Saturday, April 19, 2014

More on March jobs- with nationwide comparisons

Yesterday had the monthly state-by-state jobs release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it had a number of interesting data points that show us where Wisconsin is at.

First, let's go with the Walker Administration's spin on things. Not surprisingly, Walker campaign worker DWD Secretary Reggie Newson was out with another "it's working" news release, which failed to mention the downward revision of 3,700 jobs for February.
Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary Reggie Newson today issued the following statement on today's U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report. The report shows Wisconsin had statistically significant growth year-over-year in private-sector and total non-farm jobs and the state's unemployment rate fell to 5.9%, the lowest rate since November 2008:

"The release today of the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that Wisconsin has added tens of thousands of private-sector jobs, while Wisconsin's unemployment rate continues to decrease with a 'statistically significant' drop between March 2013 and March 2014," Secretary Newson said. "With Wisconsin's unemployment rate at a five-year low, Wisconsin is well-positioned to increase opportunities for working families."
That makes it look like Wisconsin is some kind of standout, but a look at the state-by-state report shows we're not very special at all. It shows half of the states in America had a "statistically significant" drop in unemployment rates the last 12 months, and that doesn't even include places like Minnesota and Iowa that already had unemployment at an extremely low rate last year, so it couldn't fall much further. 26 of the 50 states had a "statistically significant" increase in jobs, and Wisconsin's case is especially noteworthy because the BLS was counting the 8,500 GOVERNMENT jobs added in Wisconsin over the last 12 months (the same government jobs that used to be evil and wasteful in 2011 Fitzwakerstan but apparently are OK now).

When private sector job growth for the last 12 months is compared to the rest of the Midwest and especially the nation as a whole, Wisconsin's numbers for the last year look quite mediocre.

Private sector job growth, Midwest and U.S., Mar 2013- Mar 2014
U.S. 1.99%
Ind. +1.83%
Minn +1.77%
Ohio +1.35%
Wis. +1.24%
Iowa +1.19%
Mich +0.67%
Ill. +0.61%

It's an equally subpar performance when you look at Wisconsin's track record in job creation the last 2 years.

Private sector job growth, Midwest and U.S., Mar 2012- Mar 2014
U.S. 3.91%
Minn +3.77%
Mich +3.20%
Ind. +2.85%
Ohio +2.51%
Wis. +2.40%
Iowa +2.23%
Ill. +1.59%

In fact, Wisconsin's March-to-March job growth for each of the last 2 years is worse than the rate we had from March 2010 to March 2011- which happens be 12 months leading up to Act 10.

Private sector job growth, March 2010-March 2013
March 2010-March 2011 +1.50%
March 2011-March 2012 +1.89%
March 2012-March 2013 +1.14%
March 2013-March 2014 +1.24%

So much for the ideas that Act 10 and retaining Walker in the 2012 recall election removed "uncertainty" and caused job growth to take off. In fact, it looks like it did the exact opposite, making us stagnate instead of continuing to grow.

Now if there's a bright spot for the Fitzwalkerstanis, it's that Wisconsin wasn't the only state whose job numbers suffered from the polar vortex winter. The tepid job private sector job growth of 900 total jobs in Q1 2014 don't look so bad when you realize only 2 of other 6 Midwestern states added jobs over that same time period (Ohio and Minnesota). Maybe all of this pent-up demand gets unlocked as Spring finally appears in these parts (unless you live north of Hwy. 29), and then job growth bounces back accordingly. But I also see that Wisconsin had over 10,000 new unemployment claims in the last week listed, and only 7 other states had more. That's not a good stat when you're 20th in population.

Bottom line is that the Walker campaign is trying to spin that Wisconsin's economy is turning around and going in the right direction. I see no evidence of that from the recent jobs reports, and in fact, any job growth seems to continue to be a product of the Obama Recovery dragging us ahead IN SPITE of Walker/WisGOP policies, not because of them.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Quick March jobs analysis

Today's Wisconsin jobs report in a nutshell.

Jobs up 6,400 in private sector for March.

BUT jobs revised DOWN 3,700 in February, which means net is +2,700 jobs, which is below the national rate, and the Walker jobs gap grows by another 1,000.

And only 900 private sector jobs added for the first 3 months of 2014. Flat-out awful.

BUT household survey shows 21,500 more Wisconsinites are working, which is how the unemployment rate can fall from. 6.3% to 5.9% in those 3 months.

Which means either pretty much every job a Wisconsinite got since the start of the year was in the Twin Cities or Chicago, or one of these surveys are wrong.

I'll have more analysis when I have the time, but them's the numbers.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Right direction" Wisconsin? Part II

I see our fair governor is going to try a "Morning in Wisconsin" theme, based on the script of his latest ads (I won't try to watch that crap, as I value my digestive system too much). Well, that ad should prompt you to ask "Are we really going the right direction under this guy?" And stories out this week indicate the answer continues to be an emphatic NO.

1. Let's go with one of the claims of that ad to start.
Families are planning vacations and more are going to sleep knowing they have access to health care.
As proof of that claim, the Walker campaign claims that his "work makes you free" health care plan extended access to all people making the poverty line or below. But of course what isn't mentioned is the fact that BadgerCare was also cut back for families that were barely above the poverty line, with Walker choosing to throw those people onto the federal Obamacare exchanges, in the hopes that it would cause so much chaos and overloading of that type of coverage that he and his fellow GOPs could show Obamacare "wasn't working."

Well, that strategy has backfired on two fronts, and proven the Walker ad to be lying. The first is that the number of Wisconsinites that are uninsured have at best stayed the same, if not gone up. As this picture shows, the Census Bureau listed Wisconsin as the only state in the Midwest that had an increase in the percentage of people that were uninsured between 2010 and 2012, illustrating the BadgerCare cuts that Walker and the WisGOPs signed off on in their first 2-year budget. Wisconsin is the light red line near the bottom.

% of population uninsured, 2010 vs. 2012


And if there was any cut in the uninsured rate in 2013, it sure wasn't due to anything Scotty and WisGOP did. In fact, a Gallup poll released today showed that states which took the expanded Medicaid funding in Obamacare did much better in reducing the amount of uninsured than states that decided to TeaBag the expanded Medicaid (such as Wisconsin).

Uninsured rate, Gallup poll April 2014
Took Medicaid funding 16.1% in 2013, 13.6% in 2014 (-2.5%)
Didn't take Medicaid funding 18.7% in 2013, 17.9% in 2014 (-0.8%)

And oh yeah, Wisconsinites are paying higher taxes as a result as well, since the state is picking up 42% of the Medicaid costs instead of having the Feds pick up those costs for us. It's a lose-lose situation all around, and won't get better as long as a bubble-worlder like Walker is in office.

2. If Wisconsin families are planning vacations, as the Walker ad says, we should be seeing it with increased travel out of the state's largest airport. But instead we saw a report released this week say the exact opposite.
The 13-percent drop in traffic at General Mitchell International Airport in 2013 was the steepest drop for any of the top 50 U.S. airports.

That’s according to an analysis of Airports Council International data in the most recent issue of Airline Weekly.

Of the 50 largest airports, 17 had declines in passenger traffic in 2013. The next steepest drop came at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, which lost 6 percent of its traffic.

Two factors contributed to Milwaukee’s traffic drop, said Seth Kaplan, managing partner at Airline Weekly: the major loss of flights from Frontier Airlines, which finished a series of cutbacks in Milwaukee in mid-2012, and the merger of Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways. The combined Southwest/AirTran saw a 12 percent decrease in passenger traffic at Mitchell between Oct. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2013, according to Southwest.
So Mitchell Field's drop was more than DOUBLE anywhere else among the top 50 airports in the U.S. Doesn't exactly reflect a lot of consumer or business confidence, now does it? The actions of real Wisconsinites should speak louder than Governor Walker's campaign.

3. The NOAA just released the climactic data for March, and it showed that Wisconsin just went through its coldest January-March stretch in over 100 years (that polar vortex wasn't fucking around!). Along with major snowstorms in Northern Wisconsin (with another foot falling today), there have been massive heating and road maintenance expenses that state and local governments have had to take on that are well past what they would have budgeted. But instead of holding off on tax cuts in favor of seeing what the fallout from this extraordinary winter would be, Walker and the WisGOPs plowed full-speed ahead and handcuffed the state's finances for the future. They didn't even add to the rainy (or snowy) day fund, in order to cosmetically cut the structural deficit in the 2015-17 budget to only $658 million.

And of course, this doesn't include count the $1 billion in Transportation Fund needs that also haven't been paid for by the Fitzwalkerstanis, and even though Walker won't talk about it, DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb and staff are meeting with the public to discuss which taxes to change and/or raise to deal with this shortfall (they're in Wausau in 2 weeks, and Green Bay and Oshkosh the week after that). With the winter we just had, those $1 billion in needs probably got higher, but you won't hear Walker talk about that on the campaign trail, as it's too much of an inconvenient truth of his "steal, borrow and spend" mentality.

4. Oh, and we have another jobs report for Wisconsin due out tomorrow. We've already lost 1,800 private sector jobs in the first two months of the year while the country continued its slow and steady growth of jobs, so the Walker jobs gap has ballooned to 55,000 private sector jobs. If we fall short of 4,000 jobs added in March, that gap will grow more, although I'll predict these numbers will be OK, as unemployment claims weren't THAT bad last month. But so far in April the unemployment claims have stayed high and there is little landscaping or other Spring weather jobs to be done, so I anticipate that one to be slow, at least as it stands now.

So despite the sunny talk from Scott Walker and the WisGOPs on the campaign trail, the real Wisconsin continues to fall behind the pace of the rest of the nation, and our state's fiscal picture is getting darker with fewer options available to fix it (WisGOP have already shot their bullets with Act 10 and shared-revenue cuts). So as I asked earlier this month, are we going in the right direction, or just the right-WING one?

Monday, April 14, 2014

DOT funding questions continue

I see that DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb was interviewed by Mike Gousha over the weekend, discussing the meetings the DOT is holding around the state to discuss transportation needs and funding for the future. I've mentioned that the lurking $1 billion Transportation Fund deficit is a huge lurking issue that hasn't been talked a lot about in this election cycle so far, and I credit Gottlieb with doing the interview and raising awareness of it. It's also worth noting in the story that the Secretary mentions added General Fund money as an option for finding more Transportation funding.

The problem with grabbing more General Fund dollars is 1. We already have a $650 million General Fund deficit for the next budget, so any additional money being sent over drives up the deficit further and 2. This assumes General Fund dollars will be there to be taken. With two rounds if tax cuts kicking in and a decent possibility of another recession and/or stock market drop in the next 3 years, revenues already look to be very limited.

In addition, the 9 inches of snow forecast up North this week remind us yet again of the larger-than normal costs that state and local governments have had to take on from this winter. The tab from this has yet to be made. apparent, but it could limit any carryover or cushion that might have existed. So barring the release of federal disaster funds to help pay for the high costs of this long winter, there are going to be higher-than expected expenses beyond any new construction projects and highway expansions.

So with that in mind, is it possible that RTAs, wheel taxes or some other locally-based tax is the solution to this issue of underfunded roads and transit? This would be a very Walker-like move, shoving off the extra borrowing and needed costs onto the local communities, and not having to raise gas taxes or other state fees as a result.

Regardless, this is becoming a very big issue outside of the political world, and as we spend this Spring dodging potholes and construction barrels, many will be asking "Can we get these things fixed, and can we afford to?" We should start looking at the numbers, looking at the options, and seeing how we can. Before our revenues are so constrained that we can't.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Could be a slowdown at the Funhouse

7 beeps on a laptop is usually not a good sign, so it's time to get it looked at. Don't worry, I can still post in and react to stuff. Pictures might be a bit tough, however. No big whoop.

Are our latest bubbles bursting?

Recent information and events of the first two weeks of April may have some ominous signs for our economic present, and future. This is true in both Wisconsin and nationwide.

If you pay attention to the numbers of Wall Street, you know that this month has not been a good one for stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average is down 500 points since April 1, and after a runup earlier last week, it dumped 266 points on Thursday and 143 more points on Friday. Now this could be just a correction after the Dow gained nearly 4,000 points from mid-November 2012 to the end of March 2014, but this article by Reuters via Yahoo Finance says there may be more to it.
First-quarter earnings estimates have fallen sharply as many companies have blamed the brutal winter for weak outlooks.

With high-valuation stocks under pressure, earnings could be subjected to even more investor scrutiny than usual.

"There's skepticism among investors about the outlook, and we're getting into the first-quarter earnings season, so you're going to see some positioning," said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

Profit growth for Standard & Poor's 500 companies now is expected to have increased just 0.9 percent in the first quarter from a year ago, down from a January 1 forecast for 6.5 percent growth, Thomson Reuters data showed.
While a slowing in profits isn't a terrible thing in the real world (I'd argue that companies hoarding excessive profits over job and wage growth is one of the things that has kept a lid on the country's growth for the last 4 years), it also means that the big cocaine party stock market bubble we've had in the 2010s may be starting to pop. The same Reuters article notes that NASDAQ biotech companies have had price-to-earnings ratios of more than 34 to 1, which sounds a whole lot like the conditions that predated the dot-com bust of 2000-2001. Tellingly, the NASDAQ closed under 4,000 points on Friday, and is down over 8% in the 6 weeks and 6.5% in the last 10 days. If the NASDAQ drops another 5 points, it'll be at its lowest point since before Thanksgiving. With options expiring at the end of next week, it could be a quite interesting time on Wall Street.

And the other Fed-helped bubble in the States might also be deflating- this one in housing. Black Knight Financial Services does a monthly report on the amount of new mortgages, and last week they reported that new mortgages in February were at their lowest levels in at least 14 years. This is blamed on tighter lending standards, higher interest rates, and more people paying in cash to buy homes. But new home sales aren't hot either, as seasonally-adjusted sales for February were at their lowest levels in more than a year. Some of that may have been artificially low due to the polar vortex, but that doesn't mean it isn't going to eat into the real estate economy, and put pressure on coming months.

Wisconsin also had a dismal start to 2014 when it came to home sales, as the Wisconsin Realtors Association reported late last week. Home sales were down 11.5% for the 1st Quarter of 2014 vs. Q1 in 2013, and were closer to 2012's levels of 11,074 than 2013's 12,378. Again, this was an extraordinarily cold winter, but it's not like 2013 had record-warmth, especially with a miserable February and March, so you have to wonder if there's something more going on. When the Legislative Fiscal Bureau made its revenue estimates in January 2014, they based their estimates on home sales INCREASING by nearly 5%, and corporate profit growth being up closer to 6% than the 0.9% mentioned by Reuters. This rosy outlook led to the projected surpluses that led Scott Walker and the GOP-run Legislature to throw in additional tax cuts, but if these positive scenarios don't play out, it makes it much more likely that a deficit will appear, with less flexibility available to fix it.

That being said, job numbers are staying reasonably strong in the U.S. (albeit less so in Wisconsin), and I don't see the economy as a whole falling into recession. But there are definitely some warning signs of slowdown ahead, and unless things heat up with the Spring and Summer weather, the economy may not look as smooth as many were predicting when 2014 began. And that could trickle its way into a worsening fiscal picture for Fitzwalkerstan.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Voucher mob tries to take over the 920, MPS, and anywhere else they can

Yesterday was obviously a big day in Wisconsin politics, as two long-time Fox Valley Republicans decided not to run for re-election after being pressured by extreme right-wingers in their own party. I can talk about the retirement of U.S. Rep. Tom Petri at a different time, because I want to concentrate on what a certain State Senator's retirement means, and how it illustrates just how a very specific interest group has come to take over much of the education policy and discussion in our once-strong education state.

State Senate President Mike Ellis quit yesterday after a "hidden video" recording surfaced, which caught Ellis explaining how he was planning to set up his own SuperPAC with Appleton-area oligarchs. But the real story to me with the "Ellis tape" is that it came from Breitbart Boy/Ratfucker James O'Keefe, most infamous for making racist, deceptive videos about ACORN and for being convicted in 2010 for trying to break into a Dem Senator's office in New Orleans and tamper with her phone.

So what was a right-wing scumbag like O'Keefe doing to try to take out a Republican like Ellis, who had voted for Act 10, both Walker budgets, heinous abortion bills and other ridiculous WisGOP bills the last 3 years? The answer seems to be related to billboards that a pro-voucher group put out last June, after Ellis slowed an expansion of taxpayers funding voucher schools in Wisconsin.
A tea party group in Ellis’ district recently erected a billboard depicting the veteran senator as an Egyptian pharaoh. Accompanying the ancient monarch is a baby meant to resemble the baby in E-Trade ads.

The board’s call to action: “Set our children free!”....

“There’s not a direct connection when you think of the children of our time and the Jewish children (of ancient Egypt), but from the standpoint of freedom of choice and ‘let my people go,’ that’s the key phrase that we think has some application here,” explains Ed Perkins, president of the Fox Valley Initiative, the tea party political action committee responsible for the ads.

Perkins used to sit on the board of the Lutheran Urban Mission Initiative in Milwaukee, an association of Lutheran schools that participate in that city’s voucher program.
And we know that the oligarchs that give "dirty work" money to people like James O'Keefe would love to dismantle public education, rob teachers' unions of bargaining power, and grab taxpayer dollars and profits off of voucher schools for themselves. It's a logical connection. Ellis admitted as much in his resignation letter.
Instead of being criticized from our opponents, independent thought is attacked in our own backyard. Like my dear friends Tim Cullen, Bob Jauch and Dale Schultz, I see that compromise is not valued in today's Capitol environment, and that means I don't fit in anymore. Special interests hold too much sway, instead of the voice of the people. I'm a senator from a different era, and I value my integrity too much to compromise it any more.
Of course, a lot of us wish Ellis hadn't spent the last 3 years compromising his integrity on a whole lot of the Walker agenda (for example, Ellis gave the "Wisconsin 14" some extra time to leave the State Senate in 2011 before informing others, knowing that Act 10 would be as divisive and wrong as it was. But he ended up voting for it anyway). But let's see if the old guy grows a pair over the last 7 months and reveals where the bodies are buried. With over 20% of the State Assembly not running for re-election in 2014 and at least 5 of the 17 State Senators doing the same (assuming Joe Leibham jumps into the now-open 6th-district Congressional seat), there's definitely something going on behind the scenes at the Capitol that a lot of people don't want to be part of.

And the voucher lobby isn't going to slow down, despite the release this week showing that voucher schools underperform the public schools they "compete" against in Milwaukee and Racine when it comes to standardized test scores. That's the reality and results-based world, and that's not something the voucher lobby cares about- they just want cash and power. Erin Richards in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports about how these people are trying to "train" the next generation of voucher supporters to get into office.
On Saturday in Milwaukee, the pro-school voucher group American Federation for Children is hosting a training session for would-be candidates for state legislature, school board, mayor or city council.

The training is co-hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Democrats for Education Reform, and aimed at advocates for "educational choice" — the general term for voucher and charter schools. The federation supports the expansion of school voucher programs that send public funds to private, mostly religious schools.

Brian Pleva, AFC's Wisconsin government affairs associate, said the candidate training school was bipartisan, and would be more focused on the nuts and bolts of running for office, such as understanding campaign finance, campaign strategy and communication and fundraising.

"We believe in ensuring that all children see increased educational outcomes," Pleva said. "But this is a nonpartisan campaign school with bipartisan presenters, so people getting riled up is puzzling to me."

One person riled up is Milwaukee School Board Member Larry Miller.

He suspects the AFC and MMAC are gearing up to groom candidates in favor of more charter and voucher schools who could run against Milwaukee School Board members in elections one year from now.
And isn't it nice that the MMAC have their hands in this- the same pro-Walker group of oligarchs that Journal Communication's CEO Steven Smith sits on? Note also the mention of the quickly-dying "Democrats for School Choice" (a group who got swept out of the Legislature in several Milwaukee-area Dem primaries in 2012), as AFC tries to keep up the fa├žade that voucherizing education is somehow a bipartisan issue in 2014. After 20+ years of this experiment in Milwaukee with the outcomes getting worse and worse, a lot of us know better than to buy into the failed idea of "school choice," but make no mistake, these guys won't stop trying to grab power and funnel money to themselves and their buddies in Wisconsin until they and their allies are buried and destroyed as a political force. At which point they'll head to some other place where they can find more suckers to buy into their scam.

And as the forced retirement of Mike Ellis and the expansions of vouchers since 2011 in Wisconsin show, that time is no time soon. In fact, the last 3 GOP Assembly Speakers are all lobbyists for the voucher folks, with convicted criminal Scott Jensen in particular being a big player in selecting candidates and policies to give these people even more power (and you'll note that the DA who agreed to plea out Jensen's case in Waukesha County is the lead GOP candidate for Attorney General in Wisconsin- no quid pro quo there, eh?). If the Dems in Wisconsin had any brains at all, they'd be exposing the voucher lobby as money grubbers that want nothing more than to destroy the fabric of Wisconsin communities and schools in the name of a few bucks, and they'd better do it NOW, while there's still a semblance of a quality public education system left to save in Wisconsin.