Research Roundup: How States are Spending Foreclosure Settlement Money, How States Can Save with Work-Sharing, and much more

In this week’s Research Roundup:

Reports from both Enterprise Community Partners and ProPublica on how states are spending their share of the $2.5 billion they collectively received in direct payments from the foreclosure settlement with big banks, the National Partnership for Women and Families surveying laws that help new parents in all 50 states, the Pew Center on the States on the findings of their first analysis of economic mobility at the state level, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on how state budgets continue to feel pain from the effects of the recession, the Urban Institute on how almost every state has seen access to health care deteriorate for their adult residents over the past decade, the Center for Economic and Policy Research on both the significant savings states could experience through work-sharing and the size and characteristics of states’ unionized workforces, the Economic Policy Institute on the declining labor force participation rate and whether it is due to cyclical or structural changes in the economy, and the Commonwealth Fund on how most private individual health plans will fall short of what can be sold through the health exchanges as of 2014.

Understanding how States are Spending their Share of the National Mortgage SettlementEnterprise Community Partners
Where Are the Foreclosure Deal Millions Going in Your State?ProPublica
These two reports survey how states are planning to spend their share of the $2.5 billion in direct payments they are receiving as part of the mortgage settlement finalized with the five biggest banks in April. The settlement documents, Enterprise notes in their report, provide some general guidelines to states for the use of the funds: that, “to the extent practicable, such funds shall be used for purposes intended to avoid preventable foreclosures, to ameliorate the effects of the foreclosure crisis, to enhance law enforcement efforts to prevent and prosecute financial fraud, or unfair or deceptive acts or practices and to compensate the States for costs resulting from the alleged unlawful conduct of the Defendants.” However, as Enterprise reports after having contacted officials in all 50 states, only 26 states are using “substantially all of their funds for housing,” while 9 are only using part of their funds for housing, and 6 not using their funds for housing at all — Alaska, Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Virginia. ProPublica’s report “contacted every state to determine whether the money will be going to consumer-focused efforts related to the settlement or not,” and compiled a useful map and sortable chart of how the funds are intended to be dispersed state-by-state.

Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help New Parents — This second edition of this report from the National Partnership for Women and Families is a “comprehensive state-by-state analysis of laws that relate to workplace rights and protections for new parents.” The survey grades all 50 states, taking into account policies that benefit new parents including the availability of paid family leave benefits, paid medical and pregnancy disability leave, paid sick leave, and workplace protections for nursing mothers. California and Connecticut earn overall “A” grades and states earning a “B” include Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington. Among the highlighted policy shifts since the first edition of this report are Connecticut becoming the first state to pass a paid sick days law in 2011, and New Jersey joining California in establishing a paid family leave insurance program in 2008 that provides new parents with partial wage replacement for up to six weeks.

Economic Mobility of the States — A new interactive tool from Pew Center on the States, this detailed study aims to survey Americans’ economic mobility at the state level through analyzing data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. As the authors note, the research for this report focused on Americans in their “prime working years, examining earnings averaged between ages 35 and 39 (measured between 1978 and 1997) and how those earnings rose or fell 10 years later when the same adults were between ages 45 and 49 (measured between 1988 and 2007).” The analysis allows users to explore economic mobility by three measures: “absolute mobility,” or residents’ average earnings growth over time; and “relative upward mobility” and “relative downward mobility,” or the movement of an individual’s rank on the earnings ladder relative to their peers.  Among the key findings are that three states — Maryland, New Jersey, and New York — have better mobility on all three measures, while five more — Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Utah — have better mobility on two of the three measures. The nine states with lower upward and higher downward mobility are all located in the south.

States Continue to Feel Recession’s Impact — This latest update from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on the state budget picture for fiscal year 2013 “continue to show that states face a long and uncertain recovery” following the impact of the recession three years ago. In all, the authors indicate that 30 states have addressed or have projected budget shortfalls totaling $54 billion for the upcoming fiscal year — still feeling the impact of the Great Recession, which caused the “largest collapse in state revenues on record.” Importantly, the authors note that the shortfalls are now “all the more daunting because states' options for addressing them are fewer and more difficult than in recent years, noting that “temporary aid to states enacted in early 2009 as part of the federal Recovery Act was enormously helpful in allowing states to avert some of the most harmful potential budget cuts in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 fiscal years... but the federal government allowed that aid to largely expire at the end of fiscal year 2011, leading to some of the deepest cuts to state services since the start of the recession.”

Virtually Every State Experienced Deteriorating Access to Care for Adults over the Past Decade — This report by the Urban Institute, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as part of its Affordable Care Act (ACA) Implementation Monitoring and Tracking Series, shows that “the ability of U.S. adults to access basic health care services has declined in nearly every state over the last decade.” Among its findings are that, over the past decade, adults who did not have health coverage saw even greater declines in access to basic health care services compared to those who did have coverage. By 2010, the authors note, “almost half of uninsured adults (48.1%) had an unmet health need due to cost, compared to 11.2 percent of insured adults.” The share of adults experiencing unmet medical needs due to cost rose by 6 percentage points from 2000 to 2010, while for uninsured adults, it rose by 10.8 percentage points.

States Could Save $1.7 Billion per Year with Federal Financing of Work Sharing — The Center for Economic and Policy Research released this issue brief showing how states could save up to $1.7 billion per year by taking full advantage of work sharing provisions signed into law by President Obama as part of The Middle Class Relief and Job Creation Act in February 2012. The report notes that those provisions, including federal financing of work sharing programs that could allow employers to reduce workers’ hours rather than lay them off and workers to receive partial unemployment insurance benefits, “could help states reduce their unemployment rates and also save unemployment insurance (UI) costs for up to three years.”

Size and Characteristics of States’ Union Workforces — Another Center for Economic and Policy Research issue brief surveys and ranks states by their rate of unionized workers, and the gender and racial makeup of unionized workers, based on an analysis of the Current Population Survey. The overview of state workforces shows how widely the rate of unionization varies state by state — from New York with a 26.4% unionization rate to North Carolina, with a rate of only 4.4%.

Labor force participation: Cyclical versus structural changes since the start of the Great Recession — This Economic Policy Institute report, gleaning from data included in the forthcoming The State of Working America, 12th Edition, explores why the labor force participation rate, defined as “the share of working-age people who either have a job or are jobless but actively seeking work,” dropped by 2% over the four years following the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007 — and even further in the first few months of 2012. As the authors note, “a debate has recently arisen over whether this decline is a direct result of the lack of job opportunities in the Great Recession and its aftermath (these changes are generally labeled cyclical)—or is instead a result of long-run trends, such as baby boomers beginning to retire (changes that are generally labeled structural).” The authors conclude “around two-thirds of the drop in labor force participation is cyclical, while around one-third is structural.”

More Than Half of Individual Health Plans Offer Coverage That Falls Short of What Can Be Sold Through Exchanges as of 2014 — The Commonwealth Fund released this study showing how “more than half of Americans who have health coverage through the individual insurance market are in plans that would not meet the standards for ‘essential benefits’ set by the Affordable Care Act.” The Affordable Care Act sets up four tiers of plans that will each cover the same benefit package — dubbed platinum, gold, silver, and bronze. While fewer than 1% of Americans currently enrolled in group plans have coverage below the standard for set for inclusion in the health exchanges, over 50% of Americans with individual plans currently have coverage below that standard.