Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Postseason runs help, but bars, restaurants, hotels still not back to normal in Wis

As Fall begins (in calendar if not in weather), it seems good to check back in Wisconsin's drinking, dining and lodging sectors, to see where we measure up 18 months after COVID started to disrupt the state's economy. If you go into the Department of Revenue’s graphs that show sales taxes in each industry (a good proxy for sales totals), you can see the where Bars, Restaurants (in blue) and Hotels (in green) were decimated when COVID first broke out in March 2020.

You can also see where seasonality kicks in for these industries, and that both of these industries have returned to the same (nominal) level of sales that they had in 2019. In fact, bars and restaurants hit all-time highs in sales taxes in June and July of this year.

One item likely giving a boost to Wisconsin’s numbers in these industries is the Milwaukee Bucks’ run to the NBA Title, which culminated in late July, and featured a lot of scenes like this downtown.

VISIT Milwaukee recently released figures on the economic impact of our crazy Summer of hoops, and said it added $57.6 million of economic activity to the area. VISIT Milwaukee defined that impact accordingly.
The total economic impact figures include estimates of spending at lodging, transportation, food and beverage, retail, recreation, venue rental, and business services companies. The data also include estimates of indirect impact and induced economic impact – the money spent between businesses to support this activity and the money spent by employees of those companies. The entire Championship run generated $1.107 million in total local taxes.
VISIT Milwaukee says hotels were the biggest beneficiaries, due to a bump in occupancy and revenue, as well as the Bucks themselves along with other “recreation” businesses.

But even with the Bucks’ run and the fading of COVID in the first half of Summer, employment in the ;eisure and hospitality industries haven’t come close to recovering the job losses that we saw in 2020.

And with staffing not keeping up with sales, is no coincidence that wages have greatly risen in these industries, as shown by this recent summary from the Milwaukee Business Times.
Wisconsin did see stronger wage growth in the leisure and hospitality sector, which has been among the areas struggling to hire amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In August, the average hourly leisure and hospitality wage in Wisconsin was $16.63, up $1.74 or 11.7% from August 2020. July saw a 9.8% year-over-year increase and June’s increase was 7.7%. The 9.7% average increase over the summer months ranked 22nd in the country. Many of Wisconsin’s neighboring states saw similar increases, including 10% averages in Iowa and Indiana, 9.9% in Illinois and 9.3% in Michigan. Minnesota was an outlier with a 3.6% average increase
The Wisconsin Policy Forum noted this disparity between sales and employment in food services in a recent report, and also says that data indicates that a lot of bars and restaurants closed in the COVID World and have not been fully replaced.
While no data source is currently available that could show precisely how many restaurants and bars in Wisconsin did not survive the pandemic, limited data from the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) suggests that hundreds more restaurants closed in Wisconsin than opened in 2020. According to DATCP, 418 state-licensed restaurants and other retail food establishments that serve meals closed in 2020, while 218 opened. In contrast, the same database shows new restaurant openings outpaced closures in 2019 and have again in 2021 through August – another positive indicator of the sector’s recovery.
What we have not seen yet is how the re-emergence of COVID in August and September has affected business and staffing at bars, restaurants and accommodations in the state. And if whether Milwaukee’s service industries are into another big boost in October from another postseason run from a local sports team.

Yep, I was there.

Monday, September 27, 2021

COVID stays high as school begins in Wisconsin. But with a gap between vaxxed/unvaxxed kids, places

A quick look at COVID in Wisconsin shows that cases have stuck at around 2,700 a day over the last couple of weeks, with the spike starting in the first full weeks after Labor Day - coinciding with the start of the school year.

Reported deaths have tracked along with the rise in cases, with 4 straight weeks of an average of 10 deaths a day or more. I am holding off on the last week of reports, as it often takes the Wisconsin Department of Health Services a week or two to track back to date of death from the virus.

But living in heavily-vaxxed Dane County with no kids, I feel a lot more comfortable than I would if I was in a low-vaxxed community with kids around. Especially kids under 11 (who cannot be vaccinated). I've mentioned how cases have spiked up among children under 18 in the state since school started up, but it's also worth mentioning that cases among those 18-24 have dropped significantly compared to the major breakouts we had on college campuses at this time last year.

That's a drop of nearly 2/3 compared to what we were dealing with last year. With most UW campuses with rates of vaccination at or above the state rate (including Madison at 91%), that definitely seems to be another bit of proof that getting the vax reduces your susceptibility to getting COVID in the first place, in addition to greatly reducing the chance that your bout with the virus will be serious if you do get it.

Moving down a level, it's worth noting that 51.6% of kids age 16-17 and 46.1% of kids 12-15 have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. But those figures are widely variable depending on where you are in the state. Only 14 counties had more than ½ of children in both of the 12-15 and 16-17 ages that have gotten a COVID-19 shot, and 3 of those were barely above 50% at the end of last week. And I think the list tells us something.

Counties with more than 50% of children ages 12-17 receiving vaccine

Brown (50.4%)
Columbia (50.2%)
Eau Claire
La Crosse
Waukesha (50.1%)

Lot of blue counties in there (the list includes 8 of the 14 Wisconsin counties that voted for Biden). Of the other 6, 4 went to Trump less than 10%, and the other two are Ozaukee and Waukesha – which had two of the biggest shifts toward Dems in the state.

I'm interested in Wednesday's county-by-county update from DHS, to see if the "red vs blue" disparities in new cases that we have recently seen become even more apparent, as the school year progresses and the districts, parents and students adjust to the jump in cases....or don't.

WisGOP tries absurd BS to support latest gerrymandering scheme

After denying that they would try to go around Governor Evers by passing a joint resolution on redistricting (which cannot be vetoed, but is questionable as to whether it has the force of law), tomorrow the Republicans at the Capitol want to do just that.
The state Assembly will vote Tuesday on a resolution backing a policy to “retain as much as possible the core of existing districts.”

The Rules Committee added the resolution to the Assembly calendar one day after the state Supreme Court agreed to take original jurisdiction in a redistricting suit.

The conservative voters who filed the suit argued that the Supreme Court should make “the least number of changes to the existing maps as are necessary to meet” various requirements if the Legislature and guv are unable to reach an agreement.

One line in the Assembly Joint resolution states the new seats should, “Retain as much as possible the core of existing districts, thus maintaining existing communities of interest, and promoting the equal opportunity to vote by minimizing disenfranchisement due to staggered Senate terms.”

Funny how these concerns of keeping “the core of existing districts” together didn’t seem to be a big deal to WisGOPs when they took control of state government in 2011. Here’s an example of how Republicans screwed around districts in the Milwaukee area, as part of what has been quantified as the worst state government gerrymander in America.

First the 2000s.

Here's what it looks like today.

And it was no coincidence.

Similar chicanery from a decade ago resulted in (among many tricks) Sheboygan and Waukesha being cut in half between 2 Assembly districts, giving a sizable amount of countryside to a district based in Wausau but no real suburbs, and moving a Senate district that was based in Central Wisconsin to include the Western Wisconsin cities of Sparta and Tomah.

Patrick Marley called out the double-standard that WisGOPs are trying to pull in an article in the Journal-Sentinel today, using the raw numbers that illustrate just how much manipulating the Republicans pulled in the last redistricting.
Moving so many voters raised concerns for federal judges in 2012. A panel of three judges that year noted that about 320,000 people needed to be moved into new Assembly districts to balance the populations of the districts. Instead, Republicans moved nearly 2.4 million voters into new Assembly districts as they drew maps to maximize their advantage, the court noted.

Similarly, lawmakers needed to move about 230,000 voters into new Senate districts but instead moved 1.2 million of them. (While all of those voters were placed in new districts, many of them stayed on the same election schedule and didn’t have to wait an extra two years before they could vote in a Senate race.)
That last point also reveals GOP Assembly Number 2 Jim Steineke to be full of crap, because he tried to say that changing Senate districts would cause a lot of Wisconsinites to wait 6 years to vote for a State Senator, and therefore the districts should be kept as-is as much as possible. But Marley notes that the WisGOPs did just that to more than 300,000 people after 2010.

Along those lines, it’s telling that the Assembly GOP’s “draw your map” website lists which Senate districts are changed (it’s a cool data list, feel free to click here to check it out, then go to Summary Report and click the "disenfranchisement" tabs). So they are likely going to try this lame argument in court, even though they didn’t care about this at all after 2010. Because shamelessness is what gets you ahead in the GOP in 2021.

Any WisGOP who goes along with this garbage tomorrow doesn’t get to run any ads in the next year saying how “independent” they are, because voting to keep these manipulated and rigged maps in place is as hacky as it gets. We need to watch the roll call, and not allow this sleazy move to be memory-holed.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

A perfect tweet for 2021

And why the West Wing is one of the worst things to ever happen for Democrats.

If the bad guys can go all-out for bad things, why can't the good guys go all-out to get good things done?

Time to deliver this week. Or find new leaders who can.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Another Milwaukee fiscal problem - billions in tax-free property!

Since WisGOPs didn't allow Milwaukee to get a sales tax in the last state budget, they rely on property taxes and fees to pay to fix roads and perform services. But there's another complication there, as a recent story in Urban Milwaukee illustrated – a lot of City property isn’t part of the tax rolls, which makes homeowners and other pay higher property taxes.
Christ Church Milwaukee plans to purchase the 22,500-square-foot building, most recently an art gallery, and make it a permanent home for the church. As a result, the property would become tax exempt.

The church has agreed to make an annual “payment in lieu of taxes” (PILOT) for what would be the city share of its property tax bill. With an assessment of $1.05 million, that would be $10,731 under the city’s proposed 2022 tax rate.
That PILOT only happened after alders on the City’s Planning Commission asked why a property worth 7 figures was being taken out of the tax base, and the Department of City Development had to work out this PILOT agree with the church in order to get a change in zoning approved.

And Milwaukee has a disproportionate amount of property that does not get taxed, which makes for a double whammy in a time when shared revenues continue to be taken away from the City. So PILOTs become especially needed, or else property taxes would be even higher on City homeowners.
The city has used PILOTs to address the fact that more than 9,000 properties are property tax exempt. A 2019 treasurer’s office report says $4.6 billion of property is exempt, more than 17% of the city’s total assessed value. The percentage of property that is exempt far outpaces the suburbs, further exacerbating the city’s financial woes given its state-imposed reliance on property tax revenue.

The PILOT program requires participants to only pay what would be the city share of the property tax bill, approximately one third of an average bill.
So the schools, county and other places you send your property taxes still won’t get anything from this, eh? That’s not ideal.

But if Milwaukee is going to start concentrating on tax-exempt properties, may I suggest that there’s the Bradley Foundation’s mansion near the lake that went decades without paying a dime of property taxes.

$0 property taxes for this thing.

Especially since we know their main “charity” is in the form of wingnut welfare orgs like WILL the lawsuit mill, and that the Bradleys have given millions toward efforts to question and overturn the 2020 election.

Seriously, at this point, where’s the harm in the City of Milwaukee throwing a bill to the Bradleys for all the years they've been a fake non-profit? Make them open their books and show what types of “social welfare” they’ve really been doing, along with who is giving them cash (and likely dodging taxes as well).

No one other than Jane Mayer (who revealed the Bradleys’ anti-democracy efforts in the New Yorker) recommended this type of strategy at the federal level, when she spoke in Madison last weekend.
“I think the IRS could play a great role if they had the guts and also the wherewithal,” [Mayer] said, while acknowledging a Republican-led push to slash the agency’s budget. “It could really bring down the hammer on these groups because no group is supposed to get charitable status that is involved in partisan electoral politics ... I would love to see a good suit brought before them.”
There’s also another tax-free property in the City whose original agreement with the state is now over, and could probably chip in a bit more for all the cops that patrol its premises 81 times a year (or more).

OK, it's got a different name now, but you get the idea.

And given the way the Brew Crew is blowing this division and infuriating me, I really don't need to be reminded about that exemption right now.

Remember, the only local sales taxes in Milwaukee go to the county, and a food/beverage tax that pays for the Wisconsin Center District. The City gets nothing revenue-wise, beyond more visitors that might stay at hotels (and pay room tax) and rental car taxes and such. Which makes me wonder why it's Milwaukee cops that are handling traffic control and security inside AmFam Field. Just sayin'.

There are a lot of things that need to be done to reform our system of funding local government, particularly in the way that it treats Wisconsin's largest city and tourism attraction. But one of those reforms should recognize that Milwaukee has a lot of property tax dodges taxation, and that it needs to be made up in some sort of way.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Usually in labor shortages, pay gets raised. In Wisconsin? Not so much

With all of the complaints from businesses about a “worker shortage” in Wisconsin and with layoffs on the decline, you’d think that would mean that wages are jumping in our state. Well, a new analysis from the Milwaukee Business Times says…not so much.
Private sector hourly wages in Wisconsin grew an average of 2.4% year-over-year in June, July and August, the 42nd fastest pace in the country, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The average hourly wage in August was $28.12, up from $27.36 in August 2020, an increase of 2.8% increase. July saw a 2.6% year-over-year increase and June’s increase was 1.8%.....

Wisconsin’s wage growth was also slower than its neighboring states, including Michigan, up 5.3%, Illinois, up 5%, Indiana, up 4.4%, Minnesota, up 3.8%, and Iowa, up 3.7%.
And before you give the WMC talking point of “People don’t want to work”, the Biz Times notes that the same report showed Wisconsin with the third-highest increase in labor force participation for 2021, up to 66.5% in August from 65.5% in January, all of which were months that the $300/week add-on for unemployment benefits was in effect.

So it’s pretty clear that more Wisconsinites wanted to work, and some were able to get back to jobs in the bars, restaurants, and lodging sectors as the weather warmed and more Wisconsinites got vaccinated.

The Biz Times adds that this sector was one of the few where Sconnies got paid significantly more this Summer.
Wisconsin did see stronger wage growth in the leisure and hospitality sector, which has been among the areas struggling to hire amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In August, the average hourly leisure and hospitality wage in Wisconsin was $16.63, up $1.74 or 11.7% from August 2020. July saw a 9.8% year-over-year increase and June’s increase was 7.7%. The 9.7% average increase over the summer months ranked 22nd in the country. Many of Wisconsin’s neighboring states saw similar increases, including 10% averages in Iowa and Indiana, 9.9% in Illinois and 9.3% in Michigan. Minnesota was an outlier with a 3.6% average increase….
But unlike some service sectors, Wisconsin manufacturers did not keep up with the rest of the Midwest in raising pay for their workers this Summer.

Conversely, in manufacturing, another sector where employers have lamented the difficulty of hiring, the average hourly wage for production workers is flat to slightly down in Wisconsin. In August, the average hourly production wage was up 19 cents from the prior year to $22.18, a 0.9% increase. However, in July the average wage was down 0.5% and it dropped 0.6% in June. For the three-month period, the average change was a 0.1% decrease that ranks 41st in the country.

Similar to the overall wage picture, neighboring states outpaced Wisconsin for production worker wage growth. Indiana was the closest with an average increase of 2.2%, followed by Illinois at 2.5%. Michigan and Minnesota were in the middle-of-the-pack nationally at 4.2% and 4.5% respectively while Iowa ranked fourth in the country with an average increase of 9.2% year-over-year.
And it’s not like manufacturers in the state were paying that much to begin with, as the most recent Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW) reminds us.

Average weekly manufacturing wage, March 2021
Ill. $1,592
Minn $1,389
Ind. $1,372
Mich $1,354
Ohio $1,249
Wis. $1,190
Iowa $1,180

So explain to me why we are keeping Wisconsin manufacturers’ income taxes near zero when they are not using much of that extra pocket change to pay workers a better wage?

This lack of wage growth also jibes with figures out of the Bureau of Economic Analysis today, which also shows that Wisconsin earnings growth lagged the Midwest this Summer. That report also shows that the Walker years were even worse for Wisconsin incomes than we thought, as 2018’s income growth in the state was revised down by -0.7%, which meant that 2019’s levels were lower, even wtih growth levels being revised higher for both 2019 and 2020.

These updated income numbers reiterate what a failure Walker/WisGOP domination of this state was from 2011 to 2019. Not only did we trail the country for income growth on both overall and per capita bases, we trailed most of the Midwest as well. (These numbers do not account for inflation)

(side note – interesting that the worst numbers of this group belong to the two states that voted twice for Obama and then twice for Trump).

So why would we want to continue on this path, with the gerrymandered WisGOP Legislature blocking any ability of Governor Evers to implement large-scale changes that the people want (and small ones like replacing GOP donors who Chair the DNR Board after the GOP’s term is up)? And why would we ever want to bring back a Republican as Governor to not only bring back any of the failed Walker policies that have been blunted since 2019, but to put those regressive giveaways on steroids?

Bad business leaders and their WisGOPuppets have held this state back for a decade, and I’m tired of it. There is a better way, and if this state is ever going to be somewhere that pays an appropriate wage and provides a good quality of life to the majority of the good people that work in it, we gotta get these mediocrities out of this place at every level.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

COVID up throughout Wisconsin, but it's worst in Trump Country

With a big jump in COVID cases over the last week (mostly due to children coming back to school), I awaited today's weekly summary by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services that breaks down cases to the county level. And it definitely told a story.

A majority of counties had a significant increase in COVID cases, and none had a significant decline. And the number of "critically high" red counties went from 2 to 8, indicating that more than 1% of the county's population had caught COVID in the last 2 weeks.

As you may have noticed, those most-infected counties are entirely in rural Wisconsin. The largest cities in this list of counties are...Rice Lake and Antigo.

Rate of new COVID cases per 100,000, 9/8 to 9/21
Rusk County 1,589.4
Barron County 1,371.0
Forest County 1,230.7
Washburn Co. 1,185.9
Buffalo County 1,169.6
Oconto County 1,140.6
Green Lake Co. 1,047.8
Trempealeau Co. 1,026.2
Langlade Co. 996.1
Sawyer County 983.6

And no surprise, all 10 of these counties are Trump Country. The former president carried all 10 of these counties by double digits, getting between 56.1% (Sawyer) to 69.9% (Oconto). And 7 of the 10 still have less than half of their population fully vaccinated.

That might make you want to hesitate before checking out the Fall color in up in those counties, or at least avoid eating and drinking inside of a local supper club. And maybe a whole lot of red counties (both politically and for COVID cases) need to take a little better care of themselves as the weather starts to cool.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Kleefisch, Jacque, and other GOP COVIDiocy

You hang out with COVID-iots, you get the COVID.

Alec Zimmerman, a campaign spokesman for Kleefisch, confirmed Monday that the former Republican lieutenant governor has tested positive for COVID-19.

Zimmerman said Kleefisch, a colon cancer survivor, was exposed to coronavirus at a church event on Sept. 12 — three days after she announced her gubernatorial bid. She learned of her exposure four days later, took a test and got a positive result on Friday.

"She is feeling fine," Zimmerman said. "We have canceled all upcoming events and are notifying recent close contacts. Rebecca received the vaccine last spring."
Huh, I didn't see Crazy Eyes mention that she was vaccinated in that video, did you? Nor did she reveal that she was going to get vaccinated when she was pandering to fundie rubes with this garbage last December.

Naturally, Kleefisch was visiting areas with high case rates when she caught the virus, and her and her fellow pro-COVID GOPs were too cool to mask up.

Speaking of GOPs with COVID, we got an update today on another one of the Coronavirus Crew.

I thought this guy was a goner (and was told as much by people who work in health care), so as a human being, I'm glad he might make it through. I won't even complain about my tax dollars and health insurance costs going up to help Sen. Jacque recover from his self-inflicted sickness.

In addition to getting the Rona, Jacque and Kleefisch had something else in common - careless behavior in groups and failing to tell others that they might have been put at risk.
Before testing positive for the virus, Jacque authored and supported legislation to end the statewide face mask mandate before vaccines were available and to ban vaccine requirements.

His hospitalization came days after he testified in at least two public hearings in the Wisconsin State Capitol without a mask. Legislative leaders did not reach out to hearing attendees to notify them of a possible exposure to COVID-19.
It's especially infuriating to see Kleefisch and Jacque act this way when they have a combined total of 10 kids, some of whom are not old enough to get the vaccine. And the spike in cases that's happening in Wisconsin is mostly due to kids going back to school, as children under 18 (shown in blue) have had a major increase in cases since the start of this month.

But these GOPs would rather marinate in their Bubble of BS, even if it gets them and their voters sick. And even if their positions are way out of step with the Real America.

They deserve to lose, and they need to lose. And I'm tired of them holding back this state and this country.

Retail sales - growth and change in August. Lots of questions for September

The re-emergence of COVID-19 in August does seem to have had an effect on the month's retail sales for the country, at least in where people chose to spend. Those figures came out recently, and were generally spun as good news after a seasonally-adjusted decline in July.
U.S. retail sales unexpectedly increased in August, likely boosted by back-to-school shopping and child tax credit payments from the government, which could temper expectations for a sharp slowdown in economic growth in the third quarter.

The surprise rebound in retail sales reported by the Commerce Department on Thursday defied slumping consumer confidence. Sales were driven by a surge in online purchases, which offset a continued decline at auto dealerships. But sales in July were much weaker than initially estimated.

Economists have been downgrading their gross domestic product estimates for the current quarter, citing plunging motor vehicle sales, which are the result of an acute inventory shortage, and a flare-up of COVID-19 infections fueled by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
But note the "much weaker than initially estimated" amount of sales for July, which were revised down from a 1.0% loss to a 1.7% loss. So compared to the data we had before this report, we only saw retail sales rise by 0.15%, which isn't so great in the big picture. It also means that seasonally-adjusted retail sales were lower in August than they were in April, when COVID seemed to be fading as a concern.

Sure, sales are higher compared to the COVID winter, and even the pre-COVID times of February 2020. But there's been a lid on growth ever since, and increased COVID cases and hospitalizations aren't going to help for September.

There seemed to a shift back toward spending patterns that we had before most Americans were able to be vaccinated. Amazon and other online/mail order retailers bounced back after a Summer of lower sales, and big box stores also made a comeback with back-to-school season and more people likely consiolidating their trips to reduce COVID exposure. At the same time, auto sales continued to drop with supply shortages, the COVID-era Bubble in hobby, sporting goods and book stores is deflating, and bars and restaurants slowed its recovery in August.

But even with the lack of growth in retail, we continue to see and hear about labor shortages, particularly in service industries. That may have been because of increased business as things opened up in Spring, but now it seems to be related to more people quitting in the industry vs more demand.

It would be sadly ironic if those shortages start to clear due to cutbacks in spending vs more hiring in the coming months, and with uncertainties on the rise along with coronavirus cases, it means we're going to have to pay more attention and prepare to react as Summer turns into Fall.

Monday, September 20, 2021

DC Dems should laugh at Moscow Mitch, and ignore the debt limit

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down more than 900 points for some time today before recovering some of those losses and ending up down "only" 614. Some tried to blame this decline as a correction for a Bubbly market in 2021, or fears about the Chinese property market melting down. But I think it had a lot more to do with this.

Hmm, you know who decides whether the US government can keep borrowing money and going into debt? THE PEOPLE WHO LEND TO US, generally through the financial markets. And given that they're still willing to give Uncle Sam money at a little over 1.3% for 10 years, it seems like they don't have a lot of concerns in lending money to us.

In addition, let's go to the US Constitution, and check out Article I, Section 8, which says that paying debt is a required duty of Congress.
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;.
And then the 14th Amendment, passed after another group of Confederates tried to pervert laws and overthrow the American government, confimred that the US will pay its debts.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
You know what words don't show up in the Constitution? "Cloture" or "filibuster". Those are just customs and rules of the antiquated Senate, and they can be changed or ignored at any time.

So why would we need to have 60 votes to raise our debt limit? Or to have a debt limit at all? These future expenses (many of which are required payments to other American people and American vendors ) have already been set aside. And given that there is no law saying those bills canNOT be paid, Biden and Treasury Secretary Yellen should laugh in Moscow Mitch's face, and keep paying the bills.

Who would stop them? NO ONE. Especially when it makes people remember that a main reason these debts exist and keep going up is because of the GOP Tax Scam of 2017, which a whole lot of these GOP Senators voted for.

They voted to run up that debt, so they've lost the right to keep those debts from being paid.

But that's GOP cynicism for you. And it's been a pattern they've followed for 40 years. Radio host Thom Hartmann gave a great rundown of this sick strategy in his blog today, which goes over GOP economic advisor Jude Wanniski's "Two Santa Clauses" idea, first espoused in a Wall Street Journal column in 1976.

First, the Two Santas strategy dictates, when Republicans control the White House they must spend money like a drunken Santa and cut taxes to run up the US debt as far and as fast as possible.

This produces three results: it stimulates the economy thus making people think that the GOP can produce a good economy; it raises the debt dramatically; and it makes people think that Republicans are the “tax-cut Santa Clauses.”

Second, when a Democrat is in the White House, Republicans must scream about the national debt as loudly and frantically as possible, freaking out about how “our children will have to pay for it!” and “we have to cut spending to solve the crisis!” Shut down the government, crash the stock market, and damage US credibility around the world if necessary to stop Democrats from spending money.

This will force the Democrats in power to cut their own social safety net programs and even Social Security, thus shooting their welfare-of-the-American-people Santa Claus right in the face.

And, sure enough, here we are now with a Democrat in the White House. Following their Two Santas strategy, Republicans are again squealing about the national debt and refusing to raise the debt ceiling, imperiling Biden’s economic recovery as well as his Build Back Better plans.
Dems should call the bluff of Moscow Mitch and the other economic terrorists in the GOP, and tell them the debt ceiling is nothing more than a theory, get a budget bill for 2022 passed with 50 votes (as part of a Constitutional requirement to fund the government and its services), and then work on the larger reconciliation bill.

Just because something is a custom, it doesn't mean it has to be followed or respected. And that's how Dems in DC should act about Moscow Mitch's antics, and the GOP's fiscal thoughts in general. And I'd appreciate it if they'd be very public with that rejection.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

So who pays more and who might pay less as we pay for the Dems' big bill?

After a lot of foot-dragging and DC sausage-making, we're down to the last 2 weeks of the Federal Fiscal Year, and we're going to find out what type of infrastructure package(s) is/are going through soon enough. And we're finally starting to see how DC Dems would pay for the $350 billion a year in added services and investments, in the form of tax increases on the rich and corporate.

Here's a summary of those tax moves, courtesy of CNBC.
The House proposal would take huge steps to reverse the 2017 Republican tax cuts. It would hike the corporate rate to 26.5%, after the GOP slashed it to 21% from 35%.

Democrats would also restore the top individual rate to 39.6% after Republicans cut it to 37%.
That rate of 39.6% would kick in around $400,000 of income for single filers and $450,000 for joint filers, and jumps to 42.6% on all income past $5 million. There's also an increase in the long-term capital gains rate to 25%, which is still well below the tax a lot of Americans have to pay for actual work (and FICA taxes aren't taken out of cap gains), but it at least starts to narrow the gap a bit.

But that high corporate rate only hits for businesses that have large incomes. There's actually a tax break from the current 21% rate for corporations that have small profits, and many corporations would still have their rates remain at the lower levels under the GOP Tax Scam.
Under the House Democratic plan, the top corporate rate would apply to income above $5 million. The first $400,000 in income would be taxed at an 18% rate.

A 21% rate would apply to corporate income between $400,000 and $5 million.
Seems a bit friendly to me, but I'd imagine this would still be a net positive for revenue and increase competitiveness for small businesses.

A bigger revenue generator would likely come from adding tax enforcement agents to try to get more of the $1 trillion in taxes that aren't collected due to tax-avoidance schemes.
The plan would invest nearly $79 billion in IRS tax enforcement to increase revenue raised.
This would seem to be a no-brainer for anyone who's not a Koch-sucking sellout. Adding revenue agents has been extremely effective in Wisconsin, with a payback estimated at 38 to 1, and there are much bigger kahunas to nab/settle up with in the rest of the country (as well as international tax-dodgers).

We haven't seen a score on these tax proposals as of yet, and how much of the $350 billion a year in added spending is covered by those moves. We also haven't seen what's going to happen with the cap on deductions for State and Local taxes (SALT), a move in the 2017 GOP Tax Scam that hamered people in big cities in blue states, and is something that has been a target of change by many Dems that got elected from higher-income suburbs in those areas.

The SALT Cap stops write-offs at $10,000 for the combined total of state taxes (usually income taxes) and local taxes (often property taxes but some other ones, depending on where you live). And you can see that many Wisconsinites around the 2 largest metro areas were susceptible to the SALT Cap.

And it could prove to be a main sticking point in getting all of the Dems' bill finished, as Coastal Dems (especially) have threatened to hold up the whole thing until the SALT Cap is dealt with.
Last Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee unveiled its proposal for tax reform and it did not include a decision repealing the SALT caps. In response, committee chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., and three other congressmen from New York and New Jersey shared a joint statement on Monday to make clear their commitment to pushing for SALT relief.

"With Speaker Pelosi, we continue to work among our colleagues and the Senate to undo the shortsighted capping of SALT by Republicans," they wrote. "We are committed to enacting a law that will include meaningful SALT relief that is so essential to our middle-class communities and we are working daily toward that goal.”...

In a sign of frustration from the party’s moderate wing, Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., warned Monday that he was set to reject the spending bill if there was no SALT relief included, and he made his position clear to congressional leaders.

“I have been consistent for six months. No SALT, no deal,” Suozzi said in a statement.
This has led to pushback from other Dems in Congress, although one prominent member seems to have moved off of her previous position of saying any type of removal of the SALT Cap was a disgrace.

AOC's main point about regressiveness is true - if the SALT Cap was removed entirely, it would give a sizable break to the upper-middle class and upper classes. The Tax Foundation came out with this chart showing the effects under the Biden/Dem plans, which notes that while the richest Americans would still pay more taxes, the hike would be a lot less with a full repeal of SALT.

It seems to me that an easy solution is to raise the cap to $20,000 for married couples filing jointly, but keep everything else the same. That's the real problem with the way the SALT Cap works today - dual-earning couples have the same $10,000 cap as a single person, which doesn't match up with most of the rest of the tax code.

And in a time when people are paying higher property taxes with rising property values, more homeowning couples are getting hit by the SALT Cap and seeing no change or tax increases under the Tax Scam (raises hand). And it's a discouragement from having other buy/keep houses, since there's no incentive to write-off property taxes or home mortgage interest for a lot of people, and the housing market might need all the support it can soon enough.

Lots of moving parts, and they need to come together in the next 2 weeks or so. Keep your eyes and ears open, as the positive effects of the new servides and supports are a big econmomic boost by themselves, but if some "centrist" sellouts are concerned about the price tag, then these tax provisions can go along way toward limiting the increases in deficit and debt.

Friday, September 17, 2021

After months of gains, Wisconsin thrown for sizable job loss in August

We knew there had been a drop in job growth in the country in August, but I don't think many of us thought we would see what we saw in the Wisconsin jobs report that came out on Thursday.
Place of Residence Data: Wisconsin's labor force participation rate in August was 66.5, 4.8 percentage points higher than the national rate of 61.7 percent. Wisconsin's unemployment rate in August was 3.9 percent, while the national unemployment rate was 5.2 percent in the same month.
Place of Work Data: Wisconsin lost 8,200 private-sector and 10,400 total non-farm jobs in August 2021.
10,400 jobs lost? UGH!

It was especially surprising coming after several months of job gains in the state, including 16,500 jobs added in July. Which almost makes me wonder if both reports exaggerated ups and down in a time when there were small gains over both of those months.

In digging into the report, the losses were heavily concentrated in health care/social assistance (-6,500) and manufacturing (-2,700), but there were also notable declines in real estate (-1,000) and professional/business services (-1,500). Interestingly, one sector that did see decent job growth in August was one that we keep seeing stories about short staffing - leisure and hospitality (+2,900). Although that sector still has a ways to go before we get back to pre-COVID levels.

August's number was also a surprising loss because there had not been a notable increase in the state's unemployment claims of any sort in late July and August. Claims were also lower than the levels we were seeing in months like May and June, when Wisconsin was gaining jobs.

You'll also see that the drop in unemployment claims has continued after August, but the shortages in labor remain, so the WMC-style argument that "unemployment benefits are making people stay at home" doesn't hold water. And mediocre Wisconsin business owners that try that tired meme quickly fail once their claims and their business are given even a tiny bit of investigation.

That said, I can believe that this guy may not have been able to find workers at wages he was used to. But it's not Dem policies that are causing more Wisconsinites to leave jobs for a variety of reasons, or why they have yet to be replaced. Heck, we haven't had a raise in the minimum wage despite the fact that almost all entry-level job openings are (publicly) asking for $12-$15 an hour.

I think the COVID World and its disruptions have changed the game, less in the sense of businesses closing, but more because a lot of people aren't willing to put themselves at risk with certain jobs - at least not at the low pay that they accepted before. Something different has happened in 2021 as we first came out of the COVID Winter, and then COVID resurged and in-person school resumed later in the Summer. And it especially was odd in August.

Maybe Wisconsin's job loss is a statistical blip that gets reversed with gains in September, or maybe labor market conditions are drastically changing as school begins and weather cools. If it's the latter, we may need to resume a "relief/support" mode of economic policy, instead of thinking things are going to work themselves out and staying away from active measures and aid.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

COVID keeps coming back in Wisconsin, but if you're vaxxed, it won't hit you as bad

A couple of recent updates of COVID figures from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services gave some illuminating information about where we stand today.

The first is negative, as COVID cases have jumped back up in the last week after a two-week plateau. More than 3,400 new cases were reported on each of the last 2 days, putting the 7-day average over 2,000 for the first time since Joe Biden took office as president, and coming 10 days before we broke through 2,000 new cases last September.

The DHS’s breakdown of cases by age generally lags by a couple of weeks. But even with that incomplete total, you can see that much of the recent increase is driven by children under 18 catching COVID (as shown in blue), which coincides with the start of the school year.

By contrast, another bit of COVID information from DHS gave me a lot of comfort, which was the monthly release comparing COVID outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated Wisconsinites. DHS gave their full “age-adjusted” figures for August, describing the age adjustment in this way.
Age adjustment, or age standardization, is used in epidemiology to allow populations to be compared directly when the age distribution of who most commonly gets the disease, or seriously sick from the disease, is skewed. Almost all diseases or health outcomes occur at different rates in different age groups, and that is true of COVID-19. Older populations are, in general, more likely to experience severe illness and death due to COVID-19.

In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, older populations were eligible to receive the vaccine before younger populations. As such, they represent a larger proportion of the fully vaccinated population. On the other hand, younger populations represent a larger proportion of the not fully vaccinated group. In order to more fairly compare rates of hospitalization and death among fully vaccinated and not fully vaccinated groups, we do an age adjustment so that the overall rates are based on the same population proportions. This is similar to calculating a rate per 100,000 in order to compare rates across populations of different sizes.
Those age-adjusted figures show significant disparities in what happens to people afflicted with COVID-19, depending on whether or not they are vaccinated.

But the overall figures (even with DHS’ attempts to adjust for age) are selling short how much better the outcomes are for vaccinated Wisconsinites. Here’s a look at the rate of hospitalization among the various age groups.

As you can see, for Wisconsinites under the age of 65, the unvaccinated are between 11 and 15 times more likely to end up in the hospital with COVID-19, no matter the age group. The death disparity is even more stark, given that DHS says zero vaccinated Wisconisnites under 55 have died of COVID.

Being in the 45-54 age bracket myself, those figures make it seem like I don’t have all that much to worry about if I should get COVID. It still wouldn’t be good – I know a couple of people that have had breakthrough cases, and they describe it as kind of severe cold or case of the flu that lingers for several days – but it does seem that I don’t need to worry as much about how bad things will get if I get hit with the virus.

It’s also worth noting that I live in Dane County, which has the highest vaccination rate in the state (81.7% of adult residents are fully vaccinated), and the second-lowest rate of infection in the state, as shown by DHS’s 14-day summary figures that came out on Wednesday. Dane County’s levels of new cases are more than 40% below the state as a whole, and that figure came over the same 2 weeks that 2 rural counties reached “extremely high” rates exceeding 1 per 100 people.

Given that the UW-Madison campus is more than 90% vaccinated, it’s possible we will not see the spike in cases here that we saw last September. And that, along with the much safer outcomes among those who are vaccinated make me think that I don’t need to live in as worry about what might happen should I get the virus.

The outcomes on getting vaccinated is much like how driving sober and with a seat belt on makes me less likely to get into a car crash, and more likely to survive any crash that does happen. Seems like a generally good plan, and I have a little more confidence in being able to go out and do what I want to do, in the times and places I want to do them. But I’ll keep masking up indoors and still dining/drinking outdoors for the most part (for now), because who wants to be a potential carrier for the unvaccinated young and the more-susceptible old?

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Confirmed - COVID relief programs kept millions of Americans from going under in 2020

While there was a wealth of information that came out from today's annual Income and Poverty report from the Census, this stat blew me away.

That's despite a drop in median household income of more than $2,000, and the largest job losses since the Great Depression. So how did that happen? Let's go into the Supplemental Poverty Measure, and go over the difference between the supplemental figure and the “official” poverty measure.
Income used for estimating the official poverty measure includes cash benefits from the government (e.g., Social Security, unemployment insurance benefits, public assistance benefits, and workers’ compensation benefits), but does not take into account taxes or noncash benefits aimed at improving the economic situation of the population. The SPM incorporates all of these elements, adding cash benefits, noncash transfers, and stimulus payments, while subtracting necessary expenses such as taxes, medical expenses, and expenses related to work. An important contribution of the SPM is that it allows us to gauge the potential magnitude of the effect of tax credits and transfers in alleviating poverty. We can also examine the effects of nondiscretionary expenses such as work and medical expenses.

What’s remarkable is that the Supplemental Poverty Measure has traditionally said poverty is worse than the official measure, due to the high cost of living in many places and other expenses. That flipped big-time with the huge boost in assistance after COVID broke out and millions were thrown out of work.

The Census Bureau quanitifes the effect that the social programs and costly expenses have on either putting people out of or into poverty, and it is quite illuminating.
Figure 8 shows the effect that various additions and subtractions had on the number of people who would have been considered poor in 2020, holding all else the same and assuming no behavioral changes. Additions and subtractions are shown for the total population and for three age groups. Additions shown in the figure include cash benefits, also included in the official measure, as well as noncash benefits included only in the SPM. This allows us to examine the effects of government transfers on poverty estimates. Since child support paid is subtracted from income, we also examine the effect of child support received on alleviating poverty. Child support payments received are counted as income in both the official measure and the SPM (but child support paid is only deducted in the SPM).

Social Security is a typical support that keeps millions afloat, but look at how the next four items helped to keep Americans out of poverty in 2020. All of those items were part of COVID relief packages, from stimulus checks, to expanded unemployment benefits, to the Child Tax Credit and other breaks, and in the Feds covering more of the cost of SNAP and school lunches.

Locally, Wisconsin was one of 30 states to have a significantly lower Supplemental Poverty Rate (6.9%) vs its “official” poverty rate (8.3%) – affecting 88,000 state residents (imagine if we had expanded Medicaid on top of it!). While we lost jobs and had shutdowns like everyone else, it does seem like the state survived 2020 better than many others, and fortunately we have a Governor who believes in using COVID relief funds for actual services and subsidies to hammered industries, along with continuing expanded unemployment benefits. That seems to be doing a better job at allaying poverty than trying to score points with Trump trash and allowing this pandemic to continue, while banning measures that may mitigate the spread of COVID (Hey there, Confederacy!)

The lower SPM also shows the danger that comes with allowing the COVID relief measures to fade away with no additional supports to replace them, as so many Americans remain close to the edge, with the country still 5.3 million jobs below our pre-COVID peak. Fortunately, the Dems' infrastructure plan in DC would expand services such as child care and long-term care that try to remove barriers to work and keeps from driving people into poverty, while keeping the child tax credit that was crucial for so many Americans in the tough times of 2020.

I also don't think it was a coincidence that these measures were put in place when a Republican president and Republican Senate were trying to stay in power in 2020. Even GOPs know that helping the poor, providing a robust safety net, and giving checks to most Americans helps the economy even in the worst of times. Which tells you that their crocodile tears about deficits and debt in 2021 has everything to do with trying to hurt Dems' chances in 2022, and nothing to do with any kind of real beliefs.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Food prices are having a big-time rise, but Wisconsin dairy farmers may be getting left behind

If you've gone to the grocery store and/or out to eat, prices for meat and other food certainly seems to have been on the rise at the store in recent months, and it’s also costing more for companies to buy those meat products further up the production line. We saw that reiterated in the Producer Price Index report that came out on Friday, which continued a rise in overall prices that businesses have to pay, and food was a main reason why.
…The index for final demand goods moved up 1.0 percent in August after increasing 0.6 percent in July. In August, half of the broad-based advance can be attributed to a 2.9-percent rise in prices for final demand foods. The indexes for final demand goods less foods and energy and for final demand energy also moved higher, 0.6 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.

Product detail: About a quarter of the August advance in prices for final demand goods can be attributed to an 8.5-percent rise in the index for meats. Prices for residential natural gas, industrial chemicals, processed young chickens, motor vehicles, and steel mill products also moved higher. In contrast, the index for iron and steel scrap decreased 3.7 percent. Prices for diesel fuel and for natural, processed, and imitation cheese also moved lower.
The prices paid to food producers are now up 12.7% in the last year, and for the last step before going to stores, restaurants and final sale places, food prices are now up 24.9% compared to August 2020.

The Biden Admininstration thinks this rise in prices isn't entirely market-driven, and is planning to increase oversight of the major meat producers in the country. The Administration claims those businesses are cornering the market, and are using that power to raise prices as a result.

As part of a set of initiatives, the administration will funnel $1.4 billion in COVID-19 pandemic stimulus money to small meat producers and workers, administration aides said in the blog post. They also promised action to "crack down on illegal price fixing."

Four companies slaughtered about 85% of U.S. grain-fattened cattle that are made into steaks, beef roasts and other cuts of meat for consumers in 2018, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Biden Administration officials note that large meat producers were bailed out by CARES and other federal assistance in 2020, and have been helped by the higher demand that has come from those COVID relief measures. But now those same companies are able to get increasingly higher prices for their products, at the (literal) expense to many other Americans.
Price increases in beef, pork and poultry have driven half of the increased prices Americans have paid for food they eat at home since December, the White House said. The administration sees those companies collecting too much profit after the stimulus helped prop up demand for their products.

"We've helped sustain this market, and it's frustrating to see these companies turn around and raise prices," Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the White House's National Economic Council, said in an interview. "What we see here smacks of pandemic profiteering and that is the behavior the administration finds concerning."
It's clear that someone’s making a lot of money in the markets for the raw materials, but it’s definitely a costly situation for those at the end of that processing line. These price increases are widespread across a lot of key types of food. And the recent increases are just the latest bump up in a sizable rise over the last year.

But there’s one group of food producers that aren’t paying or getting better prices these days, and it’s a group that’s especially relevant to Wisconsin.

And overall milk prices have given back the gains they had in the 2nd half of 2020, and current futures have milk prices going lower through September.

Which means we may well need targeted relief for dairy farmers at the same time that the Biden Administration is going after meat producers for having their prices go up by so much.

We’ll see tomorrow how much of these added costs at the producer level are being taken out of the wallets of consumers when they buy this food, with the release of the Consumer Price Index numbers. And given the jump in producer prices for food, that CPI number may well continue on the rise for at least a few months, that may not necessarily be a bad thing on its own, as wages and associated demand have been going up, as annoying as some of the higher prices may be.

But if consumers drastically change habits in the coming weeks in the face of the higher prices, some of these producers (small and large) might get thrown for losses....or at least have their large profits limited. Which may not be so bad for the consumers' pocketbooks, but might ripple into the job market unless handled correctly.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

QCEW figures show we still had a lot of service jobs to fill after COVID Winter

As Summer winds down and we continue to add jobs, we can think that everything is relatively back to normal in Wisconsin’s job market. But a recent report should remind us that things are not normal, and that we are still dealing with a quite different market than the one we had at the start of 2020, with a sizable amount of jobs in some areas yet to come back.

The “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW) had its full data set for Q1 2021 released on Sept. 1, going over the 12 months between March 2020 and March 2021. That’s a key endpoint, as this was when COVID-19 vaccine was starting to be widespread, and cases were falling after a brutal winter. It also marked 1 year after COVID-19 started to hit the economy, and it gives a good indication on how far we had to go at that time.

Nationwide, there were clear differences in job change between states that were more likely to have COVID restrictions in March 2021, and many southern/rural states that didn’t have so many restrictions at the time.

Now, whether that’s a sign the southern/rural states were winning or losing in their economic strategy during the COVID era? I’ll leave that up to you, but I don't think those places are winning in any fashion these days.

You can see that Wisconsin wasn’t as far back as most the other Midwestern states (only Iowa and Indiana had smaller losses by March), and that the US in total was in a bigger jobs hole than we were.

Change in all jobs, QCEW Mar 2020-Mar 2021
US -6,609,296 (-4.5%)
Wis. -106,280 (-3.7%)

In the 4 months measured since then, the (seasonally adjusted) jobs totals have the US gaining 2,764,000 jobs, so a little more than 40% of the gap that existed in March 2021. Wisconsin’s rate of add-back has been slightly less, with 35,800 jobs added (just over 1/3 of the losses), but given that we weren’t as far down, that’s to be expected.

That means we still have quite a ways to go to return to that March 2020 level of employment, and some industries have longer to go than others. Dig into the QCEW Wisconsin figures, and it reminds you of how uneven the job losses were.

And there were major differences within Wisconsin counties as well. 7 of 72 counties actually added jobs over those 12 months, but 10 counties were still down 5% or more in March. And both ends of the spectrum were widely dispersed throughout the state.
Those huge losses in Leisure and Hospitality were even larger in the state’s most-populated metro areas, with the 2 most-populated counties losing more than 1/4 of their jobs in that sector.

While sports fans and hotel guests have returned to places like Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay, that doesn’t mean everyone is back, or that a lot of businesses that were shut down in March 2021 have come back and/or been replaced. Just like me, I’m sure you can name quite a few places in your community that were casualties of the pandemic, even with aid coming from state and federal sources to try to keep them afloat.

The last jobs to gain back are going to likely be the most difficult. From a demographic side, there are a whole lot of excess deaths complicating the situation (both in lowering the number of potential workers, and in the amount of demand that would be out there to encourage hiring). And like we’ve consistently seen over the last 30 years, once a business lays off workers, they aren’t as quick to hire them back, or get the workers to come back. Even as business comes back.

However, a key difference in late 2021 is that many workers aren’t willing to put themselves back in those lower-paying service jobs and other positions that deal with the public (and therefore increase exposure to COVID), at least at the same rates of pay they were given before. And that also helps explain how we can have these shortages of staff despite a big job hole, because while demand may be back to pre-COVID levels in a lot of sectors, it’s not the same world that we had at the start of 2020.

Now throw in the COVID spike that hit in August and the issues that Wisconsin schools have had in filling teaching and school bus driver positions, and you have a lot of variables that are changing the job market and typical September operations.

Lots to ride out here, and I’d be a fool to try to predict what it means for what kind of job growth we might have for last 4 months of 2021, and in which sectors.