Tag Archives: Nevada economy

The Good Old Days? White House Fights the Free Market

The current occupant of the Oval Office would have me believe he’s The Champion of Small Business In The Face Of The Evil Empire of….Amazon.  Spare me.  (And, NO, the USPS isn’t going broke because of the shipping contract the company has with Amazon. It has much more to do with the Republican supported and enacted restrictions on its pension plan, which require inordinate prepayments into the plan. [IG Report]) So, returning to the topic at hand, let’s start with the proposition that nostalgia isn’t conducive to successful retail marketing.

A Little History 

Extrapolated into the realm of the ridiculous, there was a time before Macy’s and Bloomingdales (1858, 1861) when shoppers roamed among small retailers along commercial corridors.  Add the installations of elevators and escalators and the retailers could further “departmentalize” their offerings.  Surely there were objections from smaller retailers at the time, and there were probably others who decried the Memphis Piggly-Wiggly grocery store’s 1916 decision to let customers get their own items from the shelves rather than have a clerk do the accumulation.  However, it’s unimaginable to give any credence to the notion that innovations in retailing are necessarily nefarious.

The department stores faced competition beginning in 1872 from Aaron Montgomery Ward whose catalog advertised shipping via Express rail services, and from Richard Sears. Their catalog sales were boosted by the decision in 1913 to have the Post Office deliver domestic packages. [AtlasObs]  Again,  to assert that companies like Amazon, which depend on Internet ordering systems are somehow essentially different from the innovations adopted by Ward and Sears is risible.  What we might be hearing from the White House is the lament for brick and mortar retailers who rent property?

Another Change in Retail Habits

We’ve moved from shopping along Main Street, to shopping from catalogs, to shopping from online catalogs.  And, yes, Amazon is now a big presence in the retail system:

“The simplest explanation for the demise of brick-and-mortar shops is that Amazon is eating retail. Between 2010 and last year, Amazon’s sales in North America quintupled from $16 billion to $80 billion. Sears’ revenue last year was about $22 billion, so you could say Amazon has grown by three Sears in six years. Even more remarkable, according to several reports, half of all U.S. households are now Amazon Prime subscribers.” [Atlantic]

However, this is an over-simplification which goes nowhere toward explaining how a chain store founded in 1962 in Arkansas has grown into a 2,000,000+ employer, or why Target seems to be holding its own in the Big Box Store category.  Notably, both Walmart and Target have an Internet operation.

We can lament the demise of the brick and mortar retailers, but as the Atlantic article points out, part of the hard, sad, truth is that we simply built too many of them.

“The number of malls in the U.S. grew more than twice as fast as the population between 1970 and 2015, according to Cowen and Company’s research analysts. By one measure of consumerist plentitude—shopping center “gross leasable area”—the U.S. has 40 percent more shopping space per capita than Canada, five times more the the U.K., and 10 times more than Germany. So it’s no surprise that the Great Recession provided such a devastating blow: Mall visits declined 50 percent between 2010 and 2013, according to the real-estate research firm Cushman and Wakefield, and they’ve kept falling every year since.” [Atlantic]

Toss in a measure of stagnating wages and decreased levels of discretionary spending and it’s little wonder the mall traffic is declining.

“After adjusting for inflation, wages are only 10 percent higher in 2017 than they were in 1973, with annual real wage growth just below 0.2 percent.[1] The U.S. economy has experienced long-term real wage stagnation and a persistent lack of economic progress for many workers.” [Brookings]

Those “many workers” are deciding the Big Box, and online bargain offers, are preferable to mall browsing.   We overbuilt malls, organized them around “anchors” which are looking at declining sales from Big Box, discounters, and online shopping, and thus shouldn’t be surprised when the free market works.

That the current president is upset with the reportage of the Washington Post, owned by the same man who founded Amazon, is no surprise either.  However, that doesn’t fully explain his antagonism which may also be a function of being a real estate developer, and a real estate developer who seems to be freighted with altogether too much nostalgia for those “Good Old Days” when we’d take the transit or pile into the family wagon to shop on site.   There have been major innovations in retailing since the first butcher opened his first shop and accepted payment in cowrie shells.

The Nevada Situation

Obviously, the largest factor in the Nevada is “Accommodations and Food Service,” read: Casinos and restaurants; but the second largest employment category is good old fashioned retailing.  As of the SBA’s 2017 report, there are 140,879 people employed by retailers; of this figure 39,947  are employed by small businesses, or about 28%. [SBA pdf]

There’s reason for cautious optimism in southern Nevada with regard to wages and spending, but …

“The Las Vegas MSA’s 12MMA of average weekly earnings (not inflation-adjusted) went up by another $3 in November. This was the 4th month in a row nominal average weekly earnings rose by $3, continuing a steady streak of growth started just over 3 years ago in September 2014. On a YOY basis, the 12MMA was up $37 (5.0%) from November 2016.

When considered on an inflation-adjusted, YOY basis, earnings rose by 2.8% in November 2017 compared to November 2016, reaching $669 (in 2007 dollars). This was an increase of $1 from October. Las Vegas’ average weekly real wage is now $82 (10.9%) below the most recent inflation-adjusted peak of $751 that occurred over 10 years ago in August 2007. The trough occurred in February 2012 at just over $616, so Las Vegas remains much closer to the trough than the peak.” [StatPak]

If we’re looking for significantly increased demand to boost the southern Nevada retail sector further, something is going to have to happen to those average weekly wages.  The picture for northern Nevada is slightly more optimistic:

“While Washoe County’s economy continues to benefit from rising taxable retail sales, the YOY growth rate has fallen considerably from a year ago. In November 2017, the rate of growth was 6.2% YOY, or 3.2 points lower than the year period ending in November 2016. However, when compared to the month prior, it is down 0.2 points. Taxable retail sales reached $686.8 million in November, having already surpassed, in March 2016, the previous peak on a nominal basis (not inflation-adjusted). As the chart shows, Washoe’s taxable sales growth is very near the state average at just 0.4 points below.

Success in business attraction and retention is driving the region’s economy and is the primary cause of growth in taxable retail sales, though increasing visitation has also contributed.”  [Statpak]

One other factor to be considered before pronouncing Amazon as the harbinger of demise for retail malls is good old fashioned demographics. Neighborhoods change, people move, and the “centrality” of a mall constructed in the late 1960’s or 1970’s may not reflect the residential and traffic patterns 40-50 years later.

And yes, I remember shopping for vinyl records in Park Lane Mall ages ago… when I was still playing vinyl records… before I shifted to CDs … before I downloaded … anyone who expects (or wants) retail endeavors to remain constant in the tides of time will have about as much success as King Canute attempting to command the liquid form of tides.

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics

Nevada and the Tax Scam: Debts Debts and More Debts

The Bureau of Economic Analysis has some important numbers for the state of Nevada.  As of September 26, 2017 the agency reports Nevada’s per capita personal income was $43,567 ranking 32nd in the US and 88% of the national average.  However, the numbers don’t signify as much as they could without looking at the trends in which they occur.

“The 2016 PCPI reflected an increase of 1.0 percent from 2015. The 2015-2016 national change was 1.6 percent. In 2006, the PCPI of Nevada was $39,930 and ranked 15th in the United States. The 2006-2016 compound annual growth rate of PCPI was 0.9 percent. The compound annual growth rate for the nation was 2.6 percent.”

There are at least two things to unpack from this. First, it’s evident Nevada took a wallop from the Great Recession in the wake of the Housing Bubble and Wall Street Casino collapse. Secondly, Nevada’s per capita personal income isn’t growing at a pace which would make anyone too confident of increased disposable income for Nevada consumers.   In fact, it makes one think we’re going to be looking at increased levels of household indebtedness — again.

Another number to toss into this mix is the inflation rate, ranging in 2017 from about 1.6% to 2.7%.  And now we come to the inflated promises of the President* and the members of the 115th Congress who claim that their tax plan will “put more money into consumers’ pockets.”  Not. So. Fast.

It’s no secret the Tax Bill benefits those in the upper income brackets far more than it does those in the lower quintiles of the tax brackets.  Nor is it any surprise that the pass through benefits inserted into the bill are a windfall for a select group of businesses which in most circumstances don’t really qualify for the brand “small business.”  Therefore, it’s hard to visualize how this plan truly benefits the “average” Nevada taxpayer.

It’s even harder to see how the bill would create the kind of growth necessary for the bill to “pay for itself.”  The conclusion of the Tax Policy Center isn’t exactly comforting:

TPC has also released an analysis of the macroeconomic effects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as passed by the Senate on December 2, 2017. We find the legislation would boost US gross domestic product (GDP) 0.7 percent in 2018, have little effect on GDP in 2027, and boost GDP 0.1 percent in 2037.

If you’re thinking this isn’t enough to boost the per capita personal income level in Nevada, except for a chosen few, you’re probably right on target. Nor is there much reason to believe the Growth Fairy will wave her wand more strenuously anywhere else in the country.  What do people do when wages and salaries don’t increase by all that much, inflation creeps up, and those people want to maintain their standards of living? The borrow.  And this is where DB starts jumping up and down again sounding alarms.

Look, for example, at the NY Fed Report from February 2017: (pdf)

Aggregate household debt balances increased substantially in the fourth quarter of 2016. As of December 31, 2016, total household indebtedness was $12.58 trillion, a $226 billion (1.8%) increase from the third quarter of 2016. Overall household debt remains just 0.8% below its 2008Q3 peak of $12.68 trillion, but is now 12.8% above the 2013Q2 trough.

Yes, this dry as dust account is saying that levels of household debt are perilously close to what they were just before the Bubble splattered all over our economy in 2008.  There are a couple of reasons not to panic — quite yet.  The level of debt delinquencies hasn’t approached the 2008 level, and we’re seeing fewer bankruptcy filings.  [CNN Money]  There are a few more dessicated sentences from the Fed of note:

“…while comparable in nominal aggregate size, the composition of current household debt is very different from that in 2008. We pointed out in a recent press briefing that debt balances are evolving; mortgages now have a much smaller share than in 2008, auto and student loans have increased in their share, and balances are increasingly shifting towards more creditworthy and older borrowers.”

Read: Mortgage debt is down, student and automobile debt is up. Banks are lending to older borrowers with better credit.  This situation is fine for the banks and those who invest in them, it isn’t exactly cause for young people to rejoice.

At the risk of sounding alarmist — we do need to watch the effects of those automobile loans on the financial sector because those loans (like the mortgages before them) are sold into secondary markets (securitized) and there are some initial warning signs.

One industry analysis doesn’t provide all the comfort I’d care to feel at the moment:

In fact, S&P Global Ratings has issued 881 upgrades and no defaults or downgrades on the subprime auto ABS deals it’s rated from 2004 to present. However, the company ran a stress test simulating what another financial crisis-like event would look like today and found that subprime losses would rise 1.67 times higher than S&P’s baseline expectations for the economy. So while the markets are stable, there are certainly economic factors to watch for.  “Yes, losses are going up from 2015 and 2016, and are even approaching recessionary levels,” Amy Martin, S&P’s senior director, told Auto Finance News. “But you have to look at it relative to what’s happening with the ratings, and the ratings are very stable.”

Yes, auto loans are up, increasing the transactions in the secondary market, but we should all relax because the ratings are stable? The last time we put our faith in the ratings agencies every investment bank on Wall Street fell into its own sink hole.

If I’m a little shaky on the subject of auto loans and their securitization, I’m even less enthusiastic about what’s been happening on the student loan front.  Again, from the NY Fed which as a good track record for keeping tabs on the student loan situation:

Interestingly, though the difference in default rates between two- and four-year private college students is not large (less than 5 percentage points at age thirty-three), this is not the case for public college students. Default rates for community college (two-year public college) students are nearly 25 percentage points higher than those for their counterparts in four-year public colleges. The chart below also shows that while for-profit students have the highest default rates, the default rates of community college students are not too different from those of for-profit students (36 percent versus 42 percent for two-year and 39 percent for four-year for-profit students, respectively, at age thirty‑three).

And now comes the trap: While the administration and GOP controlled Congress make it harder for students to escape the clutches of student loan purveyors, the default rates are ominous.  Further, once in the student loan trap it becomes harder for younger people to become those “older creditworthy” souls to whom banks want to offer mortgages. The following assessment isn’t all that encouraging for the housing market:

“At any given age, holding debt is associated with a lower rate of homeownership, irrespective of degree type. While the homeownership gap between debt-holding and non-debt-holding bachelor’s-plus students remains relatively constant, that for associate degree students expands with age. Associate degree students who take on debt buy homes at almost the same rate as those who never went to college until they reach age twenty-five, when their homeownership rate rises above that of those who never went to college. At age thirty-three, the non-college-goers are almost 4 percentage points behind their peers who enrolled in associate degree programs and took on student debt, while lagging behind debt-free bachelor’s-plus students by 25 percentage points.”

The situation isn’t immediately indicative of economic peril BUT there are some points to remember.  While home-ownership is down (banks are looking for older more creditworthy borrowers) auto loans and student debt are up, and student indebtedness is linked to a reduction in home-ownership.  Meanwhile, the per capital personal income keeps slogging upward at a pace making garden snails look swift.   If you are wondering  from whence comes the fuel for the Growth Fairy — so am I.

Thus far the only elements I see emanating from this GOP controlled Congress are an untoward enthusiasm for giving tax breaks to those who need them the least, an equally unpropitious capacity to ignore trends in household indebtedness, coupled with an almost vexatious tendency to put the burdens on younger generations of Americans for whom education is increasingly costly.

If Nevadans are suspicious of Republican claims of “fiscal responsibility” it’s because they should be.

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Politics

Bubble Bubble Crash and Trouble: Gambling With Nevada’s Prosperity

A person doesn’t need an advanced degree in either economics or finance to figure out that the current versions of the Tax Bill are not good for Nevada.  We’ll begin with the premise that the Republican tax plan gives the majority of the benefits to corporations.  High income individuals would also benefit from the elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax, and the Estate Tax.  We should also note that the individual/family tax cuts would expire in 2027 while the corporate tax cuts are made permanent.  Additionally, we should accept the proposition that because of the fluid nature of the proposals and the complexity of how middle income families may be affected, the NY Times analysis is probably one of the best generalization summaries to date.  We can say with some certainty that the vast majority of the benefits will accrue to the upper 2% of American income earners, and to corporations.

Another point often overlooked in the various summations is what the bill will not do.  This element should not be ignored as we try to imagine what the ramifications will be for Nevada and its citizens.  First, a reminder of the obvious —

Nevada depends on the leisure and hospitality sector — our way of saying gaming, which is our way of saying gambling and the hotels that provide the entertainment.  In hard cold stats — the BLS reports employment as follows:  Leisure and Hospitality – 353.8 yoy +2.0; Trade, Transport, Utilities – 242.6 yoy -0.5; Professional and Business Services 191.1 yoy +5.9; Government – 163.0 yoy +2.3; Education and Health Services – 134.4 yoy +2.9.  Little wonder most people are employed in the “Hospitality” sector, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reports some 32,108,552 visitors as of the end of September 2017.   Each visitor averaged about $619 spent on “gaming.” [LVRJ]

And now to state the obvious — that $619.00 spent at the tables or playing the slots is literally disposable income.  We intend for our visitors to dispose of it during the time they spend in Las Vegas.  Not to mince words,  anything that restricts disposable income has a direct impact on the total taxable gross revenue generated by our “hospitality.”  For example, in 2007 Las Vegas (Clark County) enjoyed gaming revenue totaling $10,868,464,000. As the housing bubble burst in 2008 the number declined to $9,796,749,000.  As of 2009 with the Recession deepening, the number fell to $8,838,261,000.  The last report, issued in 2016 reported gaming revenue in Clark County of $9,712,796,000, a good number, but still below the halcyon days before the Bubble and Crash.

If Nevadans had adopted the notion that gaming is a “recession proof” industry before the Wall Street Casino wiped out the Housing Market, we were disabused of the idea in the wake of the last debacle.  There was, obviously, a limit to the capacity of our visitors to save our bacon.

And now, we have a Republican tax plan which gives most of its benefits to upper income earners, and corporations, and eventually leaves middle income earners (those earning between $30,000 and $100,000) holding the bag awaiting immediate or eventual increases.  What happens to that average $619 budgeted for the tables and slots when a family has to adjust to higher health insurance premiums?  When a family is no longer able to deduct major medical expenses?  When a family can no longer deduct interest payments on student loans?  When a family finds it can’t deduct state and local taxes?

Years ago Nevadans would sing the praises of the “$60 bettor.”  High rollers are, of course, always welcome, but those $60 bettors were the prime rib in the Nevada casino buffet — the staple, the predictable, the profitable.  Decades later the $60 increased to $619, and these vacationers and tourists are still the staple, the predictable, and the profitable.  Make inroads into their disposable income and they will have less of it to dispose of at the tables and slots.

An economic policy which further rewards the already successful at the expense of the middle class, that would add a return to financial institution deregulation, and would compound the problems by eliminating or reducing the deduction of mortgage interest, is a recipe almost strategically designed to have a negative impact — another negative impact — on Nevada’s economy.

Going a step further, someone is going to have to make up the massive $1.5 trillion hole created by the Tax Plan.  What will Nevadans have to sacrifice?  Their Social Security? Their Medicare?  Their Medicaid?  What then of the now increasing education and health care services sector in Nevada?  What of the construction trades in Nevada, the builders and the contractors?  They’ve seen this movie before and it didn’t end well.

And yet we have one Senator who appears to have purchased the Trickle Down Hoax hook, line, and sinker; who appears to believe the Growth Fairy will wave her magic want and make all things whole — including that $1.5 trillion gap — and one who believes that balanced budgets are paramount except when it’s the GOP blowing the deficits into the stratosphere.   It is time to tell Senator Heller that we have all seen this script play out, and instead of buying into the Trickle Down Hoax he’d do better to purchase some chips from the cashier and donate his $619 to the Nevada economy.  Otherwise we’re looking at more Bubble Bubble Crash and Trouble.

Senator Heller’s office: 202-224-6244.

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Politics, Taxation

Amodei’s Wonderland: Wherein Economic Vision Becomes Hallucination

One of the more confusing statements from Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) concerns how the Republican Tax Scam will affect the economy:

(Part A) “With respect to the effect on businesses, Main Street job creators will see their tax rates reduced through the lowering of the maximum tax rate on business income to no more than 25%. (Part B) Additionally, federal tax rates on corporate taxable income will see a decrease from the highest rate of 35% to a flat corporate tax rate of 20%. (Part C) Each of these changes will help businesses and corporations expand, hire new employees, increase wages, and also give them the resources they need to stay competitive in the global marketplace.”  [Amodei] (“parts” added for discussion)

Let’s begin with Part A, those “main street job creators” are the high income earners discussed yesterday as be beneficiaries of the Pass Through Loophole.   It really doesn’t matter if the firm’s address is Main Street, 5th Avenue, or Wall Street, the result is essentially the same.  After telling Nevadans not to worry about losing their most popular deductions because not all that many people use them and the new standard deductions will take care of them,  Amodei doesn’t apply the same test to the business and corporate deductions.  That Pass Through Loophole, by any and all other names, has resulted in massive revenue losses in Kansas, the state which imprudently serves as a laboratory for the GOP’s ideological economics.  Let’s not confuse Mom and Pop’s Midtown Market with the capital management firm of Grabbem, Gouggem, & Howe.   Both may “create jobs” but there’s no comparison in terms of how much of a tax break each will receive for having essentially the same number of employees.

Moving along to Part B:  Yes.  At present there’s a plethora of corporate accountants employed to create a situation in which a top rate of 39.1% becomes an effective rate far below that maximum rate.  One study of Fortune 500 companies reached the following conclusions:

  • As a group, the 258 corporations paid an effective federal income tax rate of 21.2 percent over the eight-year period, slightly over half the statutory 35 percent tax rate.

  • Eighteen of the corporations, including General Electric, International Paper, Priceline.com and PG&E, paid no federal income tax at all over the eight-year period. A fifth of the corporations (48) paid an effective tax rate of less than 10 percent over that period.
  • Of those corporations in our sample with significant offshore profits, more than half paid higher corporate tax rates to foreign governments where they operate than they paid in the United States on their U.S. profits.

Now, if they’re starting at 39.1% and getting their taxes down by half or even more at present — imagine what they can do when they start from 20-25% and work their way down?  For example, the “intangible drilling costs” loophole seems not to have closed up at all in the House version, and this while it’s acknowledged that seismic testing has significantly reduced the prospect of drilling dry holes.  The old Depletion Allowance survives as it always does, even if other deductions for mere mortals do not.

Or, consider the creative ways corporations use depreciation.  The House Ways and Means Committee version allows corporations to write off the depreciation for new equipment immediately.  Nice, if one is looking for a way to get from 20% down to a 10% tax rate or less.  [WaPo]  Not to put too fine a point to it, but while mere mortals are expected to absorb the elimination of student loan interest deductions, home mortgage interest deductions, and major medical expense deductions — the corporations go almost untouched.

Part C is unalloyed wishful thinking.  Walter Isaacson observes in his new book about Da Vinci that “vision without implementation is hallucination,” and this GOP canard is an almost perfect example.   Where the Tax Cut Fairy Waves Her Magic Wand wonders ensue — commerce increases, new employees will be hired, employees will have higher wages, and we will be “more competitive.”

Let’s step back from the hallucinations and observe what happens in the real world of employment:

“Service businesses, in which payroll is the major cost of providing the service, can take on higher payroll percentages since the payroll is, in fact, producing the revenue. There is likely to be no other significant cost of services to be provided. In such situations, payroll can reach the 50% mark without destroying profitability. Manufacturers, however, must maintain a payroll figure closer to 30% or less as the business must endure the cost of manufacturing the widget plus the payroll. Same with restaurants, given the high cost of food the payroll must stay under thirty percent.”

In order to lend any credence to the overblown rhetoric of GOP apologists for reducing corporate taxes and enacting pass-through loopholes, we have to merge all hiring from all sectors into one grand lump.  No matter the tax rate, what really matters is that the widget factory can keep its payroll allocations to 30% or less of its costs.  Nor can we argue that the sector with the highest payroll allocation, “service,” is all created equal.  This tertiary sector includes everything from health care to banking to education, to media and communications.   At the risk of continuous redundancy, the tax rate doesn’t determine payroll allocation — no one will be hired to do anything unless there is a demand for the goods or services beyond the capability of current staffing levels to deliver an acceptable level of consumer or client satisfaction.

Employees will have higher wages if the corporation gets a tax cut?  Probably not.  We can wade into the deeply arcane economic theoretical weeds and talk about the relationship between labor costs and tax liabilities, but let’s keep our feet on the ground instead.

Nevada has a fairly unique economy given one of our major sectors is “hospitality,” (or how to house, feed, and amuse people whom we want to leave behind large sums of money) establishments.  Therefore, there’s nothing surprising about finding out that we’ll need about 191,141 people working in food service in 2018; a growth rate of 2.8% with about 5,048 new positions expected. [DETR download]  The mean wage for food service workers is $12.74 per hour.  Most dealers are earning about $8.57 plus tips.  What will drive up food service and dealers’ wages?  Which is more likely to drive increases in food services wages: (a) more customers or (b) a bigger tax cut for corporate headquarters?

If you answered “b” then you are willing to wait for the calculations to be completed concerning how much the corporation should allocate for payroll expenditures, and then try to bank the results from this theory:

“Why would anyone think slashing corporate tax rates would increase workers’ wages in the first place? The theory endorsed by the CEA relies on three steps to get from corporate tax cuts to higher wages. First, the corporate tax cut increases companies’ after-tax returns on investment. As a result, firms will make more investments in plant and equipment than they would in a higher-tax-rate environment. Second, greater investment by firms leads to higher productivity by the workers who put those investments to work. Third and finally, workers will receive increased wages in line with those productivity gains.” [vox]

And, if you believe this I have a lovely bridge over the Humboldt River to sell you.  Why? Because corporations can do lots of other things with those savings — higher executive compensation, mergers and acquisitions, stock buy backs, and dividend payments.

Short Form:  Representative Amodei’s analysis requires redefining “job creators,” as those titans of the financial system who don’t necessarily become those doing the hiring; and requires disconnecting wages and salaries from the accepted wisdom about payroll allocation; and, means a person has to roll the dice and hope that the corporation trickles the money down to the counter-man.  In Isaacson’s parlance:  It’s vision without implementation.

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Filed under Economy, Nevada, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics

Anti-Choice: The Rebirth of Deregulation

I don’t think anyone in the state of Nevada doesn’t know what happened the last time Wall Street was left unfettered.  The Bubble splattered all over the state.   The offcast included 167,000 empty houses. [USAToday]  Nevada’s unemployment rate soared to 12.8% by December, 2009.  By October 2010 the state’s unemployment rate was 14.4%.  And now the House of Representatives is on track to vote on H.R. 10, the “Choice Act” to dismantle the financial regulatory reforms enacted in the wake of the Housing Debacle and deregulated banking disaster.

Two procedural votes are on record to move this bill forward — House vote 290, and House vote 291 — and Representative Mark Amodei voted in favor of bringing this bill to a vote by the full House.   Watch this space for an update on the vote for passage.

Update:  On House vote #299, Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) voted along with 232 other Republicans to essentially gut the financial reform regulations enacted in the wake of the Housing Bubble debacle. (HR 10)

Representatives Kihuen, Rosen, and Titus voted against this deregulation bill.

Comment: Be aware of Republican representatives to frame this vote as one against Bank Bailouts and “Too Big to Fail.”   In a polite world we’d call this something euphemistic like “south bound product of a north bound bull.”  The Dodd Frank Act requires banks to have a plan for unwinding failing banks, and bankers have screamed to the heavens about provisions to allow outside oversight of banking management.  More simply, if you approve of the antics of Wells Fargo — then you’ll love the “Choice Act,” a bill which gives banks the “choice” to skewer its customers and investors.

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Filed under Amodei, Economy, financial regulation, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics

The Warning Flags are Up: Trumpsterism and Corporate Debt

Corporate Debt Chart 2016

No, you don’t need to get out the magnifier to get the gist of this chart, but if you’d like to see the original click here.  Simply consider the trajectory of the blue line indicating the level of non-financial corporate business debt – as in UP.  Nevadans may want to gaze at this with some caution, because (to borrow and vandalize a fine old saying) the last time the national economy caught a cold, Nevada got pneumonia.  We can, and should, look at the comparison in the trends of corporate debt, government debt, and household debt:

Corporate Government Debt Levels

In the last five years government debt has dropped precipitously, (don’t show this chart to Uncle Fustian at your holiday dinner it’s likely to jolt his fact free universe) household debt has declined, and “business debt” is way up.  There are all manner of reasons for an increase in corporate debt, and some of them are very productive – such as expansion of plants and factories – others not so much.  We’re in “maybe not so much” territory.

Part of the pile of current corporate debt is the result of stock buy backs, a boomlet of sorts in recent times:

“Over the first six months of the year (2016) S&P 500 companies paid out 112 percent of their earnings in the form of either dividends or share buybacks. That, Damodaran argues, is the kind of figure you might expect to see when a recession had suddenly crimped company cashflows, not during a very long-running, if tepid, expansion.

The last time companies were paying out this much more than they are taking in was in 2008, when the financial crisis hammered revenues faster than companies could cut buybacks and dividends.”

… Certainly the very idea of buybacks has come under increasing scrutiny. While a share buyback improves per share earnings performance, it is a piece of financial engineering which increases leverage but does nothing to improve a company’s product offerings or market position, much less its long-term prospects. Indeed, the vogue for buybacks has happened at the same time as an otherwise puzzling lack of corporate investment, especially given that corporate profit margins are still high by historic standards.” [Time] (emphasis added)

There’s nothing too terribly “puzzling” about this state of affairs.   Why would companies indulge in “financial engineering” while profits are high?  Could it be that the “wealth” of the company is financially anchored rather than structurally? Consider this Household debt service as a percentage of disposable personal income  chart from FRED:

Household Debt trends 2016

Superficially, we could argue that the American consumer has done some belt tightening since the Recession of 2007-08 and there’s less money being paid out in debt service from the family coffers – but, we’d also have to be realistic and see that the debt levels are already too high.

Yes, household debt levels relative to the GDP have been declining, but it remains higher than it’s been for almost all of post-war history, and by post-war we mean World War II. [Slate]  

What else could be depressing loans? Other loans – such as Student Debts. Again, we have a picture of that from the Federal Reserve:

Student Loan Trends FRED

What we see here is an increase in student loans owned and securitized, which are outstanding: from Q1 2006 at $480.9670 to Q3 2016 at $1,396.3355.  Student loan indebtedness now exceeds credit card debt, auto loans, and other non-mortgage debt. [Slate] What’s happening here?  Perhaps those corporate profits aren’t predicated on the increasing number of consumers flocking to their doors?  Perhaps not when consumers have an annual household credit card debt of $16,000; a $27,000 average of auto loans; and $169,000 in mortgages? [Slate]

Then, there’s the matter of real household income in the US.  In the first quarter of 1999 it hit a high of $57,909 and hasn’t been back since. The current figure is $56,516. [FRED]   Little wonder there’s some “financial engineering” going on in the corporate world.   That “financial engineering” especially in terms of stock buybacks simply doesn’t make any long term sense:

“No matter how low-interest rates get, it is hard to justify the raising of corporate debt to purchase outstanding stock. Longer-term debt should be used for longer-term needs, e.g. capital expenditures. But from a macroeconomic view, raising stock prices does not figure in promoting economic growth or general well-being—it is simply financial engineering serving the interest of only shareholders and management. No new jobs are created and no new capital investment is undertaken in a world of corporate buybacks. Investors are simply bribed with their own money.” [FinSen] (emphasis added)

So, where does Trumpsterism come into play?  First, let’s assume, given the preliminary appointments to Commerce and Treasury, that the emphasis in this administration won’t be on reducing student debt and regulating the securitization of corporate debt.  Let’s also assume that a Corporate Tax Holiday in the form of “re-patriated” corporate earnings will be a feature.  How is that likely to be spent?

The Financial Times reports: “Much of the debt sold by companies in recent years has been used to buy back their own shares, pay out higher dividends or finance big mergers and acquisitions. While these buybacks funded by cheap borrowing have boosted earnings, a missing ingredient has been spending on investment to build their businesses.”

Why not? If the consumers (read the other 99% of the US population) aren’t clamoring to spend more (read creating demand) then the “financial engineers” will boost themselves by … buybacks, higher dividends, and mergers and acquisitions.  Or…

“A tax holiday that prompts repatriation of cash held overseas by global US companies, a move investors expect during the Trump administration, could help boost investment. Mr Milligan says it is unclear whether companies will plough any repatriated profits into capital investment or simply boost buybacks.“Repatriation could flow through fairly quickly and lead to a noticeable rise in share buybacks.” [FinT]

In less diplomatic terms – here we go again.  Corporations, getting tax breaks and subsidies, faced with a market in which there is declining or stagnating consumer capacity, find ways to engineer their financial statements.  Nevada has seen this movie before, and it didn’t end well for us.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Nevada economy

Nevada’s Good News, Bad News Economy: Housing, Wages, and Woes

Nevada’s home foreclosure rate is still not a pretty picture.   The state still exceeds the national average.  This is not an argument to slather on the Doom and Gloom economic message with a trowel, but it is a cautionary item in the prolonged narrative of the effect of the housing bubble, and the continued pressure from low wage employment.

Nevada Foreclosure 4 2016One in every 702 properties is in some phase of foreclosure, with one in every 373 in Lyon County, one in every 448 in Nye County, one in every 468 in Churchill County, one in every 643 in Clark County, and one in every 657 in Elko County. [RealtyTrac]  Dismal as this may seem, it does represent an improvement over Nevada’s record breaking performance in 2008-2010. [LVSun] At the end of 2010 Las Vegas saw one in every 9 home receiving some form of default notice. [moneyCNN]

The good news:

“The December surge in foreclosure starts is not a cause for concern, as it comes from a previously existing supply of distressed properties,” said Andres Carbacho-Burgos, Senior Economist at Moody’s Analytics, which analyzes RealtyTrac foreclosure data to forecast foreclosure trends. “The national pool of distressed mortgages has not increased despite the surge in foreclosure filings.” [RealtyTrac]

The astounding appetite of the Wall Street Casino for a supply of home mortgages to slice, dice, tranche, and securitize seems to have mellowed given that the “national pool of distressed mortgages” (of which Nevada contributed more than its share?) hasn’t increased.  National foreclosure statistics illustrate an effort to “clean up” previous backlogs.  So, if housing isn’t the big downer, what might be?

The Not So Good News: Nevada’s wage growth from 2007 to 2012 was a –6.5%.  Yes, that’s a minus sign in front of the percentage.  This is not the sort of chart that warms the hearth:

Nevada wage growth 2012 In short, whatever general wage growth there was between 2002 and 2008 was given back in the wake of the housing bubble collapse. The average weekly earnings of $835 in 2002 dribbled down to the average weekly earnings of $840 in 2012, a $5 increase in five years isn’t much to applaud.

There’s a bit  better news for 2016.  Weekly wages in the 3rd quarter of 2015 were $860, compared to the $840 of a year ago, up 2.6%. [NWF pdf] Even better, the unemployment rate in Nevada is now reported at 5.8%, a significant improvement over the +/- 14% we were looking at during the Recession. [NWF]  And now, another note of caution.  The greatest demand for employees in the state is for wait staff (2,229 openings), retail salespersons (2,113 openings), combined food prep including fast food (1,793 openings), and cashiers (1,420 openings) [NWF pdf] 

More food for thought:  Only two of the jobs listed with more than 500 potential openings offer wages or salaries above the median income in Nevada.  General and Operations Managers (571) has an annual average wage of $104,832, and Registered Nurses (608) can expect an average about $78,811. By contrast, wait staff averages $22,277, retail salespersons about $27,040, food prep about $19,781, and cooks $27,456. [NWF pdf]

Not to put too fine a point to it, but the occupations most in demand in Nevada aren’t the ones which will do much to improve either the housing market or the actual level of wage growth.

Nevada’s current $8.25/$7.25 minimum wage is not helping the situation.  A informative graphic in the Las Vegas Sun illustrates that a studio apartment rental in Clark County is affordable for someone working full time at $12.12 per hour, 1 bedroom requires $15.13, a 2 bedroom $18.63, a 3 bedroom unit $27.46, and 4 bedrooms $32,60.  Want a 2 bedroom apartment in Clark County? It requires 2.25 jobs at $8.25 per hour.

One of the least helpful suggestions made to the last version of the Nevada legislature came from Senator Joe Hardy (R- Boulder City) who offered the following resolution:

The resolution would repeal a constitutional amendment approved by Nevada voters in 2006 setting a standard minimum wage. Hardy said he would also propose legislation giving the Legislature the power to control the state’s minimum wage and tie the wage to the Consumer Price Index. [LVSun]

Republicans offered up a proposal for $9.00 per hour, still well short of what it would take a minimum wage worker to afford a studio apartment. Democrats proposed a $16/$15 minimum wage – which would just about get someone into a single bedroom rental unit.  Hardy’s proposal went nowhere, as did the other two offerings.

Meanwhile, the income inequality gap increased in the state.

“The states in which all income growth between 2009 and 2012 accrued to the top 1 percent include Delaware, Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Connecticut, Washington, Louisiana, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Massachusetts, Colorado, New York, Rhode Island, and Nevada.” [EPI]

If there were ever a way to insure that an economy based on consumer demand could stagnate, then it surely must be related to the incongruous notion that if a few rich people get richer then everyone will be better off. Let me suggest a re-reading of the old classic, “Where Are The Customer’s Yachts?

Let me also suggest a review of the Department of Labor’s myth-busting publication on the effects of raising the federal minimum wage.  Conservative sites have their own “myth-busting” reports but their conclusions are highly questionable, and just as highly generalized,  and none effectively challenges the research from Kruger and Card which demonstrates that there’s nothing “job killing” about increasing minimum wages. [HuffPo]

Nevada’s economy could be improved by:

  • Increasing the state’s minimum wage to at least $13.00 per hour.
  • Continuing to restrict the activity of bankers who want to securitize mortgages, under the terms of existing banking laws and regulations.
  • Continued implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act.

Nevada’s politicians might be improved by asking some pointed questions:

  • Do you support an increase in the State’s minimum wage to $13.00 per hour?
  • Do you support the continued implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Nevada politics

When Parrots Make Policy: Ron Knecht and the Great Trickle Down Hoax

parrot

Ron Knecht is the Nevada state controller.  He is a true believer in the Trickle Down Hoax and associated subsets of this egregious rationale for corporate welfare.  Not sure about the validity of this assertion? Read Knecht’s own words.   Mr. Knecht is most upset about the spending approved by the last session of the Legislature, sufficiently upset to grace Nevada editorial pages with his latest diatribe.

The first proposition in Knecht’s screed is that we are under-reporting the level of Tax Burdens on Nevada citizens.  His second major point is that “substantial empirical research shows that the numbers that determine the impact of government on economic growth and the public interest are total government spending amounts, not only those from particular accounts or sources. Research cited in our Controller’s Monthly Report #1 (at controller.nv.gov) shows that total public-sector spending, including state and local levels, has been too big a fraction of our economy for over 55 years.” [EDFP]

There are two problems with this paean to Koch Corporation Economic Theory. 

Problem One:  The assertion assumes that all government spending has a negative relationship to economic stability or growth.   Gross Domestic Product Formula

For an individual who has an academic background in mining economics, it’s remarkable that he’s possibly forgotten the good old, often cited, GDP formula in which “G” for government is part of the formula by which we measure the economy of both the states and the nation. Nor can we assume all governmental expenditures are counterproductive.  If, for example, the Federal government  decided to close Nellis AFB, what would be the impact on the Nevada economy?   Here’s the answer: (pdf)

As of 2012 there were 32,771 included in the base employment figures. 8,186 active duty military, 20,231 dependents, 289 reserves, civilian employees totaling 868.  There were 563 “non appropriated funds” civilian employees, and 2,055 on-site contract civilians; 579 “other civilians” were employed at the base.  The estimated dollar value of the jobs created at Nellis AFB was $229.7 million.  Expenditures at Nellis (federal and state) totaled $5,071.4 million.

Problem Two: Since the argument that all government spending is necessarily excessive is untenable, Mr. Knecht falls back on a subjective observation: “total public-sector spending, including state and local levels, has been too big a fraction of our economy for over 55 years.”   We’re left with at least two questions about this assertion. First, how big is “too big?”  Secondly, what’s magical about speaking of the last 55 years (since 1960)?

There is no way to objectively answer the initial question, the percentage of state and local spending relative to the GDP ranges from 5.9% in 1948 to 11.4% in 2014.  We could be dramatic and declare that this represents a 93% increase in state and local spending from their own sources over a 67 year period, but then we have to remember we’re speaking of 67 years, and the annual increase is an unimpressive 1.38%.

The percentage of state and local governments from their own sources as a percentage of GDP was 8.4% in 1960.  This would yield a 36% increase over the last 55 year period, an annual increase of 0.6545.   Even if we extend the numbers as globally as does Knecht in his discussion of expenditures and include federal, state, and local outlays, the total expenditure as a percentage of GDP was 25.7 in 1960 and 31.7 in 2014, an increase of 23% over the 55 year period, or  0.4181 annually. [OMB download Table 14.3]

State Local Expenditures GDP There’s nothing particularly dramatic about the state and local expenditures chart, and even less about the total outlays of the federal, state, and local expenditures.

Fed State Local Spending percentage of GDP The annual increases simply do not support the level of histrionics associated with the clamor from right wing politicians for decreased government spending.  Further, there is no reason not to take the numbers back as far as they go – to 1948.  There’s nothing magical about the last 55 years, certainly nothing in the actual numbers, which supports the assertion that we’ve experienced some form of grotesque increase in the level of spending as a percentage of GDP.

Problem Three:  Hyperbole doesn’t equate to substantiation. Knecht continues:

“This continued metastasis of government has slowed economic growth significantly over the last half century, directly damaging the public interest and producing an ever grimmer (not better) future for our communities and children. And Nevada politicians and special interests have played a substantial role in this uncaring destruction, especially those who supported this year’s taxing and spending blowout.

What are the true facts? First, state spending’s (sic) already excessive burden on our lives and wellbeing has increased 10 percent faster in the last decade than the incomes of Nevada families and businesses. (Due to changes in reporting categories, there is no pre-2004 total spending data comparable to figures since then; otherwise, we would use it. Hence, meaningful comparisons to earlier years such as 1992 are not possible.)” [EDFP]

These paragraphs don’t represent an economic argument, they are an ideological one.   Again, there’s an un-anchored assertion, that without the increase in government spending there would have been greater overall economic growth.   Since there’s no empirical data available because we can’t undo the government spending in the last 50 to 67 years, we’re left with an assumption – that all the revenue collected and spent by various levels of government would automatically have been re-invested in productive economic activity.   

The experience of 2007-2008 should have given us an example of what can go wrong when money isn’t transferred in ways described by classical economic theory.  Money didn’t necessarily move from investors into plant expansion and greater employment – too much went to feed the Wall Street Casino, into increasingly sophisticated financial products which had more interest in Bubble Manufacturing than in creating financial stability.  Perhaps in some utopian, and essentially academic, system money not spent on taxes would have been put into research, development, manufacturing, and sales efforts – but in the very real world of modern finance that’s not how the system works.  Mutations such as the management theory of shareholder value, and the rise of the Financialists, insured that the old illusions don’t make a solid foundation for current realistic economic discussions.

Additionally, as noted with the Nellis AFB example, not all government spending is universally considered economically counter productive.  Nor can it be effectively argued that government spending doesn’t enhance economic stability and promote growth.   Investments in infrastructure, such as the national highway system, can lead to decreases in production costs, and increases in output, yielding a net rate of return above that of private capital as shown during the forty year period from 1950 to 1989. [Rand pdf]

Knecht also attempts to create a cause and effect relationship between “excessively burdensome” taxation/spending and stagnant wages.  Welcome to the land of Post hoc ergo propter hoc.   Controller Knecht’s diatribe manages to ignore the effects of “gains in labor productivity, the division of earned income between labor and capital profits, and the allocation of labor compensation among wages and nonwage benefits.” [Brookings]  Nor does he cite the trends related to full employment, declining union density, the misclassification of employees, and the race to the bottom in labor standards. [EPI]  Knecht’s also omitting a new notion, “downward nominal wage rigidity,” in which workers in a buyers market are fearful of losing all employment so will settle for lower wages. [RCM]  [Economist]  Even the hard-right Federalist Society, of which Knecht is a member, cites “reduced labor demand,” “increased labor supply,” (and gratuitously tosses in the Affordable Care Act) as causal factors in wage stagnation.  In short, his simplistic, post hoc ergo propter hoc argument misses the point from the left, the center, and the right.  He might as well argue that wages have grown slowly since the beginning of the general economic recovery,  mid 2009, because Serena Williams won the Wimbledon Tournament on July 4, 2009.

Problem Four: Here’s another leap of logic which borders on the inexplicable.  Knecht’s syllogism appears to be: (1) Nevada has a median state and local tax burden; (2) Local governments are subsidiaries of the state; (3) Therefore, the state is responsible for negotiation results between local governments and local public employees.

“In fact, Nevada’s total state and local tax burden – that’s what matters, not headcounts – has risen to the midpoint: 25th or 26th in the U.S., depending on how measured. Because local governments are subsidiaries of the state and governed by it, legislators and governors bear significant responsibility for local spending too – especially the excesses caused by state laws allowing public-employee unions to drive local spending ever higher.”

There’s almost nowhere to begin with this other than to assume Knecht believes that local employee contracts are to blame for “excesses” in local spending.  Again, we’re in subjective territory.  How much is too much?  How much, for example, is too much to pay a police officer or sheriff’s deputy for being willing to engage with some of the most dangerous people in the state?  For being targets for radical right wing lunatics while the officers are trying to catch a bit of lunch in a pizza establishment?  How much is too much for a firefighter – how many people are willing to run into instead of out of a burning building? 

How much is too much to pay a county social worker?  The average caseload for a Child Protective Services investigator in Clark County is 18. The average case load for those responsible for supervising foster care is 13.  Or, to put it another way social workers are responsible for about 25 children per worker. [LVRJ]  The recommended standards are 12-15 children per social worker in foster family care, 12 active cases per month for initial assessment and investigation for every social worker; 17 active ongoing family cases per social worker with no more than one new case assigned for every six open cases.  The standard for a combined assessment and investigation in ongoing cases is 10 ongoing and 4 active cases per social worker. [CWLA]  

While hard cap number ratios may not reflect the flexibility needed to handle all local cases, recruiting and retaining trained professionals who are responsible for assessment, service planning, implementing and monitoring services, advocacy for children or adults who need basic services, interdisciplinary  and inter-organizational collaboration, record keeping,  and practice evaluation and improvements. [SWorg pdf] And, all this for about $45,000 to $66,000 per year.

Of course, there’s always that pesky teacher’s union – driving up the costs of public education – since there’s no way to run a school without teachers.  The current Clark County salary schedule begins at a non-too-impressive $34,637 and terminates for an “ASC + PhD” on step 15 at $72,331.  The median household wage in Nevada is $53,042.   In the private sector a doctorate in economics will get a person about $98,200 early in his or her career; a doctorate in statistics will get a person about $99,900 in the early years, increasing to approximately $128,000 in the later years.  [Payscale]

Aside from declaiming, without context, that salary negotiations are a significant driver of “excessive” local spending, Knecht also ignores another picky detail – population. In 1960 there were approximately 291,000 residents of the state of Nevada, 285,278 to be more exact.  By 2010 there were 2,839,000 residents.  There was an 895% increase in the population of the state in last 50 years.  This is the point at which “headcounts” do matter, it obviously takes more people to deliver services to 2.8 million persons than it does to provide them to 291,000.

NV Population 1960 2010

And now comes Controller Knecht’s finale, discounting efforts made by legislators to address spending issues in a rational manner:

“…as if hearing every detail of the budget means that politicians make the right decisions. Legislators can’t really know the value of each spending proposal when they hear almost exclusively from proponents, most of them paid for by our tax dollars to advocate for their interest, not for voters, taxpayers and the public interest. They certainly can’t determine its net social value unless they get equally extensive testimony in the same hearings on the damage done by the taxes needed to fund each item – and they never do that.”

There are a couple of features which require untangling in this paragraph. First, a person can be an advocate for social workers and also be a voter, a tax payer, and a person concerned with the public interest.  An advocate for highway funding is also a voter, a taxpayer, and concerned with the public interest.  There is no way to compartmentalize people, their advocacy, and their public spirit.   In Mr. Knecht’s taxonomy anyone who advocates for better police, fire, education, and social services, or highways, health inspections, public mental health services, parks, wildlife, and libraries – is not advocating “for the public interest.”  As if the public interest lies solely in diminishing these services in the name of “smaller government.”  This isn’t an economic argument – it is completely, totally, an ideological statement; and, it’s judgmental to boot.  So also is the term “net social value.”

“Net social value” is one of those buzzwords associated with radical right wing economics of austerity, and unfortunately it comes without any real meaning. [Guardian] It’s related to the economic term “social return on investment,” which is only slightly more precise.  “Social Return on Investment is an analytic tool for measuring and accounting for a much broader concept of value, taking into account social, economic and environmental factors.” [NewEcon]   Knecht’s context seems to place the “net social value” proposal closer to the Cost Benefit Analysis methodology and not quite so analogous to the SROI calculations.  Analysis in these terms can get very mushy very quickly.

For example, in purely economic terms (and ones Controller Knecht may find troubling) one of the best SROI or “net social value” or just old fashioned economic stimulus spending is the SNAP program.  A USDA Study designed to test whether or not SNAP benefits improved the economy found that an increase of $1 billion created about $1.79 billion in economic activity (GDP.) Or, that every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates about $9 in economic activity. [USDA]

If we expand the terms to include socially beneficial activities the measurement becomes more difficult to manage. How, for example, do we measure the quantitative benefits of public libraries?  Several states have made the attempt and most have returned results which might be at variance with Mr. Knecht’s ideological preferences.  South Carolina reported that for every $1 spent on public libraries contributed $2.86 in value to the state’s economy.  Florida studied 17 public libraries and demonstrated about $6.40 in economic benefit for every $1 in their budgets. [ALA]

Mr. Knecht assumes that “net social value” cannot be determined unless there  is equal weight given to the opponents of government spending for government services.  This, in turn, assumes that the arguments of the opponents are of equal quality and veracity as those of the proponents.  The evident extrapolation of Mr. Knecht’s argument is that any advocacy of government spending on government services must be self-serving, and therefore cannot be in the public interest. However, what are we to make of a hypothetical argument advanced by public health nurses that the state invest more in the inspection and regulation of out patient surgical centers? Simply because some such centers do not care to be inspected and regulated are we to assume that there would be a “negative net social value” to the increased number of inspections? What are legislators to do?  Knecht advises “focus?”

“Above all, they can’t make the right decisions if they substitute laboring over program details for focusing on the premier fact that government is already so big – even while still growing – that it has slowed economic growth to a long-term crawl and thus damaged our communities and children’s futures. If they really cared, they’d address and fix that first.”

Repeat the drum roll: Larger government = slow economic growth. As we’ve seen earlier in this post, that argument doesn’t stand under even cursory scrutiny.  This is a highly subjective point of view, and informed more by ideology than by economics.   If our legislators “really cared” they’d go over those program details, looking for ways to streamline services without compromising the basics, and in doing so would address issues in education, public safety, public health, and the quality of life in Nevada – without resorting to ideological blinders.  We could use more wise owls, and fewer parrots?

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Filed under Nevada budget, Nevada child welfare, Nevada economy, nevada education, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics

The Forced Choice Fallacy: Employment and Education

NV Employment by Industry 2015 The Background: There are 1,418,000 Nevada residents in the state’s civilian labor force, and 7% of them are looking for work. The state has 1,254,300 individuals in the non-farm wage and salary category, up 3.4% since last year.  28.11% are employed in a single sector – Leisure and Hospitality. 5.41% are employed in construction related jobs.

Category  % of employment  change YOY
Leisure Hospitality 28.11% +5.1%
Trade, Trans, Utility 18.97% +3.8%
Prof Bus. Services 12.68% +2.8%
Government 12.13% 0%
Education/Health 9.68% +5.2%
Construction 5.41% +8%
Financial Activities 4.59% +0.7%
Manufacturing 3.33% +0.7%
Other Services 2.89% +3.7%
Information 1.12% -5.4%
Mining & Logging 1.08% -5.6%

(Source: Department of Labor, BLS)

The first table shows the situation at the present. Projections from NDETR estimate what employment will look like as of 2022.

Category Number of openings from Growth to 2022
Construction 24,580
Food Preparation/Service 23,100
Office & Admin Support 16,990
Transportation 12,640
Sales Related Occupations 12,120
Personal Care & Service 11,700
Management 8,660
Healthcare Practitioners  & Assts. 7,780 (+3,680 Support positions)
Business Financial Occupations 6,850
Production Occupations 6,530

*There are projected to be another 6,500 jobs in the Installation, Maintenance, and Repair occupations category; and, about 4,840 jobs related to Education, Training, and Library personnel positions. Of the 24,580 jobs in “Construction and Extraction” only 80 openings are projected to be in the “extraction” category related to “growth.”  In short, the Nevada economy of 2022 is projected to be much like the Nevada economy of 2015.

False and Forced Choices

Now that we have some hard data, and some rationally projected data about employment opportunities in Nevada extending to 2022, it’s time to take a gander at some of the policy decisions which need to be made about how to create expansion in the economy.

Here’s a classic example of how NOT to approach the issue:

“The left claims they’re for American workers, and they’ve got lame ideas, things like minimum wage. We need to talk about how we get people skills and qualifications they need to get jobs that go beyond minimum wage.”

Scott Walker, yesterday  [h/t Angry Bear]

First, the most recent entry into the GOP Candidate Bus separates “skills and qualifications” from issues about raising the minimum wage.  This seems to be an artificial forced choice – either one supports the minimum wage increases or one supports more education and training to become qualified for better paying jobs.  (Not that Governor Walker’s slashing of the higher  education budget makes his position comprehensible?)   It is humanly possible to support both increasing the minimum wage AND support additional resources for our post secondary educational institutions.  And, there are some practical reasons this would make sense for Nevada.

Secondly, let’s look at the minimum wage issue as a practical matter in Nevada.   Retail sales worker positions account for 7,450 of the 12,120 projected job openings due to growth in the NDETR estimations for 2022. Food and beverage service positions account for 13,260 of the total 23,100 food preparation and serving jobs estimated to be available by 2022.  What would punch up the economy of Nevada faster? Leaving the minimum wage at current levels for the expected positions in retail and hospitality sectors of the Nevada economy? Or, increasing the minimum wage for those 20,710 jobs?

A person earning $7.25 per hour working 40 hours per week for 50 weeks per year would earn $14,500.  A person earning $10.00 per hour working a 40 hour work week for 50 weeks would earn $20,000 annually.  If you are keeping score with your calculator – that’s a difference of some $113,905,000 available to be pumped into the local economy from those 20,710 jobs.  Since we know from the research that lower income workers spend more on basic household expenses, that’s an additional $114 million for groceries and supermarkets, clothing stores, housing and furnishings, and for transportation.  One more time – The GDP formula:

Gross Domestic Product Formula Remember, that “C” in the formula is Consumer Spending.  And, I can keep hauling out this graphic until it hits home that increasing consumer spending is an essential feature of what drives growth.

Now, about those “qualifications and skills..”

Where does one get additional training for higher paying jobs?  If a person did not intend to stay in a minimally paying food service job, or a low paying construction job, or a low pay office job, then where are the training programs for advancement?

Let’s assume for the first argument that an individual wants to advance in the same field as his or her entry level position.  Nevada has both public and proprietary post secondary educational programs available. [NVps pdf] On the public side, a person wanting to move up in the office might want to consider an associate’s degree in bookkeeping? Management?  The community colleges offer these programs throughout the state.  And, yes, a person earning more than a minimum wage might be better able to take advantage of the post secondary training available from the Nevada system.

How about a move from one occupation category to another?  What if our hypothetical prospective employee wants to move from a retail job into the field of medical or health information technology? There’s a program for that at Southern Nevada College.

In short, the most efficient and cost effective way to provide career pathways for economic improvement is to invest in our community colleges and technical education institutions.  These are also the best ways to assist older workers who are moving from declining fields to those in which some growth is expected.

What did the President have to say about community colleges?

“As the largest part of the nation’s higher education system, community colleges enroll more than 6 million students and are growing rapidly. They feature affordable tuition, open admission policies, flexible course schedules, and convenient locations. Community Colleges are particularly important for students who are older, working, or need remedial classes. Community colleges work with businesses, industry and government to create tailored training programs to meet economic needs like nursing, health information technology, advanced manufacturing, and green jobs.”

So, yes, it makes sense to provide support for post secondary education in Nevada.  Those “qualifications and skills” have to come from somewhere, and what better way than to expand the capacity of our post secondary programs to enroll and instruct those who want to advance in a chosen field or become qualified for employment in a new one.

Meanwhile, we have to acknowledge that a preponderance of the growth in this state is still in occupational categories such as retail sales and food service which are relatively low paying jobs, and from which we could expect much more robust economic growth by requiring if not a living wage of $15.00 per hour then at least an increase to $10.00.

No forced or artificial false choices are required: We really can do two things at once.

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Filed under Economy, education, employment, Nevada economy, nevada education, Nevada politics

Heck’s Jolting Idea: H.R. 1401

Heck photo Nothing illustrates the tenuous GOP grasp on the concept of job creation quite so well as Representative Joe Heck’s JOLT Act of 2015.  H.R. 1401:

“Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to admit into the United States a qualifying Canadian citizen over 50 years old and spouse for a period not to exceed 240 days (in a single 365-day period) if the person maintains a Canadian residence and owns a U.S. residence or has rented a U.S. accommodation for the duration of such stay.”

By the Numbers

There are 35.16 million people living in Canada. 4.7 million of them are between the ages of 55 and 64. [StateCan]  The 2011 Canadian census counted 4,945,060 individuals over the age of 65. [CanCensus] Of these numbers, approximately 500,000 can be classified as Snowbirds – those owning property in the United States. [FinancialPost] To apply some context, 500,000 is about 0.00157 of the U.S. population estimated at 317 million.

Some Canadians did take advantage of the housing bust in the U.S. to purchase retirement properties in California, Arizona, and in Mexico, but even in 2012 this was described in the Canadian press as a “small but growing group.”  It would be small considering the travel related expenses, and the tax liabilities incurred. [GlobeMail] Not to mention the affluence required to maintain two residences.

Now comes the part wherein Nevada’s representative from the 3rd Congressional District tries to explain how wonderful this bill would be.

Representative Heck wrote:

“Boosting our economy and improving national security are two of the most critical challenges we face as a nation and the JOLT Act addresses them both,” Heck said in a statement.

“Expediting the visa interview process and expanding the Visa Waiver Program will bring more international travelers and tourists to destinations around our country and creates jobs,” he continued. “Making discretionary visa waiver security programs mandatory will improve our security at home and aid our intelligence community in the fight against global terrorism.”  [The Hill]

Notice the attempt to tie the 500,000 Snowbirds to a booming tourism economy; “Expediting the visa interview process and expanding the Visa Waiver Program will bring more international travelers and tourists to destinations around our country and creates jobs.”  We might venture to ask how increasing the temporary population of the U.S. by 0.00157 or 0.157%  is exactly a big “job creator?”

Who Wants This?

The U.S. Travel Association wants it, as does the Canadian Snowbird Organization.  And, from the Snowbirds we learn that Canadians purchased $2.2 billion in Florida real estate, making the National Association of Realtors very happy. [CSB]  Representative Heck’s interest in this bill may be peaked by the $92,449 in contributions he received (2013-2014) from real estate interests, including $60,559 from individuals and another $31,890 from PACs. [OpenSec]

To sum up the situation: This bill isn’t about jobs.  It really isn’t all that much about tourism.  It is about serving the interests of a relatively few wealthy Canadians who want to retire to Sun States – anything has to be sunnier than Newfoundland – and the real estate interests who want to serve them.

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Filed under Economy, Heck, House of Representatives, Nevada politics