Some Good, Bad Findings for MOOCs

MOOC Research Initiative Reports
Source: MOOC Research Initiative
From Chronicle of Higher Education blog post:

In December 2013 a group of academics gathered during a Texas snowstorm and began the second phase of a discussion about massive open online courses. They were not terribly impressed by the hype the courses had received in the popular media, and they had set out to create a better body of literature about MOOCs—albeit a less sensational one.

The MOOC Research Initiative, backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, had given many of those academics research grants to study what was going on in the online courses. Now the organization has posted preliminary findings from some of those research projects.

The findings have not yet been peer-reviewed and should not be generalized, but they do represent some of the most rigorous analysis to date on MOOCs. Following is a synopsis of the more interesting findings.

1. If you are isolated, poor, and enamored of the prestigious university offering the MOOC you’re taking, you are less likely to complete it.

2. Coaching students to have a healthier mindset about learning may not help in a MOOC.

3. Paired with the right incentives, MOOCs can help prepare at-risk students for college-level work.

4. Discussion forums in MOOCs are healthy places for the few students who use them.

5. We still do not know if doing well in MOOCs will help underprivileged learners become upwardly mobile.

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Facts about the Outbreak of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone

Outbreak of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


July 23, 2014, the Guinea Ministry of Health announced a total of 427 suspect and confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD), including 319 fatal cases.

Affected districts include Conakry, Guéckédou, Macenta, Kissidougou, Dabola, Djingaraye, Télimélé, Boffa, Kouroussa, Dubreka, Fria, and Siguiri; several are no longer active areas of EVD transmission (see map).

311 cases across Guinea have been confirmed by laboratory testing to be positive for Ebola virus infection.In Guinea’s capital city, Conakry,

73 suspect cases have been reported to meet the clinical definition for EVD, including 37 fatal cases.

July 23, 2014, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation of Sierra Leone and WHO reported a cumulative total of 525 suspect and confirmed cases, including 419 laboratory confirmations and 224 reported fatal cases.

Cases have been reported from 6 Sierra Leone districts: Kailahun, Kambia, Port Loko, Kenema, Bo, and Western.

July 23, 2014, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare of Liberia and WHO have reported 249 suspect and confirmed EHF cases (including 84 laboratory confirmations) and 129 reported fatalities.

Genetic analysis of the virus indicates that it is closely related (97% identical) to variants of Ebola virus (species Zaire ebolavirus) identified earlier in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon (Baize et al. 2014External Web Site Icon).

The Guinean Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation of Sierra Leone, and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare of Liberia are working with national and international partners to investigate and respond to the outbreak.

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If There’s a Skills Shortage Why Haven’t Wages Increased in Those Skill Sets?

Gary Burgess nails it – - if there’s a skills shortage why haven’t wages gone up in those skill sets?

Unemployment and the “Skills Mismatch” Story: Overblown and Unpersuasive, by Gary Burtless, Brookings: The jobless rate has dipped to 6.1 percent, and businesses are already complaining about a skills shortage. … To an economist, the most accessible and persuasive evidence demonstrating a skills shortage should be found in wage data. …

Where is the evidence of soaring pay for workers whose skills are in short supply? We frequently read anecdotal reports informing us some employers find it tough to fill job openings. What is harder to find is support for the skills mismatch hypothesis in the wage data…, there is little evidence wages or compensation are increasing much faster than 2% a year [i.e. outpacing inflation]. Even though unemployment has declined, there are still 2.5 times as many active job seekers as there are job vacancies. At the same time, there are between 3 and 3½ million potential workers outside the labor force who would become job seekers if they believed it were easier to find a job. The excess of job seekers over job openings continues to limit wage gains, notwithstanding the complaints of businesses that cannot fill vacancies. …

It is cheap for employers to claim qualified workers are in short supply. It is a bit more expensive for them to do something to boost supply. Unless managers have forgotten everything they learned in Econ 101, they should recognize that one way to fill a vacancy is to offer qualified job seekers a compelling reason to take the job. Higher pay, better benefits, and more accommodating work hours are usually good reasons for job applicants to prefer one employment offer over another. When employers are unwilling to offer better compensation to fill their skill needs, it is reasonable to ask how urgently those skills are really needed. …

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Another Study: U.S. Economy Grows More under Democratic Presidents

Another study, this time published in the respected National Bureau of Economic Research, joins the literature base suggesting U.S. economic growth is superior under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents.


The U.S. economy has grown faster—and scored higher on many other macroeconomic metrics—when the President of the United States is a Democrat rather than a Republican. For many measures, including real GDP growth (on which we concentrate), the performance gap is both large and statistically significant, despite the fact that postwar history includes only 16 complete presidential terms. This paper asks why. The answer is not found in technical time series matters (such as differential trends or mean reversion), nor in systematically more expansionary monetary or fiscal policy under Democrats. Rather, it appears that the Democratic edge stems mainly from more benign oil shocks, superior TFP performance, a more favorable international environment, and perhaps more optimistic consumer expectations about the near-term future. Many other potential explanations are examined but fail to explain the partisan growth gap.

Related posts

Which Party Occupying the Oval Office Does a Better Job with the Economy?

Do Republicans Do a Better Job with the Economy? What Does the Evidence Say


Blinder, Alan S. and Watson, Mark W. (2014). Presidents and the U.S. Economy: An Econometric Exploration. National Bureau of Economic Research. NBER Working Paper No. 20324.

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The Global Workforce Crisis: $10 Trillion at Risk

Boston Consulting Group estimates the anticipated labor force imbalance will cost 25 economies $10 trillion between 2020 to 2030.

This report highlights the impending labor shortages and surpluses and their implications for future growth. Trends across the 25 economies we studied are alarming: an equilibrium in supply and demand is rapidly becoming the exception, not the norm. Between 2020 and 2030, we project significant worldwide labor-force imbalances—shortfalls, in particular. One significant implication is the potential aggregate value of GDP squandered, because either these nations cannot fill the jobs available or they cannot create enough jobs for the workers they have. This represents a stunning $10 trillion—around 60 percent of U.S. GDP and more than 10 percent of total world GDP (according to the latest available 2013 figures). Continue reading–>


The Global Workforce Crisis: $10 Trillion at Risk Boston Consulting Group.

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Let’s Not Forget the Role of Unions for the Middle Class

The role of unions for promoting the development of a vital middle class in America should not be forgotten. Here’s a graph depicting the relationship of percent of union membership in the workforce and middle class household income share. (I define middle class as the share of aggregate income received by the third-fifth — 60th percentile).

The Relationship between Union Membership and the Middle Class

There’s a direct relationship between percent of union membership in the labor force and middle class share of aggregate income.

Inspired by the work of Western and Rosenfeld (2011), here’s a second way of examining the data.

As Union Membership Declined So Did Middle Class Income Share


As union membership declined so did middle class income share.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics concludes, “Union workers continue to receive higher wages than nonunion workers and have greater access to most employer-sponsored employee benefits; during the 2001–2011 period, the differences between union and non- union benefit cost levels appear to have widened.”

The BLS also finds the wage premium for union workers is on the average 23%. On the question of benefits: 94% of private-sector union members have access to health-care benefits, versus 67% of nonunion members. And employers cover on average 83% of health insurance premiums for union members and their families versus 66% for nonunion members. Union members are also more likely to get paid vacation and sick time and retirement and life insurance benefits.

A National Women’s Law Center analysis reveals the wage gap among union members is half the size of the wage gap among non-union workers and female union members earn over $200 per week more than women who are not represented by unions—an increase that represents a larger union premium than men receive.

Finally, a study, reported in the August 2011 issue of the American Sociological Review, examines the relationship between the decline in union membership and the rise in wage inequality. More specifically the authors of the study, Bruce Western, a professor of sociology at Harvard University and Jake Rosenfeld, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington, decompose wage inequality, focusing on partitioning wage inequality due to the decline in private union membership.

Accounting for the decomposition of wage inequality Western and Rosenfeld find deunionization explains a third to a fifth of the growth in inequality, which approximates the comparable effect of growing stratification in wages by educational achievement. The effect of declining union membership is striking, having a greater effect on wage inequality among men compared to women. The gender effect is consistent with the large decline in private sector union membership among men.

Data Source for Graphs

Table H-2. Share of Aggregate Income Received by Each Fifth and Top 5 Percent of Households. U.S. Census Bureau.


Western, Bruce and Rosenfeld, Jake. (2011). “Unions, Norms, and the Rise in U.S. Wage Inequality.” American Sociological Review. 76(4).

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As a Percent of GDP the U.S. is a Low Tax Country

As a percent of GDP US is a Low Tax Country

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As the Nation Ages, Seven States Become Younger, Census Bureau Reports

Via US Census Bureau:

The median age declined in seven states between 2012 and 2013, including five in the Great Plains, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today. In contrast, the median age for the U.S. as a whole ticked up from 37.5 years to 37.6 years. These estimates examine population changes among groups by age, sex, race and Hispanic origin nationally, as well as all states and counties, between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2013.

“We’re seeing the demographic impact of two booms,” Census Bureau Director John Thompson said. “The population in the Great Plains energy boom states is becoming younger and more male as workers move in seeking employment in the oil and gas industry, while the U.S. as a whole continues to age as the youngest of the baby boom generation enters their 50s.”

The largest decline in the nation was in North Dakota, with a decline of 0.6 years between 2012 and 2013. The median age in four other Great Plains states — MontanaWyomingSouth Dakota and Oklahoma — also dropped. Alaska and Hawaii also saw a decline in median age. (See Table 1.) In addition, the median age fell in 403 of the nation’s 3,143 counties, many of which were in the Great Plains. Williams, N.D., the center of the Bakken shale energy boom, led the nation with a decline of 1.6 years. Next to Alaska, North Dakota had a heavier concentration of males (51.1 percent of the total population) than any other state.

The nation as a whole grew older as the oldest baby boomers became seniors. The nation’s 65-and-older population surged to 44.7 million in 2013, up 3.6 percent from 2012. By comparison, the population younger than 65 grew by only 0.3 percent.

These statistics released today also include population estimates for Puerto Rico and its municipios by age and sex.

Our nation is a study in contrasts when it comes to local age structure. There was a more than 42-year difference in the median ages of the county with the highest median age — Sumter, Fla., at 65.5 — and the county with the youngest median age — Madison, Idaho, at 23.1.

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RomneyCare a Huge Success in More Ways than One

Governor Romney should have run on these results:

“We find that the (health) reform reduced the total amount of debt that was past due, the fraction of all debt that was past due, improved credit scores and reduced personal bankruptcies. We also find suggestive evidence that the reform lowered the total amount of debt and decreased third party collections. The effects are most pronounced for individuals who had limited access to credit markets before the reform. These results show that health care reform has implications that extend well beyond the health and health care utilization of those who gain insurance coverage.”


A major benefit of health insurance coverage is that it protects the insured from unexpected medical costs that may devastate their personal finances. In this paper, we use detailed credit report information on a large panel of individuals to examine the effect of a major health care reform in Massachusetts in 2006 on a broad set of financial outcomes. The Massachusetts model served as the basis for the Affordable Care Act and allows us to examine the effect of coverage on financial outcomes for the entire population of the uninsured, not just those with very low incomes. We exploit plausibly exogenous variation in the impact of the reform across counties and age groups using levels of pre-reform insurance coverage as a measure of the potential effect of the reform. We find that the reform reduced the total amount of debt that was past due, the fraction of all debt that was past due, improved credit scores and reduced personal bankruptcies. We also find suggestive evidence that the reform lowered the total amount of debt and decreased third party collections. The effects are most pronounced for individuals who had limited access to credit markets before the reform. These results show that health care reform has implications that extend well beyond the health and health care utilization of those who gain insurance coverage.


Mazumder, Bhash  and Miller, Sarah. (2014). The Effects of the Massachusetts Health Reform on Financial Distress. Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

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Political Polarization Increases Deficits and Depresses Economic Growth

Does political polarization increase government deficits and discourages investment, output, and employment. Yes. according to Azzimonti (2014), “Moreover, these declines are persistent, which may help explain the slow recovery observed since the 2007 recession ended.” Azzimonti also finds partisan conflict correlated to income inequality. “We conclude that the relationship between the trend observed in partisan conflict and that of inequality is not coincidental. Low levels of partisan conflict ease the implementation of policies that reduce inequality, while low inequality creates incentives for parties to move toward the center.”


American politics have become extremely polarized in recent decades. This deep political divide has caused significant government dysfunction. Political divisions make the timing, size, and composition of government policy less predictable. According to existing theories, an increase in the degree of economic policy uncertainty or in the volatility of fiscal shocks results in a decline in economic activity. This occurs because businesses and households may be induced to delay decisions that involve high reversibility costs. In addition, disagreement between policymakers may result in stalemate, or, in extreme cases, a government shutdown. This adversely affects the optimal implementation of policy reforms and may result in excessive debt accumulation or inefficient public-sector responses to adverse shocks. Testing these theories has been challenging given the low frequency at which existing measures of partisan conflict have been computed. In this paper, I provide a novel high-frequency indicator of the degree of partisan conflict. The index, constructed for the period 1891 to 2013, uses a search-based approach that measures the frequency of newspaper articles that report lawmakers’ disagreement about policy. I show that the long-run trend of partisan conflict behaves similarly to political polarization and income inequality, especially since the Great Depression. Its short-run fluctuations are highly related to elections, but unrelated to recessions. The lower-than-average values observed during wars suggest a “rally around the flag” effect. I use the index to study the effect of an increase in partisan conflict, equivalent to the one observed since the Great Recession, on business cycles. Using a simple VAR, I find that an innovation to partisan conflict increases government deficits and significantly discourages investment, output, and employment. Moreover, these declines are persistent, which may help explain the slow recovery observed since the 2007 recession ended.


Azzimonti, Marina. (2014). Partisan Conflict. Research Department. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. Working Papers.

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