Posts tagged with: united states

bankruptcyThe Bible has a lot to say about the principles behind bankruptcy law, says T. Kyle Bryant. In the Old Testament, God gave Moses various laws concerning the poor, lenders, borrowers, and debt forgiveness.

From these passages, we get a glimpse of how God makes provision for people who cannot pay their debt after a certain number of years. Beside discouraging lenders from making “bad” loans (ones that could not be repaid in seven years), the law prevented overwhelming debt from ruining a person’s life forever. In this way, God’s law provided for a type of bankruptcy protection every seven years (and every 50 years for land).

The United States bankruptcy scheme is complex, but the similarities between it and the biblical system are striking. Both systems served to protect the relatively powerless consumers and give predictability and stability to the creditors. For example, in the Israelite law, debtors could be released from their debts every seven years—no matter the amount of the debt, it was gone. This prevented common debtors from having to sell themselves into slavery in perpetuity to pay for their debts. On the other hand, it gave a stable and predictable risk profile to creditors seeking repayment of those debts. Lenders could temper their desire to make risky loans with the knowledge that any chance of repayment after the seventh year was uncertain.

In a similar way, the Bankruptcy Code allows a person freedom from their debt every eight years. Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code governs (in large part) individual debtors and the discharge of a person’s debt. If someone has received a discharge of their debt under Chapter 7, they must wait eight years before they can file for bankruptcy again. This echoes the biblical pattern of debt being wiped away every seven years. (But whether this tempers creditors’ risky lending practices is another question).

Read more . . .

unemployedNote: This is the latest entry in the Acton blog series, “What Christians Should Know About Economics.” For other entries in the series see this post.

 The Term: Unemployment

What it Means: If you consult a dictionary, you’ll find a number of commonsensical definitions for unemployment: the state of being without a job; being without a paid job but available to work, etc. But like many other economic terms, the dictionary definition can vary significantly from how the term is often used. For example, since your teenage daughter, your neighbor’s stay-at-home spouse, or your retired grandfather are without a job, are they considered “unemployed”? In each case the answer is the same: It depends.

According to the federal government, to be unemployed a person must (a) be jobless, (b) looking for a job, and (c) available for work.

People are considered employed if they have a job (whether temporary, part-time, etc.). People who are neither employed nor unemployed are considered to be not in the labor force.

In America, the labor force consists of all persons 16 years old and over who are not serving on active duty in the military and are not confined to institutions such as nursing homes and prisons and either have a job or are looking for work. The labor force is made up of both the employed and the unemployed.

So unemployment refers to anyone who doesn’t have a job, wants one and is available to work, and is actively looking for work. That last part is particularly important because “discouraged workers” are not counted as unemployed. (See below for more on discouraged workers.)
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Because jobs can serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and communities, they are the most important part of a morally functioning economy. Workers dropping out of the labor force because they’ve grown discouraged is therefore one of the most pressing moral and economic issues in America today. Sadly, it is also one of the most overlooked.

Today, the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee released some stats showing the shocking decline in the male participation in the labor force, particularly men between the ages of 25-54:

Record 1 In 8 American Men In Their Prime Working Years Are Not In The Labor Force_0.preview

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According to the committee members:

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A new study focusing on the demographic effects of abortion in the United States brings to light what one scientist calls truly astounding findings. The demographic changes will even affect America’s economy. “There is no such thing as economic growth going hand-in-hand with declining human capital,” says Elise Hilton in the second of this week’s Acton Commentary.

The United States is facing a very difficult economic, educational, and sociopolitical outlook. We will have fewer workers, fewer small businesses and more dying small towns. There will be fewer teachers, fewer students, and more closed schools. We’ll have smaller families and more children not knowing what it means to have siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. A smaller population is not a good thing; it means the loss of many cherished American ideals. Our way of life is at stake. That is not a dramatic over-statement; it is a simple fact.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

VA-Medical-Center-jpgWhat is the VA and what does it do?

VA is the acronym for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a cabinet-level organization whose primary function is to support Veterans in their time after service by providing benefits and support. The benefits provided include such items as pension, education, home loans, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation, burial benefits, and healthcare. It is the federal government’s second largest department, after the Department of Defense. The VA’s health-care wing, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), is the largest health-care system in the country, with more than 53,000 independent licensed health-care practitioners and 8.3 million veterans served each year.

What is the current scandal involving the VA?

The VA requires its hospitals to provide care to patients in a timely manner, typically within 14 to 30 days. But last month, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said that as many as forty VA hospital patients in Phoenix, Arizona may have died while awaiting medical care. Miller also claimed that the Phoenix VA Health Care System was keeping two sets of records to conceal prolonged waits that patients must endure for ¬doctor appointments and treatment.

According to internal VA emails obtained by CNN, the secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by top-level VA managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor. The process involved shredding evidence to hide the long list of veterans waiting for appointments and care, and the head of the office even instructed staff to not actually make doctor’s appointments for veterans within the computer system. This allowed the VA executives in Phoenix to be able to “verify” that patients were being treated in a timely manner

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said similar scandals have surfaced in at least 10 states. The American Legion has documented those cases in the following infographic (click to enlarge).
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poverty-declinedWould you say that over the past three decades (since about the mid-1980s) the percentage of people in the world who live in extreme poverty — defined as living on less than $1.25 per day — has:

A) Increased
B) Decreased
C) remained the same

The right answer is B: extreme poverty has decreased by more than half. Yet according to a recent Barna Group survey more than eight in 10 Americans (84 percent) are unaware global poverty has reduced so drastically, and more than two-thirds (67 percent) say they thought global poverty has risen during that period.

Additionally, more than two-thirds of US adults (68 percent) say they do not believe it’s possible to end extreme global poverty within the next 25 years. One exception to this pessimism is practicing Christians. Defined by Barna as people who have attended a church service in the past month and say their religious faith is very important in their life, practicing Christians under 40 are the most optimistic at nearly half (48 percent), with practicing Christians over 40 slightly higher than the general population (37 percent compared to 32 percent of all adults).

The reason for the pessimism about eradicating extreme poverty generally fall into one of five categories:

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The Acton Institute Mini-Grants on Free Market Economics Program accepts proposals from business and economics faculty members at Christian colleges, seminaries, and universities in the United States and Canada in order to promote the scholarship and teaching of market economics. This program allows for collaboration between faculty from different universities, as well as allow future leaders to emerge, strengthen, and expand the existing network of scholars within economics. Entrants may submit proposals in two broad categories: Course development and faculty scholarships.  You can learn more about this program on the Mini-Grants page.

Here is the complete list of the 2014 winners and their specific projects: (more…)

7figuresReligious polarization is taking place in the Hispanic community, with the shrinking majority of Hispanic Catholics holding the middle ground between two growing groups (evangelical Protestants and the unaffiliated) that are at opposite ends of the U.S. religious spectrum, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. Here are seven figures you should know from that report:
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keep-calm-and-expect-the-unexpected-18Today at Bloomberg we find this unexpected news about unemployment:

Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits unexpectedly climbed to a nine-week high, underscoring the difficulty adjusting the data for seasonal variations such as the Easter holiday and spring recess at schools.

Jobless claims rose by 14,000 to 344,000 in the period ended April 26, the highest level since Feb. 22, Labor Department data showed today in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 320,000.

There are two things the media never expects: (1) The Spanish Inquisition and (2) increases in jobless claims. Over the past five years, in 30 of the past 60 months,  the media has considered it “unexpected” when jobless claims increase:

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DiversityWith its decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ended systemic racial segregation in public education. Now, sixty years later, courts have released hundreds of school districts from enforced integration—with the result being an increase in “resegregation” of public schools.

Numerous media outlets have recently picked up on a story by the investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica about schools in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. According to the report:

In recent years, a new term, apartheid schools—meaning schools whose white population is 1 percent or less, schools like Central—has entered the scholarly lexicon. While most of these schools are in the Northeast and Midwest, some 12 percent of black students in the South and nearly a quarter in Alabama now attend such schools—a figure likely to rise as court oversight continues to wane. In 1972, due to strong federal enforcement, only about 25 percent of black students in the South attended intensely segregated schools in which at least nine out of 10 students were racial minorities. In districts released from desegregation orders between 1990 and 2011, 53 percent of black students now attend such schools, according to an analysis by ProPublica.

Why has this resegregation occurred? A forty-year-old experiment on racial diversity might just hold the answer.
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