Effective Government

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Government plays a vital role in providing public goods and services that private markets fail to provide, and in implementing regulations that facilitate private market activity while protecting the safety of the food we eat, the air we depend on, and the our safety and well-being. These government functions help foster economic growth and improve our quality of life, while also providing a critical safety net and insuring against risks. The Hamilton Project explores innovative proposals for enhancing public goods and services and improving our regulatory system to promote broad-based economic growth and rising living standards.


Related to Effective Government

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Unlocking Spectrum Value through Improved Allocation, Assignment, and Adjudication of Spectrum Rights

Papers • March 2014 • J. Pierre de Vries, Phil J. Weiser

In a new Hamilton Project Discussion Paper, J. Pierre de Vries and Philip J. Weiser propose further reforms to move spectrum regulation away from its “command-and-control” regime to allow for a more-efficient allocation of spectrum resources.  De Vries and Weiser propose three distinct but complementary lines of reform. 

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The Economic Promise of Wireless Spectrum

Papers • March 2014 • Benjamin H. Harris, Melissa S. Kearney

In a new policy memo, The Hamilton Project highlights four policy challenges hampering the economic potential of wireless spectrum and opportunities to address these challenges through innovative, evidence-driven approaches to reform.

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The Hamilton Project Policy Response to the 2014 State of the Union Address

Papers • January 2014

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spoke of a “breakthrough year for America” and foreshadowed a “year of action.” He focused on ways to expand opportunities for Americans by enhancing employment and education options for low-and middle-income citizens, developing more robust worker training programs, investing in America through infrastructure investments and energy innovation, the importance of making progress on immigration reform, and more. Since its launch in 2006, The Hamilton Project has released a range of targeted policy proposals that provide innovative, evidence-based approaches to addressing many of the policy priorities set forth in the Presidents address.

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The “Ripple Effect” of a Minimum Wage Increase on American Workers

Papers • January 2014 • Melissa S. Kearney, Benjamin H. Harris

In this month’s Hamilton Project employment analysis, we consider the “ripple effects” of a minimum wage increase on near-minimum wage workers, finding that a minimum wage increase could benefit up to 35 million workers.

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The Importance of Unemployment Insurance for American Families & the Economy: Take 2

Papers • December 2013 • Melissa S. Kearney, Benjamin H. Harris

In the absence of congressional action to extend unemployment insurance, 1.3 million Americans will immediately lose their benefits on December 28th. In this month’s employment analysis, The Hamilton Project reexamines unemployment insurance and highlights evidence suggesting that extended benefits provide a sizable boost for workers and the economy.

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A Dozen Facts about America’s Struggling Lower-Middle Class

Papers • December 2013 • Melissa S. Kearney, Benjamin H. Harris

These economic facts focus on two key challenges facing lower-middle-class families: food insecurity and the low return to work for families who lose tax and transfer benefits as their earnings increase.

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Giving Secondary Earners a Tax Break: A Proposal to Help Low- and Middle-Income Families

Papers • December 2013 • Melissa S. Kearney, Lesley Turner

The current tax system hampers low- and middle-income families who add secondary earners to the workforce to augment their primary breadwinner’s income. In a new Hamilton Project discussion paper, Melissa Kearney and Lesley Turner propose a secondary earner tax deduction that would help make work pay for dual-earner families.

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Strengthening SNAP for a More Food-Secure, Healthy America

Papers • December 2013 • Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as the Food Stamp Program—is an essential part of America’s social safety net. In a new Hamilton Project discussion paper, Diane Schanzenbach proposes five reforms that could strengthen SNAP, including incentives for participants to purchase healthier foods and improvements to the benefit formula.

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Hunger and the Important Role of SNAP as an American Safety Net

Papers • November 2013 • Melissa S. Kearney, Benjamin H. Harris

In this month’s economic analysis, The Hamilton Project focuses on two critical issues related to SNAP: (1) the widespread existence of both food insecurity and obesity among low-income children in the United States, and (2) the role of SNAP in fighting poverty during times of weak labor markets. SNAP participation rises and falls in lockstep with the unemployment rate, highlighting SNAP’s role as a safety-net program that bolsters family resources when employment and wages are low.

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Simplifying Estimates of College Costs

Papers • October 2013 • Phillip Levine

The lack of clear information about the widening gap in perceived and actual costs of college can act as an impediment in students' decision-making process. In his new Hamilton Project proposal, Phillip Levine proposes a way to simplify and improve the transparency of college cost estimates based on a pilot program currently underway at Wellesley College. 

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Evolution of the “Jobs Gap” and Possible Scenarios for Growth

April 4, 2014 • Charts

The Hamilton Project tracks the monthly “jobs gap,” which is the number of jobs that need to be created in order to return to pre-recession employment levels while still absorbing the workers entering the labor force each month.

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Minimum Wage and Share of Workers Earning Equal to or Less Than 150 Percent of the Minimum Wage in 2012, by State

January 10, 2014 • Charts

Every state in the country has a substantial share of workers who would be impacted by an increase in the minimum wage. In 2012, Montana had the highest share of workers—37.2 percent—with wages equal to or less than 150 percent of the minimum wage. Even in Alaska, which boasts higher wages compared to the rest of the country, 16.9 percent of workers had wages equal to or lower than 150 percent of the minimum. Not surprisingly, the 18 states with a higher minimum wage level than the federal benchmark tended to have higher shares of workers with wages within 150 percent of the minimum wage. However, in every state in the country, at least one in six workers had wages that were equal to 150 percent of the minimum wage or lower. This chart shows the share of workers earning equal to or less than 150 percent of the minimum wage in every state in 2012. By hovering over a state, you can also see the minimum wage in 2012 in each state.

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Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Participation Rate and Unemployment Rate, by Year

December 19, 2013 • Charts

SNAP is a key program for providing assistance to Americans when they need support the most. This can be seen in the correlation between SNAP participation and unemployment rates; SNAP participation rises during economic downturns and falls during recoveries. In 2013, the average participation rate for SNAP was 19.4 percent of the U.S. population, serving 47.7 million individuals each month, compared to a pre-recession participation rate of only 11.3 percent in 2007. As shown in the figure above, SNAP historically has tracked rates of unemployment and economic downturns closely (denoted by the teal dotted line and gray bars, respectively). SNAP participation rates (as seen in the shaded blue area) are expected to fall as the economy continues to recover, as would be expected based on the pattern observed in previous recessions. By 2020, the participation rate is projected to revert to 2009 levels—about 14.3 percent of the population.

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Household Food spending as a Fraction of the Thrifty Food Plan Minimum Spending Target for Households under 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level

December 19, 2013 • Charts

SNAP is designed to supplement recipients’ purchasing power so that through a combination of SNAP benefits and their own spending out of available cash resources recipients can afford to purchase enough food to feed their families under the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). However, the TFP minimum spending target for food is based on outdated and inappropriate assumptions. In particular, the TFP implicitly assumes that households have unlimited time to prepare food, and therefore are able to cook meals primarily from scratch instead of using prepared ingredients. Over the past twenty years the majority of low-income families spent more on food than would have been suggested by the cost of a minimally adequate food budget that the benefit formula is based on. This difference in spending compared to the TFP target may indicate that some families face higher food prices than those assumed by the TFP.

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Breakdown of Family Characteristics, by Income Relative to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)

December 19, 2013 • Charts

Household composition of families in the struggling lower-middle class varies substantially from the household composition of families in poverty. Of families with income below the federal poverty level (FPL) (approximately 7.1 million families), 70 percent are headed by a single parent (61 percent are single female parents), 24 percent are headed by a married couple with one or two earners, and 6 percent are headed by a married couple with no earners. The composition of the struggling lower-middle class—defined here as working-age families with children under age eighteen whose income places them between 100 and 250 percent of the FPL—is markedly different from families in poverty in terms of marriage and presence of earners.

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Low-and Middle-Income Families See Little Benefit from Adding a Second Earner

December 19, 2013 • Charts

This figure displays the percentage of income generated by the addition of a secondary earner’s income that a family takes home after accounting for payroll and federal income taxes, SNAP benefits, and the cost of child care. Each set of bars represents a family of four (two adults, two children) headed by a full-time worker that earns between 100 and 250 percent of the federal minimum wage (i.e., $15,080 to $37,700 annually). The green and purple bars represent the take-home earnings generated from adding a part-time and full-time secondary earner, respectively, with the same hourly wage. In all eight scenarios represented, a family ultimately keeps less than half of the earnings generated by the secondary earner.

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Highest Educational Attainment of Family Head, by Income Relative to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)

December 19, 2013 • Charts

College attainment differs markedly by poverty status. 33 percent of household family heads below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) attended at least some college, although just 6 percent of those family heads have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among household family heads with income between 100 and 250 percent of the FPL, 48 percent have attended some college, and 14 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. In stark contrast to those living at or below 250 percent of the FPL, 77 percent of household family heads above 250 percent of the FPL attended at least some college, and about half have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Only a very small share of this group (4 percent) did not earn a high school diploma.

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Marginal Tax Rates under 2012 Law, by Earnings Relative to the Federal Poverty Level (2012)

December 19, 2013 • Charts

Marginal tax rates—the tax collected on an additional amount of income or earnings—are often highest for families at or just above the federal poverty level (FPL). 10 percent of families with earnings between 100 and 149 percent of the FPL have marginal tax rates of 60 percent or higher—meaning that these families keep 40 cents or fewer of each additional dollar they earn. For the poorest families and for those with incomes above 250 percent of the FPL, the top 10 percent of marginal tax rates fall around 35–45 percent. High marginal tax rates for some low-income families are a byproduct of safety-net programs that aim to provide means-tested benefits—benefits aimed at low-income families—to the most vulnerable households. An unfortunate consequence is that some low-income households have little incentive to work because they risk losing significant benefits as they move up the income distribution.

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Income Distributions For Working-Age Families with Children Under 18

December 19, 2013 • Charts

More than half of America’s working-age families with children under age eighteen (approximately 20.1 million families) have annual incomes of $60,000 or below. This is true whether we consider only earned wages and salary, or if we use a broader definition of pretax, pretransfer income, which also includes some unearned sources of income, such as investment income and alimony payments. The blue and green dotted lines in the figure, corresponding to the right axis, show the cumulative share of families with income under various thresholds. Around 40 percent of families earn $40,000 or less each year, 54 percent of families earn $60,000 or less (demonstrated by the black dotted line), and 76 percent of working-age families earn $100,000 or less. For working-age families with children, earning over $100,000 is the exception, not the rule.

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Child Food Insecurity and Obesity Rates in 2011, by State

November 21, 2013 • Charts

In a new chart, The Hamilton Project shows the child food insecurity rates in every state in 2011. 

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Testimony of Melissa S. Kearney

January 16, 2014 • Melissa S. Kearney

The Hamilton Project Director, Melissa S. Kearney testifies before the Joint Economic Committee on income inequality in the United States.

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Testimony of Michael Greenstone

June 25, 2013 • Michael Greenstone

Hamilton Project Director Michael Greenstone testifies before the Joint Economic Committee about strategies to improve the government’s regulatory system.

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Testimony of Adam Looney

May 22, 2013 • Adam Looney

Hamilton Project Policy Director Adam Looney testifies before the Senate Budget Committee on the role of tax reform in supporting broad-based economic growth and fiscal responsibility.

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Strengthening the Safety Net

April 17, 2012 • Robert Greenstein

Hamilton Project Advisory Council member Bob Greenstein testified before the House Committee on the Budget on the social safety net.

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Improving Regulatory Performance

November 16, 2011 • Michael Greenstone

Hamilton Project Director Michael Greenstone testified before the Senate Budget Committee’s Task Force on Government Performance on how we can improve the government’s system of regulatory review.

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Preliminary Thoughts on Reforming Financial Regulation

October 21, 2008 • Alice M. Rivlin

Hamilton Project Advisory Council member Alice Rivlin testified before the House Committee on Financail Services on reforming financial regulation.

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Testimony of Lawrence H. Summers

September 9, 2008 • Lawrence H. Summers

In recent testimony before the House Budget Committee, Hamilton Project Advisory Council member Lawrence Summers makes a strong case for the prompt enactment of further timely, targeted, and temporary fiscal stimulus measures.

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Reducing the Likelihood of Financial Crisis

May 14, 2008 • Douglas W. Elmendorf

Hamilton Project Senior Scholar Doug Elmendorf testified before the Joint Economic Committee on principles to guide reform of financial markets.

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Options for Fiscal Stimulus

January 24, 2008 • Jason Furman

In a testimony, Jason Furman discusses a timely, temporary and targeted fiscal stimulus as a solution in stabilizing the economy.

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The Economic and Social Effects of Crime and Mass Incarceration in the United States

May 1, 2014 • Washington, DC

On May 1st, The Hamilton Project at Brookings will host a forum and release three new papers focusing on crime and incarceration in the United States. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin will deliver opening remarks, and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) will join the forum to discuss the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014, which was recently passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee with bi-partisan support.

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Wireless Spectrum and the Future of Technology Innovation

March 24, 2014 • Washington, DC

On March 24th, The Hamilton Project hosted a forum addressing key challenges with the allocation and regulation of wireless spectrum. The event featured keynote remarks by FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler.

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Supporting America’s Lower-Middle-Class Families

December 4, 2013 • Washington, DC

More than half of American families earn $60,000 or less a year -- outside of poverty but with limited economic security. Many of these families rely on government programs for support and one major setback could throw their lives into chaos. On December 4th, The Hamilton Project hosted a forum to highlight two new proposals for aiding America’s lower middle class families featuring a diverse range of experts.

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Improving College Outcomes: A Modern Approach to Financing Higher Education

October 21, 2013 • Washington, DC

On October 21st, THP hosted a forum and release three new policy proposals by outside experts focusing on the evolving role of higher education, and how changes in student lending and financial aid policies can help improve college outcomes. Thought leaders in higher education from around the country—including Vassar College President Catharine Bond Hill; LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow; University of North Carolina President Thomas Ross; Wesleyan University President Michael Roth; and Brookings’ Brown Center for Education Policy Director Grover “Russ” Whitehurst—joined the discussion to comment on the proposals, and provided their thoughts on the future of higher education in American society.

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The Economic Imperative of Expanding College Opportunity

June 26, 2013 • Washington, DC

On June 26th, The Hamilton Project at Brookings hosted a forum on the importance of expanding college opportunity for more Americans. Harvard College’s William Fitzsimmons and The Brookings Institution’s Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst were among the distinguished experts joining a roundtable discussion focusing on a proposal for targeting and reaching low-income, high-achieving students by Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University and Sarah Turner of the University of Virginia. In a second panel discussion, higher education leaders—including  The College Board’s David Coleman and Syracuse University’s Nancy Cantor—focused more broadly on the role of higher education in American mobility.

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Investing in What Works: The Importance of Evidence-Based Policymaking

April 17, 2013 • Washington, DC 20001

On April 17th, The Hamilton Project at Brookings and Results for America, an initiative of America Achieves, co-hosted a forum and released two new papers on the important role of evidence in policymaking. U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Alan Krueger, Chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and other distinguished experts participated in roundtable discussions on the proposals and how evidence-based policymaking can improve the effectiveness of federally funded programs.

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Real Specifics:  15 Ways to Rethink the Federal Budget—Part II:  Addressing Entitlements, Taxation, and Revenues

February 26, 2013 • Washington, DC

On February 26th, The Hamilton Project hosted a forum featuring a diverse group of experts from around the country who discussed 13 targeted policy proposals that were released that day on reforming entitlement spending, tax reform, and how to create new sources of revenue and efficiency. The proposals provide specific strategies on how lawmakers can address many different areas of the budget, and address options to reduce both mandatory and discretionary spending.

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Real Specifics:  15 Ways to Rethink the Federal Budget—Part I:  Budgeting for a Modern Military

February 22, 2013 • Washington, DC

On February 22nd, The Hamilton Project at Brookings hosted  a forum and released new proposals on ways to create greater efficiency in the U.S. defense budget while maintaining our national security. Retired four-star Admiral Gary Roughead, a former chief of Naval Operations; Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution; and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Cindy Williams, a former assistant director of the Congressional Budget Office, offered two new proposals for reducing future defense budgets.

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Back to School:  Promoting Attainment and Achievement in K-12 Education

September 27, 2012 • Washington, DC

On September 27th, The Hamilton Project at Brookings hosted a forum to discuss new approaches to promoting attainment and achievement in K-12 education.  The event included featured remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, highlighting recent progress on education reform, the difficult work still ahead, and the need for innovation to help advance reform efforts. 

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U.S. Immigration Policy:  The Border Between Reform and the Economy

May 15, 2012 • Washington, DC 20045

America’s immigration policy no longer serves the needs of our fast-changing global economy.   Failure to address immigration reform at the national level has resulted in missed opportunities to spur America’s economic growth and productivity.  On May 15, The Hamilton Project held a forum exploring the challenges and opportunities for immigration reform in today’s political and economic climate. 

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Evolution of the “Jobs Gap” and Possible Scenarios for Growth

April 4, 2014 • Charts

The Hamilton Project tracks the monthly “jobs gap,” which is the number of jobs that need to be created in order to return to pre-recession employment levels while still absorbing the workers entering the labor force each month.

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Wireless Spectrum and the Future of Technology Innovation - Event Photos

March 24, 2014 • Photo Galleries

On March 24th, The Hamilton Project hosted a forum and released a new policy proposal addressing the key challenges of regulating wireless spectrum during a time of rapid change and increasing demand. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Roger Altman opened the forum, and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Thomas Wheeler gave keynote remarks.

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Wireless Spectrum and the Future of Technology Innovation - Introduction & Framing Remarks Audio

March 24, 2014 • Audio

On March 24th, The Hamilton Project hosted a forum and released a new policy proposal addressing key challenges with the allocation and regulation of wireless spectrum during a time of rapid change and increasing demand. Former U.S. Secretary Treasury Roger Altman opened the forum and introduced the panel. Hamilton Project director Melissa Kearney delivered framing remarks on the economic challenge of more-efficient assignment of wireless spectrum.

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Wireless Spectrum and the Future of Technology Innovation - Roundtable Discussion Audio

March 24, 2014 • Audio

On March 24th, The Hamilton Project hosted a forum addressing key challenges with the allocation and regulation of wireless spectrum during a time of rapid change and increasing demand. A new policy proposal was presented by authors Pierre de Vries, Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Spectrum Policy Initiative at the Silicon Flatirons Center and Phil Weiser, Dean and Thomson Professor at the University of Colorado Law School and Executive Director and Founder of the Silicon Flatirons Center. The authors were joined by discussants Dean Brenner, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs at Qualcomm; Joan Marsh, Vice President, Federal Regulatory Affairs from AT&T; and Preston Marshall, Wireless Networking at Google. The roundtable was moderated by Blair Levin, Communications & Society Fellow at The Aspen Institute.

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Wireless Spectrum and the Future of Technology Innovation - Keynote Remarks Audio

March 24, 2014 • Audio

On March 24th, The Hamilton Project hosted a forum and released a new policy proposal addressing key challenges with the allocation and regulation of wireless spectrum during a time of rapid change and increasing demand. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Thomas Wheeler delivered keynote remarks. He was introduced by Roger C. Altman.

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The Wireless Spectrum and the Future of Technology Innovation - Introduction & Framing Remarks

March 24, 2014 • Video

On March 24th, The Hamilton Project hosted a forum and released a new policy proposal addressing key challenges with the allocation and regulation of wireless spectrum during a time of rapid change and increasing demand. Former U.S. Secretary Treasury Roger Altman opened the forum and introduced the panel. Hamilton Project director Melissa Kearney delivered framing remarks on the economic challenge of more-efficient assignment of wireless spectrum.

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The Wireless Spectrum and the Future of Technology Innovation - Roundtable Discussion

March 24, 2014 • Video

On March 24th, The Hamilton Project hosted a forum addressing key challenges with the allocation and regulation of wireless spectrum during a time of rapid change and increasing demand. A new policy proposal was presented by authors Pierre de Vries, Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Spectrum Policy Initiative at the Silicon Flatirons Center and Phil Weiser, Dean and Thomson Professor at the University of Colorado Law School and Executive Director and Founder of the Silicon Flatirons Center. The authors were joined by discussants Dean Brenner, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs at Qualcomm; Joan Marsh, Vice President, Federal Regulatory Affairs from AT&T; and Preston Marshall, Wireless Networking at Google. The roundtable was moderated by Blair Levin, Communications & Society Fellow at The Aspen Institute.

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The Wireless Spectrum and the Future of Technology Innovation - Keynote Remarks

March 24, 2014 • Video

On March 24th, The Hamilton Project hosted a forum and released a new policy proposal addressing key challenges with the allocation and regulation of wireless spectrum during a time of rapid change and increasing demand. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Thomas Wheeler delivered keynote remarks. He was introduced by Roger C. Altman.

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Minimum Wage and Share of Workers Earning Equal to or Less Than 150 Percent of the Minimum Wage in 2012, by State

January 10, 2014 • Charts

Every state in the country has a substantial share of workers who would be impacted by an increase in the minimum wage. In 2012, Montana had the highest share of workers—37.2 percent—with wages equal to or less than 150 percent of the minimum wage. Even in Alaska, which boasts higher wages compared to the rest of the country, 16.9 percent of workers had wages equal to or lower than 150 percent of the minimum. Not surprisingly, the 18 states with a higher minimum wage level than the federal benchmark tended to have higher shares of workers with wages within 150 percent of the minimum wage. However, in every state in the country, at least one in six workers had wages that were equal to 150 percent of the minimum wage or lower. This chart shows the share of workers earning equal to or less than 150 percent of the minimum wage in every state in 2012. By hovering over a state, you can also see the minimum wage in 2012 in each state.

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Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Participation Rate and Unemployment Rate, by Year

December 19, 2013 • Charts

SNAP is a key program for providing assistance to Americans when they need support the most. This can be seen in the correlation between SNAP participation and unemployment rates; SNAP participation rises during economic downturns and falls during recoveries. In 2013, the average participation rate for SNAP was 19.4 percent of the U.S. population, serving 47.7 million individuals each month, compared to a pre-recession participation rate of only 11.3 percent in 2007. As shown in the figure above, SNAP historically has tracked rates of unemployment and economic downturns closely (denoted by the teal dotted line and gray bars, respectively). SNAP participation rates (as seen in the shaded blue area) are expected to fall as the economy continues to recover, as would be expected based on the pattern observed in previous recessions. By 2020, the participation rate is projected to revert to 2009 levels—about 14.3 percent of the population.

Hamilton Project Updates

A periodic newsletter of events, policy briefs, and working papers from The Hamilton Project.