Monday, July 26, 2010

Credit card rewards cost the poor

The NYT has a story about retailers raising prices for everyone to pay for rich peoples credit card rewards.

New York Times

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Government Employment has Grown by 39% since 1981

Government employment has grown by 39%. Almost all the growth has been at the local level.

I was reading the current series in the Washington Post called "Top Secret America" and wondering about the intelligence and counter terrorism jobs created since September 11, 2001. The figures for the intelligence community are not broken out in government employment reports. However, we can look at trends in overall government employment.

Before we start, we must look at some general employment trends in the US.

Government employment has remained about 15-18% of the total non farm payrolls since 1981. The number of workers has grown in step with the overall employment situation in the US. Since January 1981, government employment has grown by 39%. During the same period non farm employment grew by 43%. Service sector employment expanded by 68%, while goods producing jobs fell by 25%.

The total number of government employees expanded from 16,360,000 in Jan 1981 to 22,770,000 in Jun 2010. Almost all of the growth occurred at the local level. There has been little hiring at the Federal level. Federal employment rolls have barely expanded compared to the amount of hiring done by local governments. The number of Federal employees has grown by 8%. The number of state workers by 42% and the number of municipal employees has expanded by 48%.

Here are the charts that illustrate the data. The first chart shows the over all increase in government employment from 16.3 million to 22.7 million.

The second chart show the share of government employment. Local percentage has increased from about 60% to about 64%.

You can see that the US has a much smaller central (federal government) than many other countries. Power has been devolved to states and the localities. However, this "sharing" comes at the price of duplication and inefficiencies. And higher taxes. Luckily, some of the "waste" is in the form of employment. Good thing for COPS, teachers and firemen.

Is is interesting to note that when people talk about government waste, they are usually talking either about the federal government or a different jurisdiction. They never talk about their own, local government.

Here in NJ, we have over 600 local municipalities each with it's own Department of Public Works, police and fire, parks, administration and purchasing departments and local government. Yet no one wants to consolidate jurisdictions out of fear of losing something. So as much as they complain, people don't seem to mind the high taxes. They are just accept it, but people like to complain. Politicians and administrators have a vested interest, so they have little interest in consolidation.

Another note: It is very difficult to find the number of private employees performing work for the government as contractors. I would consider them government employees since they perform government functions, however they are reported as private service employees. "Top Secret America" showed how difficult it is to find information in this area.

I started to new area under the Blog called mistakes

Just a quick, public place to complain about stupid mistakes I made as I write for the Blog.

This time I was trying to compare employment for government: Federal, State and Local. I wanted to check out the size of the government at the different levels.

Conservatives always complain about the government size but they usually mean the federal government, rarely the state and never the local government. But the local government is 4 times as large. Cops, teachers and firemen plus good pensions and benefits.

Anyway, I picked the wrong data set. A set which was NOT seasonally adjusted and here is my chart. See that annoying saw-tooth pattern in data. That is seasonality, which just confuses the whole picture. Oops.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Top Secret America: Another secret jobs program

Well, I have complained in the past about the large number of police and firemen in our town which basically has no crime or fires. Now comes word from the Washington Post about contractors and companies getting rich from 9-11. Companies have exploited fear of an attack by terrorist to fund a massive increase in Counter Terrorism and Intelligence services. And private companies have grown rich in the process.

Washington Post's Top Secret America

What happened to those missing manufacturing jobs

When we look at the manufacturing sector we can see where the job losses came from. We can project job growth as some function of the rate of GDP growth over time. We can then calculate a manufacturing job deficit.

But why did those jobs disappear. Well the obvious answer is because they could. Underneath our economy is a political system that believes in free-trade and free-markets. The US has one of the most open markets in the world. The government plays a very small part in the markets and provides only the regulation to support functioning markets. Import tariffs are low. There are few cultural and non-business barriers. Few limits on foreign ownership.

The assumption is that higher competition gives the consumer a better value at a lower price. Free trade will also generate more jobs and higher incomes as countries specialize in different areas.

The second answer is global competition and productivity

The US lost to both China (items with a high labor content) at the low end and Korea, Germany and Japan at the high end (automobiles).

The third answer is productivity

The other sectors such as food, energy, construction materials which are not as import sensitive appear untouched but have trended downward because of productivity gains.

Services are relatively insensitive to productivity improvement, so the labor component has remained high.

Where to look for jobs?? Look where H1-B visa holders work

Good paying jobs can be found in industries that employ H1-B workers.

The US issues visa to certain classes of foreign nationals to come for work. The visas are call H1-B visa and they are used to import workers in fields where the US has a shortage. The visa is for three years but is typically extended to six years. There are 65,000 H1-B visas issue each year. The visa is filled by highly educated foreign who have skills in areas where the US believes it has a shortage of workers. Skills like Math, Science and Information Technology.

The reasoning is that the imported workers provide missing skills to help the economy grow which benefits everyone. For example, one programmer may be the missing person on a large team launching a new website to sell sneakers. Ten other people at the company's jobs in marketing, manufacturing and finance may depending on the programmer who may not otherwise be available.

Also the programmer may buy a car, visit a doctor, rent and apartment and visit the local grocery store and pay taxes, all of which contribute to the economy. If the programmer, did not exist, there would be no secondary economic activity.

The imported workers can help an economy during periods of low unemployment. Corporation may also pay lower wage rates for H1-B workers thus helping increase there profits.

The number of imported foreign workers is small compared to the total US work force. Workers here as H1-B visa employees number less than 100,000. The total US work force is about 130 million. But the jobs pay well above the average wage.

In the US, we can also practice import subsitituion in the jobs market. The US currently imports a large number of workers in many high-tech fields such as engineering, math, sciences, nursing, biology, and medicine. The holders also include teachers and academics and Department of Defense contractors.

However, during high unemployment, the government reduces the number of imported foreign workers opening up jobs for US citizens in these same areas. So, if you are looking for a job consider one of the H1-B areas for employment.

The H1-B visa debate is a hot one. Here are some links to read about it.

Here is the site for US Citizenship and Immigration Services


Monday, July 12, 2010

Private sector job growth lags

Well there is more trouble in the labor market as private sector job growth stays below 100K. On Friday, July 2nd, 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics report private hiring increased by only 83,000, which is well below the 125K-150K need to reduce the unemployment rate.

Non farm payrolls actual decreased 125,000 person as 225,000 temporary employee finished US census jobs.

In detailed job news, manufacturing added 9000 jobs and construction contracted by 22,000 jobs. Two other signals of a tough labor environment were also reported: The average work week declined 0.1 hours and average wages dropped $0.02.

Two pictures(below) tell the story of Non Farm Payrolls during the recession and in the longer term. Here is the recession graph. You can see, for the first time, private service employment contracted. Add in the huge loss in goods producing jobs and you get 10% unemployment

Here is a chart of non farm payroll from Jan 1981 to June 2010. You can see the manufacturing jobs have slowly decreased. But service employment doubled! The growth was completely due to private sector services. Government employment remained between 16% and 18% for the entire period. During the 40 year period the economy grew by more than 2% per year. Yet manufacturing employment decreased.

So, you really have to ask what happened to those manufacturing jobs during the past 40 years.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Time for more stimulus money and long term austerity


This blog writer is in favor of a second, moderate sized government stimulus

The US economy needs another federal spending stimulus boost to continue growing. The economy is sputtering along, trapped in cycle of high unemployment feeding low consumer confidence. We all know that consumption is 70% of the direct economic output in the US. Another fiscal cash injection is need in the short term.

I would recommend spending the money on extending unemployment benefits, aid to state and local governments(SLG), student loans and grants, low income tax relief and long term R&D projects (like oil pollution control). We may have to get used to high unemployment and long-term subsidies for the unemployed. However, the money cannot be given with some productivity benefits to "pay" for the extra money. State and Local Governments must hold the line on pay, retirement and healthcare costs.

The stimulus should be about $400-500 billion dollar area (about 1/3 less than the original 787 Billion investment). Enough to cement the continued growth of the US economy. We must try to get the unemployment rate down to the 7% range to make the recovery psychologically self sustaining.

Longer term, the US economy has some issue to face. We need to shift from a "bubble" economy to a more structurally sound economy, like Germany or Canada, and that won't be easy. We have had tech bubble, a tax cut bubble and now a real estate bubble. Americans need to stop looking for the easy way out. Right now there is no alternative but hard work.

There is some good news. Interest rates at an all time low. Inflation is effectively zero, but not deflationary. We have taken steps to fix healthcare and the banking system. The US still generates the highest per capita income for the most people on the plant.

But there is also bad news. A large number of Americans will be retiring and living longer. This puts tremendous pressure on social security, medicare, private retirement plants and health insurance. Income inequality is growing. Fifteen percent of the working population is unemployed or underemployed.

But luckily, we are in far better shape than other countries to handle the problems.
Our debt to GDP ratio is low compared to other countries. Out growth rate is usually above other western democracies.

It is time to make some painful choices around taxes. We may need to get rid of home mortgage deductions. Put a true price on gasoline and carbon. And learn to live with a lower level of material wealth. We must stop funding wars.

Bling-Bling is out-out. Helping your neighbor is in-in.



Easy money for Health Insurance Brokers

There is something strange about the health insurance brokers market. I just got seven phone calls from from health insurance brokers in less than two hours after looking for health insurance on-line.

I think I just stumbled across another easy money, no work scam. Health insurance brokers must be raking in easy money for little work, few qualifications and no value add. I guess I found out where all the "hot-money" mortgage brokers moved to. These guys also sound like the placement "brokers" who have presented job candidates to me in my former position. And currently "peddle" my resume to prospective employers.

So here is the story. A friend, who is currently, not working, as me to find some alternatives to the COBRA policy his old job offered. I went to which seems a little too snazzy. A good website does not self-promote (ie, run ads for itself) on it's own website. So, I was a little suspicious. I enter my basic info; birth date, tobacco use (yes, I Know, I am stupid) and wieght. It also asked me for my address and contact phone number which I entered without thinking.

The site gave me a couple of quotes in different price ranges. I review them briefly and then started watching the boondocks. Two minutes later, my phone started ringing of the hook. I got four calls in ten minutes asking me if I was looking for health insurance.

Someone had clearly thrown some meat in the shark tank. I declined the offers and explained I was just looking. One guy even called back to ask if I was sure I didn't need health insurance.

I hear the used car market is taking off in the recession. Maybe these guys can upgrade.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cost of Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

I am trying to get my hands around three big public policy issues and their related economic costs.

1) Cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And related 9/11 security expenditures.
2) Jobs and income lost to outsourcing of manufacturing and services
3) I can't remember I am getting old.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

CBPP: Income gaps between very rich and everyone else tripled in last 30 Years

The Council on Budget and Policy Priorities has an interesting report on their web site stating that the income gap between the top 1% and the rest of the country tripled over the past 30 years.

Bush tax cuts also accelerated the gap during the 00's.

During the study period income for the top 1% increase by 280% while middle fifth increased by only 25% and the bottom fifth by 16%

Conference Board Employment Index

This is more of a note to my self. I was looking for a data series on consumer confidence but instead I found a conference board index for employment. However the trouble I have is that the of the eight indicators, only one is actual conference board original data, six come from the government and one a small business research foundation.

If all the variables are significant then a free, public index without the conference board data would be almost as good. One could guess the proper weights from regressing consumer spending on unemployment indicators. So, just where is the conference board value add. Shoot, I know jobs are hard to get. I don't need a survey.

The eight labor-market indicators aggregated into the Employment Trends Index include:

1) Percentage of Respondents Who Say They Find "Jobs Hard to Get" (The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Survey®)

2) Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance (U.S. Department of Labor)

3) Percentage of Firms With Positions Not Able to Fill Right Now (© National Federation of Independent Business Research Foundation)

4) Number of Employees Hired by the Temporary-Help Industry (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

5) Part-Time Workers for Economic Reasons (BLS)

6) Job Openings (BLS)

7) Industrial Production (Federal Reserve Board)

8) Real Manufacturing and Trade Sales (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)

June unemployment report is a cause for concern

June unemployment report is a cause for concern

The report for June is bad news for US employment in several areas. We will cover the highlights.

Private employers added on 83,000 jobs. Total non farm payrolls drops by 125,000 workers as 225,000 census workers were let go. Also both manufacturing hour declined which signal slack demand and inventory fill-ups were completed.

Finally the average hourly wage dropped by 2 cents to $22.53.

The construction industry employment dropped by 22,000 jobs.

The general unemployment rate dropped to 9.5% because 652,000 people gave up looking for work and dropped out of the civilian labor force. The number of discouraged workers was 1.2 million up from 414,000 a year ago. Discouraged worked are persons who are not looking for work because they believe there are no jobs available for them.

The general unemployment rate (U-3) dropped to 9.5% because of a reduced labor force

The unemployment rate for Blacks stayed at 15.4% and 12.4% for Hispanics. The estimate U-6 for black hovered around 22% with drops in black unemployment and general jobs seekers.

On average 125,000 to 150,000 new jobs are needed to keep pace with population growth and maintain a stable unemployment rate.

NYTimes: Memphis -- Black majority city slides down

All, here is a compelling story on Memphis and it's economic slide from the NY Times.

The story details how hard Memphis has been hit by the recession especially the Black middle class. The article also discusses some of the lending practices by banks that led to the real estate collapse.

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