers of climate change and rising
health care costs--could jeopardize our prosperity and security in the
years ahead. Another theme that runs throughout this Report is that demographic
changes associated with an aging population are having a
profound effect on economic performance in a number of domains, from
labor force participa�tion to household consumption, as well as placing
increasing pressure on the Federal budget. The Obama Administration is
committed to addressing these issues, while also supporting the ongoing
recovery, and in turn build�ing an economy that is stronger, fairer and
more resilient.
This Report reviews the progress of the ongoing economic recovery
during 2012 and highlights the main goals of the President's economic
agenda. These goals include strengthening the foundations of economic
growth by investing in education, research, and infrastructure, and by
fixing a broken immigration system through commonsense immigration
reform; ensuring fairness for the middle class by reforming the tax
code and health insurance system; and bolstering the economy's
resilience to future chal�lenges by addressing the dangers of climate
change, moving toward energy independence, pursuing a balanced approach
to deficit reduction, adding safeguards to the financial system,
opening up new markets for U.S. exports, and equipping American workers
to compete in the global economy.

Tracking the Progress of the Recovery

When President Obama first entered office on January 20, 2009, the
U.S. economy was in the midst of the worst downturn since the Great
Depression. Real gross domestic product (GDP), the total amount of
goods and services produced in the country adjusted for inflation, had
just con�tracted at the sharpest rate in any quarter in more than 50
years, shrinking by 8.9 percent at an annual rate. This severe decline
in economic output was accompanied by devastating job losses. In the
year before President Obama's first inauguration, the U.S. economy lost
4.6 million private sector jobs, including 821,000 in January 2009. As
bad as things were at the time, a dark cloud of uncertainty hovered
over the economy, and the risk of even further deterioration was still
very real. At the end of 2008, the financial system teetered on the
brink of collapse and credit for businesses and households had seized
up. Home prices were steadily declining, with no bottom in sight, and
the fate of the American auto industry hung in the balance, as auto
sales in early 2009 plunged to their lowest level in 27 years. A total
of $16 trillion in wealth was erased by the financial and housing
crisis, causing families to pull back on spending plans, reduce
personal debt and increase savings, in turn leading companies to cut
back hiring, lay off valued employees, and halt investment plans. In
short, the economy was caught in a downward spiral, where consumers
were pulling back because they had less income and feared job loss,
businesses pulled back and reduced employment even further, and around
this vicious cycle went.
Against this backdrop, the Obama Administration acted quickly and
decisively to raise aggregate demand, stem the job losses, restore the
flow of credit, and put the economy in a position to begin growing once
again. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Recovery
Act) was the boldest measure of countercyclical fiscal stimulus in U.S.
history. The Recovery Act's mix of tax cuts for individuals and
businesses, aid to State and local governments, and infrastructure
investment was designed to provide the economy with an immediate boost.
In addition to the Recovery Act, the Obama Administration worked to
stabilize the financial sector through a series of measures including
stress tests for banks and rigorous requirements for banks to raise
private capital and repay the government for assistance from the
Troubled Asset Relief Program. The Making Home Affordable program put
in place a number of initiatives that have helped millions of Americans
modify or refinance their mortgages and stay in their homes. The
Administration also rescued and reformed the auto industry by guiding
the successful restructuring of two of America's largest automakers and
preserving the critical supply network.
Soon after these steps were taken, the economy reversed course.
The contraction in economic output eased in 2009 and GDP began to grow
again in the third quarter of that year. The economy has now expanded
for 14 consecutive quarters. Similarly, the pace of job losses slowed
over the course of 2009, and the monthly change in private employment
turned positive in March 2010. In recent recoveries following the end
of recessions, job growth has lagged economic growth, as employers
either managed to implement ways to raise labor productivity to meet
demand or delayed hiring out of caution that demand would not recover.
During the current recovery, sustained job growth started 9 months
after GDP growth resumed, which is sooner than in the 1991 and 2001
recoveries. As shown in Figure 1-1, private employers have now
increased payrolls for 35 consecutive months. The 6.1 million jobs
added over this time constitute the best 35-month period of job
creation since 1998-2001, more than a decade ago. In addition, some
$13.5 trillion of the $16 trillion in lost wealth has been restored due
to the rebounding of the equity markets and firming of house prices,
although the gains in wealth have not been uniformly shared.
In 2012, the recovery continued to make progress, and the economy
and American people showed their resilience in the face of several
head-winds. Total nonfarm payroll employment grew by 2.2 million during
the year, or roughly 181,000 jobs per month, a bit above the forecast
of 167,000



jobs per month that appeared in last year's Economic Report of the
President. The unemployment rate fell 0.7 percentage point over the
course of the year and reached its lowest level since January 2009.
Almost the entire drop in the unemployment rate resulted from increased
employment rather than labor force withdrawal. GDP expanded by 1.6
percent during the four quarters of 2012.

Although 2012 was a year of progress, it was not without
challenges. A severe drought in the Midwest subtracted from GDP growth
in the second and third quarters. Hurricane Sandy struck in late
October, and based on the latest estimates of private property damage,
it was the second costliest natural disaster in the United States
during the last 40 years, behind only Hurricane Katrina. In addition,
the euro area slipped back into recession, reflecting continued
uncertainty in financial markets, further deleveraging by households
and companies, and sizable fiscal austerity measures under�taken by
many European governments. The slowdown among our trading partners in
Europe and also in Asia reduced overseas demand for U.S. goods and
services. And here in the United States, the threat of scheduled tax
increases and automatic spending cuts known as the ``fiscal cliff''
lingered for most of the year. The economy's performance in 2012 is
reviewed in greater detail in Chapter 2. Despite the economy's
resilience during the past year, the unemployment rate remains
elevated, and more work remains to be



done to boost growth and job creation. In 2013, the Administration
remains focused on the need to keep moving forward, while once again
avoiding the threat of self-inflicted wounds.


Placing the Recovery in Historical Context

Chapter 2 also places the recovery in broader historical context.
The pattern in recoveries over the last 50 years has been that more
recent recov�eries tend to be marked by slower growth than the
recoveries that preceded them. This tendency is documented in Figure
1-2, which shows real GDP along with trend lines based on the average
growth rate between successive business-cycle peaks. The current
recovery, so far, is no exception to this pattern. The single largest
cause of slower trend GDP growth in recent years is changing
demographics, as the rate of overall population growth moder�ates, the
baby boomers move into retirement, and the share of the popula�tion
that is of prime working age begins to decline. Productivity growth
also appears to have slowed down after the 1990s, although it is
unclear if the slowdown will continue.
At the same time, however, several of the factors that have
restrained growth in recent years are temporary constraints that are
unique to the current situation and will likely subside in the years
ahead. For instance,



a growing body of research has shown that recoveries following
financial crises tend to be slower, because of delays in the
reemergence of credit and reductions in consumer spending as households
pay down debt or rebuild their savings. The Administration expects
growth to quicken after households repair their balance sheets and
consumers have more money to spend on goods and services. In addition,
the housing sector is just now emerging from several depressed years,
and much of the overbuilding that took place during the boom years has
been offset by underbuilding since 2007. As Figure 1-3 shows, by the
Council of Economic Advisers' (CEA) calculations, the U.S. housing
market has likely worked off the nationwide cumulative total of excess
building that took place in the housing boom years. Consequently,
activity in the housing sector is likely to return to more normal
levels in the years ahead, although some regions are further ahead in
this process than others.
Furthermore, despite the Administration's efforts to support State
and local governments through the Recovery Act and other measures,
employment in this sector has undergone an unprecedented decline. The
Obama Administration will continue to look for ways to boost the hiring
of teachers, police officers and firefighters, and these efforts should
be helped by a broadly improving economy that eases the strain on State
and local government finances. Thus, while some of the slower growth
experienced in recent years is likely the unavoidable consequence of
changing demography, there are still strong reasons to believe that the
pace of economic growth will nonetheless pick up.


Making Progress Toward a Sustainable Fiscal Path

During 2012, the Obama Administration continued to pursue a
balanced approach to fiscal policy that supports the recovery in the
near term while looking to reduce the deficit and stabilize the debt
over the medium and long term. The Recovery Act provided substantial
support for growth in 2009 and 2010, and the economy benefited in 2011
and 2012 from extended unemployment insurance benefits and a 2
percentage point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll
tax, among other measures. At the same time, the Administration agreed
to and Congress enacted $1.4 tril�lion in discretionary spending cuts,
spread over the next decade to ease the impact on an economy that is
still healing. Together with the additional rev�enue from the American
Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) and interest savings, the deficit has been
reduced by more than $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Thanks to
these actions and steady economic growth, the Federal budget deficit
has declined from 10.1 percent of GDP in 2009 to 7.0 percent of GDP in
2012, the largest three-year drop since 1949. The Congressional Budget
Office (CBO 2013) projects that the deficit will fall to 5.3 percent of
GDP in 2013. The Obama Administration has repeatedly proposed policies
to bring the deficit down to below 3 percent of GDP and stabilize the
national debt relative to the size of the economy in the 10-year budget
window. A further discussion of the Federal budget outlook can be found
in Chapter 3.
A comparison of recent economic performance in the United States
with that of countries undertaking more abrupt fiscal consolidation
under-scores the importance of a balanced and responsible approach to
return over time to a sustainable Federal budget. Figure 1-4 shows that
while GDP in the United States has expanded for 14 consecutive quarters
and surpassed its pre-recession peak, the recovery has faltered in
places where austerity has been implemented more rapidly. President
Obama has put it succinctly: ``We cannot just cut our way to
prosperity.''
The American Taxpayer Relief Act, enacted January 2, 2013,
represents an important component of the Obama Administration's
approach to reducing the deficit and returning more fairness to the tax
code. Before the enactment of ATRA, the Congressional Budget Office
(CBO 2012a, 2012b) estimated that if the massive tax hikes and spending
cuts originally scheduled to take place in 2013 had been allowed to
occur, the full force of



these austerity measures, equivalent in dollar terms to roughly 4
percent of GDP, would have caused the unemployment rate to rise by more
than one percentage point and likely driven the economy into another
recession. The Council of Economic Advisers (CEA 2012) projected that
if tax rates rose for middle-class families earning less than $250,000
a year as was planned under then-current law, U.S. consumers would have
reined in their spending by nearly $200 billion in 2013. To put this in
perspective, this reduction of $200 billion is approximately four times
larger than the total amount that 226 million shoppers spent on the
post-Thanksgiving ``Black Friday'' weekend in 2011, or roughly the same
amount Americans spent on all the new cars and trucks sold in the
United States that year. This would have been a deeply damaging
self-inflicted wound to the economy.
ATRA avoided this massive fiscal retrenchment, securing permanent
income tax relief for 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small
businesses, while also asking wealthier Americans to contribute a bit
more to deficit reduction. ATRA reduces the deficit by more than $700
billion over the next 10 years, largely by restoring the top marginal
tax rate on upper-income households to the levels that prevailed in the
1990s and taxing these households' capital income at a 20 percent rate
instead of 15 percent. At the same time, it locks in lower tax rates
for the middle class permanently and extends President Obama's
expansions of key tax credits that help working families pay the bills
and send their children to college. Other tax credits for business
investment and R&D were also extended, as was unemployment insurance
for 2 million Americans who are still searching for a job. By avoiding
the bulk of the tax increases that would have jeopardized the recovery
while also making substantial progress on reducing the deficit, ATRA
was a positive step that is representative of the balanced approach
that the Administration will continue to pursue.
As this Report goes to press, the U.S. economy is once again
confronted with the risk of a self-inflicted wound, in the form of
automatic, across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester. When
originally put into place with the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA),
these cuts were never intended to be policy, but rather to force
Congress to reach agreement on a broad, long-term deficit reduction
package. In the absence of such an agreement, the cuts went into effect
on March 1, 2013, and threaten to slow the economy and cause hundreds
of thousands of job losses if not replaced. Private economists suggest
the cuts could reduce GDP growth in 2013 by around half a percentage
point. This potential reduction in output is sizable, considering that
most analysts expect the economy to grow around 2 to 3 percent during
the year. Moreover, in the weeks and months ahead, sequestration will
begin to disrupt basic functions of government on which Americans
depend, from education to emergency first-response to airport security.
Already, the Navy has been forced to delay the deployment of an
aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf because of the threat of the cuts.
The Administration will continue to call on Congress to replace the
across-the-board, indiscriminate BCA sequester with a balanced
alternative that closes unfair tax loopholes, reforms entitlements, and
cuts unnecessary spending. This type of approach is the best way to
support the recovery in the short run, while also making progress
toward returning to a sustainable budget in the long run.
While the immediate budgetary concern in 2013 is the need to
replace the sequester, it is also important to remain focused on the
main driver of our long-term budget challenge: the cost of health care
for an aging population. One positive development, with significant
implications for the economy and Federal budget if it persists, is the
recent slowdown in the growth of health care spending. The rate of
growth in nationwide real per capita health care expenditures has been
on a downward trend since 2002, with a particularly marked slowdown
over the past three years.�Since 2010, health care expenditures per
capita grew at essentially the same rate as GDP per capita. As shown in
Figure 1-5, this development is unusual, because growth in health
spending has tended to outpace overall economic growth



for most of the last five decades. Although some of the narrowing of
this gap can be attributed to the effects of the recession, Chapter 5
presents evidence that structural shifts in the health care sector are
underway, spurred on in part by the 2010 Patient Protection and
Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act). If the recent trends can be
sustained, the resulting lower health care costs will have a
tremendously positive impact on employers, middle-class families, and
importantly, the Federal budget. Indeed, if the growth rate of Medicare
spending per beneficiary over the last five years persists into the
future, then after 75 years Medicare spending would account for only
3.8 percent of GDP, little changed from its share today, and
substantially less than what the Medicare Trustees estimate. This
should not be interpreted as a forecast but rather an indication of how
sensitive long-term projections are to the assumed rate of growth of
Medicare spending per beneficiary.
In sum, the U.S. economy has come a long way over the last four
years, though more work remains. A staggering total of 8.8 million
private sector jobs were destroyed as a result of the Great Recession,
but 6.1 million jobs have been gained back. Similarly, $16 trillion in
household wealth was lost when the housing bubble burst and the economy
went into recession, but now more than $13 trillion--over 80 percent--has
been regained. And of the estimated $4 trillion in deficit reduction
that many budget experts agree is needed over the next 10 years to
place the economy on a sustain�able fiscal path, more than $2.5
trillion has been achieved. House prices and residential construction
are on the rise, the domestic manufacturing sector is showing signs of
resurgence after a decade of shedding jobs, and the U.S. auto industry
is back on track, selling new cars at an increasing rate. More work
remains to be done, but our Nation has come too far now to turn back.

Building a Stronger, Fairer,
More Resilient Economy

While continuing to build on the progress in recovering from the
recession and increasing job creation in the near term, the Obama
Administration has also kept a careful focus on preparing the U.S.
economy for a stronger, fairer, more resilient future. Many of the
problems that caused the financial crisis and recession built up over
decades, and our Nation will not have a durable economy that works for
the middle class until these underlying, fundamental issues are
addressed. For instance, middle-class incomes stagnated in the 2000s,
and many economists have argued that households turned to credit to
make up for this weak income growth. Lightly regulated--or
unregulated--financial companies were all too willing to provide easy
credit at nontransparent terms to meet this demand. The borrowing was
unsustainable, as evidenced by the bursting of the housing bubble and
the fact that outstanding household debt burdens have restrained
consumer spending during the course of the recovery.
Part of the weak income growth for middle-class families can be
traced to rising health care costs. By one estimate, if health care
costs during the 2000s had risen at the same rate as general consumer
price inflation--rather than exceeding it--the median family of four
would have had an additional $5,400 in 2009 to spend on other expenses
(Auerbach and Kellermann 2011). Slowing the rise in health care costs
is therefore a critical part of ensuring that middle-class families can
see their take-home pay start to grow consistently again.
This mix of underlying problems--stagnant middle-class incomes,
excessive reliance on borrowing, and rising health care
costs--motivated two of the Administration's key initiatives during the
first term: the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street
Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Affordable Care Act expands
insurance coverage and puts in place meaningful reforms that will
reduce the cost of medical care, ensuring that families will not be
forced into bankruptcy because of an unexpected ill�ness. The
Dodd-Frank law puts an end to taxpayer-financed bailouts for big banks,
restricts many of the riskiest financial practices that developed in
the run-up to the crisis, and creates a new consumer watchdog to
increase transparency and fairness for American families.

Strengthening the Foundations of Growth

The economy's long-run growth potential fundamentally depends on
the number of workers and the productivity of those workers, which, of
course, depends on the productivity of American businesses and the
creativity and risk-taking of American entrepreneurs. During the second
half of the 20th century, the U.S. economy benefited substantially from
favorable demographics. The baby boomers were in their prime working
years, and women entered the labor force in record numbers. As the size
of the labor force grew more quickly during these years, so too did the
economy's poten�tial output. However, as discussed previously,
population growth is expected to slow in the years ahead, and the
United States is expected to undergo a dramatic demographic transition.
Figure 1-6 displays the latest projections from the Census Bureau,
showing that overall population growth is estimated to decline from an
average of 1.2 percent per year since 1950, to just 0.7 percent per
year over the next three decades. Notably, as the baby boomers move
into retirement, the only major age group that will grow faster over
the next 30 years than it did during the last 60 is persons aged 65
and up. As a result, the share of the population that is of prime
working age will fall steadily, and the number of retirees per worker
will rise. Consequently, one of the major challenges facing the U.S.
economy in the decades ahead is the slowdown in potential output growth
that will result from a more slowly growing population and labor
force.1

---------------
1 Although the changing demographics of the United States are likely
to have a large effect on the economy and the Federal budget in the
years ahead, the challenges are even greater in other advanced
countries. According to United Nations projections (UN 2011), in 2040,
the ratio of persons aged 65 and older to persons aged 20-64 will be
even higher in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, and the
United Kingdom than it will be in the United States. The Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD 2012) has said that the
aging of populations across developed countries will be the main
contributor to slower potential output growth in OECD countries in the
decades ahead.
Although the recession caused a decline in the labor force
participation rate, it is important to recall that even well before the
recession, the labor force participation rate showed signs that it had
reached its peak in the late 1990s. This fact largely reflected the
aging of the population discussed above and the plateauing of female
labor force participation following four decades during which American
society was transformed by an increasing number of women in the
workforce. So while some discouraged workers are likely to reenter the
labor force in the near term as the economy continues to heal, the
long-term trend for the labor force participation rate is still likely



to be downward. This likelihood was acknowledged in the 2004 Economic
Report of the President, which noted, ``the long-term trend of rising
participation appears to have come to an end. . . . The decline [in the
labor force participation rate] may be greater, however, after 2008,
which is the year that the first baby boomers (those born in 1946)
reach the early-retirement age of 62.''
In the face of the demographic challenges of an aging population
and a more slowly growing workforce, the Administration believes it is
imperative to boost the productivity of American workers by investing
in education, innovation, research, and infrastructure. One way in
particular to enhance the productivity of the workforce is to have a
more educated workforce. As discussed in Chapter 4, the value of a
college degree--as measured by the premium paid to college-educated
workersis significant. Shortly after tak�ing office in 2009, President
Obama set the goal that America would once again have the highest
proportion of college-educated young people in the world by 2020.
Chapter 4 details the steps the Obama Administration has taken to meet
that goal, including expanding Pell Grants, establishing the American
Opportunity Tax Credit, and reforming the student loan system to help
make repayment more manageable for 1.6 million responsible borrowers.
More recently, President Obama has called for a new Federal-State
partnership that would provide all low- and moderate-income
four-year-olds with high-quality preschool.
Commonsense immigration reform is another key aspect of the
Administration's efforts to enhance the productivity of the American
work-force, create more jobs for workers and more customers for
businesses, and ease the looming demographic challenges. With a more
slowly growing population and more retirees to support, the time is
ripe for America to once again renew its long tradition of welcoming
immigrants to our shores. Chapter 4 summarizes the economic case for
reforming our immigration system to make the American economy more
dynamic. Indeed, immigrants founded more than one in four new
businesses in the United States in 2011 (Fairlie 2012). Moreover,
commonsense immigration reform that gives undocumented immigrants a
pathway to earned citizenship is needed to bring these workers out of
the shadows and ensure that employers who hire only legally authorized
workers and pay a decent wage are not put at a disadvantage. This type
of commonsense reform strengthens the economy as a whole by maintaining
competition on a level playing field. Immigrants own more than 2
million American businesses of all sizes and were critical to the
creation of many of our largest companies like Yahoo! and Google. To
make sure that America has a dynamic, competitive workforce and is the
home of the next major innovation, it is essential to move toward an
immigration system that is geared to help us grow our economy and
strengthen the middle class.


Ensuring Fairness for the Middle Class

As discussed above, the American Taxpayer Relief Act was
significant not just because it averted the massive tax increases and
automatic spending cuts that were slated to occur at the beginning of
2013, but also because it reversed a decades-long trend of declining tax
rates for the wealthiest American households. Figure 1-7 shows the
average Federal (individual income plus payroll) tax rate for the top
0.1 percent of earners, as well as for the top 1 percent and the middle
20 percent. Since the mid-1990s, the average tax rate on income earned
by the wealthiest Americans has trended down and was close to its
historical low for most of the 2000s. Beginning in 2013, however, top
earners will contribute a bit more to deficit reduction, reducing
pressure to cut key investments in education, research, and
infrastructure. Even with the tax changes beginning this year, the
average tax rate on these high earners is still well within the lower
end of its historical range.
The move toward greater fairness in the tax code is motivated by
President Obama's belief that the best way to grow an economy is from
the middle out, not from the top down. Over the last 30 years, the
wealthiest



Americans have seen their share of the nations income increase
substantially. America celebrates success, but Americans also
recognize that when the middle class is squeezed and working families
struggle to afford the goods and services that businesses are selling,
the prosperity of the nation as a whole is jeopardized. ATRA rolls back
some of the inequality that has built up since the 1980s and marks
the beginning of the return to a tax code that reflects basic
principles of fairness and the critical importance of the middle class
to the nation's overall economic health. The Administration has
proposed to raise additional revenue by closing loopholes for
investment fund managers and cutting tax preferences that benefit only
high-income house�holds, as well as by making changes to the corporate
tax code that would eliminate special breaks for oil and gas companies
and corporate jet owners. Chapter 3 provides further detail on how the
President's tax and budget policies are informed by the goal of
ensuring fairness for the middle class.
In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama emphasized
that ``our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day's work with
honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage
earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we've put in place, a
family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the
poverty line.'' For these reasons, the President proposed raising the
Federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour and indexing it to inflation
thereafter. While economists have long debated the effects of the
minimum wage on employment, the available evidence suggests that
modest increases in the minimum wage raise the incomes of low-wage
workers as a group and have little, if any, effect on employment.
Doucouliagos and Stanley's (2009) careful meta-analysis of the
literature concludes, ``with 64 studies containing approximately 1,500
estimates, we have reason to believe that if there is some adverse
employment effect from minimum-wage raises, it must be of a small and
policy-irrelevant magnitude.'' Similarly, another literature review by
Schmitt (2013) considered the most recent research published since 2000
and found, ``The weight of that evidence points to little or no
employment response to modest increases in the minimum wage.''
In addition to being paid a wage they can live on, working
families should also have some protection from the tremendous hardship
that could arise in the event of an unforeseen illness or medical
condition. There is a fundamental economic rationale for providing this
sort of protection. As President Obama said in his second inaugural
address, ``The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and
Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative,
they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free
us to take the risks that make this country great.'' The insurance
coverage expansion and cost reduction measures contained in the
Affordable Care Act are the next major steps toward ensuring that
American workers have a fair shot at realizing their full potential.
Already, the number of uninsured young people is falling, due to the
law's requirement that health insurance plans offer dependent children
coverage until age 26. In addition, millions of Americans are now
receiving rebates from their health insurers as a result of the law's
requirement that insurers use no more than 20 percent of premiums for
profits, administrative costs, and marketing. Chapter 5 details these
and other important steps that are being taken to improve our Nation's
health care system, as well as the major benefits that will result for
middle-class workers and families.
The President's top priority remains to make America a magnet for
jobs and manufacturing in order to strengthen the middle class and
promote economic growth. As discussed in Chapter 7, manufacturing has
historically provided Americans with a path to the middle class,
especially for less educated Americans. But as foreign competition from
companies in China and elsewhere began to emerge, manufacturing work
increasingly moved overseas, and millions of American jobs were lost.
Manufacturing employment in the United States had been fairly stable
at around 18 million jobs from 1965 to 2000, but from 2000 to
2007--before the Great Recession--manufacturing employment dropped
precipitously, falling by 3.5 million jobs. Another 2.3 million
manufacturing jobs were lost in the recession and its aftermath.
Chapter 7 details the Administration's efforts to reverse this trend
and bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States. These efforts
include supporting new skills training programs for workers, investing
in advanced manufacturing R&D to replenish the technology pipeline and
strengthen engineering capabilities, providing tax credits for
manufacturers that hire more employees in the United States, and
encouraging fair trade by expanding America's global market access and
leveling the playing field across nations. Many of these initiatives
began during President Obama's first term and contributed to the nearly
500,000 manufacturing jobs that have been added over the last 3 years,
the best period of job creation in man�ufacturing since the 1990s. This
turnaround in manufacturing would have been inconceivable even just a
few years ago, and sustaining this momentum is a key part of the Obama
Administration's second-term agenda for the middle class.


Making the Economy More Resilient to Future Challenges

While the Administration works to repair the damage of the Great
Recession and build an economy that works for middle-class families, it
is critical that we also take steps to ensure that the economy is
resilient in the face of gathering challenges. For example, although
much progress has been made in moving America toward a clean energy
future that does not depend on foreign oil, more work remains to be
done. Chapter 6 details the scientific consensus around climate change
and the dangerous consequences that could result if greenhouse gas
emissions are not reduced. In addition, Chapter 6 discusses the
preparatory steps being taken to avoid these harmful outcomes and
ensure the economy's resiliency in the face of these risks. The
Administration has increased fuel efficiency standards, launched an
array of programs to encourage more efficient household energy use, and
provided tax credits to companies developing renewable energy
sources--all actions that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In
2012, net imports of petroleum products were at a 20-year low, domestic
natural gas production was at an all-time high, and the use of
renewable sources like wind and solar had more than doubled from 2008.
These are positive steps in the right direction, and the Administration
aims to continue this progress in the second term.
Chapter 8 presents the challenges and opportunities in the U.S.
agricultural sector, as well as the lessons learned from the rapid
productivity advances in agriculture that can be built on to raise job
creation and output in other areas of the economy. In 2012, America's
farmers faced the most severe drought since the 1950s but showed their
resilience as net farm income for the year as a whole is estimated to
have fallen just 4 percent from the record high level reached in 2011.
In the years ahead, America's farmers have an especially important role
to play in helping to feed a growing global population. From 2010 to
2050, the world's population is projected to rise by more than 2
billion people, and most of this increase is expected to occur in
developing countries. A growing, increasingly urbanized world
population will present unique challenges to the agricultural sector,
as urban areas rely heavily on a stable and efficient worldwide food
chain to provide nutrient-dense and diverse foods. At the same time,
trade in agricultural commodi�ties will continue to be a global
endeavor in which prices respond to supply and demand conditions around
the world. Chapter 8 outlines the steps the Administration is taking to
build on our Nation's trade surplus in agricul�tural products and help
farmers manage the risk of volatile prices.


Conclusion

As President Obama begins his second term, the U.S. economy is
undoubtedly in a far stronger position and headed in a much better
direction than it was when he first took office in January 2009, but
more work remains to be done. 2012 was a year of progress, with private
employers adding more than 2 million jobs and the unemployment rate
falling to its lowest level in four years. While the worst of the
recession is now behind us, many of its aftereffects still linger, as
do a number of underlying, structural issues that built up for decades
and could threaten our economy's prosperity in the years ahead. As
such, the Administration's efforts in the second term will proceed
along two critically important and related tracks: recovering from the
past and preparing for the future.
The goals of the President's economic agenda described
above--strengthening the foundations of growth, ensuring fairness for
the middle class, and making the economy more resilient to future
challenges--are all mutually reinforcing. America built the most
prosperous economy on Earth because we recognized that investments in
our individual success were inextricably linked to our success as a
nation. Today, investments in research and innovation can lead to new
technologies that allow for more effective, less expensive health care
or cleaner sources of energy. To facilitate these new technological
innovations, it is critical to have a vibrant manufacturing sector with
advanced engineering capabilities. A growing manufacturing sector can
also provide a path to the middle class for many American work�ers. And
when middle-class families see their incomes rise, their increased
spending on goods and services supports broad-based, sustainable
economic growth--in other words, an economy that is built to last. This
is just one set of examples of the synergies across the various aspects
of the President's economic agenda--many more can be found in the
chapters of this Report. These synergies underlie the economic recovery
that began during President Obama's first term and will drive the
Administration's work during his sec�ond term to continue moving our
economy forward.