Good news: inequality shrinking - Axios
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Good news: inequality shrinking

Income inequality — the stubborn curse of the current era and, many think, a key factor in the global uprising against establishment powers — appears to be on a solid, steady decline in the U.S., according to a new report.

Data: Indeed analysis of BLS monthly jobs data; Chart: Axios Visuals

Quick take: For more than a year, the wage gap has been closing between American workers with the least and the highest education—wages have been going up the most for workers who need it the most, according to Jed Kolko, chief economist for Indeed, the jobs website. And this year, the most chronically unemployed Americans began to return to work.

What we don't know: The trend is coming on slowly rather than hitting workers in one bang. It will take time before it's clear whether the added dollars begin to erode the deep public antipathy and distrust of the system that seem to be at least in part fueled by a loss of hope in the economy.

It's also not clear who may gain politically from this shift: President Trump is likely to claim that he is delivering on his promise to the forgotten working class during his 2016 campaign. Democrats, however, will probably note that there have been 85 months of consecutive job growth leading to today's 4.1% jobless rate, and argue that these dividends for the working class are the product mostly of President Obama's economic program.

The details: For the last year or two, economists and politicians have fretted over how to loosen up worker wages, which have been effectively stagnant since the 1970s. Flat wages have been set against the meteoric rise of a new class of billionaire plutocrats to create a picture of massive and chronic income inequality and unfairness, and that impression appeared to help elect Trump.

  • But for three consecutive years, wages have been rising the fastest for jobs with the lowest pay, Kolko tells Axios. And now the economy is specifically lifting up workers with the least education, a key social and economic dividing line—there have been five straight quarters of a shrinkage of the wage inequality gap, Kolko said, with surging wage gains for those with only a high school diploma.
  • The median wage for someone with a high school degree grew to $714 a week as of the end of September, from $700 at the same point in 2016; high-wage workers just budged up to $1,271 a week, though, from $1,266. So the gap between them narrowed to $557 from $566, almost 2%.
  • "This past year has been good news for the least-educated workers," Kolko tells Axios.

Metrics for the hard-core unemployed and lowest-paid workers—part of the core of the Trump base—have all seen significant gains.

  • Broad unemployment including those no longer searching for work and involuntarily working part time fell to 7.9% in October, from 9.2% at the beginning of the year, Kolko said.
  • And the share of the main working population that is employed — those 25 to 54 —grew to 78.8%, from 78.2%.

Those are the best numbers since 2000. In December 2000—the last time unemployment was at 4.1% — broad unemployment was at 6.9%. And the working population 25 to 54 years old was 81.4%.

That means that well over 1 million Americans still need to be drawn back into the work force.

And there are signs that the most stubborn unemployed are trying to return to work. Kolko said that searches are up at Indeed for the terms "no background check" and "felony-friendly jobs." "This suggested that people who have struggled more in the past to find jobs are encouraged by the tightening labor market to look for work," he said.

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North Korea sanctions are keeping food, medicine from citizens

Pyongyang citizens gathering to mourn in front of a portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at the Pyongyang Gymnasium. Photo: KCNA / AFP / Getty Images

Sanctions against North Korea could increase cases of acute malnutrition among children, and hamper humanitarian efforts, according to a Washington Post report.

Why it matters: While sanctions were enforced with the intent of punishing the regime for its nuclear threats and missile launches, an American neurosurgeon who operates in North Korea, Kee Park, told the Post "they're hurting the wrong people."

  • The U.K. announced last month it would cut off aid to North Korea.
  • South Korea hasn't "delivered on its September pledge to give $8 million to the World Food Program and UNICEF for children and pregnant women," the Post reports.
  • The U.N. resident coordinator in Pyongyang, Tapan Mishra, wrote to U.N. officials that "crucial relief items, including medical equipment and drugs, have been held up for months...they are not on the list of sanctions items."
  • A humanitarian worker in Pyongyang told the Post said Chinese suppliers "have decided that it's not worth the exposure or the risk of their reputations" to continue sending supplies, despite not sending anything already banned by sanctions.
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Inside the Pentagon's multi-million dollar program to explore UFOs

An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. Photo: AFP staff / Getty Images

The Pentagon has officially confirmed the existence of its $22 million program to investigate unidentified flying objects (UFOs), reported by Politico and the New York Times almost simultaneously today.

Why it matters, per Politico's Bryan Bender: "The revelation of the program could give a credibility boost to UFO theorists, who have long pointed to public accounts by military pilots and others describing phenomena that defy obvious explanation, and could fuel demands for increased transparency about the scope and findings of the Pentagon effort, which focused some of its inquiries into subjects such as next-generation propulsion systems."

The details of the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program:

  • Harry Reid, the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader requested the program's funding in 2007. Much of it came from Robert Bigelow, the billionaire behind an aerospace program who currently works with NASA.
  • Bigelow said on CBS last May that he was "absolutely convinced" that UFOs have visited Earth and that aliens exist.
  • Pilots and various military personnel have claimed to see UFOs that "maneuvered so unusually and so fast that they seemed to defy the laws of physics."
  • One UFO sighting collected by the program is documented in "footage from a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet showing an aircraft surrounded by some kind of glowing aura traveling at high speed and rotating as it moves," per NYT.

The program's funding ended in 2012, though some of the program's backers say it continues to operate. A Pentagon spokesman, Thomas Crosson, told NYT: “It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding, and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change."

Why now: Luis Elizondo, a military intelligence officer who helped run AATIP, resigned in October because he said there wasn't sufficient time and effort put into the UFO investigation, according to his resignation letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

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The crackdown on college fraternities

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house at Ohio State University. Photo: Dake Kang / AP

"[A]mid worries about endemic binge drinking, sexual assault and a startling spate of deaths, schools are going beyond the old practice of shutting down individual [fraternity] houses to imposing broad restrictions on all Greek life," the N.Y. Times' Anemona Hartocollis reports atop column 1:

  • "Activities like fraternity parties and initiations have been suspended or curtailed at colleges including Ball State, Indiana University, Ohio State and the University of Michigan, as well as at least five where deaths have occurred this year: Florida State, Louisiana State, Penn State, Texas State and Iowa."
  • Why it matters ... Tracy Maxwell, founder of HazingPrevention.org: "There is definitely this moment in time where society is not willing to accept behavior that in the past has been acceptable."

Go deeper: The state of college Greek life.

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Americans loathe Washington, but like home

Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images

Americans are pessimistic about Washington and think the country is on the wrong track (69%), but are optimistic about their local communities.

That's the encouraging finding of an AP-NORC (University of Chicago) poll:

  • 9% think the country has become more united under Trump, while 67% think the country is more divided. (44% of Americans said in a poll last year that Obama's presidency had further divided the country.)
  • Even Republicans think Trump has divided America more than uniting it, 41% to 17%.
  • But, but, but ... "[P]essimism about the president and national politics doesn't extend to local communities. ... [A]bout half of Americans said they feel optimistic about their local communities" — 55% of Ds and 50% of Rs.
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Mexico grants military more power in fighting drug war

Soldiers from the Mexican Army and Mexican Marines patrol along Acapulco's coastline. Photo: AFP photo/ Francisco Robles/Getty Images

The Mexican military will be granted more control in the fight against the country's drug war, which has increasingly become more violent under President Enrique Peña Nieto, after a law passed in Mexico's Congress yesterday.

Why it matters: Critics of the law — including United Nations officials and human rights groups — argue that it would "will vastly expand military authority without checks and balances and offers no exit strategy to cede eventual leadership of the campaign to combat drugs to an effective police force," per NYT.

Why now: Violence from Mexican drug cartles has gotten worse under President Peña Nieto's tenure — NYT notes that 2017 has been "the deadliest in two decades." And since troops were first sent to combat the drug gangs in 2006, "more than 200,000 people have been killed in the drug war and 31,000 people have gone missing," according to official statistics cited by NYT.

The changes:

  • Mexico has maintained civilian control over their army for nearly the past 100 years, which has ultimately given local law enforcement officers complete jurisdiction over their areas. This law would give the government and the military more control.
  • The Mexican military currently operates in 27 of 32 states around the country — they were only in six states when Peña Nieto became president five years ago.
  • Peña Nieto would have to issue a public executive order detailing his reasons for sending in more troops to different areas. That EO would last a year.
  • The military will have more authority to carry out investigations on their own terms, thus breaking from the civilian control under which they've previously operated.
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White House paper suggests solar tariff support

Workers seen by solar panels of the Isyangulovo solar power plant in Zianchurinsky District, the Republic of Bashkortostan. Vadim Braidov/TASS Photo: Vadim Braidov\TASS via Getty Images

A White House document circulating within the Trump administration lays out a case for imposing new trade restrictions on imports of solar panel equipment from Asia, according to a report in Politico.

Why it matters: It's the latest sign that President Trump's hawkish trade stance toward China will soon lead to tariffs that U.S. solar energy developers fear will sharply drive up costs and curtail new project development.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) concluded in September that low-cost imports — many of which come from Chinese owned companies operating in Asia — were a cause of "serious injury" to domestic panel manufacturers.

The finding came in response to a petition from two financially distressed manufacturing companies, Suniva and SolarWorld.

What's next: The White House is slated to make a decision as soon as next month on whether to impose tariffs or perhaps some other forms of solar trade restrictions.

In November the ITC recommended tariffs that are less aggressive than what the petitioners sought. But the White House has wide latitude to decide what form of penalties, if any, to impose.

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How Affordable Care Act cutbacks will hurt minority communities

Two Florida resents shop for insurance at a local center offering Obamacare enrollment. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Trump administration cut the Affordable Care Act federal insurance enrollment period in half (to 45 days), which has people scrambling to get insurance before time's up. But the administration's cutbacks to the program overall could have a disproportionate effect on minority communities, per NYT.

Why it matters: The Affordable Care Act has reduced the disparities in coverage across minority groups, even as African Americans and Hispanics throughout the country remain more likely than whites to be uninsured.

By the numbers:

  • 16% of Hispanics overall remain uninsured, down from 24.4% in 2013.
  • 10.5% of African Americans overall remain uninsured, down from 15.9% in 2013.
  • Among Hispanics ages 18-64, the uninsured rate is 17.9 percentage points higher than whites of the same age. In 2013, the difference was 26 percentage points.
  • Among African Americans ages 18-64, the uninsured rate is 4.6 percentage points higher than whites of the same age. In 2013, the gap was 10.4 percentage points.

One example of how the administrations cuts is already affecting minority communities, detailed by NYT, is at the Center for Family Services in New Jersey. The nonprofit center assists local residents across seven counties. After its federal funding was cut by 64%, the staff of 21 members who collectively spoke six different languages has been reduced to a staff of six that only speaks English and Spanish.

With a reduced enrollment period and a smaller staff, it's difficult for nonprofit groups like this to serve residents who need help signing up for insurance. “We're still getting out there and doing events," Pamela Gray, a navigator with the group, told NYT, “but the less people, the less people you're able to serve."

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Trump had fewer deportations than Obama's first year

Despite President Trump's tough-on-immigration rhetoric, there were around 177,000 fewer deportations this year than in 2009, Obama's first year in office. That number is lower than any year during Obama's presidency, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data.

Data: Immigration and Customs Enforcement via FOIA office; Chart: Andrew WItherspoon / Axios

One big thing: The numbers didn't really start to decline for Obama until after he signed DACA in 2012. It protects illegal immigrants from deportation if they came here as children, but in September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of the program.

Why it matters: Sessions gave Congress six months to figure out what to do about the Dreamers, and if nothing is done, the removal of DACA's protections could lead to an uptick in deportations.

Don't forget:

  • Since the very beginning, Trump has campaigned on a border wall, more deportation officers and tougher immigration policies.
  • In February, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly signed two memos, which allowed ICE officers to arrest anyone they suspected of violating immigration laws, among other things. The memos caused a panic, and there were several stories published about ICE roundups and immigrations raids.

Trump vs. Obama: ICE officers in Texas feel a "night and day" difference in their work between Trump's and Obama's presidency, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told Axios in October. He said that during the Obama administration "they were basically told not to do their job."

By the numbers:

  • Trump's highest deportation month had only about half the number of deportations as Obama's highest month.
  • In 2008, there were more than twice as many non-criminal deportations as criminal deportations. The ratio in 2016 was 0.71 — the third-lowest ratio, following 2015 and 2013.
  • Unauthorized border crossing attempts have also dropped by almost 150,000, according to Customs and Border Protection data. This could partially contribute to the declining deportation numbers, as a number of arrests and deportations occur at the border.
  • While deportations are down, there was a 25% increase in ICE arrests, the Washington Post reported.
Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect that 2009 was Obama's first year in office, not 2008.
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Trump admin bans CDC from using certain words like "fetus"

Outside the CDC headquarters in Washington, D.C. Photo: Photo by James Leynse / Corbis via Getty Images

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were told by the Trump administration on Thursday that they are not allowed to use the words like "science-based," "evidence-based" and "transgender," in their budget documents, according to a CDC analyst who spoke to The Washington Post.

Why it matters: The administration wants to control what it considers controversial wording from agencies as they submit documents for the president's budget for 2019, expected to be released in February. However, the analyst told the WashPost they "could not recall a previous time when words were banned from budget documents" due to ideology.

The details, per The Washington Post:

  • The list of banned words: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based and science-based.
  • The meeting about the banned words was led by Alison Kelly, a senior leader in the agency’s Office of Financial Services, who told the CDC officials she was just the messenger.
  • The CDC has offices that directly work with public health issues that relate to those words, such as its research on fetus development for the Zika virus and preventing HIV among transgender people.

Other CDC officials confirmed the existence of a list of forbidden words, the article said, although spokespeople from CDC or OMB did not comment by their deadline.

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Here's the ex-Uber employee's letter that delayed the Waymo trial

Photo: Jaap Arriens / Getty Images

Confirming much of his testimony in court, a letter written by a former Uber employee's attorney outlines claims that the ride-hailing company was using covert methods of communications to evade legal discovery and gather information about competitors, including trade secrets.

Yes, but: During his testimony in court, Jacobs backtracked on the letter's claim that he had knowledge of Uber using special covert tactics to steal trade secrets from Waymo.

More: Earlier on Friday, the court's special master assigned to the case issued a report on the matter, in which he concluded that while Uber did not have to turn over Jacobs' resignation email and eventual settlement as part of the requested documents, it should have disclosed his 37-page letter.

Backstory: The letter emerged in this lawsuit in late November after the Justice Department notified the presiding judge of its existence because it includes claims about Uber's theft of Waymo's trade secrets. In court, Uber's assistant general counsel Angela Padilla said that the company perceived that letter as an attempt to extort money from Uber (it eventually settled with Jacobs and his lawyer for a total of $7.5 million). Other then-Uber employees testified that Jacobs was fired for poor performance, not for objecting to illegal and unthetical practices. Jacobs denied this, saying he had never received negative performance feedback until that point.

  • Still, many of the practices outlined in the letter are alarming (though not all have been substantiated). They include impersonating drivers, riders, and protestors, bribing foreign officials, recording competitors and employees without their knowledge, and using untraceable devices for communication.
  • Note that Joe Sullivan, Uber's then-chief security officer who oversaw all of these competitive intelligence teams, was fired last month because of his decision to conceal a data breach in October 2016. And so was an in-house attorney who worked under Sullivan and worked with Jacobs' team.
  • After the letter emerged, Uber's new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, and new general counsel, Tony West, both warned the company that such practices will no longer be tolerated even if legal.

From Uber:

While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter—and, importantly, any related to Waymo—our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology.

Here's the full (court-redacted) letter: