Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Re-arranging the Deck Chairs Is Not a Net Positive

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So here we are. It is the middle of December 2011. The US (and global) economies still suck. The Federal Reserve continues to wring its hands and do pretty much nothing about maximizing employment (which means they are not doing their jobs).

These past few weeks, I've seen a number of articles in various news sites about various states offering "tax incentives" to businesses trying to get them to stay where they are or to move to another state. One of the first was when I saw reports in early October that the governor of the state in which I reside claimed that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange could be moving to Florida. Then at the end of November, I noticed that Cincinnati and Ohio had "lost" Chiquita Brands to North Carolina:

Chiquita Brands International Inc. decided to leave Cincinnati for many reasons, but the biggest one is undeniable: Money.

Lured by the promise of big savings, better air service to Europe and Latin America and a more diverse workforce, Chiquita announced Tuesday that it plans to leave Cincinnati, site of its home office of 24 years, for Charlotte, N.C.

North Carolina offered a package of grants and tax incentives potentially worth $22.7 million over 11 years, enticing the relocation of the world's largest banana seller.

The counter offer from the state of Ohio and Cincinnati to keep the company downtown amounted to $6 million to $6.5 million, Chiquita chairman and CEO Fernando Aguirre told The Enquirer late Tuesday.
A couple of days later, I see where Ohio, having offered a fraction of what North Carolina had offered for Chiquita had turned around and offered Sears hundreds of millions to move from Chicago to Columbus. At the end of the article on the Sears offer, I found this telling little nugget of information:
The largest incentive package in Cincinnati - a 2003 deal worth up to $52 million to keep Convergys Corp. downtown - was hotly debated for months before being approved. The deal kept Convergys downtown, but the company hasn't grown here, and instead has cut its city workforce from 1,500 to 1,000.

Tax incentives are a quick, short-term strategy to boost job numbers, but they don't always work in the long-term, said Wendy Patton, a former Ohio Department of Development official.
Just last week (December 7), the NY Times had an article on Fortune 500 companies being able to avoid paying any state taxes for years at a time, no matter how profitable they might be:
As states have struggled to balance their budgets by cutting services, laying off workers and raising taxes, a study to be released on Wednesday suggests that many profitable Fortune 500 companies have not been paying as much in state corporate income taxes as the average levied on American companies, with some big firms paying none at all in recent years.

A few companies, including DuPont, reported paying no state corporate income taxes from 2008 to 2010 even as they reported profits, according to the study, which was conducted by Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, nonprofit research organizations in Washington that advocate a more progressive tax code. (A spokeswoman for DuPont said that she had not seen the study, but that “DuPont complies with all tax laws and regulations” wherever it operates.)


To gauge how much Fortune 500 companies are paying in corporate income taxes, the study looked at the 265 of them that are both profitable and disclose their state tax payments. It found that 68 reported paying no state corporate taxes in at least one year between 2008 and 2010. All together, the study found that the companies reported $1.33 trillion in domestic profits from 2008 to 2010, but paid states only about half of what they would have if they had paid at the average corporate income tax rate of all states — reducing their state taxes by some $42.7 billion.
Today, the NY Times had a related article on the battle between states for corporate business:
As the unemployment crisis grinds on, states are trying to both lure and retain businesses by offering tax breaks, grants, cheap loans — just about anything (short of candy and foot massages) they can think of. But how many jobs do these expensive incentives actually create?

And are the jobs any good?

Economic development programs cost states and cities billions of dollars a year, but many programs require little if any job creation, fewer than half call for wage standards, and fewer than a quarter require the companies to provide health care for their workers, according to a study of program requirements scheduled to be released Wednesday by Good Jobs First, a nonprofit research organization that tracks corporate subsidies. Some merely require companies to invest in plants or new equipment, which could actually enable them to reduce their head counts.
In doing some quick checks of der Google for this post, I noticed that Indiana had also made a play for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Fortunately for the good folks of Indiana, Ohio, and Florida, the Illinois legislature has bowed to the corporate blackmail:
While a tax-break package aimed at keeping Sears Holdings Corp. and Chicago's financial exchanges from exiting the state cleared the General Assembly on Tuesday, Illinois' business tax policies will continue to be a hot-button issue in the coming year.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said they expect the parade of companies seeking special relief to continue, creating pressure to further examine how the state taxes business.
At this point in our national economic crisis the image that keeps coming to mind with all of these tax incentives for companies to stay or go is so much re-arranging of the deck chairs. These jobs are not net new jobs for the nation and wind up costing jobs IMNSVHO because of the lost jobs and services in both the losing state and gaining state. The losing state winds up offering larger incentives to try to save jobs and for the folks in the losing state who have lost their jobs, here's the struggle to make ends meet with unemployment so more bankruptcies and foreclosures. For the gaining states, there are all the costs associated in providing the sweetheart deals to the corporations to get them to move means non-reimbursed expenditures for infra-structure and more wear and tear on existing systems. If the state manages to "save" the jobs by bowing to the blackmail, it is that much less revenue coming in that cannot be recovered. Lose-lose-lose for all but a few folks in corporate management (Bonuses!)

And because I can:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sorry, but these numbers do not add up

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So, you may have noticed that the November jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is out today (via CNN):

Hiring accelerated in November, and the unemployment rate unexpectedly plummeted to its lowest rate in nearly three years.

Employers added 120,000 jobs in November, the Labor Department reported Friday, marking a pick-up in hiring from October.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 8.6%, the lowest rate since March 2009 and a significant decline from 9% just a month before.
Sounds great, right? Well not so fast there Bunky (from the NY Times):
Still, serious concerns remain about the economy’s ability to weather a potential meltdown in Europe.

American governments at all levels continued to bleed workers, for one. And the decline in the unemployment rate had a down side: It fell partly because more workers got jobs, but also because about 315,000 workers dropped out of the labor force. That left the share of Americans actively participating in the work force at a historically depressed 64 percent, down from 64.2 percent in October.

Even excluding these hundreds of thousands of dropouts, the country still had a backlog of more than 13 million unemployed workers, whose spells of unemployment averaged an all-time high of 40.9 weeks.
Think about that for a moment. There were 120K new jobs for November while 315K left the workforce because they had given up on finding a job. It takes nearly 100K new jobs each month just to maintain the status quo. 120K new jobs for the month, while positive, is still a pittance of what is needed. And more than 2 1/2 times the numbers of folks who got jobs left the workforce discouraged.

MSNBC notes that even the "good news" needs to be tempered as:
The average number of hours worked remained flat in November, while wages fell by 0.1 percent.

More than half the new jobs November were added by retailers, restaurants and bars. Retailers added 50,000 jobs, the sector's biggest gain since April. Restaurants and bars hired 33,000 new workers. The health care industry added 17,000.

"The quality of jobs is not as great as you would like to see," said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities. "A lot of the jobs were probably part-time positions and that is one of the reasons average hourly earnings fell."

Besides the fall in the official unemployment rate from 9% to 8.6%, the U6 number as reported has also fallen for November from October's 16.2 to November's 15.6. I'm not at all sure how this can be unless the U6 has been undercounting folks (which is my supposition). Without having been undercounting people for both the U3 (official unemployment number) and U6 (un and underemployment along with 'marginally attached' i.e., those who have given up looking), it just does not seem like both U3 and U6 could fall for November when so many have left the workforce.

Wednesday (November 30), the LA Times had this opinion piece that seems to have a clearer perspective than the official number.

Yesterday's weekly Initial Unemployment Claims report was back above 400K.

While my prediction of a double-dip recession by the end of the year (made back in June) may not happen quite as soon as I thought, the overall economy is still struggling and there are still millions of people wanting to work, without work available.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich apparently wants to make children the primary wage earners for their families.

And because I can: