LBJ’s ‘Great Society’ at 50: Ensuring a Nation’s Safety Net

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty,” no one can reasonably argue that the government’s massive effort didn’t help.

It’s more a question of how much it helped. And today, it’s a question of how to make these essential programs more effective and sustainable for a new generation.

In his watershed speech, coming just about six weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, LBJ promised to “cure” poverty. By that measure, of course, he failed. Four in 10 children remain impoverished. And in the hill country of Appalachia, where the new president launched his effort in the spring of 1964, poverty remains stubbornly entrenched.

At the same time, Johnson’s policies widened the fault line between Americans over the role of government in their lives — between those who want limited government and those who look to government to solve problems. This widening of the Republican-Democrat split created by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal is a legacy of Johnson’s vision.

In time, the Great Society would include an array of new initiatives: Medicare and Medicaid, the first direct federal aid to school districts, Head Start, food stamps, environmental legislation, the Job Corps to provide vocational education, urban renewal programs, national endowments for the arts and humanities, civil rights legislation and an expanded Social Security program.

The combined effect of these programs drove poverty down significantly from 1967 to 2012, according to a recent study by economists at Columbia University. Researchers found that if government transfers are included in the mix, poverty fell from 26 percent to 16 percent. As The Washington Post’s Wonk Blog pointed out last week, government intervention is the only reason there are fewer Americans living in poverty now than 45 years ago. In 2012, about 4 million people were spared from poverty by food stamps alone.

But persistent poverty in both urban and rural America remains a significant problem. So does income inequality, which is the widest it has been since the 1920s.

We favor raising the minimum wage on the federal level — not piecemeal at the local level. We favor any reasonable effort to encourage the creation of new businesses, which leads to jobs. The yawning gap in income has much to do with a lack of good-paying jobs.

The biggest of the entitlement programs must be set right for future deserving recipients. Medicare should be means tested so that wealthier recipients pay more of the bills. Social Security’s solvency could be ensured by either raising the age for drawing benefits or increasing the cap on the payroll tax. Democrats should be open to changes in entitlements to make them sustainable. Republicans should be open to increased taxes to shore them up.

It was notable that House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) didn’t go anywhere near entitlement reform during the recent budget agreement. That small-bore deal was an accomplishment after months of wrangling, but it also was a reminder of just how far the nation needs to go.

Finally, we believe something else is required of every American: a sense of responsibility for those in need. Poverty is different from the other “wars” fought on social battlefields in this country. Unlike the “wars” against drugs and crime, it is relatively easy for the comfortable to remain unaware of want in their own communities, easier sometimes to show compassion for those thousands of miles away when the real work is five minutes from our own backyards.

The anniversary of Johnson’s grand experiment is a good time for both parties to commit themselves to an honest debate over how best to preserve the American safety net and relieve income inequality. The answer is not shredding programs. The answer is fixing them.

Republished from the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentine. Distributed by Creators.com.

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That Rising Tide Has Lifted Only the Luxury Yachts

Photo courtesy of 123RF

Photo courtesy of 123RF

As a new year dawns, life in the land of opportunity isn’t what it used to be for many Americans.

Today, our nation is marred by growing inequality, constricting opportunity, and declining social mobility- it has become a place where record-setting corporate profits do not translate to increased compensation for workers or even enough jobs for our legions of unemployed.

We live in a country where the wealthiest citizens often have lower effective income tax rates than many in the middle class; one where the villains who brought on the financial crash received bloated bonuses and had their firms rescued by government bailouts even as ordinary taxpayers received nothing but foreclosure notices, upside-down mortgages, and pink slips in return.

Our pain, their gain. The rising tide has lifted the private luxury yachts and left the rest of us drowning underwater.

Today, working families in America are receiving a raw deal.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Economic and political inequality are linked. The former inevitably leads to the latter as wealth becomes heavily concentrated and gains influence that it uses to secure additional advantages. Money talks and our politicians listen. Put simply, it is far more lucrative to make the rules of the game (or influence those who do), than it is to break them. Recognizing this, the rich have rigged the economic and political rules in their favor, producing a system that is increasingly unfair from the perspective of most Americans.

The result is systemic capture- a government run primarily by, and for the benefit of, the richest members of our society that prioritizes their interests and concerns.

Here, the hollowing out of the middle class, the financial crash, the recession, and the anemic recovery are all the products of a broken and dysfunctional system. Their lesson is clear: systemic capture is a dangerous and destructive phenomenon. What’s good for Wall Street firms and those that run them isn’t necessarily good for America. Put another way, the interests of the wealthy and those of the rest of the nation are not aligned; indeed, in many cases they are at odds. Moreover, inequality and political exclusion are expensive- they impede economic growth and impose huge costs on society.

Sadly, public policy choices that we have made- particularly the deregulation of the financial sector, the movement towards a less progressive federal income tax system, and the preferential tax treatment given certain types of investment income, such as capital gains and carried interest – helped fuel the rise of the rich and have contributed significantly to growing inequality in our society. However, if public policy has played a role in exacerbating inequality, then it can play a role in stopping or reversing these trends too.

Government has an obligation to intervene in the economy in defense of the common good. When the private interests of particular persons or industries clash with the general welfare of society as a whole, it is private interests that must yield. More broadly, we have a right to demand that the rich pay a fair share in taxes to support the costs of public goods like roads and infrastructure, education, and social protection programs such as food stamps, unemployment insurance, and retirement security. We have a right to demand an economy that generates adequate numbers of jobs that pay living wages. And we have a right to demand policies that produce a broadly-shared prosperity open to us all- to insist that our political and economic systems actually deliver on the promises of the American dream.

There is ample kindling for the fire of reform. America is dry tinder- legitimate grievances exist across a wide spectrum of our society. They are the common ground from which, despite all their differences, both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement emerged. In the end almost all of us, regardless of our race, religion, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation are steadily losing ground to the wealthy and being victimized by a captured system. We can either passively accept more of the same, and a future of diminished horizons for our children, or we can free ourselves from the tired partisan narratives foisted on us to divide and distract us, and demand fairness- a better deal- with a single voice.

The great task that has been set before us in the coming years is simply this- to break the power of the wealthy and make America’s government one run by and for the people once again.

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Michael Stafford

Michael Stafford is a 2003 graduate of Duke University School of Law and a former Republican Party officer. He works as an attorney in Wilmington, Delaware. He is the author of the book "An Upward Calling" on the need for public policy and politics to advance the common good.

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Enrollments Grow in Texas, Where Uninsured Rates Are High

Photo illustration courtesy of Todd Wiseman, The Texas tribune

Photo illustration courtesy of Todd Wiseman, The Texas Tribune

Texas enrollments in the online insurance marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act rose nearly eightfold in December, according to 2013 figures that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released Monday.

Texas ranks third in the number of 2013 enrollments following the troubled launch of healthcare.gov on Oct. 1. As of Dec. 28, nearly 120,000 Texans had purchased coverage in the federal marketplace, up from 14,000 one month before.

The number represents a tiny fraction of the uninsured in Texas, which has a higher percentage of people without health coverage than any other state. In 2012, more than 6 million Texans, about 24 percent of the population, lacked health insurance, according to U.S. census data.

Florida led the nation in the number of 2013 enrollments, with 158,000. In a media call from Tampa, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius praised Florida’s high enrollment numbers. Like Texas, Florida has a largely unfavorable political climate toward the Affordable Care Act, and a high rate of the uninsured, at 21 percent. HHS officials offered no explanation for why more people enrolled in some states compared with others.

“The numbers show that there is a very strong national demand for affordable health care made possible by the Affordable Care Act,” Sebelius said in the call announcing the enrollment data, adding that nationwide enrollment had reached nearly 2.2 million.

The data offers a first glimpse at demographic trends surrounding enrollment in the federal insurance marketplace. Texans between the ages of 18 and 34 accounted for 26 percent of those who signed up for coverage. Texans between 55 and 64 made up the largest demographic group of enrollees, at 29 percent.

Women of all ages constituted a majority of Texas enrollments: 55 percent. That was consistent with the nationwide trend. HHS officials said the trend was expected. Maternity care, newborn care and contraception are among the 10 categories of benefits that all health insurance plans must cover under President Obama’s health care law.

Enrollment breakdowns by race are not currently available, federal health officials said.

Three-quarters of Texans who purchased health plans in the exchange in 2013 received financial assistance, according to the HHS data. That percentage, which is less than the median rate of 80 percent for the 36 states operating under the federal exchange, might have been larger had Texas expanded Medicaid to cover poor adults. Texans living below the poverty line do not qualify for subsidies.

The Affordable Care Act requires most Texans to carry health insurance by March 31. The federal health law had a rocky start in October when the healthcare.gov website launched with major glitches. In past months, Sebelius has frequently apologized for the performance of the marketplace, but Monday’s announcement was a departure from the conciliatory tone.

“Americans are finding quality affordable coverage in the marketplace, and best of all, because coverage began on New Year’s Day, the promise and hope of the Affordable Care Act is now a reality,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/01/13/health-enrollments-surge-rate-uninsured-remains-hi/. Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

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Edgar Walters, The Texas Tribune

Edgar Walters, The Texas TribuneEdgar Walters is a reported for the Texas Tribune.

 

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Employers Can Take ‘Personal Responsibility’ For Poverty Wages

Photo courtesy of 123RF

Photo courtesy of 123RF

Brace yourself America—Republicans have discovered poverty!

Right here, right under their noses, 48 million Americans are, as Senator Marco Rubio puts it, “soon-to-haves.” Because nothing says you understand institutional and generational poverty like using corporate-ese to describe it.

Now that Republicans have acknowledged one-fifth of the wealthiest country in the world is impoverished, they’re debating whether this is a viable issue for them. This doesn’t always work out for the Party of Saying “Reagan.” Notably the Grand Old Party tried to curry favor with religious groups but ended up calling Sandra Fluke a slut, launching the War on Women. In hopes of capturing the Latino vote, they brought out Cuban-American lawmakers to denounce amnesty for undocumented Mexican immigrants… a policy we have for undocumented Cuban immigrants. So Republicans are in need of a nice new signature wedge issue to transform them from the losing Severe Conservatives back into the winning Compassionate Conservatives.

This we-want-to-fix-poverty weather balloon could endear Republicans to people who find them to be the party of Mitt Romney (whom Jon Stewart once described as “the guy who just fired your dad”) and Newt Gingrich (the guy who thinks “child labor laws are stupid!” and then thinks, “I should say that out loud”). The party of assuming working people don’t want insurance but the government is forcing it on them. The party of drug testing welfare recipients. The party of voting to cut food stamps while funding corporate farm subsidies. The party whose party line has been being poor in the U.S. is pretty sweet because poor people have air conditioning and higher rates of obesity.

Poverty tone-deafness coupled with dismissive poor-shaming has been the GOP platform. Or as Congressman Stephen Fincher and other Republicans put it when voting to cut food stamps, “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”

But let’s give the GOP the benefit of the doubt. Let’s not just assume this is a cynical attempt to try to appeal to a swath of people they’ve vilified for three decades because they’re now bankrupt of ideas and thin on voting blocs. Let’s not just assume this is an “Extremist Makeover; Poverty Edition.” Let’s assume they’re sincere in their empathy for Americans who have nothing in this land where six people own as much as the bottom 42 percent.

Republicans will use the term “personal responsibility” to tell those with no hope that they’re on their own. That they should have planned better—worked harder—not lived in a flood zone. Had better insurance. Had savings. You get the picture. It’s not the government’s job to save you from yourself. That’s what we pay the police and fire departments for. (Cough.)

And Republicans believe corporations are people. So how about corporations live up to the GOP’s panacea of personal responsibility when it comes to poverty? Republicans are looking for market-based solutions to poverty. Let’s look at poverty’s market-based roots:

Of the 48 million Americans living below the poverty line, 16 million are children and 10.5 million are the working impoverished. Meaning they are not lazy, drug-addicted parasites—they work. The issue is their jobs don’t pay them enough. Corporations employing the working impoverished have decided, as a means of policy, their workers don’t need to earn enough to take care of their families—the government will step up. You want a picture of a Welfare Queen? Get a portrait of any of the Walmart heirs.

In Senator Rubio’s much-hyped War on Poverty cut-and-run speech he floated wage subsidies to tackle poverty. We already do that.

Here’s a better idea: Companies pay their workers enough to live on. Employed yet welfare-dependent is a byproduct of privatizing profit and nationalizing loss.

Marshalls, TJ Maxx and HomeGoods CEOs are paid $21.8 million annually but pay their sales associates less than $8 an hour. Those are poverty wages. Starbucks could take personal responsibility and pay their baristas more than the average $9 an hour. There are others which could make an impact on poverty in America just by giving their Bob Cratchits a much-needed raise: Macy’s, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Sears, Kmart, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Kroger, Target, McDonald’s and the biggest private employer in the country—Walmart.

These companies’ boardrooms get treated to executive compensation and the backbone of these companies get treated by Medicaid.

These American mainstay brands could lift more than 10 million Americans and their dependents out of poverty, but they choose not to.

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Tina Dupuy

Tina Dupuy Tina Dupuy is a native New Yorker born in exile.

The daughter of biblical brimstone hippie revolutionaries, her parents were members of a splinter sect so fringe it makes normal cult apologists shudder. This has given her a rather unique take on life. “My parents were missionaries, not to be confused with ‘mercenaries’ because that would actually be cool.”

Tina’s childhood was spent as glorified luggage, living in several countries on two continents and eventually attending nine elementary schools. The most stable home she had was an adolescent all-girls group home in Northern California where she made few friends by being an (alleged) stuck up nerd who “thought she was better than everyone else.”

Tina’s life long ambition of being a paleontologist was thwarted by the siren call of freelance journalism. An irreverent yet unassuming humorist, Tina is a natural for the work. ”Prostitutes are known for their hearts of gold, you never hear anyone say that about satirists,” she laments.

Sometimes a reporter, sometimes a comedian – always a wedge-issue enthusiast and devout skeptic – Tina is anaward-winning writer, investigative journalist, the former managing editor of Crooks and Liars . Tina appears frequently on MSNBC, Current TV, RT and BBC, and all over the radio frequencies via KCRW’s To The PointThe Stephanie Miller Show and The Leslie Marshall Show. She writes for Mother JonesThe AtlanticSkeptic, Fast CompanyAlternetLA Weekly, Los Angeles Times and Newsday among many others. Her weekly op-ed column is nationally syndicated through Cagle Cartoons.

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Percentage of Foreign-Born Texas Is Growing

Photo of Houston traffic and skyline courtesy of Joel Willis

Photo of Houston traffic and skyline courtesy of Joel Willis

A growing percentage of Texans are originally from foreign countries, including one in four in the state’s most populous county, Harris, according to new census data.

Over a five-year period ending in 2012, Texas had the nation’s seventh-highest share of foreign-born residents: 16 percent, an increase from 14 percent in 2000 and 9 percent in 1990, according to U.S. Census American Community Survey data released last month.

In the state’s most populous counties, 23 percent of Dallas County residents were foreign born, as were 16 percent in Fort Worth’s Tarrant County, 18 percent in Austin’s Travis County and 13 percent in San Antonio’s Bexar County.

And Houston’s Harris County saw its percentage of foreign-born residents increase to 25 percent, up from 22 percent in 2000 and 14 percent in 1990.

“Houston has become one of the great magnets for the new immigration,” said Stephen Klineberg, a Rice University sociology professor.

Across the country, in 1960, foreign-born residents were typically from Europe; now, they’re more likely to be from Latin America and Asia. There are now more foreign-born Americans than ever before, though they make up a smaller percentage of the nation’s population than they did a century ago.

In Harris County, immigrants have come from Mexico and El Salvador, Vietnam and India, some with vast amounts of education and others with virtually none, to work as everything from doctors and engineers to construction workers and cooks. Houston — the nation’s fourth-largest city — is also a major destination for the resettlement of refugees from all over the world. And foreign-born residents of other U.S. states have also come to the Houston area.

Among Harris County’s more than 1 million foreign-born residents are state Rep. Hubert Vo, the first Vietnamese-American elected to the Texas Legislature, and Nandita Berry, who was tapped by Gov. Rick Perry in December as Texas’ first Indian-American secretary of state.

Klineberg expects the share of immigrants in the county to decline in future censuses because immigration has slowed and the children of many immigrants are coming of age and having U.S.-born children. Houston will still be a very diverse area, he said, but with growth fueled by U.S.-born Asian-Americans and Hispanics.

“No force in the world is going to stop Houston or Texas or America from becoming more Latino, more African-American, more Asian and less Anglo as the 21st century unfolds,” Klineberg said.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/01/02/increasing-share-foreign-born-residents-texas/. Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

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Corrie MacLaggan, The Texas Tribune

Corrie MacLaggan, The Texas TribuneCorrie MacLaggan is the demographics reporter at the Texas Tribune. Previously, the Austin native worked as a national correspondent for Reuters, writing and editing stories about Texas and nearby states and overseeing a network of freelance writers. Before joining Reuters, she covered Texas government and politics for the Austin American-Statesman, writing about everything from gubernatorial races to food stamp application backlogs. She spent her first year at the Statesman writing for the newspaper's weekly Spanish-language publication.

She has also worked in Mexico City, where she wrote for publications including the Miami Herald's Mexico edition, Latin Trade magazine and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Her first reporting job was at the El Paso Times. Corrie is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied journalism and Spanish.

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The Health Law Takes Effect: A Consumer’s Guide

Photo courtesy of iStock

Photo courtesy of iStock

Starting Jan. 1, central provisions of the Affordable Care Act kick in, allowing many uninsured Americans to afford health insurance. But the landmark law still faces heavy opposition from Republicans and from a public that remains skeptical the law can improve health care coverage while lowering its cost.

The law has already altered the health care industry and established a number of consumer benefits. It will have sweeping ramifications for consumers, state officials, employers and health care providers, including hospitals and doctors.

However, healthcare.gov, the federal website that is managing enrollment in 36 states, has been plagued by electronic problems that botched the Oct. 1 rollout of the health law’s online marketplaces, or exchanges. The problems frustrated potential enrollees and gave Republicans new fodder for their argument that the law was doomed to fail. After hundreds of hardware and software fixes, federal officials have said that the site works for the “vast majority of users,” but some problems remain.

Here’s a primer on where the law stands now and how it might change.

I don’t have health insurance. Under the law, will I have to buy it and what happens if I don’t?

You have until March 31 to enroll in health insurance before you are subject to the law’s tax penalty for not having coverage. For individuals, the penalty would start at $95 or up to 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, and rise to $695, or 2.5 percent of income, by 2016. For families this year the penalty is $285 or 1 percent of income. That will grow in 2016 to $2,085 or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater. The requirement to have coverage can be waived for several reasons, including financial hardship or religious beliefs.

Last month the administration decided to waive the individual mandate penalty for 2014 for some people in the individual insurance market whose plans were being canceled.  Under the law’s “hardship exemption,” these consumers are also eligible to buy “catastrophic” coverage policies, which have lower premiums and higher deductibles than other plans that comply with the law.

I get my health coverage at work and want to keep my current plan. Will I be able to do that? How will my plan be affected by the health law?

If you get insurance through your job, it is likely to stay that way. But, just as before the law was passed, your employer is not obligated to keep your current plan and may change premiums, deductibles, co-pays and network coverage.

The law has already made several changes to employer-sponsored insurance. For example, plans generally now ban lifetime coverage limits and include a guarantee that an adult child up to age 26 can stay on her parents’ health plan. More than 3 million young adults have been able to stay on their parents’ plan due to this provision, according to administration figures.

What other parts of the law are now in place?

Starting Jan. 1, insurers will not be allowed to deny you coverage based on a pre-existing medical condition or place annual limits on medical coverage of essential health benefits, which include prescription drugs and hospitalization.

You are likely to be eligible for some preventive services such as breast cancer screenings and cholesterol tests, with no out-of-pocket costs.

Health plans can’t cancel  your coverage once you get sick – a practice known as “rescission“ – unless you committed fraud when you applied for coverage.

The law earlier barred insurers from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.

Insurers have to provide rebates to consumers if the companies spend less than 80 to 85 percent of premium dollars on medical care.

Some existing plans, if they haven’t changed significantly since passage of the law, do not have to abide by certain parts of the law. For example, these “grandfathered” planscan still charge beneficiaries part of the cost of preventive services.

If you’re currently in one of these plans, and your employer makes significant changes, such as raising your out-of-pocket costs, the plan would then lose its grandfathered status and have to abide by all aspects of the health law.

I want health insurance but I can’t afford it. What will I do?

Depending on your income, you might be eligible for Medicaid. Before the health law, in most states nonelderly adults without minor children didn’t qualify for Medicaid. But now, the federal government is offering to pay the cost of an expansion in the programs so that anyone with an income at or lower than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, (about $16,000 for an individual or $32,500 for a family of four based on current guidelines) will be eligible for Medicaid.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled in June 2012 that states cannot be forced to make that change. As of last month, 25 states and the District of Columbia have chosen toexpand Medicaid.

kaiser-health-newsWhat if I make too much money for Medicaid but still can’t afford to buy insurance?

You might be eligible for government subsidies to help you pay for private insurance sold in the state-based insurance marketplaces, also called exchanges.

These premium subsidies will be available for individuals and families with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level, or about $11,490 to $45,960 for individuals and $23,550 to $94,200 for a family of four (based on current guidelines).

If you earn less than 100 percent of the poverty level and live in a state that does not expand the Medicaid program, you generally cannot qualify for a subsidy to purchase coverage. However, you are also exempted from the penalties for not having insurance.

Will it be easier for me to get coverage even if I have health problems?

Insurers are now barred from rejecting applicants based on health status.

I own a small business. Will I have to buy health insurance for my workers?

No employer is required to provide insurance. But starting in 2015 – a one-year delay from the previous date of 2014 – businesses with 50 or more employees that don’t provide health care coverage and have at least one full-time worker who receives subsidized coverage in the health insurance exchange will have to pay a fee of $2,000 per full-time employee. The firm’s first 30 workers would be excluded from the fee.

However, firms with fewer than 50 people won’t face any penalties.

In addition, if you own a small business, the health law offers a tax credit to help cover the cost. Employers with fewer than 25 full-time workers who earn an average yearly salary of $50,000 or less can get tax credits of up to 50 percent this year.

Citing technical difficulties, in late November the Obama administration announced aone-year delay in the debut of the online marketplace for small businesses, called the Small Business Health Option, or SHOP. Until the SHOP exchange is fully operational in November 2014, small business owners can apply for coverage through the mail, over the phone or with a broker or insurance agent.

I’m over 65. How does the legislation affect seniors?

There is no need for you to enroll in the health law’s exchanges. Medicare is not part of those exchanges.

But the law does make other changes to Medicare.It is narrowing a gap in the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan known as the “doughnut hole.” That’s when seniors who have paid a certain initial amount in prescription costs have to pay for all of their drug costs until they spend a total of $4,550 for the year. Then the plan coverage begins again.

That coverage gap will be closed entirely by 2020. Seniors will still be responsible for 25 percent of their prescription drug costs. As of late November, more than 7.3 million seniors and people with disabilities who hit the doughnut hole have saved $8.9 billion on their prescription drugs, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The law also expanded Medicare’s coverage of preventive services, such as screenings for colon, prostate and breast cancer, which are now free to beneficiaries. Medicare will also pay for an annual wellness visit to develop or update a plan to prevent disease or disability.

According to CMS, in 2012 an estimated 34.1 million beneficiaries took advantage of Medicare’s coverage of preventive services with no cost-sharing.

The health law reduced the federal government’s payments to Medicare Advantage plans, run by private insurers as an alternative to the traditional Medicare. Medicare Advantage costs more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare. Critics of those payment cuts say that could mean the private plans may not offer many extra benefits, such as free eyeglasses, hearing aids and gym memberships, that they now provide.

Will I have to pay more for my health care because of the law?

It depends. Younger people who often paid less for health insurance before the health law may pay more for coverage. Older people may pay less because there are tighter rules governing how much more insurers can charge based on age. People who could not afford insurance before may now be eligible for subsidies to cover the cost of premiums – and possibly out-of-pocket costs as well.  Individuals who purchased insurance before may pay more because the law’s “essential health benefits” require that more services be covered.

Opponents say the law’s additional coverage requirements will make health insurance more expensive for individuals and for the government. Even supporters of the law acknowledge its steps to control health costs, such as incentives to coordinate care better, may take a while to show significant savings.

There are also some new taxes and fees. For example, starting last year, individuals with earnings above $200,000 and married couples making more than $250,000 paid a Medicare payroll tax of 2.35 percent, up from 1.45 percent, on income over those thresholds. In addition, higher-income people faced a 3.8 percent tax on unearned income, such as dividends and interest.

Starting in 2018, the law also will impose a 40 percent excise tax on the portion of most employer-sponsored health coverage (excluding dental and vision) that exceeds $10,200 a year and $27,500 for families. The tax has been dubbed a “Cadillac” tax because it hits the most generous plans.

In addition, the law also imposes taxes and fees on several major health industries. Last year, medical device manufacturers and importers began paying a 2.3 percent tax on the sale of any taxable medical device to raise $29 billion over 10 years. An annual fee for health insurers is expected to raise more than $100 billion over 10 years, while a fee for brand name drugs will bring in another $34 billion.

Those fees will likely be passed onto consumers in the form of higher premiums.

Has the law hit some bumps in the road?

Yes. The Oct. 1 launch of healthcare.gov was marred by technical problems that frustrated millions of consumers and gave Republicans on Capitol Hill fresh material for another round of hearings and charges criticizing President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement. Some Democrats have urged the administration to delaythe law’s individual mandate, citing the website’s woes. After a series of repairs, officials have said that the website is working for the “vast majority of users.”

When millions of Americans who buy coverage on the individual market began to learnthat their current health plans would not be offered in 2014 because they did not  comply with the health law’s new requirements, Obama had to apologize for his oft-repeated statement “if you like your health plan you can keep it.”

With some Americans still having difficulty in late December trying to sign up for coverage that starts Jan. 1, administration officials asked insurers to give people more time to pay for coverage beginning Jan. 1.  Insurers said that people who enroll by Dec. 24 can pay as late as Jan. 10.

Problems with healthcare.gov have helped keep early enrollment well below government estimates, but administration officials have said they expect sign-ups to continue to intensify before open enrollment closes March 31.

Are there more changes ahead for the law?

Republicans are expected to continue their efforts to defund or repeal the health law and convene additional oversight hearings to highlight the law’s problems as Congress gears up for the 2014 midterm elections.

It’s also possible that some of the taxes on the health care industry, which help pay for the new benefits in the health law, could be rolled back due to pressure from affected groups. A repeal of the tax on medical devices was part of last fall’s debate over funding the federal government and raising the federal debt ceiling but was not included in the final deal. Medicare’s actuary has predicted that the law’s payment reductions to hospitals and other providers may not withstand heavy political lobbying on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), one of the most contentious provisions of the health law, is also under continued attack by lawmakers. IPAB is a 15-member panel charged with making recommendations to reduce Medicare spending if the amount the government spends grows beyond a target rate. If Congress chooses not to accept the recommendations, lawmakers must pass alternative cuts of the same size.

Some Republicans argue that the board amounts to health care rationing and some Democrats have said that they think the panel would transfer power that belongs on Capitol Hill to the executive branch. In March, the House voted to repeal IPAB. The Senate did not consider the measure.

This article was republished from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family FoundationKaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Mary Agnes Carey, Kaiser Health News

Mary Agnes Carey, Kaiser Health NewsMary Agnes Carey has covered health reform and federal health policy for more than 15 years as an editor at CQ HealthBeat, as Capitol Hill Bureau Chief for Congressional Quarterly and at Dow Jones Newswires. A frequent radio and television commentator, recently featured on the Nightly Business Report, the PBS NewsHour and on NPR affiliates nationwide, Mary Agnes has a thorough understanding of both the policy and politics of health reform. She worked for newspapers in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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Despite Health Law’s Protections, Many Consumers May Be ‘Underinsured’

Photo courtesy of Michael McCloskey

Photo courtesy of Michael McCloskey

People with chronic conditions will be better protected from crippling medical bills starting in January as the health law’s coverage requirements and spending limits take effect. But a recent analysis by Avalere Health found that many may still find themselves “underinsured,” spending more than 10 percent of their income on medical care, not including premiums, even if they qualify for cost-sharing subsidies on the health insurance marketplaces.

“You have some great protections in place, but these out-of-pocket costs and how plans are structured are going to create some serious problems,” says Marc Boutin, executive vice president at the National Health Council, an advocacy group for people with chronic health conditions.

Potential trouble spots include prescription drugs; specialist care, including that provided by academic medical centers; and services such as physical therapy that typically require a course of treatment over weeks or months, say experts.

The health law prohibits insurers from turning down sick people for coverage and generally eliminates lifetime and annual dollar limits on benefits, including hospitalization and prescription drugs.

It also caps the amount people spend out-of-pocket in 2014 at $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 for families that buy a plan on the individual and small group markets, including the health insurance exchanges. People with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($28,725 for an individual or $58,875 for a family of four in 2013) may qualify for cost-sharing subsidies on the marketplaces that reduce those caps as well as their deductibles and copayments.

The Avalere analysis found that many chronically ill people, especially those in Bronze or Silver plans that offer less generous coverage, will likely reach their out-of-pocket maximum every year.

John Earley worries he may be one of them. Earley, 60, has severe plaque psoriasis, a condition that causes painful, itchy red patches on his skin.

After he was diagnosed more than 30 years ago, topical creams and ultraviolet light treatments that slow the growth of skin cells worked for a while. But eventually their effectiveness waned. He finally found relief with Humira, a biologic drug that blocks the production of an immune system protein that causes inflammation. The twice monthly injections cost more than $2,200, but the Texas high-risk pool through which Earley and his wife are insured covers the drug with a $100 copayment. The drug’s manufacturer, AbbVie, covers all but $5 of that amount through its patient assistance program. Their insurance premium is $1,460 per month.

With the Texas high-risk pool set to close early next year, Earley, who works on contract as an architect in Arlington, is checking into plans on the health insurance marketplace. The plan with the best Humira coverage—a $150 copay per refill—is a gold plan with a $1,718 monthly premium for the two of them, says Earley. Plans with lower premiums would require 40 to 50 percent coinsurance for the drug, which is in a high-cost specialty tier.

“What I’m finding with the insurance policies that are available, it’s going to cost you either way,” says Earley.

kaiser-health-newsThe gold plan with the best Humira coverage would cost roughly a quarter of their income, says Earley, who is not eligible for tax credits to subsidize his premium costs.  But that may be their best option, even with financial assistance from the drug’s manufacturer, given the high drug coinsurance charges on the other plans.

Drug costs are perhaps the most often cited coverage concern for people with chronic conditions, but there are others, say experts.

Access to specialists and to academic medical centers with the necessary expertise can be problematic on the marketplaces, where many insurers have opted for a narrow network of doctors and hospitals in order to keep a lid on premiums. A recent McKinsey & Co. study found that 70 percent of the 120 plans it examined offered narrow hospital networks that excluded at least 30 percent of an area’s biggest hospitals. Academic medical centers were generally part of broader plans whose premiums were 10 percent higher than average.

For people who need specialist care, narrow networks can be problematic since the law’s limits on what a patient spends out-of-pocket only apply to in-network care. Dermatologists trained in handling severe psoriasis may not be in network, nor the academic medical centers that some people need for treatment, says Leah Howard, director of government relations and advocacy at the National Psoriasis Foundation.

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes the out-of-pocket costs for effective treatments such as phototherapy can deter patients who would have to make  a copayment for perhaps dozens of sessions.

“We’ve seen people who would prefer to be on phototherapy, but can’t afford $500 in copays over eight weeks, so they end up stepping up to a systemic treatment,” says Howard.

In addition, although dollar limits on benefits aren’t allowed, plans typically limit the number of sessions for certain treatments such as physical therapy.

Because of the rocky rollout of the exchange websites in many states, many consumers have found it difficult to get basic information about premiums and plan deductibles, say experts. Many don’t know which providers are in the plan networks or what benefits the plans cover.

“As more and more people become covered and as people start to use their plans, we’ll see if the cost protections in the plans are sufficient, and directed toward getting people the care they need,” says Sara Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund.

This article was republished from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family FoundationKaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Michelle Andrews

Michelle Andrews writes about health topics for a variety of news sources, including the Washington Post, US News and Word Report, and the New York Times. Her work appears on Oak Ridge Now courtesy of Kaiser Health News.

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Infographic: Highest and Average Team Values of Sports Teams

Sport is big business in the United States. The National Football League is the most lucrative sports league in the world, with an average team value of $1.17 billion. Out of all teams in the league, the Dallas Cowboys are the wealthiest – Forbes values the Texas outfit at a whopping $2.3 billion.

Major League Baseball comes second with an average team value of $744 million. The New York Yankees are level with the Dallas Cowboys in the value stakes with $2.3 billion. The National Basketball Association rounds off the top three. The New York Knicks are the NBA’s most valuable team with $1.1 billion while the average team value across the league stands at $509 million.

These figures are some distance ahead of Major League Soccer where the average team value is just $37 million. The Seattle Sounders are the wealthiest outfit in the MLS, valued at $175 million.

team-values

 

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Niall McCarthy, Statista

Niall McCarthy, StatistaNiall McCarthy is the SEO and Online Marketing Manager at Statista.

Statista is the world’s largest statistics portal, providing clients with access to relevant data from over 18,000 sources. Statista aggregates the most important statistics and studies from market researchers, organizations, special publications, and government sources.

Statista's infographics transform complex topics into clear, conceptual and visually striking designs. They serve as informative and eye-catching additions to any website, newsletter or in social media activities.

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Celebrating Christmas and the Holidays, Then and Now

Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Photo courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Photo courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.

christmas2013-1Nine-in-ten Americans say they celebrate Christmas, and three-quarters say they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. But only about half see Christmas mostly as a religious holiday, while one-third view it as more of a cultural holiday. Virtually all Christians (96%) celebrate Christmas, and two-thirds see it as a religious holiday. In addition, fully eight-in-ten non-Christians in America also celebrate Christmas, but most view it as a cultural holiday rather than a religious occasion.

christmas2013-2The way Americans celebrate Christmas present is rooted in Christmases past. Fully 86% of U.S. adults say they intend to gather with family and friends on Christmas this year, and an identical number say they plan to buy gifts for friends and family. Roughly nine-in-ten adults say these activities typically were part of their holiday celebrations when they were growing up.

But fewer Americans say they will send Christmas or holiday cards this year than say their families typically did this when they were children. The share of people who plan to go caroling this year also is lower than the share who say they typically did so as children. And while about seven-in-ten Americans say they typically attended Christmas Eve or Christmas Day religious services when they were children, 54% say they plan to attend Christmas services this year.

There are significant generational differences in the way Americans plan to celebrate Christmas this year, with younger adults less likely than older adults to incorporate religious elements into their holiday celebrations. Adults under age 30 are far less likely than older Americans to say they see Christmas as more of a religious than a cultural holiday. They are also less likely to attend Christmas religious services and to believe in the virgin birth. This is consistent with other research showing that younger Americans are helping to drive the growth of the religiously unaffiliated population within the U.S. But the new survey also shows that even among Christians, young people are more likely than older adults to view Christmas as more of a cultural than a religious holiday.

christmas2013-4These are among the key findings of a new Pew Research Center survey conducted Dec. 3-8, 2013, among a representative sample of 2,001 adults nationwide. The survey – which explores Americans’ Christmas plans, childhood traditions, and likes and dislikes about the holiday season – also finds that most Americans say gathering with family and friends is what they most look forward to about Christmas and the holidays. When asked what they like the least about the holidays, many express frustration with the commercialization of the season; one-third say they dislike the materialism of the holidays, one-fifth dislike the expenses associated with the season, and one-tenth dislike holiday shopping and the crowded malls and stores.

One-fifth of Americans say they are the parent or guardian of a child in their household who believes in Santa Claus, and 69% of this group says they will pretend that Santa visits their home this Christmas Eve. But Kris Kringle’s visits will not be restricted only to houses where children retain their belief in the “right jolly old elf”; even among adults who say there are no children residing in their household, 21% will pretend that Santa visits their home this year.

Other highlights from the survey include:

  • Among the religiously unaffiliated, 87% say they celebrate Christmas, including 68% who view Christmas as more of a cultural holiday.
  • Roughly eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say they plan to put up a Christmas tree this year. By comparison, 92% say they typically put up a Christmas tree when they were children.
  • christmas2013-3Nearly six-in-ten Americans say they plan to give homemade gifts this holiday season, such as baked goods or crafts. There is a big gender gap on this question; two-thirds of women (65%) plan to give homemade gifts, compared with 51% of men.
  • Those who celebrate Christmas as more of a religious event are much more apt than those who view it as a cultural occasion to say they will attend religious services this Christmas (73% vs. 30%) and to believe in the virgin birth (91% vs. 50%). But on other measures, the differences in the ways the two groups will mark the holidays are much smaller. Roughly nine-in-ten in both groups will gather with family and friends and buy gifts this Christmas, and identical shares of each group will pretend to get a visit from Santa Claus on Christmas Eve (33% each).

Religious Observance of Christmas

christmas2013-5Half of Americans (51%) say they see Christmas as a religious holiday, while 32% say that, for them, personally, it is more of a cultural holiday. A few (9%) give other responses, such as saying it is both a religious and a cultural holiday or saying it is neither a religious nor a cultural holiday, while 7% say they do not celebrate Christmas, and 1% say they sometimes celebrate Christmas or decline to answer the question.

Eight-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (82%) see Christmas as a religious holiday. Smaller majorities of white Catholics (66%), black Protestants (60%) and white mainline Protestants (56%) see Christmas as more of a religious than a cultural holiday, as do about half of Hispanic Catholics (51%).1 Among the religiously unaffiliated, two-thirds celebrate Christmas as more of a cultural than a religious holiday.

More women (57%) than men (46%) see Christmas as a religious rather than a cultural event. And there is a striking generational component to views on this question. Fully two-thirds of Americans age 65 and older see Christmas as a religious holiday, as do most Americans ages 50-64 (55%) and half of those in their 30s and 40s (50%). By contrast, 39% of adults under 30 say Christmas is more of a religious holiday, while 44% say for them, personally, Christmas is more of a cultural occasion.

 

christmas2013-6Slightly more than half of the public (54%) says they plan to attend religious services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day this year. By comparison, about one-third of the public (36%) says that they attend religious services in a typical week.

Three-quarters (73%) of people who say Christmas is more of a religious holiday plan to attend religious services either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Far fewer people who say they see Christmas as more of a cultural holiday or who do not celebrate Christmas at all say they will be in the pews this Christmas (30% and 24%, respectively).

Women are somewhat more likely than men to say they will attend Christmas services this year (58% vs. 50%), and parents who are currently raising minor children in their household say they will attend Christmas services at higher rates than non-parents (59% vs. 51%). A majority of adults age 30 and older say they plan to attend religious services this Christmas, compared with 46% of adults under 30.

Among religious groups, three-quarters of Catholics (76%) and seven-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (71%) plan to attend Christmas religious services this year, as do two-thirds of black Protestants (65%). About half of white mainline Protestants say they will attend Christmas services. Among U.S. adults who are unaffiliated with a religion, just 16% say they intend to go to religious services this Christmas.

Roughly seven-in-ten Americans say they typically attended Christmas religious services when they were growing up. Younger adults are less likely than older adults to have grown up doing this. Roughly three-quarters of adults age 50 and older say they grew up attending Christmas services, compared with two-thirds of those in their 30s and 40s and 62% of those under age 30.

Roughly three-quarters of adults (73%) say they believe Jesus was born of a virgin. About one-in-five (19%) say they do not believe this, and 7% say they don’t know or decline to answer the question.

The vast majority of white evangelical Protestants (97%), black Protestants (94%) and white Catholics (88%) believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, as do 81% of Hispanic Catholics.  Fewer white mainline Protestants (70%) believe this. Among the religiously unaffiliated, 32% believe that Jesus was born to a virgin.

About nine-in-ten adults (91%) who see Christmas as a religious holiday say they believe Jesus was born of a virgin. However, even among those who celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday and those who do not celebrate Christmas, roughly half say they believe in the virgin birth.

Gathering with Family and Friends

christmas2013-8Nearly nine-in-ten Americans (86%) say they plan to gather with extended family or friends on Christmas or Christmas Eve this year. This type of gathering is common among all demographic and religious groups in the population. Similar shares of those who celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday and those who see it as more of a cultural holiday say they will gather with family and friends on Christmas (89% and 88%, respectively). And even among those who say they do not personally celebrate Christmas, half (51%) say they nonetheless will get together with family or friends on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

Gathering with family and friends on Christmas was also a common experience for most people when they were growing up. Nine-in-ten Americans (91%) say they typically gathered with extended family and friends on Christmas when they were children.

Exchanging Gifts

Fully 86% of Americans say they plan to buy gifts for friends and family over the Christmas or holiday season this year. This includes large majorities of people in all large U.S. religious groups as well as those without any religious affiliation.

Buying gifts is less common among Americans whose annual household income falls below $30,000. Roughly three-quarters of those earning less than $30,000 plan to buy gifts this year, compared with roughly nine-in-ten or more of those in higher income brackets.

Nine-in-ten Americans (89%) say buying gifts was also typically part of how they marked the holidays as they were growing up.

christmas2013-9

Roughly six-in-ten Americans say they plan to give homemade items, such as baked goods or crafts, as gifts this holiday season. Far more women than men say they plan to give homemade gifts this year (65% vs. 51%). Making homemade gifts is also more common among whites (62%) and Hispanics (54%) than among blacks (41%), and it is more common among parents of minor children than among those who are not currently raising children in their households (64% vs. 55%).

Similar numbers of high-income earners and those with lower household incomes say they plan to give homemade gifts this year (61% among those earning $100,000 or more, 59% among those earning less than $30,000).

Two-thirds of Americans say they typically made homemade Christmas and holiday gifts when they were growing up.

Santa Claus Coming to Town?

One-in-five adults say they are the parent or guardian of a child in their household who currently believes in Santa Claus. An additional 14% of Americans are parents or guardians of at least one child under the age of 18 but say their children do not believe in Santa Claus. (About two-thirds of Americans are not the parents or guardians of any children in their household.)

Nearly six-in-ten Hispanics say they are parenting minor children in their homes, including 38% who have children who believe in Santa Claus. By comparison, fewer blacks and whites say they currently have Santa-believing children (21% and 15%, respectively), in part because blacks and whites are less likely than Hispanics to have minor children in the home.

Being the parent or guardian of a child who believes in Santa Claus is most common among Americans ages 30-49. Nearly two-thirds of respondents in this age group (63%) say they are parents, including 38% who have a child who believes in Santa Claus. Compared with those in their 30s and 40s, both younger adults and those 50 and older are less likely to be parenting children and to have children who believe in Santa.

Amonchristmas2013-12g those who have a child who believes in Santa Claus, seven-in-ten (69%) say they plan to pretend that Santa visits their house on Christmas Eve this year. But even among U.S. adults without a child who believes in Santa, sizable numbers plan on receiving a visit from Old St. Nick. Roughly one-in-five parents whose children do not believe in Santa (18%) say they will pretend to get a visit from Santa this year, as do 22% of those who are not the parents or guardians of minor children in their household.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans say they typically received Christmas Eve visits from Santa as children. This includes big majorities of those age 65 and older (who were raised in the 1940s, 1950s and earlier) as well as those who grew up several decades later in the 1980s and 1990s.

Caroling, Cards and Christmas Trees

Eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say they plan to put up a Christmas tree this year, and two-thirds (65%) say they intend to send Christmas or holiday cards. Far fewer (16%) say they plan to go caroling this year.

Putting up a Christmas tree is a common practice across a variety of demographic and religious groups. Even among those who are not affiliated with any religion, 73% say they plan to have a Christmas tree this year. And a recent Pew Research survey found that 32% of Jews say they had a Christmas tree in their house last year.

Erecting a Christmas tree is, however, somewhat more common among high-income earners (86% among those earning $75,000 or more) than among those with lower household incomes (75% among those earning less than $30,000). More whites (81%) and Hispanics (82%) than blacks (65%) say they intend to put up a tree. Fully 90% of parents of minor children say they plan to put up a tree, compared with 73% of those who are not parents or guardians of children in their home.

Sending Christmas or holiday cards is more common among adults age 50 and older than among younger adults. Nearly three-quarters of adults age 65 and older (73%) say they intend to send Christmas cards this year, as do 68% of those ages 50-64. By comparison, 59% of adults under age 30 say they plan to send cards this year.

christmas2013-14Upwards of nine-in-ten U.S. adults say they typically had a Christmas tree in their home when they were growing up, and 81% say they or their family sent out Christmas or holiday cards. Compared with blacks and whites, fewer Hispanics say their family typically had a Christmas tree (79%) or sent holiday cards (56%) when they were children.

Roughly one-third of Americans say they usually went caroling when they were children. Adults age 30 and older are more likely to remember caroling as a typical part of their holiday celebrations than adults under 30.

Christmas and the Holidays: Likes and Dislikes

When asked to describe, in their own words, what they most look forward to about Christmas and the holiday season, seven-in-ten Americans (69%), including large majorities across a variety of religious groups, cite spending time with family and friends. Smaller numbers say they look forward to the religious elements of Christmas (11%), to people being happy and joyful (7%), to the Christmas spirit (4%), to Christmas music, decorations and entertainment (4%) and to exchanging gifts (4%). Roughly one-in-twenty Americans (4%) say there is nothing about Christmas or the holidays they look forward to, except perhaps the end of the season.

When asked what they like least about Christmas and the holidays, fully one-third of Americans cite the commercialization of the season, while 22% say they dislike the heavy expenses associated with the holidays, and 10% say they dislike holiday shopping and crowds. Smaller numbers lament the de-emphasis of the religious elements of the season (6%), inclement weather (3%), seasonal music and/or garish decorations (3%) and the hectic pace of the holidays (3%). Roughly one-in-five say there is nothing they dislike about the holidays, other than that they often seem to be over too fast (6%).

christmas2013-16christmas2013-15

 About the Survey

The analysis for this report is based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 3-8, 2013, among a national sample of 2,001 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (1,000 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,001 were interviewed on a cellphone, including 523 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A combination of landline and cellphone random digit dial samples were used; both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female who is now at home. Interviews in the cell sample were conducted with the person who answered the phone, if that person was an adult 18 years of age or older. For detailed information about survey methodology, see http://people-press.org/methodology/.

The combined landline and cellphone sample are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin and nativity and region to parameters from the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and population density to parameters from the Decennial Census. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone status and relative usage of landlines and cellphones (for those with both), based on extrapolations from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landlines and cellphones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size among respondents with a landline phone. Sampling errors and statistical tests of significance take into account the effect of weighting.

  1. In Mexico and several other Latin American countries, the feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6) rather than Christmas Day is the traditional day for large celebrations and exchanging gifts. Hispanic respondents may have been indicating in their answers to this question that the large-scale celebration centered on Christmas Day is more characteristic of U.S. culture than of Latin American culture. 

This report is a product of the Pew research Religion and Public Life Project.

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