The Times on its front page reports a trend among about a dozen states to supplement low-wage workers’ income with direct cash payments. The programs seem something like the successful earned-income tax credit, but with more immediate payments, though the paper doesn’t make the obvious comparison.

The new strategy reflects, in part, a growing concern about the challenges facing the poor nearly 12 years after Congress overhauled welfare laws. While states have drastically reduced their welfare caseloads, research suggests that they have been far less successful in helping people find and keep jobs that lift families out of poverty.

The trend has also been driven by new federal rules that require states to engage 50 percent of welfare recipients in work-related activities. By offering payments to people already working, states are also trying to ensure that they meet federal mandates and avoid steep fines.

That’s evident by states like Michigan and Massachusetts, which aren’t even trying. The former is giving $10 a month and the latter can only come off of $7 a month. Compare that to poor state Arkansas, which is giving payments of $204 monthly plus bonuses.

But we can think of another way of supplementing low-wage workers’ incomes: Raise the minimum wage.

To make and omelette…

The Journal on page three says Democrats risk a political backlash from their efforts to bail out struggling homeowners. Many Republicans, including the Bush administration, say some of the efforts will end up “rewarding bad behavior.”

It’s a good point. How do you separate those who made dumb decisions and got in over their heads but now get a government-backed mortgage-principle write-off from those who bought the house they could afford and get nothing but a couple of less foreclosures in their neighborhood?

The public is split. “If you’re the Secretary of Bailouts, and people come in and show you that they’re worthy of being helped out, everybody will have a story,” says Robert Krance, 64 years old, a Houston physician and McCain backer. “I don’t know how you can create a reasonable, enforceable method for deciding who should be helped.”

A hands-off approach by the government is “the right thing to do,” agrees Jeff Cohu, a 40-year-old professor attending a McCain rally last week. “The market will readjust faster and better than the government could.”

A Gallup poll found just 56 percent want the government to intervene to save people’s homes versus 42 percent who don’t and the inevitable 4 percent or so who don’t understand the question.

AIG could lose its airplane-leasing unit

The WSJ scoops on page one that American International Group, the insurer that just reported its second consecutive billion-dollar loss, has some restless natives in one of its better units.

Its International Lease Finance Corporation unit, which leases airplanes, is getting nailed along with the rest of the company for the mother ship’s mistakes in the credit and derivatives markets. That has it agitating for a spin-off or sale, and the Journal says that could lead shareholders to demand other businesses be separated from the empire, too. Other than that, the paper doesn’t do a good job explaining why this story merits page-one placement, especially compared to the more interesting, better-reported, and better-written C1 story on the fall of hedge fund Peloton Partners (see below).

Inflation conflagration

Signs of inflation continue to spread around the globe. A key measure of producer prices in Britain surged last month to a 7.5 percent annual rate, the fastest in twenty-two years, while overall inflation in China hit 8.5 percent.

China is curbing its banks’ lending in order to cool down its economy and inflation pressures, Bloomberg reports, while Britain is considering an end to its interest-rate cuts, something the Federal Reserve recently signaled in the U.S., in large part because it wanted to avoid further exacerbating inflation.

Central banks around the world are grappling with faster inflation and slowing growth. In Asia, Bank Indonesia on May 6 raised interest rates for the first time in more than two years and the Reserve Bank of India last month twice ordered lenders to set aside more reserves.

Meat prices climbed 48 percent in April from a year earlier, the fourth straight monthly acceleration. Food prices rose 21 percent in March…

Wheat has climbed 63 percent in the past year and rice, a staple for half the world, has more than doubled.

Even nuke plants aren’t immune to inflation. The Journal reports on its Marketplace cover that prices to build nuclear power plants, which after three decades in the wilderness are back in vogue because of sky-high energy costs, will be double or triple what was estimated not long ago. They’ll cost a whopping $5 billion to $12 billion apiece. There just aren’t any easy fixes.

Plumbing Peloton’s plunge

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.