The "middle class"

Legislation before Congress is often for the "middle class," but there is no consensus definition or official government definition of the term, according to a recent paper from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS attempts to give the term some perspective by using income data. In 2005 the median household income was $46,235. Using data in which household income distribution is divided into fifths, or quintiles, CRS considers one definition of middle class to comprise the three middle quintiles, with incomes ranging from $19,178 to $91,705, accounting for 60% of all households and 46.2% of all household income.

The paper also discusses the "economics of happiness," related to relative income and self-assessment.

Who Are the "Middle Class"?, CRS Report RS22627 (pdf, 6pp/68kB, from Open CRS), March 20, 2007

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Tracking bill status Hawaii style

The Hawaii State Legislature's website currently offers bill status via RSS syndication. To monitor the status of any bill, users can obtain the feed link for their RSS feed readers on the bill's status page. The website's RSS help page explains it clearly for those unfamilar with RSS syndication and its benefits.

Visit the Hawaii State Legislature Status and Documents to search current legislation.

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Medicare Advantage

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has published testimony on the Medicare Advantage program presented by its Director in the U.S. House.

According to the testimony, Medicare Advantage (MA) is a departure from the traditional Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) program by allowing private plans such as health maintenance organizations (HMOs), preferred provider organizations (PPOs), and private fee-for-service plans (PFFS) to participate in Medicare.

The Director's main points:
  • Unexpectedly strong growth in MA enrollment in 2006-early 2007 led CBO to increase its projections for MA enrollment and spending
  • Medicare's payments for MA beneficiares are higher than for FFS beneficiaries, increasing net Medicare spending
  • Increase in enrollment and cost differential with traditional FFS are especially large in PFFS plans, which are largely in rural and some suburban areas
  • Reducing the payment differential betweeen MA and FFS would result in savings to Medicare but would also reduce the supplemental benefits and cash rebates.

Testimony on the Medicare Advantage Program: Trends and Options (pdf, 20pp/116kB), March 21, 2007

See related FR post, Premium support in Medicare, Dec. 12, 2006

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Health costs - seniors not the main driver

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) concludes that the increase in health care costs comes from demand from all age groups, not just the elderly. The report notes:
...population aging is itself a relatively minor factor in the growth of national spending for health care. Other factors, including rising per capita income, the availability of new health care products and services, health insurance coverage, and characteristics of the health care system, play a much bigger role.
However, even if aging has a minor impact on national health spending, it will have a larger impact on federal spending because of growth in costs and enrollment in Medicare.

Health Care Spending and the Aging of the Population, CRS Report RS22619 (pdf, 6pp/80kB, from Open CRS), March 13, 2007

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Education state cards

The Alliance for Excellent Education recently published their updated state cards. According to the Alliance web site, the state card
provides a statistical snapshot of high schools for the United States and includes data on funding, teachers' salaries, graduation rates, college readiness, and academic achievement.
Washington Post (WP) reported Thursday on the Maryland State Card, which "could be a crucial tool in Maryland legislators' discussions about educational funding priorities."

Using the national standardized test scores of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and compiling data on teachers' salaries and data collection abilities, the Alliance state cards reported on three overall findings for the U.S. (pdf) and for each of the fifty states and D.C.:
  1. High school dropouts cost the United States billions in lost wages. High costs, 50-state breakdown (pdf)
  2. The United States' economy could see billions in wealth accumulation by raising the high school graduation rate. Hidden benefits, 50-state breakdown (pdf)
  3. The United States could save billions in health care costs by raising high school graduation rates. Health care costs, 50-state breakdown (pdf)
Besides these three findings, the Hawaii State Card includes:
Hawaii's economy would see millions if the minority graduation rate was raised to the level of their white classmates.

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New for The Reading Shelf

Recent additions to The Reading Shelf:

It Takes a Village, by Hillary Rodham Clinton. 10th anniversary edition. (press release)

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. One of the New York Times' 10 Best Books of 2006. (NYT review)

Taking the High Road: A Metropolitan Agenda for Transportation Reform , Bruce Katz & Robert Puentes, Eds. (press release)



Hawaii Directory of Officials

Distribution of the print edition of the Library's volume, Directory of State, County and Federal Officials in Hawaii, 2007, will begin later next week. However, the digital edition is currently available for download. The publication contains department and agency listings with phone and fax numbers, and mail and e-mail addresses. A supplement to Guide to Government in Hawaii, the Directory is published annually.

Directory of State, County and Federal Officials in Hawaii, 2007
(available in pdf as complete volume and by section, from Hawaii LRB)

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A risky education

Washington Post (WP) reported today on last week's published U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Center for American Progress joint school-improvement platform. The WP story writes:
Among the document's most controversial proposals is a call for states and school systems to "fairly and efficiently remove ineffective teachers."

The platform also urged the development of statewide data systems to help track student achievement and teacher effectiveness. It also called on schools to expand student learning time -- which encompasses classroom time, tutoring and after-school and experiential programs -- and called for states to adopt a common definition of graduation rates.
The Center states much of their recommendations was built on the data as reported in the interactive state-by-state map, Education Report Card.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offered details of their grading methodology (Hawaii's grades follow each category):
  1. Academic Achievement (F)
  2. Academic Achievement of Low-Income and Minority Students (C)
  3. Return on Investment (F)
  4. Truth in Advertising About Student Proficiency (B)
  5. Rigor of Standards (D)
  6. Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness (F)
  7. 21st Century Teaching Force (B)
  8. Flexibility in Management and Policy (B)
  9. Data Quality (A)

In the WP article, Tom Donohue, chamber president, says:
Without real leadership in education reform, our economic future and prosperity are at risk.
Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness
(February 2007, pdf, 88pp/1.2MB)

Overview (html)
Major Findings (html)

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Web browsing

Browsing titles in a library or bookstore offers a different sort of pleasure than the quick find in Google. One of the first format features in HTML for the web browser was the bulleted list, an easily browsable presentation of content. Especially useful when sorted and harvested over a period of time, compiled lists can display trends and issues not readily discernible in a returned search hit list.

LRB Library's iClips not only daily gathers and lists news stories from online news providers, but compiles weekly selections of the local articles from Hawaii press for each month. Selecting the option to view the weekly compendium, one can browse a month's stories for each category.

During January and February, iClips harvested over 200 stories on the Hawaii State Legislature 2007 Session; and, proving the saying that everyone has an opinion, the largest weekly compendium of articles is, by far, the Editorials: February alone with over 300 listings.

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