“reckless taxing and spending spree.”

Conservative policy experts said that although some expansion of government aid was appropriate during the pandemic, those programs should be wound down, not expanded, as the economy healed.

“Policymakers did a remarkable job last March enacting CARES and other legislation, lending to businesses, providing loan forbearance, expanding the safety net,” Scott Winship, a senior fellow and the director of poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative group, wrote in reaction to the data, referring to an early pandemic aid bill, which included around $2 trillion in spending. “But we should have pivoted to other priorities thereafter.”

Jason DeParle and Margot Sanger-Katz contributed reporting.

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California Advances Zoning Measure to Allow Duplexes

“It’s like acting on climate change — you can’t count on everyone to step forward in unison in a way that gives everyone confidence that they are getting a benefit for their cost,” said Michael Andersen, a senior researcher at Sightline Institute, an urban think tank based in Seattle. “Zoning reform has a political cost at every level, but only has political benefit at the collective level.”

In California, where the median home price recently eclipsed $800,000 and more than 100,000 people sleep outside each night, a vision of a single-family home with a yard to enjoy the sun is encoded in residents’ dreams. The move to pass zoning reform has been a yearslong odyssey with the twists and turns of a screenplay.

It began in 2018, when Mr. Wiener introduced a bill, S.B. 827, that would have allowed eight-story buildings near major transit stops, regardless of local zoning rules. After the bill failed, Mr. Wiener introduced a similar measure called S.B. 50, which was voted down in early 2020. Moments after the S.B. 50 vote, Ms. Atkins gave a floor speech in which she said “the status quo cannot stand” and vowed “a housing production bill will succeed this year.”

The next month she convened a Senate housing group that designed a new package of bills that included a duplex bill similar to this year’s S.B. 9. The measure passed the Senate and made it to the Assembly floor on the last day of the legislative session. As the clock crept toward midnight, Buffy Wicks, a Democratic Assembly member from Oakland who was not allowed to vote by proxy, arrived masked and holding her newborn to give an impassioned speech in favor of the bill. The bill passed the Assembly but was unable to clear a Senate concurrence vote before the session ended.

Single-family-only zoning is something of a California creation: In 1916, Berkeley became what was probably the first U.S. city to restrict neighborhoods to one-family homes. A century later it’s become a bedrock value that homeowners across the nation euphemistically describe as maintaining “neighborhood character.”

According to an analysis of the bill by the Terner Center, S.B. 9 would enable the creation of an estimated 700,000 more units in the state’s existing neighborhoods (California permits roughly 100,000 new housing units each year). The bill’s crucial feature, Ms. Atkins said, is that by allowing homeowners to split their lots it would expand homeownership instead of just rental housing.

In a series of speeches before the vote, phrases like “gradual density” were countered with “planning chaos.” Some Assembly members said it would expand generational wealth. Others said it would destroy it.

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He’s a Dogecoin Millionaire. And He’s Not Selling.

Last February, when Glauber Contessoto decided to invest his life savings in Dogecoin, his friends had concerns.

“They were all like, you’re crazy,” he said. “It’s a joke coin. It’s a meme. It’s going to crash.”

Their skepticism was warranted. After all, Dogecoin is a joke — a digital currency started in 2013 by a pair of programmers who decided to spoof the cryptocurrency craze by creating their own virtual money based on a meme about Doge, a talking Shiba Inu puppy. And investing money in obscure cryptocurrencies has, historically, been akin to tossing it onto a bonfire.

But Mr. Contessoto, 33, who works at a Los Angeles hip-hop media company, is no ordinary buy-and-hold investor. He is among the many thrill-seeking amateurs who have leapt headfirst into the markets in recent months, using stock-trading apps like Robinhood to chase outsize gains on risky, speculative bets.

In February, after reading a Reddit thread about Dogecoin’s potential, Mr. Contessoto decided to go all in. He maxed out his credit cards, borrowed money using Robinhood’s margin trading feature and spent everything he had on the digital currency — investing about $250,000 in all. Then, he watched his phone obsessively as Dogecoin became an internet phenomenon whose value eclipsed that of blue-chip companies like Twitter and General Motors.

disavowed the coin, and even Mr. Musk has warned investors not to over-speculate in cryptocurrency. (Mr. Musk recently sent the crypto markets into upheaval again, after he announced that Tesla would no longer accept Bitcoin.)

What explains Dogecoin’s durability, then?

There’s no doubt that Dogecoin mania, like GameStop mania before it, is at least partly attributable to some combination of pandemic-era boredom and the eternal appeal of get-rich-quick schemes.

But there may be more structural forces at work. Over the past few years, soaring housing costs, record student loan debt and historically low interest rates have made it harder for some young people to imagine achieving financial stability by slowly working their way up the career ladder and saving money paycheck by paycheck, the way their parents did.

Instead of ladders, these people are looking for trampolines — risky, volatile investments that could either result in a life-changing windfall or send them right back to where they started.

posted a screenshot of his cryptocurrency trading app, showing that he’d bought more. And on Thursday, when the value of his Dogecoin holdings fell to $1.5 million, roughly half what it was at the peak, he posted another screenshot of his account on Reddit.

“If I can hodl, you can HODL!” the caption read.

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Young women are leaving school and work. Experts say caregiving may be the reason.

A year into the pandemic, there are signs that the American economy is stirring back to life, with a falling unemployment rate and a growing number of people back at work. Even mothers — who left their jobs in droves in the last year in large part because of increased caregiving duties — are slowly re-entering the work force.

But young Americans — particularly women between the ages of 16 and 24 — are living an altogether different reality, with higher rates of unemployment than older adults. And many thousands, possibly even millions, are postponing their education, which can delay their entry into the work force.

New research suggests that the number of “disconnected” young people — defined as those who are in neither school nor the work force — is growing. For young women, experts said, the caregiving crisis may be a major reason many have delayed their education or careers.

Last year, unemployment among young adults jumped to 27.4 percent in April from 7.8 percent in February. The rate was almost double the 14 percent overall unemployment rate in April and was the highest for that age group in the last two decades, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

left the work force since last February — or about 360,000 — were 16 to 24, according to an analysis of seasonally unadjusted numbers by the National Women’s Law Center.

At the same time, the number of women who have dropped out of some form of education or plan to is on the rise. During the pandemic, more women than men consistently reported that they had canceled plans to take postsecondary classes or planned to take fewer classes, according to a series of surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau since last April.

“We’ve focused in particular on the digital divide and the impact of that on the learning loss for kids,” said Reshma Saujani, founder of the nonprofit group Girls Who Code. “But we’re not talking about how the caregiving crisis is impacting the learning loss for kids and how it’s disproportionately impacting girls and girls of color.”

All of this can have long-term knock-on effects. Even temporary unemployment or an education setback at a young age can drag down someone’s potential for earnings, job stability and even homeownership years down the line, according to a 2018 study by Measure of America that tracked disconnected youth over the course of 15 years.

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Beyond Pandemic’s Upheaval, a Racial Wealth Gap Endures

“I want to emphasize that,” he added. “Through no fault of their own.”

The pandemic has hit African-Americans and Latinos hardest on all fronts, with higher infection and death rates, more job losses, and more business closures.

Proposals that confront the wealth gap head on, though, are both expensive and politically charged.

Professor Darity of Duke, a co-author of “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” has argued that compensating the descendants of Black slaves — who helped build the nation’s wealth but were barred from sharing it — would be the most direct and effective way to reduce the racial wealth gap.

Vice President Harris and Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey have tended to push for asset-building policies that have more popular support. They have offered programs to increase Black homeownership, reduce student debt, supplement retirement accounts and establish “baby bonds” with government contributions tied to family income.

With these accounts, recipients could build up money over time that could be used to cover college tuition, start a business or help in retirement.

Several states have experimented with small-scale programs meant to encourage children to go to college. Though those programs were not created to close the racial wealth gap, researchers have seen positive side effects. In Oklahoma, child development accounts seeded with $1,000 were created in 2007 for a group of newborns.

“We have very clear evidence that if we create an account of birth for everyone and provide a little more resources to people at the bottom, then all these babies accumulate assets,” said Michael Sherraden, founding director of the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, which is running the Oklahoma experiment. “Kids of color accumulate assets as fast as white kids.”

Without dedicated funds — the kind of programs that enabled white families to build assets — it won’t be possible for African-Americans to bridge the wealth gap, said Mehrsa Baradaran, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap.”

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Stock Rally Poses Question: When Does a Bull Become a Bubble?

The bull market turned a year old on Tuesday, a testament to the unbridled enthusiasm that let investors shrug off the economic carnage of the pandemic and buy stocks — and pretty much anything else.

Since the S&P 500 scraped bottom on March 23 last year, the blue-chip index has posted a rally of nearly 75 percent, even with a 0.8 percent fall on Tuesday. Tesla’s stock is up more than 650 percent, while true believers have pushed up shares of GameStop by over 4,500 percent. Bitcoin is booming, and so are even more esoteric assets like NFTs.

It’s enough to pose a question that would have seemed unfathomable a year ago.

“Is this a bubble?” said Garry Evans, chief strategist for global asset allocation at BCA Research. “I would say there are certainly pockets of the market that look bubbly.”

Mr. Evans said he didn’t see “a generalized bubble” but believed that individual stocks — like GameStop, which was driven up in January by retail traders gathering on sites like Reddit — and cryptocurrencies were overvalued.

an increase in stock-buying by average investors. From the most recent round of stimulus alone, Deutsche Bank recently estimated, some $170 billion could flow into the stock market.

 stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.

Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, a market strategist with J.P. Morgan in London, said the wave of investment activity sweeping the country was a glaring reason to worry that the rally could falter.

U.S. households are now more heavily invested in stock than ever before, even during the peak of the dot-com bubble, he said. “If that goes away or reverses, then the equity market will have a problem,” he said.

And on Monday, even a Goldman Sachs research note titled “Bubble Puzzle: A Guide to Bubbles and Why We Are Not in One” acknowledged that some indicators of retail trading activity were “worrying.” It mentioned the surging levels of daily trading in stocks and increased buying of tiny amounts of stock options by individuals.

The conditions for a bubble are clearly present, said John D. Turner, a professor of financial history at Queen’s University Belfast. Mr. Turner recently co-wrote — along with his colleague William Quinn — a book titled “Boom and Bust: A Global History of Financial Bubbles.”

To make them, he said, you need three key ingredients, plus a spark. The ingredients are ease of trading, access to credit, and mass speculation — all of which are in ready supply right now.

The spark, he said, is the unknown factor. It could be a change in government policy, like the push to supercharge homeownership in the 1990s and 2000s. Or a major technological development, the way electrification contributed to a boom in the 1920s.

So the conditions, Mr. Turner said, are all here.

“It smells like a bubble,” he said. “If I had to put money on it, it looks like a bubble.”

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Should Central Banks Tame House Prices? New Zealand Gives It a Try

WELLINGTON, New Zealand—More than 100 people crowded into an auction of five homes here this month. The first under the hammer—a 60-year-old home, last valued by the government at 840,000 New Zealand dollars in 2018—sold for nearly NZ$1.6 million after 11 minutes of fierce bidding.

House prices have shot up to record levels during the pandemic, fueled by low interest rates and tight supply of properties up for sale. Now New Zealand’s central bank is reluctantly experimenting with how to keep them in check.

From this month, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand must consider house prices when making decisions about monetary policy, alongside other factors such as inflation and unemployment.

It is a job the central bank didn’t want. As recently as December, officials warned a change to its remit to include property prices would have little impact because it wouldn’t be able to influence housing supply. In some situations, such a change could lead to lower employment and below-target inflation, the bank said.

Still, New Zealand’s government overrode those concerns and broadened the remit of the central bank’s monetary policy committee on Feb. 25, worried that the economy would become vulnerable if house prices were left unchecked and fearful that its own popularity would suffer as homeownership becomes unattainable for some. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had promised to crack down on speculators and improve housing affordability when first elected in 2017.

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