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I find it interesting and frustrating when I hear news reporters talking or writing about employment. I suppose in fairness to them I have to admit it is difficult to talk about something as complicated as any sector of economics when the best most journalists have studied is one or two semesters of introductory economics. That is why most professional journals only hire writers who have studied, actually majored in the field they are writing about. That is an economic journal hires those who have studied economics and science journals are written by journalist with some kind of science major.

After all, I would have a difficult time writing about nuclear physics. Of course I wouldn’t try either, and sometimes such as when the government releases the monthly employment report that is “news” and people do want to know if unemployment increased or decreased over the past month.

So, I better be careful and not make any errors when discussing this report.

And here is the type of thing I am talking about. As we began to get deeper and deeper into this most recent economic contraction which society likes to call the Great Recession the increase in unemployment begin to slow down. Many begin to write that we were moving into a recovery. It took those who knew how unemployment counting works to point out that after people have been out of work long enough that they no longer could collect unemployment benefits many simply quit looking for work. Guess what? Those people are no longer officially unemployed. They are simply out there lost in the great statistical world. So, while the announced unemployment rate might have been reported as 9.8 percent the real rate when those no longer counted are included might have been greater than 12 percent, and those more than 2 percent additional were even more hungry than the 9.8 percent.

Beyond the personal problems of those who are not even receiving minimal help, we have to realize that makes the economic activity for the entire economy even worse than what is reported.

How much would take too much room to write about here. Just realize that because this recession has lasted longer than most it really meant that the problems were even greater and deeper than it has been in most recessions.

Of the four states I report on it is certainly Minnesota where this was the most important because it is by far the most industrial state of the four and has the largest percentage and numbers of people who moved into that nether land.

Another situation I would like to expand on is to discuss both the unemployment rate and the numbers of people employed. That is because most assume that if they hear that unemployment dropped a percent they think they can figure that out by comparing the difference in the two employment figures.

In fact, because of what I wrote about above and also because the employed figure changes can be influenced by both immigration and emigration. The history of North Dakota, especially over the past 20 years or so is a very good example of this.

North Dakota never has had a very high rate of unemployment over the past 40 to 50 years. It is not that as farming became more and more mechanized and there were not only fewer farmers but also fewer jobs in all those small towns around the state, and yet the state always had a relatively low unemployment rate. How come?

It is because unless there were severe losses of job opportunities around the nation that North Dakotans were told to move to where the jobs were, or at least should be. That was in other states. Especially Minnesota or Colorado, but even California, or Georgia, or Washington, or where ever the industrial growth was happening.

Now in the more recent past as the economy around the nation has changed the opposite has occurred. That is, North Dakota’s unemployment rate has improved, but really the percentage is not very much. For instance, we brag about it being the lowest in the nation at 2.4 percent in May of this year, but in May 2000 it was 2.6 percent. Of course in May 2010 it had increased to 3.3 percent before we really started to grow from the oil boom.

But this is what counts, from May 2000 to May 2014 the number of employed people in North Dakota had increased by nearly 20 percent. That is huge. That could come about only by people moving into the state.

Minnesota, which brags about having the lowest unemployment rate of any major MSA in Minneapolis/St. Paul barely increased the number of jobs over that same 14 year period by 5 percent.

South Dakota and Montana were both twice the percentage growth of Minnesota, but still barely over one-half of North Dakota. The United States was in the category of only about 40 percent of the growth compared of North Dakota.

All that being said, North Dakota still has the fewest number of employed people, and by quite a bit even compared to South Dakota.

So, which is the best state? Depends on your interpretation. Not so crowded in North Dakota. But not all the opportunities all around the state like Minnesota, or even South Dakota.

 

First, I have made three postings today. There is this report on North Dakota’s General Fund Revenues and Transfers. Below that is the Airline Boardings Report, and finally the most recent Employment/Unemployment report.

Concerning this report, second verse same as the first… Well, at least one thing that can be said about the projections purchased by the state is that they are consistent. That is, the same to be off by the same amount in each category every month.

At least that is the case with the amount they are off for the biennium to date. For a month to month comparison you would find some fairly with swings. For instance, with the individual income tax category they were short by about nine percent. That was blamed on people making the final adjustments on their 2013 income taxes. While that may be a valid reason it means that for the individual income taxes in North Dakota they were off by over 35 percent, and that is too much.

Incidentally, they were off by nearly that exact amount in the same time as the corporate income taxes. Also, in the insurance premium tax.

The worst category was the financial institutions tax. The projections
were off by 100 percent according to the OMB report. That hardly seems possible if any real economic effort was attempted.

Well, ignoring that waste of money, we can be happy that the report continues to very positive concerning North Dakota’s revenue. Even after the legislature’s attempt to cut taxes the state has collected nearly 20 percent more money to date than last biennium. We really are getting to a point where we need to consider some serious tax refunding to this state’s citizens.

 

Well, all I can say here is that this months border crossing data is confusing, at least to me. As it has been for some time the Canadian dollar has continued to lose its value relative to the the U.S. dollar. In fact by quite a bit over the past year (see last item on the chart). That is considered a significant drop compared to a year ago.

Now we know that the oil boom continues in North Dakota, and that includes the relationship(s) between the North Dakota oil and the Canadian sands oil, so that is part of the increase in traffic.

So too is the improving economy between Canada and the U.S. so that accounts for some of the increase, especially in Fargo and Grand Forks.

However, the increase in the number of people crossing at the border stations, especially Pembina and the smaller crossing in North Dakota and Minnesota is hard to understand. Generally those are private citizens coming for the Canadian “holiday” weekends and for shopping excursions, especially to Grand Forks and Fargo, and to a smaller amount in Minot, Bismarck, and Williston.

Now, with nearly a 10 percent drop in the drop in value of the Canadian dollar relative to the U.S. there was over a 13 percent increase in border traffic. That is a lot in any case, but it is confusing under these circumstances. We will just have to see if this is a one time aberration, or the leading edge of real improvement, which we hope for.

 

If you read the national and regional news there isn’t much I can add here for the employment report for the northern plains. Well, some detail that most readers probably know, but just to emphasize here it is:

North Dakota is still growing. There is some growth that is explainable, but I am not sure about some of it. For instance, the growth in Fargo, the size of the growth is a little hard to understand compared to the rest of the country. The only thing I would say is that town is continuing to be the Twin Cities furthest northwest suburban area and Minnesota, especially the Twin Cities metropolitan area, and more, has had good growth the past year. I think Fargo and Sioux Falls are benefiting from that growth. Good for North Dakota.

Good for South Dakota, too. Probably it is more accurate to say even “gooder” for South Dakota. Unlike North Dakota, South Dakota doesn’t have those four bigger towns and then a few medium size. Instead, it has one big town (Sioux Falls) and then several bigger towns that have significant economies.

Of course South Dakota doesn’t have the oil boom economy and its growth hasn’t been as dramatic as North Dakota’s, but it has had a good recovery and it shows with the good unemployment rates in those “bigger small towns”.

While the wild growth days of the oil boom in North Dakota is gone (as planned for), but there is still plenty of growth left. There are suppose to be 25,000 plus unfilled jobs still in the state. What happens this fall could create a change if voters take an anti-growth attitude. It will be interesting to see what happens and could give journalist a lot to write about for the next two years. As for me, I don’t expect that, at least to any significant degree.

In the meantime, here is the report for this month, and as I said about the state revenues report last week: “Second verse, same as the first, a little bit….

 

Second verse same as the verse. A little…. You remember the song, and I don’t mean to be repetitive in my comments, but I just have to say this. Although it is not a great amount the legislative forecast at the end of April is off by even more than it was last month.

In total the amount received at the end of April is nearly 9% more than forecast. Last month that figure was 7.1%. The error is nearly 30% more than last month.

You might also remember that OMB said that a lot of the problem would be solved when income tax payers, especially the corporate, sent their final tax reports in and corrected for over payments they had made. Last month the corporate income tax collections were about 42% larger than the projections. This month that figure is about 39%. That is not much. The difference for the individual income taxes is less than 2%.

In sum, individual tax collections are nearly 36% larger than projected collections, and corporate nearly 39% larger. That is a lot.

The only account that is even close is sales tax collections. That is a peculiar account to be close given North Dakota’s still booming economy, and then to miss the income taxes by so much.

Remember, both income taxes were changed and state sales taxes remained the same. Seems to me Economy.com didn’t know how to adjust for changes to the income tax, both corporate and individual.

Finally, I will note again, and hope those in charge of preparing and voting on the next bienniums budget, keep in mind these continuing errors. If not, when the economy, even the growth in the economy, slows down we will find the North Dakota budget in deficit. With the total receipts being only about 9% greater than the projections income would be about $5 million dollars short if the two income tax accounts had been correct just to this point in the biennium, or $12 million at the end of the biennium if the North Dakota economy stays like this. We easily could handle that, but if it continues through the time that will amount to a significant amount-something unnecessary.