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Friday, September 23, 2011

CA Unemployment Is At 12.1% - What Does It Mean?

And August CA state sales and use taxes were substantially below 2010's (7%), as were the July/August figures. It's hard to raise revenue in this environment.

For comparison, look at GA. Its economy is hurting, yet sales tax collections are still eking out a rise. One thing I always look at is the alcohol tax receipts - they tend to flag turns in state economies. Both are dropping YoY.

I have the sense that we are committing an eerie reprise of 2008, with a somewhat lesser amplitude but following a very similar curve. Last time we were crashing in from inflation-cut real incomes and the effects of cutting off the circulation of money gained from unsustainable private debt increases. This time we are folding up from inflation-cut real incomes and the effects of cutting off the circulation of money gained from unsustainable public debt increases. The more things change....

This year the 2007/2008 cycle is collapsed into one year.

There's a lot of talk about losses in government jobs, but look at the longer time sequence:



This is total private. As you can see, the number of private jobs is below where it was 10 years ago, not to mention 2007.








And here we have government jobs.

Relative to private jobs, government jobs are still far above the number a decade ago, and just about where they were in 2007.


Clearly the government sector cannot keep growing at the expense of the private sector - something is going to give. And it will give soon, because the revenues aren't there and now the really big government expenses for government retirees kick in.



The numbers:
2001 Aug:
Total private (nonfarm): 110,544,000
Total government: 21,218,000
Ratio gov/private: 19.2%
2011 Aug:
Total private (nonfarm): 109,170,000
Total government: 21,962,000
Ratio gov/private: 20.1%
There's another way to look at this. Table 2.2B contains a breakdown of wage and salary disbursements so that you can get total government versus total private. In 2001 Q2, government wages and salaries were 815.4 vs private sector's 4,146.0, for a gov/private ratio of 19.7%. In 2011 Q2, it was 1,192.2 versus 5,466.2, for a gov/private ratio of 21.8%. These numbers do not accurately reflect relative costs; payments for benefits (retirement, insurance, etc) are recorded separately, and there government employees receive far more relatively.

From Table 2.1 we can add in another piece of the load the economy must carry, and that's government social benefits to persons. In Q2 2001 those amounted to 1,134.6 versus total wages and salaries of 4,961.4. In Q2 2011 these amounted to 2,308.6 versus total wages and salaries of 6,658.4. Respective ratios of 22.9% and 34.7%. Thus our fiscal problems.

Inflation does not help the fundamental imbalance there, and it's the big one. Also not included are all the unfunded expenditures, mostly in state and local, for government retirees. Very few of the systems accrued for retirement medical benefits, for example, and those must be paid out of current revenue each year.

People say we won't default on our debt, but I think we will. Inflation doesn't help the fundamental imbalance unless we cut benefits by not adjusting for inflation. People believe that we can inflate our way out of this, but we can't.

In that regard, we should remind ourselves that of all the government social benefits paid in 2011 Q2, Medicaid and Medicare amounted to significantly more (991.5) than the total of SS benefits (712.2). Note that these amounts are annualized on a seasonally adjusted basis. Clearly we would cut SS to nothing quite rapidly if we tried to compensate for medical increases by deflating SS payments. Also, Medicaid and Medicare benefits will become somewhat useless if reimbursements keep dropping - eventually, if the government doesn't pay for the service it will not be available. Further, let us not forget the greatly expanded Medicaid benefit and the new subsidy for private insurance that go into effect in 2014 under current law. These will make the picture far, far worse by 2017.

So we are going to default. How deeply we default depends on how quickly we can expand the private sector. And, to be realistic about it, a lot of that default may be inflicted on retirees, but most of it will hit the wealthier/comfortable retirees. Jimmy J. got uncomfortably close when he commented on a retirement income of 36K. By 2025 that may be about right.

Comments:
People say we won't default on our debt, but I think we will. Inflation doesn't help the fundamental imbalance unless we cut benefits by not adjusting for inflation. People believe that we can inflate our way out of this, but we can't.

I believe we will default too.

Because inflating IS defaulting. The whole point of inflating is to default without making it look like default. It's not a default in nominal terms, but it is a default in real terms. When SS payouts began being taxed, that was a type of default, too.

I think people are expecting default and therefore cut their spending and leverage because their retirement savings are going to get eaten away (default); they can't protect themselves with conservative investments that yield nothing. Add on real estate "investments" that may have negative yield for the next decade (and the commensurate property tax increases) and the cost of retirement is going to get too high to buy.
 
I think a lot of the housing speculation was driven by retirement funding attempts.

It's almost like we've constructed a situation in which for security in retirement, you have to be rich or have a government pension (and those are probably going to see a lot of cuts too), so must people are looking for their own angle.

But as for inflating, when the real imbalance is in social spending, it isn't much of an option. You can inflate high asset related debt away, but you can't inflate high social spending debt away.
 
Well, when we exported jobs, we not only cut off
the bottom rungs of the employment ladder, we also
increased government spending on the safety net.
The cheap prices at Walmart arent so cheap when
the taxpayer winds up paying for their employees
health benefits. The question is now, do we keep the promises made to our own citizens, or do we throw them
Under the bus to pay foreign interests and the bankers.
Sporkfed
 
I will cheerfully admit that I can't make heads or tails of all this. I'm particularly baffled by our apparent inability to make and market more products at a competitive price, so as to grow our way out of this mess. It just doesn't do to complain that our workforce can hardly be expected to compete with the Chinese workforce. We can't seem to compete with the Germans, Japanese and Swedes. It seems to me that the playing field has been so tilted by the courts and laws that it is economic suicide for a manufacturer to resist the demands of labor. How one proposes to prevent the migration of capital overseas is a mystery to me. Then we compound our problems by abandoning to noncitizens the construction jobs that, 20 years ago, were prized by citizens (and we're not talking minimum wage here.) And we've got to the point that it is political suicide to even address these issues. "Taxing the Rich" is hardly a formula for increasing GDP.
 
I'm with Charles Kiting on this.

We are defaulting. The line in the chart is not falling in nominal terms, but it is falling in inflation adjusted terms.

We're defaulting on 5 year TIPS. They pay negative interest. Investors still embrace them because something is better than nothing (that nothing being the returns on buried cash).

I have cut my spending because I am planning for a 2% inflation adjusted loss (after taxes) going forward. That's been my target since turning bearish in 2004 and reality is closing in on it.

I'm also with MaxedOutMama on this.

I think we will default on social spending too. We'll up the eligibility age for Social Security. Nearly promised benefits will be cut. I say nearly because it states the following in my 2010 Social Security statement.

"Your estimated benefits are based on current law. Congress has made changes to the law in the past and can do so at any time. The law governing benefit amounts may change because, by 2037, the payroll taxes collected will be enough to pay only about 76 percent of scheduled benefits."

That's not a promise to me. That's a warning.
 
Defaulting on the promises that government has made to various groups (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, government pensions, welfare, etc.) can be accomplished much like the private sector defaults (goes bankrupt) on its promises to employees, stock, and bond holders.
There is a certain amount of money available and it is divided up accordingly. The sooner they get to it - the more there will be for those who have stakes - retirees, the poor and sick, and the bond holders like Mark.

Capping federal spending at 2010 levels then reducing spending by 1-3% per year will require that they make reductions in outlays - that means everything. They are going to have to prioritize and the nice things like NPR, the arts, urban renewal grants, etc must go. COLAs must go for the foreseeable future. Regulating agencies like Education, Energy, EPA, Agriculture, HHS, etc. must be reduced to bare minimumms. The entitlement programs must be reorganized with lower benefits and means testing.

Additionally, the government must act on medical tort reform, repeal Obamacare, accept IBM's program for detecting medical fraud, quit blocking oil and gas exploration, encourage coal mining for export (we're the Saudi Arabia of coal - China needs coal), fast track the permitting of nuclear power plants, and many more steps to rebuild business confidence - to set the conditiions where entrepreneurs are willing to take risks.

Our cities do not lay in ruins, our fields have not been salted. No, we are not in ruins - we have plentiful natural resources, good water, excellent ports, people who want to work, a decent transpotation infrastructure, and we know how to get things done when the government is not putting up road blocks.

If all the above do not get this country moving again, then we are finished. The European model has been tried and is failing as I write. We need to go the other direction. It is we the citizens who need to demand that our elected leaders get the message. Write your Congress critters!
 
Jimmy J.,

"There is a certain amount of money available and it is divided up accordingly."

That is why I am planning for a 2% inflation adjusted loss each year after taxes. I assume I'll be chipping in no matter what I do.

"Our cities do not lay in ruins, our fields have not been salted. No, we are not in ruins - we have plentiful natural resources, good water, excellent ports, people who want to work, a decent transpotation infrastructure, and we know how to get things done when the government is not putting up road blocks."

That sums up why I am willing to hold US TIPS over assets in other countries. If I'm still willing to live here then perhaps the grass is not really greener on the other side of the fence. I have no desire to move to China. Let's just put it that way.

"If all the above do not get this country moving again, then we are finished."

That's at least one of the reasons I don't have children. I think we can keep this country going for my lifetime in theory (if only because the rest of the world is messed up too), but the path we are on does not imply two lifetimes worth. Sigh. That's just an opinion of course.
 
Mark - I have to agree with you. I would rather live in this country than Kuwait even if I were a Kuwaiti citizen and the government would give me a stipend and I'd work for a few hours a day.

Money isn't everything. We have to find a way to continue the basics - all else is on the table. But freedom, in the end, leads to stable and growing economies and the best possible economic future.

The idea that we were all going to be rich was always an illusion. The idea that the average person can live a dignified, modest life need not be, as long as we are willing to sacrifice our illusions.

We've built veritable towers of illusions, and all we have gotten out of it is growing poverty. It would be wise to take the other path now.
 
Mark, I understand your position and empathize. Unfortunately, since the days of LBJ, we have been making things more and more difficult for people with the can do spirit in this country. We still have such people, but they have to move Heaven and Earth to get anything done. The progressives have been busy trying to construct Heaven on Earth, which those of a conservative persuasion see as a fool's errand. The art of the possible and what makes life better for more people is a better route. Of course, Adam Smith explained all thata long time ago, but there are still people who are trying to disprove his ideas.

I've probably onlly got ten years (if I'm lucky) left before my rendezvous with the Great Beyond. Maybe I shouldn't care, since I won't be here much longer, but I am ashamed of what we are leaving to our children and grand children. There are solutions, but our politicians are unable, for whatever reasons, to see how they suck the life out of life when they over spend and over promise while simultaneously suffocating the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Like Chamberlain at Little Round Top, I am not ready to give up or give in. "Fix bayonets!!"
 
The CA unemployment is symptomatic of the overregulation current in our system. CA is a breadbasket, some of the best farm land anywhere, held captive to trying to save the Delta smelt. It's insane. The Left has never understood how valuable farmland is and how much we need to protect that vs land that can't grow anything but Doug fir.

I wanted to post this quote because I think it's a better definition of being rich:

"My idea of being rich, or at least feeling rich is to have no debts, mortgage or overdraft and to be able to pay all bills by return post. This may seem like a fairly modest ambition, but if everyone in the West were in this position, our societies would indeed merit the term 'affluent' and the world would be a happier place."
 
Jimmy J.,

Like Chamberlain at Little Round Top, I am not ready to give up or give in. "Fix bayonets!!"

If one is too lazy to "fix" a meal when one does not have a job, then there's little hope of bayonet fixing. Sigh.

Should food stamps be redeemable at Taco Bell?

No! Contrary to popular opinion, Taco Bell might be cheap for fast food, but it is not inexpensive food (especially if one has a soft drink with every meal).
 
Teri (& MOM),

I like Teri's definition of rich.

"My idea of being rich, or at least feeling rich is to have no debts, mortgage or overdraft and to be able to pay all bills by return post. This may seem like a fairly modest ambition, but if everyone in the West were in this position, our societies would indeed merit the term 'affluent' and the world would be a happier place."

Once the basics are covered, you shouldn't need money to enjoy life. Many of the best things in life are free (or nearly free). If one can't be happy playing with a dog or reading a book, then adding a 200' yacht isn't going to make any long-term difference.

Wealthy But Unhappy
 
Mark - Teri's definition is my definition too. Maybe it is not a great guide for taxation, because in our society this definition of "rich" has not corresponded with actual wealth for a while.

The thing is, one can in theory be "wealthy" - have say a house paid off and 2 million in Treasuries. That ought to be enough, but it isn't. A couple with that would currently net about 60K pre-tax with current Treasury rates. In some areas now in some states, what used to be a small middle-class home can cost 8-10K in property taxes. Assume that couple doesn't have Medicare. Their medical insurance if they are in their late 50s may cost them 27K annually and cannot even be bought past 65. So add those two together, and now they have less than 25K to pay income taxes and all other living expenses.

In our society, the only people who have achieved "rich" by Teri's common sense definition are those who can afford to pay a million dollars in medical expenses out of pocket or who have government-paid insurance in their retirement, and even better if they have a government pension.

A lot of government pensions/medical insurance packages now are actually worth more than 3-4 million. Taxation doesn't recognize where wealth really is.

That's why people are hell-bent on getting "rich". They have no meaningful security without doing that.
 
Teri - I like your definition of "rich", and I guess your mind and mine moved the same way over the CA UE rate.

I looked at that and thought "How can this be?" CA has EVERYTHING. It has oil (not much exploited, but it has it). It has coasts, timber, superb farmland. It has extremely busy shipping ports. It has high-tech industry. In the past it has had a lot of heavy industry. This is a state that could be a highly successful independent country, if it could get its act together.

And they have pissed it all away through sheer complacency and mental laziness.
 
MOM,

I consider myself quite fortunate for living even as long as I have lived. I therefore don't expect all that much from healthcare as I get older. I don't feel all that entitled.

It is all a tradeoff. If I spend 10+ years working longer at a job I do not enjoy so that I can possibly afford to extend my life by a few years then I'm not at all convinced that it would be worth it.

Put another way, if I had been born in 1850 then I still think I could have found a way to be happy even knowing that I would probably only live to the age of 38.3.

So why should future potential healthcare problems (that I might not be able to afford) make me so unhappy now? In 1850 I would have died if I had gotten cancer. Maybe I will in the future.

Am I being optimistic? Pessimistic? Defeatist? Practical? I don't really know for sure. It is how I feel though.

Although I am not religious, I wake up each day feeling rather blessed. I was born at the right time and the right place. I managed to avoid serving in wars. I have access to food and hot running water. As bad as things get in this country, things could be a LOT worse.

Words cannot express the gratitude I have for being able to take a hot bath or shower each day. I really don't take the small stuff in life for granted.

I should be incredibly happy, just like most Americans. It is difficult to watch the decline of our country though. *shrug shoulders*
 
I guess one of the things that ticks me off so much is that I grew up in a house that was less than 800 square feet in size. One bathroom, only two rooms were heated (kerosene heater in living room, wood stove in the kitchen), if you dropped a marble on the linoleum floor it rolled on the sloping floor to the low point of the house. My two brothers and I slept in a tiny unheated bunkroom with a "thunder mug" to pee in. I never got new clothes (I wore my older brothers hand me downs) until I was in high school. I won't go on, just point out that we were poor.

I was determined to escape from that feeling of always worrying where the next dollar was coming from.

Well, the miracle that is this country provided just that. I'm not rich now - no where near it. But my wife and I are comfortable and living so far beyond what I experienced as a child, I do say a prayer of thanks every day. Most of the people I went to school with (yes, I'm still in touch with old high school classmates) have done okay as well. In fact a couple of them are rich. Were we just lucky? Maybe so, but every time I feel guilty because of our good fortune, I think back to the way I worked my way through college, times when my wife and I put off buying new things so we could tuck more away in savings, how I worked two jobs for many years, the way we have tried to be responsible and invest carefully, the sacrifices we made to put our children through college. So, we worked hard, saved, invested and it worked out. Part of the secret was that the country was growing (with the exception of the 70s) the whole time. Looking back I see that our fortunes were tied to that growth. The 70s were shocking to me because the future looked bleak but we recovered. We are presently in a similar period. The country was put back on a growth path in the 80s by the policies of Ronald Reagan. IMO, we need those policies again so new generations can enjoy the blessings of a dynamic, growing economy. That is why I'm in the TEA Party, why I write to my Congress critters, why I send money to good candidates. I want everyone who works hard and plays by the rules to have a shot at getting comfortable if not rich. Get the government out of their way!
 
Yeah don't get me started on food stamps and prepared food! I had way too much experience with food stamps in the 70s and 80s. It's corporate welfare, pure and simple. People on food stamps have so little money to spend. Back when they gave out commodities, they also gave a cookbook, to teach you how to use those supplies. If folks are too lazy to learn how to cook, let them do without.

As for simple pleasures, I have gotten myself in trouble ona peak oil list for suggesting those folks try life without electricity. You don't have to wait for peak oil to experience the joys of no juice. They'd learn how much more time they have to spend on getting the basic necessities.
 
Well, when we exported jobs... we also increased government spending on the safety net.

Sort of a chicken/egg thing, really. Every little increase in social safety net exported a few jobs. Every export of jobs created a reason for another increase in the social safety net. (I consider regulation in a broad sense to be part of the social safety net.)

The ONLY reduction of the social safety net that is EVER on the table is monetary payments to the working classes after they stop working. That and maybe reduction in banking regulation, which historically is the most important safety net.

We're a highly educated country and we seem to have made only stupid decisions.
 
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