Regulators Threaten App Startups That “Give People Access to Their Pay as They Earn It”

(p. B5) WASHINGTON—A growing industry of financial apps that allow workers to access their pay early is drawing scrutiny from regulators to prove they are different from payday lenders.

. . .

Last month, regulators from New York and 10 other states said they were investigating whether some payroll-advance firms violated payday-lending laws. In California, state lawmakers are debating a law that aims to set the legal foundation for the industry and provide consumer protections, the first such attempt in the country.

The moves by state officials come as the industry is growing. Leslie Parrish, an analyst for research firm Aite Group, said the industry is “poised for exponential growth.” Aite Group estimated the app companies handled 18.6 million early U.S. payroll transactions valued at more than $3.15 billion in 2018.

. . .

Industry executives and some consumer advocates say the services offer the potential to help lower- and moderate-income workers by providing low-cost tools, though they disagree on how businesses should be structured and regulated.

“It hasn’t solved the income inequality problem,” Todd Baker, a senior fellow at Columbia Business School, said. “What it does is replace, for a nominal cost, the $30, $40 people pay today for a single overdraft or a $200 payday loan.”

. . .

“In the U.S., we have this pay cycle that holds back people’s pay,” said Ram Palaniappan, chief executive of Earnin. “What we have been able to do is to give people access to their pay as they earn it.”

Earnin tracks users’ work and pay schedules using time sheets or location services and will deposit up to $500 per pay period in their bank accounts. Rather than charging fees for its service, Earnin asks users to consider voluntary tips of up to $14.

For the full story, see:

Yuka Hayashi. “Pay-App Startups Draw Scrutiny.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 2, 2019, and has the title “Pay-Access Apps Face Regulatory Test.”)

“No One Has the Stomach to Challenge the Status Quo”

(p. B14) Before precision-scheduled railroading, or PSR, locomotives had been run the same way for more than a century. Trains waited for cargo at the rail yard, then left when customers brought their shipments and loaded them up. It was an unreliable business with plenty of inefficiencies. But that started to change early this decade, when Mr. Harrison teamed up with William Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital to take control at Canadian Pacific Railway.

“No one has the stomach to challenge the status quo,” Mr. Harrison, who started his railroad career as a 19-year-old laborer in 1963, said several years ago.

Rather than leave the departure times up to clients such as factories, farms and mines, Mr. Harrison demanded they be ready or miss their trips, much like airline passengers. This didn’t win many friends among clients, but after successfully implementing the model in Canada, Mr. Harrison moved on to take the helm of Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX in 2017. Tragically, his tenure this time was short-lived. Mr. Harrison died just a short time after joining the company.

For the full story, see:

Lauren Silva Laughlin. “Late Railroad Guru’s Legacy Is Losing Steam.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019): B14.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 23, 2019, and has the title “Hunter Harrison’s Train Overhaul Starts Running Out of Steam.”)

Chinese Communist One-Child Policy Caused “Intense Suffering of Ordinary People”

(p. B12) Kay Ann Johnson, an Asian studies scholar whose adoption of an infant girl from China led her to spend years researching the impact of the country’s one-child policy on rural families, died on Aug. 14 [2019] at a hospital in Hyannis, Mass.

. . .

For more than 20 years, Professor Johnson focused her research on Chinese villages where birth parents found themselves in a lopsided clash with a state bent on controlling population. The policy was also applied in cities, but villagers were usually more daring about trying to resist it. Professor Johnson presented her research in often painful case studies based on interviews with birth parents who described facing the ruthless policy.

One of those parents, Jiang Lifeng, already had a son when she became pregnant. She planned to keep the child and hoped to have a daughter. She avoided detection (and possibly forced sterilization) during pregnancy tests imposed by the authorities by using a friend’s urine. She delivered a girl, Shengshi. But nine months later the infant was taken from her bedroom by seven men, presumably government representatives, and driven away in a van.

Ms. Jiang recalled that “she ‘felt the sky fall down’ on her as she staggered after them, shocked and aghast at what had just happened,” Professor Johnson wrote. Ms. Jiang somehow caught up to the van and rode with the men and Shengshi to a local birth planning office, where she and her husband, Xu Guangwen, pleaded for the girl’s return. Officials refused.

The couple were told that they could adopt her after she had been taken to an orphanage. But that, Professor Johnson said, was a lie.

“The government had taken their baby, stripped them of their parental rights, and left them heartbroken and powerless to do anything about it,” she wrote. “It had been nothing short of a kidnapping by the government, leaving them no recourse.”

In his review of “China’s Hidden Children” in Foreign Affairs magazine, Andrew J. Nathan, a professor of political science at Columbia University, praised Professor Johnson for debunking the myth that Chinese parents did not value girls, and for outlining the often terrible consequences of the one-child policy.

“Johnson’s extraordinary book conveys the intense suffering of ordinary people struggling to build families against the will of an implacable bureaucracy,” Mr. Nathan wrote.

Kay Ann Johnson was born on Jan. 21, 1946, in Chicago. Her father, D. Gale Johnson, was an agricultural economist and the chairman of the economics department at the University of Chicago.

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Kay Ann Johnson, 73, Who Studied China’s Painful One-Child Policy, Dies.” The New York Times (Friday, August 30, 2019): B12.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Aug. 29, 2019, and has title “Kay Ann Johnson, 73, Who Studied China’s One-Child Policy, Dies.”)

Johnson’s book, mentioned above, is:

Johnson, Kay Ann. China’s Hidden Children: Abandonment, Adoption, and the Human Costs of the One-Child Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Top 0.1% Have 15% of U.S. Wealth

(p. A1) The income tax is the Swiss Army Knife of the U.S. tax system, an all-purpose policy tool for raising revenue, rewarding and punishing activities and redistributing money between rich and poor.

The system could change fundamentally if Democrats win the White House and Congress. The party’s presidential candidates, legislators and advisers share a conviction that today’s income tax is inadequate for an economy where a growing share of rewards flows to a sliver of households.

For the richest Americans, Democrats want to shift toward taxing their wealth, instead of just their salaries and the income their assets generate.

. . .

In the real world, a wealth tax would emerge from Congress riddled with gaps that the tax-planning industry would exploit, said Jason Oh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. For example, if private foundations were exempted, the wealthy might shift assets into them.

“We’ve never seen in the history of taxation a pristine tax of any form,” Mr. Oh said. “People who want to pursue a wealth tax for the revenue may be a little disappointed when we see the estimates roll in.”

European countries tried—and largely abandoned—wealth taxes. They struggled because rich people could switch countries and because some assets were exempt. Mr. Zucman said Ms. Warren’s tax would escape the latter problem by hitting every kind of asset, from artwork to stock to privately held businesses to real estate.

While he and fellow economist Emmanuel Saez assume 15% of the tax owed would be avoided, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and University of Pennsylvania law professor Natasha Sarin wrote a paper estimating the plan would raise less than half what Mr. Zucman projects, based on how much wealth escapes the estate tax.

A paper by economists Matthew Smith of the Treasury Department, Eric Zwick of the University of Chicago and Owen Zidar of Princeton University contends top-end wealth is overstated. Acccording to their preliminary estimate, the top 0.1% have 15% of national wealth, instead of the 20% estimated by Mr. Zucman. Their findings imply that Ms. Warren’s tax might raise about half of what’s promised.

For the full story, see:

Richard Rubin. “Democrats’ Tax Idea: Target Wealth, Not Just Income.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 27, 2019, and has the title “Democrats’ Emerging Tax Idea: Look Beyond Income, Target Wealth.”)

The paper co-authored by Smith, and mentioned above, is:

Smith, Matthew, Owen Zidar, and Eric Zwick. “Top Wealth in the United States: New Estimates and Implications for Taxing the Rich.” Working Paper, July 19, 2019.

Lyft Driver Fears California Law Will Destroy Her Work Flexibility

(p. B4) California lawmakers have hailed the law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this week that could require drivers of ride-hailing companies to be labeled as employees rather than independent contractors, saying the measure could raise wages and provide new workplace benefits.

But the drivers are divided about how it will affect them.

For Rachel Hudson, a 43-year-old driver for Lyft Inc. who struggles with arthritis and an anxiety disorder, the bill’s passage is unwelcome. Ms. Hudson has driven for Lyft for about five years and fears employment status could mean having to work in scheduled shifts that would wipe out the flexibility she needs.

“Sometimes, I need a two- to three-hour break. I can’t always be relied upon to be at work at specific times,” Ms. Hudson said. Driving for Lyft “is the only way I can afford a car. It makes a huge impact on my life.”

Ms. Hudson, who lives alone in Stockton, Calif., said that besides federal disability benefits, the earnings from Lyft are her only income.

For the full story, see:

Sebastian Herrera. “Uber, Lyft Drivers Torn Over Law Meant to Protect Them.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Sept. 23, 2019): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 21, 2019, and has the title “Uber, Lyft Drivers Torn as California Law Could Reclassify Them.”)

Strong Job Market Allows Lower-Income Workers to Change Jobs

(p. A3) The share of lower-income Americans leaving their jobs for new ones leapt earlier this year, pointing to rising confidence in the U.S. labor market among workers who were left behind earlier in the expansion.

A New York Fed survey released Monday showed the share of lower-income heads of household, defined as earning a household income of $60,000 a year or less, who moved to new jobs in April, May, June or July was 12%, up from 8% in the same period a year earlier and the highest rate for records dating back to 2014.

Meanwhile, job changes among higher-income workers have been declining since early 2018.

The lower-income workers had more opportunities: About 4% of lower-income Americans received three job offers in the four months ended in July, up from 1.4% over the same period in 2018, according to the data in the New York Fed Survey of Consumer Expectations.

For the full story, see:

Sarah Chaney. “Lower-Income Americans Are Job Hopping.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019): A3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 23, 2019, and has the title “Lower-Income Americans Are Increasingly Job Hopping.”)

Newsboys “Were American Icons–Symbols of Unflagging Industry”

(p. A17) Thomas Edison was one. So were Harry Houdini, Herbert Hoover, W.C. Fields, Walt Disney, Benjamin Franklin, Jackie Robinson, Walter Winchell, Thomas Wolfe, Jack London, Knute Rockne, Harry Truman, John Wayne, Warren Buffett and many more familiar names. Besides being illustrious Americans, these men shared a calling—growing up, they were newsboys, delivering newspapers to subscribers or, more colorfully, hawking them on the streets for a couple of pennies, real money in those days.

In their time, newsboys (girls were rare) were American icons—symbols of unflagging industry and tattered, barefoot, shivering objects of pity. They had their own argot and better news judgment than many editors, because they had to size up the appeal of every edition to determine how many copies to buy from the publisher.

For the full review, see:

Edward Kosner. “BOOKSHELF; Street-Corner Capitalists.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Oct. 7, 2019): A17.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 6, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Crying the News’ Review: Street-Corner Capitalists.”)

The book under review is:

DiGirolamo, Vincent. Crying the News: A History of America’s Newsboys. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.