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Real wage stagnation, year 41

Remember the Economic Report of the President? Of course you do. It’s where we get our annual data on real wages (and apparently some other stuff, too). The 2014 edition was released on March 10. As you may recall, I made my first post on the declining real wage trend through 2011 and was literally the first person to notice 2012’s further slight decline.

The good news is that, in what is now Table B-15 rather than B-47, real wages advanced somewhat in 2013, from $294.31 per week (in 1982-84 dollars) to $295.51, an increase of 0.4%. Woo hoo!

The bad news, of course, is that this is still 13.5% off the peak real weekly wage of $341.73, achieved in 1972. One swallow doesn’t make a spring, and all that.

Interestingly, last week Paul Krugman felt compelled to argue that real wages aren’t going up all that fast, but so what if they did? He said that basically, this was something primarily only visible in the real hourly (my emphasis) wages of production and non-supervisory workers, which happens to be one of the components of Table B-15. However, he was reporting based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly reporting of this stat.

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RIP BartCop

I’m a little late on this, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the recent death of Terry Coppage, aka BartCop. Bart died March 5th at the age of 60, from complications of the flu, pneumonia, and leukemia.

Bart was one of the pioneers of the liberal blogosphere, starting out in February 1996 with an email newsletter that was converted to web pages by Marc Perkel. He gave much support to new bloggers, including luminaries like Digby and Atrios. Though I never knew him, I am in his debt as well. The affiliated site, Marty Pflugrath’s BartCop Entertainment, was the first to permanently and prominently link to me.

In his final column, Bart requested financial help for his wife to help pay for his medical bills. You can send a PayPal payment to bartcop@bartcop.com. If you still use checks, you could send a contribution to bartcop.com, PO Box 54466, Tulsa, OK 74155.

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Hawaii Cuts Uninsured Population in Half

In case you haven’t seen Charles Gaba’s great website ACAsignups.net, you really need to see it. It is the best source available for tracking Obamacare enrollments, covering all categories of signups, including Medicaid, the federal and state exchanges, off-exchange signups, and estimated under-26ers.

One of the most notable achievements of Obamacare is in the President’s birthplace, Hawaii, where the number of uninsured people has already fallen by more than half, despite having a horrible website for the state-run exchange. The biggest chunk of this is through Medicaid enrollments, both people newly eligible and those previously eligible who had not signed up (“woodworkers,” people who’ve come out of the woodwork). Here are the totals:

Uninsured: 102,000

Medicaid: 48,000

Exchange: 4,661

Off-exchange: 4,000

Total newly insured: 56,661, or 55.6%.

Moreover, approximately 10,000 Hawaii residents are ineligible for Medicaid or ACA subsidies due to their immigration status, so the state is doing very well indeed.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, below is Gaba’s pride and joy, “The Graph.” It’s the best visual interpretation we have of how signups have proceeded since the rollout of Obamacare October 1. Note that we can expect a big last-minute rush over the final weeks of open enrollment, so we will see soon just how well the first year’s signups have gone.

 

Source: ACAsignups.net

The Graph

 

Cross-posted at Middle Class Political Economist.

 

 

 

 

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CBO Whiffs on Minimum Wage

The Congressional Budget Office has just issued a report on the minimum wage that is a real head-scratcher. Analyzing proposals to raise the minimum wage to $9.00 or $10.10 per hour, it concludes in the latter case that there would be 500,000 fewer jobs in the second half of 2016 than there would be under current law (100,000 fewer for $9.00/hr.).

Predictably, conservatives have seized on this number as proof that the minimum wage is a “job killer.” Even liberal media, such as Talking Points Memo in this paragraph’s link, seem to think that number is a big problem, going on to say, “It’s not all bad, though, for one of the centerpieces of Democrats’ middle-class agenda ahead of the November congressional elections,” as if the CBO report were mostly bad news for Democrats.

There are two problems with these claims. First, the CBO’s calculations undervalue the best research on the minimum wage. Second, even in the CBO’s estimated world, low wage workers are much better off as a whole than under the current $7.25/hr. minimum wage.

As I’ve discussed before, a relatively crude cross-national comparison of rich countries’ minimum wages and unemployment rates does nothing to suggest any job-killing is going on. But the CBO’s estimation procedure has serious flaws. It begins (p. 6) with what it calls “conventional economic analysis,” which is already a big mistake. Simple Econ 101 reasoning (when the price of something goes up, the quantity purchased goes down) has had only sketchy empirical support, something that has been especially clear from meta-analysis of minimum wage studies (ungated version of Doucouliagos and Stanley 2009 here).

The CBO, of course, has heard of these studies, but it remains with a non-transparent explanation of how it weighted different studies (p. 22), saying it gave the most weight to contiguous state comparison studies. The only thing is, according to Arindajit Dube, these are the studies least likely to find a negative employment effect. Thus, how CBO ends up with a baseline of job loss remains mystifying.

Okay, so 500,000 fewer jobs isn’t entirely plausible then, but what if we accept for the moment that it is? As Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker point out, there are still far more winners (16.5 million direct, another 8 million indirect–the latter being workers just above $10.10 who would probably see raises) than losers (0.5 million among low-wage workers; the rest are people with high incomes) in this scenario. And as Baker emphasizes, “…we are not going to see 500,000 designated losers who are permanently unemployed as a result of this policy.” Instead, what will happen is people will work 2% fewer hours at an hourly rate that is 39.3% higher.

The math is simple: 0.98 X 1.393 = 1.365. In other words, low-wage workers will see their income increase, on average 36.5%. And this is the worst-case scenario!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the minimum wage is a winner both economically and politically.

Cross-posted at Middle Class Political Economist.

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Show me the (subsidy) spreadsheets!

Good Jobs First’s new report, Show Us the Subsidized Jobs, is its third assessment of state subsidy transparency, following up on reports published in 2007 and 2010. The good news is that transparency continues to spread: From 23 states in 2007 to 37 in 2010 to 47 plus the District of Columbia in 2014.* The bad news is that for most states, online transparency still has a long way to go.

Why is transparency important? As the reports says, without it, it

makes it impossible for the public to get at even the most basic return on investment, accountability or equity questions. Which companies received subsidies (and what kinds of companies)? Are they delivering on job creation? How good are the new jobs? Where will the jobs be located? Reasonable people cannot have an informed debate and policymakers cannot watch the store without good job-subsidy data.

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Obamacare roundup: Great enrollments for Wellpoint; “Bette from Spokane” debunked

Via Joan McCarter, we learn that Wellpoint, which runs a number of for-profit Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance plans, reported on an investor’s conference call that it expects to add over one million new policyholders this year and that its enrollments are much better than expectations. Of 500,000 enrolled so far, fully 80% of them came to the company via the exchanges. Of that amount, 2/3 were eligible to receive subsidies for their insurance premiums.

Of course, for those of us who support single payer, giving money to private insurers is a mixed blessing. We’d be better off without them, but under our current political situation, this is the best we will be able to do for the uninsured for a while. As McCarter points out, stories like this mean that Obamacare is going to be unrepealable soon, if it isn’t already.

Meanwhile, if you could stomach listening to the first Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday, you heard Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodger (R-WA) tell the plight of a woman she called “Bette in Spokane,” who supposedly had to pay “nearly $700 per month” more for her health insurance, after her insurance company canceled her old plan.

As with many other such stories, this one has collapsed under scrutiny. As the linked article shows, Bette Grenier had had a catastrophic plan canceled, and she only compared it to the price of a Gold-level policy her insurer suggested as a replacement. Not only were cheaper policies available, she told the paper she would not go on the state exchange to look for a policy, even though this would likely have saved her even more money compared to the one her insurance company offered. She told the paper she and her husband planned to go without insurance.

As Paul Krugman (who pointed me to the Spokane link) notes, there is a reason why catastrophic plans aren’t allowed: “If you’re allowed to have insurance that barely covers anything, that’s almost the same as not participating at all.” Which appears to be exactly what’s happening in this case.

Cross-posted from Middle Class Political Economist.

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Boeing Saga Ends with 51% Favoring New Contract

As I argued last month, the Puget Sound area of Washington state was easily the best place, from a strictly economic point of view, for Boeing to build its new 777x jetliner. This was confirmed when, despite the rejection of  its union contract offer by a 2:1 margin and opening an auction for a new facility, Boeing came back to the union with a second contract offer (h/t New York Times). Yesterday, by a 51-49 margin, workers voted to accept the contract.

The new contract ends the company’s pension plan in favor of a 401(k), although it does not “affect the pensions already accrued.” This was unchanged from the previous offer. However, the company did make concessions on the time to raise to the top of a pay grade (6 years instead of the originally proposed 16) and by adding a second bonus payment, of $5,000, in 2020.

The closeness of the vote shows how difficult a decision this was. In addition, there was a rift between the international office of the Machinists’ union, which all but openly supported the contract, and the local union, which quite openly opposed it. Though the workers had a good bargaining position, it’s hard to negotiate with a gun to your head, and the company had also shown its willingness to do something stupid (from an economic point of view) when it put a production line for 787 in South Carolina rather than Washington.

So, yet another company ends a true pension plan, contributing to the coming retirement crisis. Washington state gets to set another record for the largest incentive package in U.S. history, although it is surely a violation of World Trade Organization subsidy rules, as was Boeing’s 2003 package. And we see yet again the need to ban job piracy, which strengthens the kind of job blackmail we have seen in this case, like so many others.

Cross-posted at Middle Class Political Economist.

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Watch this Link: Will Heritage Scrub Its Obamacare History?

Mike the Mad Biologist leads me to a host of articles on the crazy things going on at Heritage Foundation, especially since former Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina took over as president of the organization. Mike quotes Alex Pareene at length on how the rise of MBAs running both the Foundation (DeMint) and Heritage Action (Michael Needham) has turned Heritage from a respected think tank into a mainly political organization of the hard right. Pareene, in turn, leads to a good analysis by Julia Ioffe in The New Republic.

As regular readers know, Heritage is an organization that I’ve already lost most respect for, it being famous both for proposing Obamacare’s main components and denying that it is responsible for the individual mandate. This has been well-debunked in both Forbes and The Wall Street Journal, by Avik Roy and James Taranto respectively.

My modest contribution was to note that the January 1989 research report Taranto found in the Heritage archives was actually noted on its cover, “Revised Edition.” This pushes the original research back into 1988 at least and clearly refutes Stuart Butler’s claim that the individual mandate was a response to Hillarycare. In fact, it was a response to the considerable political groundswell for single payer in the 1980s.

The question is how far the deterioration of the Heritage research mandate will go. I think one clear indicator would be if Heritage decides to take the 1984 “Ministry of Truth” route and delete the research from its website. So far, it has yet to stoop that low. But when “A National Health System for America, Revised Edition,” can no longer be downloaded, we will know another big step in the hyper-politicization of Heritage has taken place. Should it happen, and you need a copy, email me and I will send you a copy of the pdf document on a “fair use” basis.

You will know it has happened when you can no longer download the report from

 Here

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America’s Most Wanted: Boeing

Boeing is America’s Most Wanted Corporation in two senses. First, now that the Machinists’ union in Washington state has refused the company’s contract demands, it is shopping production (h/t Pacific Northwest Inlander) of the 777x aircraft nationwide and lots of states are making offers for it. Second, it is emblematic of everything the 1% is doing to destroy the middle class: despite being highly profitable, it pays virtually no taxes; it accepts billions of dollars in government subsidies; it is trying to eliminate pensions and cut salaries for its highly skilled workforce; and it is trying to move production away from its unionized workforce, something it has already accomplished in part.

The first part of the story is nauseating enough. With Boeing already threatening to leave its home in Washington state if it didn’t get what it wanted from both the state and the union, Democratic governor Jay Inslee called a special session of the state legislature that took three days to approve subsidies for Boeing. The incentive package is the largest ever in U.S. history for a single company, according to Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First, an astounding $8.7 billion over 16 years (2025-2040). By my own back-of-the-envelope calculations, this looks to be the largest-ever U.S. subsidy on a present value basis as well as in nominal terms.

By the way, this represents a huge jump from Boeing’s current tax break package for the 787 Dreamliner, passed in 2003, which was $160 million a year for 20 years ($2.0 billion in present value, by my calculations). Under the new package, this would more than triple to $543 million annually.

Also of note, the World Trade Organization ruled that the 2003 subsidies are illegal under WTO rules, a finding that was upheld by the WTO’s Appellate Body in April 2012. While the U.S. government has eliminated some of the illegal subsidies provided by NASA and the Defense Department, the state and local subsidies found to be in violation of the WTO’s Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures have not been eliminated. As noted in the last source, the European Union was seeking permission from the WTO to apply $12 billion worth of sanctions on U.S. exports. The EU will certainly file a new complaint against whatever state and local subsidies Boeing ultimately receives for the 777x, and on the basis of the last case there is every reason to think the EU would again prevail.

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Subsidy insanity in western Missouri

I have written before about the gross waste of taxpayer monies on retail in the St. Louis region. According to the East-West Gateway Council of Governments (p. 18), governments in the bi-state metropolitan area pumped about $2 billion worth of subsidies into retail projects from 1990 to 2007, but only saw a net increase of 5400 jobs, meaning that each low-wage, low-benefit retail job cost the cities of the region $370,000 apiece. The price is only this low on the generous assumption that the subsidies were solely responsible for this job creation. However, given the growth of incomes in the metro area during that time period, it is likely that most if not all the jobs would have been created without the incentives provided.

It turns out something similar has been happening in the Kansas City region. As regular readers of this blog know, the border job piracy in the Kansas City metro area is probably the second-worst in the country, after metro New York City. As it turns out, there has recently been data released on the scope of job piracy there.

Less than a year after Governors Jay Nixon (D-Missouri) and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) told New York Times reporter Louise Story, on camera, that there was no way they would back off of their wasteful poaching, a new Times story reveals that Nixon is now calling for an end to their futile battle.

Part of the reason for his change of heart probably lies with a recent study by the Hall Family Foundation showing that since 2009 alone, Missouri and Kansas City have spent $212 million on relocation subsidies to drag existing operations across the border, sometimes more than once as in the case of Applebee’s. The net effect, however, has been virtually nil: 3200 jobs moved to Kansas, while 2800 move to Missouri, for a net movement of 400 jobs.

The math of course is simple: $212 million/400 equals $530,000 per net moved job. And remember, these aren’t net new jobs, merely net moved jobs. As I’ve written on numerous occasions, job piracy is the least defensible use of development incentives, precisely because it creates no new jobs. Good Jobs First had a detailed analysis of the issue overall and the Kansas-Missouri border war in particular in January 2013.

However, if the most recent Times article is to be believed, we could be on the verge of ending this particular border war. Mind you, don’t hold your breath. The two states tried before, according to Good Jobs First, and failed miserably. Indeed, there has yet to be a successful voluntary no-raiding agreement between states, even though there have been at least three attempts. But in this case, there has been a strong push for a cease-fire from a number of prominent Kansas City businesses, so there is a better-than-usual chance that this could be successful.

Really, though, there oughta be a law. A federal one.

Cross-posted at Middle Class Political Economist.

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