Tuesday, March 31, 2020

More economic victims of COVID-19 as milk prices slide again

Just when you thought maybe the worst of the dairy farm crisis was behind us, it turns out
milk prices are falling again, especially as eating places close and the rest of the economy dries up.
Plunging milk prices and less demand make Josh Salentine a bit uneasy.

"So basically how it’s affecting us is the markets," he said. He’s a dairy farmer in Luxemburg.

He says farmers like himself depend on selling milk and cheese to schools and restaurants.

With both now closed, "that means no cheese, no sour cream, no fluid milk on the tables and the dairy markets have reflected that these last three days," he explained.
Milk prices had recovered some from their depths at the end of 2018 and in the first month of 2019. But you can see how prices have plummeted again, declining 20 percent over the last 2 months.

It's now bad enough that a state dairy organization is now encouraging its farmers to cut back on the amount of milk they are making, so prices can try to rebound.
Dairy farmers throughout Wisconsin who are members of Foremost Farms of Baraboo received a letter around March 20 from the milk processing company asking them “to voluntarily reduce your milk production to the best of your ability.”...

The market uncertainty is being caused by the novel coronavirus, according to the letter.

“Due to the extreme nature of the coronavirus situation and the impact on the economy, we believe the ability to pick up and process your milk could be compromised,” states the letter signed by CEO Greg Schlafer and Board Chairman David Scheevel.

The letter tells members “now is the time to consider a little extra culling of your herds, or drying off some cows early,” and “to be prepared for scenarios that would require our members to dump milk on member farms, ship milk to digestors, or dispose of in some other manner.”
And you thought the prospect of 20-30% unemployment was the only comparison to the 1930s.

You can try to blame coronavirus for this latest hit for Wisconsin dairy farmers, but those pressures merely added to the ongoing problems of overproduction and deflated prices that are the real reason Wisconsin has led the country in farm bankruptcies in each of the last 2 years. And as the 1st quarter of 2020 begins, the danger of more farms going under may be increasing, because no one will be making ends meet if prices continue at these absurdly low levels.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Feb Wisconsin jobs report was decent. If that matters

It may not mean all that much given what's happened since this survey was taken, but Wisconsin had a pretty good February in the jobs market.
Place of Residence Data: Wisconsin's labor force participation rate in February was 66.9 percent, 3.5 percentage points higher than the national rate of 63.4 percent. Wisconsin's unemployment rate in February was 3.5 percent, equal to the national rate.

•Place of Work Data: Wisconsin added 5,100 total non-farm jobs and 3,500 private-sector jobs from January 2020 to February 2020. From February 2019 to February 2020, Wisconsin added 17,800 total non-farm jobs and 13,200 private-sector jobs.
That was a nice (seasonally-adjusted) increase for February, although it's largely irrelevant after the economy slammed shut with coronavirus-related issues in March.

It does indicate that things were starting to turn around in the first 2 months of 2020 here, although I'll caution that wintertime jobs numbers are often odd due to seasonality and change over time. For example, in an increase of 33,600 jobs that were reported to have happened between November 2018 and January 2019, and instead it was revised down to 6,700.

The state-by-state jobs report also shows Wisconsin in the rare spot of being on the high side of Midwestern job growth, although we were still well behind what was being reported for the country as a whole.

Midwest job growth, Feb 2019-Feb 2020
U.S. +1.54%
Mich +0.72%
Wis. +0.60%
Ill. +0.30%
Ohio +0.23%
Minn +0.20%
Ind. +0.09%
Iowa -0.09%

Which is something that will need to be pointed out going forward - the Midwest was far behind the rest of the nation when it came to job growth before the coronavirus issues started tanking the economy. Because you can bet TrumpWorld will say "things were great before the coronavirus hit," and it's just not true in these parts, as shown by the Philadelphia Fed's coincident index report for the end of 2019.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

$2 billion? Is that enough for Wisconsin to deal with coronavirus?

Now that the stimulus/stabilization bill has been signed into law, what is Wisconsin's state government able to do with their share of the funds?

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau ran down what the state might get from the Feds. And it looks like the biggest-ticket item involves a grant that goes to all states to help deal with the extra costs that are a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
The bill would create a Coronavirus Relief Fund and appropriate a total of $150 billion to state, local, and Tribal governments. Of that amount, $3 billion is reserved for the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. A further $8 billion would be reserved for Tribal governments, and the remainder of the appropriation ($139 billion) is to be distributed among state and local governments according to population. The money is to be distributed no later than 30 days after the date of enactment.

The bill specifies that the funds are only to be used for necessary expenditures incurred in response to the public health emergency, which were not accounted for in the government's most recent budget, and were incurred between March 1 and December 30, 2020.
So basically anything that goes beyond what was previously set aside for disease outbreaks. Given that we didn't have all that much set aside at either the state or federal levels, I'd imagine that ends up being about all the costs that go into treating COVID 19.

So how much are we getting in Wisconsin?
For the purposes of aid distribution, population figures are to be determined based on the most recent figures available from the U.S. Census Bureau. As of the date of the bill's likely enactment, these figures would be the 2019 population estimates. The bill specifies that a local unit of government, defined as a unit of government below the state level with a population of at least 500,000, may receive a payment directly from the Secretary of Treasury if it submits a certification. However, the bill would limit the total amount of funds that these local units of government could receive to 45% of the state's total funding provided from the coronavirus relief fund. These local units of government would receive a payment equal to their share of the state's population multiplied by the 45% of state funding amount. To receive the funding, the chief executive of the local unit of government must submit a signed certification that the local government's proposed use of the funds meet the necessary public health emergency expenditure requirements described above. The amount of the payment received by the local unit of government would be subtracted from the total amount of the payment made to the state government.

Based on its 2019 population, the state of Wisconsin could receive an estimated $2,258 million in federal funds. Wisconsin has three units of local government which have populations of greater than 500,000: the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, and Dane County. Based on those governments' share of the total population of Wisconsin, the City of Milwaukee could receive an estimated $102.7 million, Milwaukee County could receive an estimated $164.5 million, and Dane County could receive an estimated $93.4 million. In total, this amounts to $360.6 million, or approximately 16% of the state's total estimated federal aid amount. The rest of the federal funds ($1,897.4 million) would be available to the state government.
For Dane and Milwaukee Counties, this will likely supplement measures that their local health and social services departments are already taking on, and could also be used to buy supplies for hospitals or other medically-related needs. Given that these two counties are taking on the largest number of COVID 19 cases in the state, and that they have the highest number of local hospitals providing coverage for those afflicted, more money will likely be necessary from local taxpayers in order to keep up with the increasing caseload.

On the state side, $1.9 billion is certainly a lot of money, but it's worth noting that Wisconsin's Department of Health Services is slated to spend a total of $26 billion in this current biennial budget, so $2.26 billion is a boost of less than 7.3%. I'm guessing the costs to treat Wisconsinites that have COVID 19 and the large number of Wisconsinites that will be headed to Medicaid due to layoffs will increase expenses by a lot more than 7.3% over what was expected.

But we'll likely not deal with the concern of coming up with the rest of the money until next year. The question for Spring 2020 is "what do you do with this money, and what CAN you do with the money?" And the LFB admits some of this is going to have to be sorted out in the coming weeks.
The following issues related to the coronavirus relief fund requirements may need further guidance: (a) whether states may use relief fund payments to fill in revenue gaps caused by slowing state revenues as a result of the public health emergency; (b) whether the federal funds will be all owed to be used to reimburse costs incurred in addressing the coronavirus public health emergency that were made after March 1, 2020, but prior to the bill's enactment; and (c) whether a state can use the funds provided to the state to cover eligible expenditures of local governments that do not exceed 500,000 in population.
And so I can certainly see a fight developing in the coming weeks as to how to use the money, and whether the GOP-run Legislature tries to take actions to change what the Evers Administration wants to do with the extra funding from DC.

These changes in spending needs and federal funding is shocking, and it's going to take a while for us to know and comprehend just how much we have and how much we need in order to try to keep things from getting more out of hand in the next few months. And while this block grant helps the state some, I fear it is not nearly going to be enough to handle the higher expenses and lower revenues that will result from the economic bomb that has been dropped as a result of COVID 19.

Weekend reading - the crisis reveals much BS about America

I wanted to bring up an article from Slate that appeared 2 weeks ago, but is even more relevant today. It's from Dan Kois, and is titled
"America is a sham".

Kois starts by pointing out that once coronavirus became a full-blown problem in the country, it's remarkable how quick rules could get changed regarding what you could bring onto a flight. And that's because the rule wasn't necessary in the first place.
The Transportation Security Administration announced [on March 13] that due to the coronavirus outbreak, it’s waiving the familiar 3.4-ounce limit for liquids and gels—for hand sanitizer only.* You may now bring a bottle of Purell as large as 12 ounces onto the plane to assist in your constant sanitizing of yourself, your family, your seat, your bag of peanuts, and everything else. All other liquids and gels, however, are still restricted to 3.4 ounces....

The TSA can declare this rule change because the limit was always arbitrary, just one of the countless rituals of security theater to which air passengers are subjected every day. Flights are no more dangerous today, with the hand sanitizer, than yesterday, and if the TSA allowed you to bring 12 ounces of shampoo on a flight tomorrow, flights would be no more dangerous then. The limit was bullshit. The ease with which the TSA can toss it aside makes that clear.
Kois notes that the relaxing of hand sanitizer rules is indicative of a larger issue- just how many things in America are accepted that have little to no usefulness.
All over America, the coronavirus is revealing, or at least reminding us, just how much of contemporary American life is bullshit, with power structures built on punishment and fear as opposed to our best interest. Whenever the government or a corporation benevolently withdraws some punitive threat because of the coronavirus, it’s a signal that there was never any good reason for that threat to exist in the first place.
Kois' point is that a lot of what we put up with in everyday American life is accepted without question, or even without reasons. And it often takes a disaster or other crisis to make people recognize how absurd much of these rules and customs are.

One of the items laid bare with the mass layoffs and illnesses forcing people to stay at home is the fatal flaw in having a health care system that doesn't give a baseline of coverage to all Americans regardless of where (or if) they work, and in how close to the edge so many Americans are.

You'd also hope that the events of the last month help us recognize that the fact that giving large-scale tax cuts to corporations only encouraged more reckless behavior via borrowing excessive amounts of money for stock buybacks and massive payouts to CEOs. One bad month in the economy should not have led to the need for trillions in bailout money from taxpayers and the Fed in order to keep businesses from going under.

The bipartisan bailouts and related government spending in reaction to the crisis also shows that the GOP's crocodile tears about "balanced budgets" and the ineffectiveness of direct stimulus spending in 2009-10 was BS. It was nothing more than anti-Obama posing that was used to get GOP political power, and likely limited the recovery from the Great Recession (which GOPs wanted in roder to damage Obama for the 2012 presidential election). No one should be able to argue "austerity over restoring growth" in the coming years without being laughed out of the room. Not after what we've seen in March 2020.

Kois says that while some of the COVID-19-prompted changes in the coming months and years might stick around, you can bet that some of these arbitrary rules and systems will try to be brought back. And we need to call it out if they try, now that the facade has crumbled.
So what will happen when the crisis passes? Yes, it’s worth asking yourself now, in the early days of this pandemic, how you might change your behavior, what temporary adjustments in your lifestyle you might adopt permanently in the after times—whether that’s working from home, or cutting back on airplane travel. But it’s also worth asking if we are willing to allow governments and corporations to return to business as usual. When everything’s back to normal, will we accept cities cutting off their poorest residents’ water, or evicting the sick, or throwing someone in jail because they can’t afford to pay a fine?

I want to say that once a policy is revealed as bullshit, it gets a lot harder to convince smart, engaged citizens to capitulate to it. That’s one reason why activists are agitating to end cash bail in the coronavirus crisis, or fighting to ensure that coronavirus tests and any eventual vaccine are available to all. Not only would those measures save or better countless lives during the pandemic, but in their common-sense wisdom, they expose the absurdity of the opposing view. What kind of ghoul would argue that we shouldn’t vaccinate everyone against a pandemic threatening the health of our nation? The same kind of ghoul, perhaps, who thinks that cancer treatment, or insulin, should only be available for those lucky enough to be able to pay for them.

In a time of real anxiety, maybe this optimism is just grasping for something good to come of all of this. But that’s really up to us. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to see more and more absurd, or cruel, or counterproductive practices revealed. Pay attention when they are. Notice the statements the people in charge make when they effortlessly roll back their surcharges and threats, their punishments and impediments. Remember them. And when the time comes that the danger from the virus is no longer as severe, and those people try to quietly reinstate the policies that hurt so many around you, remember that for a lot of Americans, a “return to normal” is a scary prospect. Keep your giant bottle of hand sanitizer. You’re gonna need it to deal with all the bullshit that’s coming back when the pandemic finally passes.
There's a lot in our country that is stupid and needs to change, and once this crisis passes, we can't afford to go back to the way things were. Because "the way things were" was failing BS to begin with.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The stimulus check is nice, but it's not free money, and won't end the recession

Now that the $2 trillion stimulus/stabilization bill has been signed into law, many of us will now be waiting on our one-time check, and this article from Kiplinger's does a good explanation of what that check actually is representing.
....The way the law is written, the checks that will be sent now are actually just advanced payments of a new refundable tax credit for the 2020 tax year. So, if you don't get a stimulus payment in 2020, you can claim it next year as a refund or reduction of the tax you owe if you file a 2020 tax return by April 15, 2021.

However, don't go spend all of that money in one place. The flip side of that "refundable tax credit" indicates to me that some of that might have to be paid back in some cases. How?

Because the total of the check that you get is based on your 2019 tax return...or your 2018 tax return if you have yet to file for this tax year (and now you don't have to file until July 15). So let's say you and your spouse made a combined $140,000 in 2018, haven't filed this year, and might make $160,000 in 2020 due to a promotion along with cost of living increases (if they keep their jobs). You would get a check for the full $2,400, but then when you file, you'll find out that maybe you only get $1,900.

In this case, as I read it, you'd owe $500 extra in April 2021 ($2,400 check - $1,900 actual credit = owe $500). Might be worth keeping in mind going ahead if that is a situation you might fall into.

One other item to consider with that stimulus/stabilization check is that the Kiplinger article notes that Americans won't be seeing the money for a couple of weeks...or longer.
President Trump has said that he wants checks to be delivered within a couple of weeks. That may be a bit too ambitious, though. The law instructs the IRS to send payments "as rapidly as possible." But remember, the IRS is short-staffed right now thanks to the coronavirus pandemic (and because Republicans cut staff at the IRS throughout the 2010s). Back in 2008, when similar stimulus payments were issued, it took a couple of months for a fully-staff IRS to get checks in the mail.

One advantage the IRS has now, though, is the fact that the vast majority of taxpayers have refunds directly deposited into their bank accounts now. That means the tax agency already has bank account numbers and bank routing numbers for millions of Americans. With that information in hand, the IRS can make electronic payments to a lot of people. This method of payment takes far less time than printing and mailing a paper check. The IRS will attempt to make payments electronically for anyone who authorized the direct deposit of a refund into their bank account at any point after 2017. If a direct deposit is rejected (e.g., if the bank account information is incorrect), the IRS will receive a rejection notice. At that point, the payment will be converted to a paper check and mailed to you.
However, that last part seems a bit worrysome, as me and a whole lot of others had to write checks to the IRS in 2019 after the GOP Tax Scam got rid of a number of deductions, and some of us are having to write another check in the coming months. So according to that information, if you didn't get a refund in the past 2 years, and/or have changed their bank accounts, you'll have to wait several weeks for a paper check? That doesn't seem to be good and sure won't do much to put a floor on the economy if those people have lost wages due to this economic crisis.

Hey look, getting money is better than not getting money, and it'll especially help people who have already felt the pain from the COVID-19 related shutdown, or even if people are nervous about the future and could use more security. But much like with the 2009 stimulus checks, this seems to be overly complicated and shouldn't be taking the form of a tax credit that might result in a surprise bill this time next year.

JUST PAY PEOPLE with no strings attached and nothing extra to track. And give relief to people on paying some of their bills, because we live in an economy that relies heavily on keeping the cycle going where workers get paid, and then use those checks to pay other businesses. Once workers stop getting paid, the chain gets broken, a lot of other businesses also will get hurt, and it makes what might be a deep but short-term recession into a longer-term depression.

I don't see enough to keep that chain going, where stimulus dollars could go to get those bills paid, helping both vendor and consumer. I'd argue that would be a better use than bailing out companies who used the GOP's Tax Scam to go further into debt and buy back stock, and now face bankruptcy now that the musical chairs are being pulled away.

EDIT- I wanted to add this analysis from the Wisconsin Budget Project, which adds a few layers on how Wisconsinites will specifically be affected. It also has this useful chart.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Record layoffs and more coronavirus cases mean....a major stock market rally?

We got an indication today about how many Americans are losing their jobs due to coronavirus-related shutdowns. And it was an eye-popping, unprecedented number.
Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — almost five times the previous record set in 1982 — amid a widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.

The surge in weekly applications was a stunning reflection of the damage the viral outbreak is inflicting on the economy. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of layoffs....

“What seemed impossible just two weeks ago is now reality,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, an economist at Oxford Economics, a consulting firm. “The US economy will experience the largest economic contraction on record with the most severe surge in unemployment ever.”

The economic deterioration has been swift. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was at a 50-year low of 3.5%. And the economy was growing steadily if modestly. Yet by the April-June quarter of the year, some economists think the economy will shrink at its steepest annual pace ever — a contraction that could reach 30%.
Wisconsin was among those with major jumps in layoffs in that report, with an increase of 45,767 compared to last week, resulting in an official number just below 51,000.

But if you go to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development site, it looks like there were a lot more claims than that last week. According to this chart, the number of new applications exceeded 69,000.

As the disclaimer notes, this is different than the numbers in the national report, maybe because of duplicates or because some of these have yet to be reported and/or cleared. But that's still a lot more than 51,000, and the Wisconsin DWD had already received more than 70,000 additional applications by Wednesday of this week.

So between that, and the fact that the US has now overtaken Italy and China for having the most reported COVID-19 cases in the world, I'm sure the stock market crashed down again.

So what gives? CBS Marketwatch's Sunny Oh reports that some of it might be related to the market's collapse over the prior month, and things had gotten so far out of whack that it required a correction.
“The initial stage of the rally is driven by short-covering and rebalancing,” said Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, a global market strategist at JP Morgan, in an interview.

The analyst said the stock-market’s recovery from the damage done by the coronavirus pandemic will be first driven by market participants who have to buy equities regardless of what they envision for the U.S. economy’s path.

Pension funds and so-called balanced mutual funds need to start re-jigging their portfolios in favor of stocks as the selloff in equities and rally in government bonds has driven down the value of their equity relative to their bond positions. Commodity trading advisors and long-short equity hedge funds have also had to cover their short bets on stocks.

“The investment community and several types of investors have got to very low level of equity positioning in recent weeks,” said Panigirtzoglou.

Pension funds like Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, the largest in the world, have more discretion when they rebalance their assets and can wait as long as six months, but could move earlier. Balanced mutual funds like so-called 60/40 funds, which divvy up 60% of their assets to stocks and 40% of their funds to bonds, tend to rebalance every month or two.
Combine that with computers adding to the "momentum", and you get a huge stock market jump on a day with a record number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment.

There's that, and also maybe because coked-up Wall Streeters thought of this song when they saw the massive unemployment figures.

I'm not sure they're right on that hunch. Being knocked down is one thing, but if more people keep getting laid off in the coming weeks and they're not getting those incomes replaced 2 months from now, then people will be past shock and into feelings that are much worse.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Q1 was looking OK thru February. And then came March...

What's happened to the country's economy and financial markets over the last month is still shocking. It's not like things were booming before the word coronavirus was on any of our minds, but it was definitely growing, as evidenced by the new home sales report from February that came out today.
Sales of new single-family houses in February 2020 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 765,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 4.4 percent (±14.8 percent)* below the revised January rate of 800,000, but is 14.3 percent (±17.5 percent)* above the February 2019 estimate of 669,000.

Sales Price
The median sales price of new houses sold in February 2020 was $345,900. The average sales price was $403,800.
That median sales price increase is 8% over what it was a year ago, and while that's very bubbly, it went along with an increase in new manufacturing orders and shipments for February (mostly in defense and aircraft, but still...). It helps explain why the Atlanta Fed was saying Q1's GDP growth was on track to be surpassing 3%, based on the data coming from the first 2 months of the year.

And then....

It's not news to say that March will be brutal economically, but yesterday we got one of the first indications of just how bad.
Data firm IHS Markit said on Tuesday its flash U.S. Composite Output Index, which tracks the manufacturing and services sectors, dropped to a reading of 40.5 this month. That was an all-time low and followed 49.6 in February. A reading below 50 indicates contraction.

The survey was conducted between March 12-23. Since last week, governors in at least 18 U.S. states accounting for nearly half the country’s population have issued directives requiring residents to stay mostly indoors, except for necessary trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and doctors’ offices. “Non-essential” businesses have also been ordered closed....

The survey’s services sector flash Purchasing Managers Index dropped to an all-time low reading of 39.1 from 49.4 in February, the biggest monthly decline since October 2009 in the sector accounting for roughly two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a reading of 42.0 in March, down from February’s final reading of 49.4.

Though manufacturing activity contracted this month, the size of the decline was modest. The flash manufacturing PMI dipped to a reading of 49.2 in March, a 127-month low, from 50.7 in February. A measure of new orders received by factories dropped below the 50 threshold.
Then tomorrow we will find out just how many new unemployment claims were filed in America during our first full week of coronavirus layoffs. We know Wisconsin had over 100,000 new claims between Sunday the 15th and Monday the 23rd, and national estimates have last week's number zooming well above 1 million and probably over 2 million.

What this tells me is just how fragile and hollow our economic "growth" really was, where it takes one outside shock to drop demand, cause a corporate debt crisis, tank the stock market, and set off all of these job losses. And it shows just how dumb it is to tie so much of our economic and societal security to the job that we have. Because it can go away so fast.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Economy vs death? Not a choice

Just a few thoughts for the day.

Take care of the sick, and for others who will be damaged economically in the coming months, and make it easier to allow them to pay their bills. The overindebted corporations and Wall Street hedge funders can wait till later to find out if they get help in surviving.

America can still be great, and we can still get through this mess. But we need to choose better, and we need to choose better decision-makers.

Monday, March 23, 2020

How much Fed money is heading our way due to coronavirus?

Wisconsin's Legislative Fiscal Bureau has recently released a few summaries of the recent coronavirus-related action in Congress, and I wanted to go over a few of these items to give you an indication of what might be coming our way.

The first $8.2 billion bill was signed by President Trump 2 weeks ago, and the state is set to receive at least some
Of the total, $2.2 billion is budgeted for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with the requirement that CDC provide at least $950 million to fund grants to, or cooperative agreements with, states, localities, territories, and tribes to carry out surveillance, epidemiology, expanding laboratory capacity, infection control, mitigation, communications, and other preparedness and response activities. CDC may use this funding to support eligible state expenses incurred beginning in January, 2020. The federal act requires that half of the funding allocated for local activities ($475 million) be allocated within 30 days of the enactment of the bill.

Further, the act specifies that every grantee that received a public health emergency preparedness grant for federal fiscal year (FFY) 2018-19 will receive at least 90 percent of that grant level from funding authorized in P.L. 116-123. As Wisconsin's FFY 2018-19 public health emergency preparedness grant award was approximately $11.3 million, Wisconsin will receive at least $10.2 million due this provision. Grantees are required to submit a spending plan for this allocation no later than 45 days after the enactment of the act. In addition, Wisconsin will receive $0.5 million as part of funding targeted to jurisdictions with the largest burden of response and preparedness to date and $0.5 million to begin surveillance.

DHS does not require additional authority from the Legislature, either through enactment of legislation or approval by the Joint Committee on Finance, in order to administer the funding the state receives under the federal legislation.
That money will come in handy, as Wisconsin only has $500,000 a year in grants that it can give out to local governments to fight communicable diseases. I also note the last paragraph, because the GOP-dominated Joint Finance Committee does not have to meet and sign off (or reject) any plans that the Evers Administration may have in handling this estimated $11.2 million for the public health emergency, and it can be used right away.

The state also will get its share of federal funds in the second coronavirus bill signed into law, which happened last week. Wisconsin is around 1.8% of the US population, so take that to give yourself an idea on how much more will be flowing into our state via most of these programs. .

But the biggest change in Wisconsin's finances in the COVID-19 bills that have passed to this point involve significant increases in Medicaid funding from the Feds.
Increase to the Federal Medicaid FMAP and the Impact on MA Program Budget. H.R.6201 would increase the FMAP by 6.2 percentage points during any calendar quarter for which a federal public health emergency is in effect, provided the state meets certain requirements (described below). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)Secretary declared a public health emergency, retroactive to January 27, 2020. Consequently, the enhanced FMAP would apply, at a minimum, during the first quarter of 2020 (January to March of 2020), and would continue until the end of the calendar quarter during which the public health emergency declaration order is terminated.

Under the MA program,the FMAP determines the percentage of eligible benefit costs that are paid by the federal government. Currently, the state's FMAP is 59.36%, meaning the state pays 40.64% of eligible MA benefit costs. As a result of the H.R. 6201, the state's FMAP would increase to 65.56%, decreasing the state's share to 34.44%. At current MA spending levels, this increase to the state's FMAP would shift approximately $150 million of state GPR costs to federal funds for each quarter that the federal public health emergency is in effect, or approximately $600 million for a full year. Therefore, without any changes to total program costs, the state would realize GPR savings relative to the current GPR budget for the program.
Well, $600 million in savings to Medicaid would add quite a bit to our already-large budgetary cushion. Except that the LFB notes that Wisconsin is going to be spending a lot more than what they expected a few months ago.
However, the net impact on the state GPR budget for MA would ultimately depend upon the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on the MA program. The epidemic will likely affect MA expenditures in two ways. First, MA costs will increase as a result of treatment rendered to individuals contracting the disease. Second, the epidemic will have economic impacts resulting in a loss of income and employment for some households. As a consequence, MA enrollment is likely to increase in the coming months as more individuals become eligible for the program. While the health system costs associated with treating COVID-19 illness will eventually subside, the economic impacts of the epidemic, along with its effect on MA program enrollment, may last longer than the public health emergency.
Translation - Yes, the state would save money from the Feds covering more of the cost of Medicaid. But there are likely to be a whole lot more people ON Medicaid due to the massive amounts of layoffs and other reasons incomes will drop in the coming months. And because of COVID-19, a lot of those people will be sicker, and will cost more to treat.

That being said, there is one area of services where Wisconsin gets the Feds to cover 100% of the costs of Medicaid - testing for COVID-19 and "in vitro diagnostic products for the detection of the virus that causes COVID-19." But that doesn't necessarily cover the treatment if someone is stricken with COVID-19, so the higher cost problem still exists.

Put those figures together, and it sure makes upping our percentage of Fed coverage of 90-96.2% through taking expanded Medicaid seem like a much better deal for the coming year. Especially since we'll likely need to save all the state tax dollars that we can due to revenue losses from the layoffs and the crashing stock market.

One last place that Wisconsin is set to get extra funding is related to the vulnerable groups that get services under Title III of the Older Americans Act.
Title III of the act authorizes grants for state and community programs on aging. In federal fiscal year 2019-20, the total federal funding amount allocated for services funded under Title III was approximately $1.314 billion, of which Wisconsin's allocation was approximately $23.8 million (approximately 1.8% of the total).

The federal legislation would provide an additional $250 million to increase funding for home-delivered nutrition services ($160 million), congregate nutrition services ($80 million), and nutrition services for Native Americans ($10 million). Based on the current federal fiscal year allocation of these funds, it is estimated that Wisconsin would receive approximately $4.5 million in additional federal funds under Title III.
Not bad, but then again, a whole lot more people are likely to need these types of services as we go forward, especially as a large amount of Wisconsinites are basically required to stay at home for the coming weeks.

Of course, the real big check from the Feds will happen in the near future, assuming Congress can eventually agree on some kind of $1-$2 trillion stabilization bill. And you can bet there will be a whole lot more than the LFB will have to sift through after the dust settles on that one.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A 30% drop in GDP? 12.8% unemployment? Sounds ridiculous, but...

I read this, and it's a number that I can't comprehend.
Morgan Stanley economists said the coronavirus will inflict a deeper recession on the U.S. than previously expected, including a record 30.1% drop in gross domestic product in the second quarter.

Less than a week since forecasting a 4% contraction in April through June, the economists led by Ellen Zentner said they now anticipated a steeper drop and that unemployment will average 12.8% and consumption will fall 31% in the quarter.

“Economic activity has come to a near standstill in March,” the economists said in a report to clients on Sunday. “As social distancing measures increase in a greater number of areas and as financial conditions tighten further, the negative effects on near-term GDP growth become that much greater.”

The Morgan Stanley team predicts GDP will fall 2.4% in the current quarter, but will begin to recover in the third quarter. Overall, they project the U.S. economy to contract 2.3% on a fourth quarter to fourth quarter basis in 2020, taking full-year global growth down to just 0.3%.
12.8% unemployment and GDP dropping by 30%? That's Great Depression stuff, as US unemployment has never gotten above 10.8% since World War II, and since quarterly growth started to be measured in 1947, a 30% drop would be triple the largest drop in output.

I can't see that happening. I know the "TP Boom" will end in Q2 while a lot of entertainment options will remain shut down. But last I checked, medical expenses count toward GDP as well, and some bills will still have to be paid.

The other reason I am skeptical about real GDP dropping that low is because deflation will likely be in place full-on for Q2. Prices for crops and oil were dropping a bit before this crisis, but it is in freefall now, and that will be reflected in prices at the store and other outlets by June. Nominal GDP might drop more than real GDP for the 1st half of 2020 (at least), much like it did in 2008-09 as the Great Recession hit.

Unemployment? That'll definitely spike bigtime, especially as seasonal jobs don't happen. But 12.8%? I'd be stunned if that happened, but if it did, things will be VERY ugly in this country by the time the 4th of July rolls around. Particularly if any stimulus checks are being cut off by then.

Because coronavirus jobs were lost this week vs last, monthly jobs data may get weird

On Thursday, we got the first jobless claims report that was noticeably affected by closures related to coronavirus. But it wasn't as much of a leap as you may think.
In the week ending March 14, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 281,000, an increase of 70,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 211,000. This is the highest level for initial claims since September 2, 2017 when it was 299,000. The 4-week moving average was 232,250, an increase of 16,500 from the previous week's revised average. This is the highest level for this average since January 27, 2018 when it was 234,500. The previous week's average was revised up by 1,750 from 214,000 to 215,750.
That September 2017 figure was in the wake Hurricane Harvey, but that only hit 299,000 and quickly declined below 250,000 within a month. By comparison, the next jobless claims report seems likely to jump by a massive amount
In Ohio, more than 48,000 people applied for jobless benefits during the first two days of this week. The tally during the same period the prior week: just 1,825.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, about 70,000 people sought unemployment aid in a single day — six times the total for the entire previous week.

Jobless claims are surging across the U.S. after government officials ordered millions of workers, students and shoppers to stay at home as a precaution against spreading the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.
And the same is happening here in Wisconsin.
The effect of the coronavirus outbreak on businesses is perhaps most seen in the effect on the state's workforce. Nearly 63,000 Wisconsinites filed unemployment claims this past week, according to preliminary figures by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

That's 12 times the number of claims the state received during the same time period in 2019, when 5,190 claims were filed.

About 15,000 claims have been filed every day since Wednesday, according to the data.
What's worth remembering in the coming weeks is that the timing of the closings and new jobless claims may lead to some misleading numbers in the coming weeks, where a severe virus-induced recession will be apparent to most Americans, but might not completely show up in the data.

Why do I say that? First, because the monthly survey for the monthly jobs report took place last week, since it takes place during the week that has the 12th day of the month. Many of the new layoffs won't be reflected in the March jobs report as a result.

In addition, March was a month where hiring started for the 2020 Census. If we take 2010 as an example, federal government employment rose by around 50,000 for this month, and then rose by another 65,000 in April before the big jump of 435,000 happened in May.

Also you will notice that what goes up goes back down, which means that job losses in June, July and August may end up being larger than normal. I have a hard time believing that the ripples of the upcoming job losses will be over by then, so the end of Census work will likely make the jobs figures even worse at a time when it needs to start bouncing back.

There's a lot going on, as you are well aware. But the shuffles in jobs and the wild changes in the data are things we all need to have some perspective on, because there will be a lot of spin that will confuse a lot of people that want an idea about just how bad things are in the real economy, on top of the plummeting stock market.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

History repeats - corporations screw up, screw people, ask for bailouts

I'm sensing a theme.

So you're saying that cutting taxes on corporations led to self-absorbed, risky behavior that now leaves them no cushion when the economy turns bad? YOU DON'T SAY!

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has a different idea on how to deal with these now-broke companies. And it would be a different tack from what was done in 2008 with the banks, who were equally reckless with disastrous results.
[In 2008], the initial downturn surely would have been somewhat worse had we gone the no bailout route, but there is no economic reason we could not have quickly lifted the economy out of a downturn with a massive stimulus following a collapse of the major banks. We held the cards and could have dictated the terms of any bailout for the banks.

Unfortunately, this argument was not heard at the time. I remember I wrote a column for the Guardian with the headline “the banks have a gun pointed to their heads and are threatening to pull the trigger.” The paper flipped the headline so that the guns were pointed to our heads.

Anyhow, we can’t let the same mistake happen twice. Congress can dictate terms of any bailout. I would suggest following the auto-industry model — wipe out shareholders first. And, bailout recipients have to commit to keeping workers on the payroll with current pay and benefits.

There also should be strict caps on executive compensation. Let’s make it $2 million in total compensation. (That includes insurance policies, health care, pensions, etc.) And to ensure that there are no silly mistakes, jail time for board members who sign contracts exceeding this figure.

If the airlines, cruise ships etc. don’t like it, let them go elsewhere for money.
Policymakers hold the power and the money in this situation, and they can direct it as they wish. If they choose to use it.

Right now, the people in need are those losing their jobs and incomes, and who need to pay their bills to avoid going into bankruptcy. They weren't the ones who used the GOP's Tax Scam to borrow recklessly and reward shareholders over workers. They're the ones who got crumbs for doing (what we are told) is the "right way", just working and trying to get ahead.

Pay the people first, the corporations last (if at all).

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

If corporate America wants bailouts, Dems better force a lot in return

1000% correct.

The only thing Democrats should be asking for in a legislative package today is this.

1. Paid sick leave for every worker in America.

2. Funded by a dollar-for-dollar rollback in the corporate tax cuts that were done by the GOP Tax Scam.

3. With tax credits for companies that give paid sick leave to employees making under $50,000/ $25 an hour as of April 1, 2020.

4. Extended unemployment benefits and the removal of all barriers and extra paperwork that ALEC states like Wisconsin have put in place to keep people from receiving such benefits.

Any stabilization/bailout that comes to industries such as airlines, retail and food service that will be forced into cutbacks due to the lack of business resulting from this crisis must come with massive strings attached.

1. The only debt these companies can take on must be used to retire older, more expensive debt.

2. No stock buybacks for several years, or else any bailout funds are repaid to the Treasury IMMEDIATELY.

3. Public documentation from any companies that receive bailout funds showing what they spent their money on from December 2017 (when the GOP Tax Scam was passed) to March 2020. And it must be recevied before they get a dime. Make the public see just how much these companies blew on debt and stock buybacks, and haul them up to Capitol Hill and make them answer for why they chose those priorities over investing in their companies and employees.

Instead, we see the Social Security-eligible House leadership of House Democrats caring more about "getting something done" short-term over doing something that would lead to real change and an actual improvement in the way this country does business.

EDIT- And it is especially absurd for any politician to consider cutting the payroll tax and gutting Social Security as a way to "help."

Sunday, March 15, 2020

GOP - Who needs sick leave and treatment? Corporations come 1st!

As businesses shut down and schools close all over Wisconsin while the state's coronavirus cases go from 9 to 33 in a span of 3 days, GOP "representatives" in Congress spring into (in)action.

I'll leave out the laughable claim of Ron Johnson saying that Trump has shown any kind of "decisive leadership" (he tried to bury information for weeks on coronavirus, and hilariously contradicts himself by the day), and will look past the sketchiness of "public-private partnerships" (which seems to be code for throwing major government contracts at corporate Trump donors). Let's quickly go into the economic argument Johnson is making.

Instead of allowing individuals to use sick leave and stay at their jobs, (mo)Ron wants them to GO ON UNEMPLOYMENT, and then maybe the feds will pay back the states if those people are out of work for a while. And he feels businesses have zero responsibility to take care of their workers, nor does he seem to understand that not forcing workers to choose between their health (and the health of people they come into contact with) and getting paid.

In addition to the ridiculous buck-passing down to the states, does (mo)Ron realize that many states have thrown up barriers to individuals to file unemployment in the first place, including Johnson's own constituents? Former One Wisconsin Now leader Scott Ross noted the disconnect.

This is absurdly inefficient and puts the onus on the sick everyday workers. But hey, I'm sure having the Fed cutting interest rates to near-zero and giving away a total of $2.2 trillion to allow debt-ridden banks and corporations to keep paying their bills will get everyday people tested, treated and help them pay their bills when they get laid off.

The priorities are telling, aren't they? And Charlie Pierce reminded us that a select few are likely to make a lot of money while much of the rest of the country suffers from the effects of this pandemic.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

And just like that, we're back in 2008 all over again

Apparently the Federal Reserve is back in “print a bunch of money so it can float elsewhere” mode.
The Fed said it will lend $1.5 trillion to the short-term funding markets.

In a statement, the Fed also said it would add purchases of Treasury notes and bonds to increase its balance sheet. The central bank had previously been buying only $60 billion of T-bills each month.

The new polices were designed “to address highly unusual disruptions in Treasury financing markets associated with the coronavirus outbreak,” the Fed said.

“The Fed is very aware that the coronavirus and its negative economic fallout is a health crisis that cannot be addressed through monetary easing. However, in the last week, the dramatic deterioration in the corporate bond market and clear signs of illiquidity raised the Fed’s concerns that the negative health care shock was evolving into a potential financial crisis. For these reasons, the Fed acted aggressively,” said Mickey Levy, chief economist at Berenberg Capital Markets.
So the Fed is lending this absurd amount of money because banks and corporations had put on too much debt. Now these companies can’t pay off what they owe with the economy and stock market tanking, and revenues going down the drain. Which puts us right back in 2008, except the job losses will be following the crash instead of leading up to it.

Wall Street investors figured it out as well. The DOW Jones was down nearly 2,200 points when the Fed’s interventions were announced. It gained back nearly 1,500 of those points in 15 minutes as traders had a cocaine rush of “the Fed will bail us out”. But then all of that gain being given back over the last 3 hours of trading, and then some.

Why did the DOW fall back and end up at the largest % drop since Black Monday in 1987, and 4th largest ever? Likely because the Fed’s statement gave the same message that its surprise rate cut did last week - telling the public (and especially Wall Streeters) THIS ECONOMY IS SCREWED MORE THAN YOU KNOW.”

Much like how the incompetence and deceptions in the White House made coronavirus much more dangerous to the Americans’ economic and physical health, it’s the panicky uncertainty that result from these Fed moves that are the big problem. That, along with the reckless greed of a corporate America who can’t stop trying to flip short-term profits no matter how much it puts everyone at risk, is turning the correction that comes with the popping of a stock market bubble into a full-fledged crash followed by a recession.

And by the way, sending a bunch of money to the superrich isn’t going to get people tested and treated for coronavirus. So how about we stop caring about what the CEOs think and start caring about those who didn’t screw up? You know, the folks with real jobs, real health problems, and who can’t tap $1.5 trillion from DC banks when they’re in a pinch?

Because it's people who have real jobs and don't have unlimited wealth that are going to be the ones feeling pain very quickly, even if they're not already afflicted with COVID-19.

And that assumes $500 billion being added to our projected fiscal deficit of $1 trillion. If it's less than $500 billion? The rebound in Q3 won't be nearly that much, if at all.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A different March Madness for hoops in 2020

It started with a question from Wisconsin Congressman Glenn Grothman (!), who was asking Dr. Anthony Fauci on Capitol Hill about whether coronavirus should affect public events. Grothman seemed to be trying to blow off Fauci, and go along with Trumpian line of "not a big deal", and asked why NBA games were still having people in attendance.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread means the NBA should not have anyone in the audience for games being played, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci states that “[w]e would recommend that there not be large crowds. If that means not having any people in the audience as the NBA plays, so be it.”
And in the hours between that hearing and tonight, things have gotten crazy.

If you were planning to go to Indy to see the REGULAR SEASON CHAMPION Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten tourney, don't bother.

And you won't need to hit the road to see them in the Big Dance either.

Then later tonight, we found out that there might not be a lot of hoops left to watch in this month.

I guess that's one way to have Giannis' knee heal up. Hope they get any afflicted players and their teammates quarantined, and then see if we can pick up the season from there - fans or no fans.

March usually means madness. But not like this. And I dont think our President helped things with...whatever he spoke about tonight.

The way we beat coronavirus is...tax cuts and corporate bailouts?

Don’t worry, as coronavirus cases continue to pile up in the US and entertainment and travel options close up by the second, our Fearless Leader has the solution.

Yes, I laughed my ass off at Trump’s one-track, GOP answer of “TAX CUTS!”, but let’s take a look at what the scheme might be, and figure out how much money we are talking about? It looks like it would involve some kind of reduction in federal payroll taxes, which are targeted to a few specific programs.
Payroll taxes produced $914 billion in tax revenue for Social Security during fiscal year 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The taxes also generated $278 billion for Medicare and $41 billion for unemployment insurance, the office said…..

A worker making up to $14,160 a year would pay $165 less in tax, the researchers concluded. A worker in the top 0.1% of earners, making $3.2 million a year, would pay $3,165 less in tax. In the middle, a household earning up to $133,330 a year would pay $2,435 less in tax, [researchers at the University of Pennsylvania] added.

The federal government would forego between $141 billion and $151 billion on the one-year tax holiday, while gross domestic product would climb 0.3%, but the boost would be short-lived before gross domestic product edged down by 0.04% in 2050, according to the study’s estimates.
I guess a few extra dollars in your paycheck isn’t bad, if you’re still working. But that’s the first problem – what if you’re not working because business slows down due to coronavirus? Then you get nothing from it.

In addition, the article notes that many “gig economy” contractors and self-employed individuals don’t pay their payroll taxes until they file their taxes, which won’t happen for another year. So how is that going to help the situation for those people?

And then there’s the really bad part of Trump’s tax cut scheme – the $150 billion that is taken out of Social Security would deplete the program’s trust fund faster. Let me remind you that Social Security is projected to be completely paid for over the next 15 years if nothing is changed. After that, it would only require minor changes to shore it up after that without borrowing a dollar (especially if those changes involve scrapping the regressive Social Security “cap”, which currently kicks in at $137,700).

But a panicky tax cut and an increasing budget deficit can be used as excuses for Republicans to cut Social Security out of concerns over “solvency.” And messing up Social Security would sure be in line with what the GOP’s Koch puppetmasters would want. Just like how a certain presidential candidate told us nearly a decade ago.

As to the industries already being slammed by the economic effects of coronavirus and the recent crash on Wall Street, don’t worry, TrumpWorld has a plan to help them out.
The Washington Post first reported that the White House was considering assistance for oil and gas producers. Three people told the newspaper that the aid would probably be in the form of low-interest government loans to the shale companies.

Russia declined last week to join the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries nations in agreeing to cut production in response to the slowdown in demand from the coronavirus.

In response, Saudi Arabia announced that it would increase its oil production, flooding the market and causing a sharp decrease in price.
Wait, I thought we were besties with the Russians and Saudis after our businessman president found ways to make deals with them (political and otherwise)? He couldn’t have been SUCKERED by MBS and Vlad, could he?

Others didn’t think that fossil fuel industries should be at the top of the list when it comes to the economic problems of recent days.
Democrats and environmentalists, however, slammed the idea of giving assistance to the industry.

“Why is the administration bailing out oil and gas companies instead of dealing with some of the other worker related things...that are pressing on the American people right now during this crisis related to the virus?” asked Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) during a House hearing.
Well, Rep. Grijalva, the White House is one step ahead of you. They’re making sure that people won’t get hit with major bills from coronavirus tests (if they can get tested) by…. having insurance companies do a pinky swear?
“We want people to get tested,” Pence said at a White House meeting with President Donald Trump and leaders from private health-insurance companies. Health-insurance company CEOs have pledged that patients won’t get unexpected bills after being tested for the novel coronavirus, and they’ve also agreed to waive co-pays for people covered by their plans, Pence said.

Pence said he spoke on behalf of the country’s largest insurers, who cover some 240 million Americans, either through private insurance or through Medicare or Medicaid. As of Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. had 1,050 cases of the coronavirus, and 29 deaths, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

“We want the American people to know that they are covered through private insurance. They are covered through Medicare and Medicaid. And there will be no surprise billing,” Pence said.

Insurers have also agreed to cover telemedicine (talking to a doctor on the phone) and to “extend coverage for coronavirus treatment in all of their benefit plans,” Pence said.

And yes, there will likely be tax dollars shelled out to back this up, although we don’t know whether it’ll be through loans, straight subsidies, or in using federal disaster programs.

So now that we have the coronavirus outbreak under control, I’m sure Wall Street’s concerns are subsiding and things are fine again.

Dang it!

I got a better plan. Let’s expand preventive treatment and have taxes pay for it as part of basic health care that EVERY AMERICAN IS ENTITLED TO, along with tests for outbreaks of infectious viruses like this one, while having a CDC that is fully staffed with emergency plans and remedies ready to go should something like the coronavirus outbreak hit.

Seems to be better to center our country's health policy people who need the services rather than the needs of the for-profit corporations who might make a little less money because they have to (gasp!) treat the vulnerable and afflicted! And maybe having the response to coronavirus not be headed up by someone who ignored the CDC's request to allow HIV patients to use clean needles and ended up having many more people get afflicted, but actually has some kind of medical background.

It could work, I tell ya!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Vos, "small government' WisGOPs whine that they don't get more highway pork

Last week, Governor Evers announced $75 million in additional state funding to help pay for 152 new transportation projects throughout Wisconsin. Assemnbly Speaker Robbin' Vos used the occasion to sneer at Evers for....not spending more?
“Governor Evers is shortchanging our local roads. Legislative Republicans created this $90 million program for local road repairs; the governor cut it by $15 million and opened up the program to all types of projects.

“It’s disappointing that 100 percent of the money isn’t going to local roads as intended. Instead, millions of dollars are being diverted to bike paths and buses with fewer dollars available to help crumbling roads.”
So what is Vos talking about? Here's how the Legislative Fiscal Bureau described the original plan by the GOP Legislature.
Provide $90,000,000 GPR in 2019-20 to a newly-created GPR appropriation that would be used to fund local government project costs that would be eligible for program funding under the current law the local roads improvement program discretionary component, to be allocated as follows: (a) $32,003,200 for county projects; (b) $22,847,400 for municipalities; and (c) and $35,149,400 for towns. Specify that notwithstanding local road improvement program cost-sharing requirements, that a required local project cost match of 10% of total project cost would apply to project submitted for funding under the GPR appropriation. Require DOT to solicit project applications for this funding, beginning in 2019-20, until the funds appropriated have been expended. Provide DOT the authority to promulgate administrative rules for this purpose. Because the funding would be provided in 2019-20, there would be no ongoing base level funding for this supplemental program component.
Note the "GPR", which means this program uses everyday tax dollars instead of the Transportation Fund, which uses items such as the gas tax and registration fees.

Once the budget reached Evers' desk, he changed the program with his veto pen in a variety of ways.

1. Reduced it from $90 million to $75 million.
2. Got rid of the geographic restrictions on where the projects would go, and expanded which type of projects could be funded.
3. Took some pressure off of the local governments by removing the 10% match requirement.

So now let's look at the projects that were funded, and see how different those totals were compared to the GOP Legislature's original bill.

It looks like what got Robbin's ire is that Evers' DOT dared to pay a portion of these dollars toward bicycle/pedestrian improvements for certain street projects, as well as some bridge projects. Ironically, most of these multi-modal and bridge projects are in smaller towns and communities, but Vos and the rest of WisGOP didn't bring up that fact.

Oh, and there was $1 million given to the Milwaukee County Transit System for uses, which will buy...2 of them? What an absolute horror that we spent 1.33% of this program for that!

It's remarkable to see Republicans complain about not spending enough money for roads, because the reason the state's roads are "crumbling" is because WisGOP allowed Scott Walker to pull the double-whammy of cutting road spending and increasing borrowing for several years. All to allow Walker to strike a "no tax, no fee" pose for DC oligarchs like Grover Norquist instead of improving the state's infrastructure.

To go further, after WisDOT received over $1 billion in requests for this new program, did WisGOP propose using some of the state's one-time surplus to do another round of grants? OF COURSE NOT! Instead they tried to cut property taxes for businesses (and raising them for homeowners) and income taxes for some Wisconsinites, which Evers rightfully vetoed.

But when have Republicans ever debated honestly in the last decade? And Robbin' Vos is the last guy who should be complaining about a lack of funds going to GOP districts, given that we borrowed $252 million to upgrade the Interstate near the (still-tiny) Foxconn project, which just so happens to be in Vos' district, and will pay $408 million once you include the debt costs. In addition, Scott Walker's DOT sent another $134 million to upgrade the local roads around that white elephant, while taking that money away from other parts of the state.

So I don't really need to see WisGOPs shed crocodile tears about an alleged lack of spending on roads from Tony Evers, especially since they said nothing as Scott Walker allowed the roads to fall apart. It's especially rich to see these "small-government conservatives" complain when the complaint is that not enough pork is being funneled to their parts of the state.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

February jobs report very good, if it holds

If you look at Friday's US jobs report, you'd think that America's economy is having a historical booom.
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 273,000 in February, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 3.5 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Notable job gains occurred in health care and social assistance, food services and drinking places, government, construction, professional and technical services, and financial activities.

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for December was revised up by 37,000 from +147,000 to +184,000, and the change for January was revised up by 48,000 from +225,000 to +273,000. With these revisions, employment gains in December and January combined were 85,000 higher than previously reported. (Monthly revisions result from additional reports received from businesses and government agencies since the last published estimates and from the recalculation of seasonal factors.) After revisions, job gains have averaged 243,000 per month over the last 3 months.
Even wages, which had leveled off in recent months, had a nice jump in February.
In February, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 9 cents to $28.52. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.0 percent. Average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees increased by 8 cents to $23.96 in February. (See tables B-3 and B-8.)

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 0.1 hour to 34.4 hours in February. In manufacturing, the workweek increased by 0.2 hour to 40.7 hours, and overtime edged up by 0.1 hour to 3.2 hours. The average workweek for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 0.1 hour to 33.7 hours.
The longer work week is also a strong sign, meaning that

And the stock market responded by... dropping more than 800 points before having a bunch of day-end buying to "only" lose 250. Part of that is due to the fact that coronavirus concerns are clearly hurting the tourism and business travel economy as conferences and events get canceled, and the supply chains get messed up. So any job gains that may have happened 3 weeks ago have little effect on the outlook for companies.

But I also wonder if part of it is because maybe those great jobs numbers aren't really that great. I say that because the "gold standard" Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages that came out this week showed that yet again, prior job gains in the monthly reports were overstated.

Job growth Sept 2018-Sept 2019
Monthly Reports +1.86 million (+1.5%)
QCEW +1.49 million (+1.2%)

That likely means the prior months will go down by 370,000. And that's after a downward revision in the monthly reports of 514,000 that was revealed last month.

We saw a similar story with the country's productivity figures, which came out last week for Q4 2019, but also used the QCEW to make revisions for Q3. And those revisions were to the down side, especially when it came to compensation to workers.

Which leads me to say that while we have to go with the data that is available, let's not assume that the great jobs report of February is going to continue to look so good as more refined data comes in over the following months. And that may be why the economy doesn't seem to have the strength that the current numbers indicate that it does.