Author Archives: larrylittlefield

About larrylittlefield

A blogger on state and local government and related issues in Brooklyn NY.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Local Area Personal Income Data: Somebody Screwed Up the State and Local Government Earnings Data for NYC

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post based in part on Local Area Personal Income data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, showing how the mean earnings per worker (adjusted for inflation) had changed for state and local government workers, financial sector workers, and other private sector workers from 1969 to 2016 – for Downstate New York, Upstate New York, New Jersey and the U.S. as a whole.  I later added data for Connecticut.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2017/11/26/the-executive-financial-class-the-political-union-class-and-the-serfs-redux/

I recently downloaded the same data from the same source to see if there was anything different.

https://www.bea.gov/data/income-saving/personal-income-county-metro-and-other-areas

The data shows that the total earnings of state and local government workers in New York City increased 22.7% from 2017 to 2018.   While Manhattan was flat, the increase was 52.1% in the Bronx, 43.8% in Brooklyn, 39.3% in Queens and 47.8% in Staten Island.  Clearly that did not actually happen.

In the past I would have dismissed this as an error, to be pointed out to the BEA and fixed next year. But more and more data and other factual information has been altered in more and more ways over the past three years, or disappeared completely, specifically for state and local government finances in New York.  So I have begun to fear something worse.  I looked into it.  Here is what I found.

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The Upstate NY Rural Population Boom?

Last August I downloaded population and earnings data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, from its Local Area Personal Income series, to use in my compilation of state and local government employment per 100,000 people.  The data was for 1997, 2007, and 2017.  As always I divided the state into four regions.  New York City, whose population I got by adding up the five boroughs. The Downstate Suburbs, which I got by adding up Nassau, Putman, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester Counties.  The Upstate Urban Counties, the sum of Albany, Broome, Dutchess, Erie, Monroe, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Orange, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady Counties.  And the rural and small Rest of New York State, which I got by subtracting the other three areas from the state total. The data showed a big population drop for this part of the state from 2007 to 2017 – and a thus huge increase in local government employment per 100,000 people.

Local Area Personal Income data has been updated to 2018 recently.

https://www.bea.gov/data/income-saving/personal-income-county-metro-and-other-areas

And I started downloading it for possible use in another analysis.  New York State’s 2017 population was exactly the same as the estimate released a year earlier.  But New York City’s 2017 population was slashed by 184,427 (2.1%), with smaller decreases for the Downstate Suburbs and Upstate Urban Counties.    Which means that since the Rest of New York State was obtained by subtraction, its population 2017 had soared by 247,319, a full 10.3% increase!  Despite the fact that the 2017 population estimate for virtually every individual county in the Rest of New York State has gone down!  It isn’t a surprise that the numbers are different.  Numbers are revised all the time based on new information.  But changes of this magnitude, despite NO change in the state total?

The best case scenario is a screw up.  Which is pretty much what I believe about next year’s 2020 Census of Population.

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The Sold Out Future By State Analysis Reprised

About a year ago I published an analysis based on U.S. Census Bureau government finances data, for all states and all available years from 1972 to 2016, that showed the extent to which each state’s future (with New York City and the rest of NY State analyzed separately, and the District of Columbia also included) has been sold out. Sold out by past decisions, non-decisions, deals and favors with regard to state and local government debt, past infrastructure investment, and under funded and/or retroactively increased public employee pensions.  The analysis was well received, and best of all many people downloaded the spreadsheet with all the data for all 50 states, all the tables, and almost all of the charts.  I always put up a post encouraging people to download the spreadsheets, look at the data themselves, and make up their own minds before reading my subsequent posts and getting my take on it. Generally people had downloaded charts, but not spreadsheets.  Last year that changed.

What I had forgotten last year, however, but have since remembered, is the multi-step process needed to put readable tables, in JPEG format, into the posts on WordPress.   So this year I added the tables to the posts I just completed on state and local government employment and payroll data from the 2017 Census of Governments, and I found that many people had downloaded them.  I don’t know why some people might prefer pictures of numbers to actual numbers, but apparently some people do.  So I plan to rectify last year’s omission of tables – except for people who downloaded the spreadsheet — from the Sold Out Futures posts with a brief reprise.   The data shows that while the blame for our sold out future is widely shared, New York City’s past taxpayers are the most the most blameless in the entire United States.  And New York City’s public employee unions and contractors have been the most unfair to other city residents.  And nowhere else is even close.

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Bureaucracy: 2017 Census of Governments Employment & Payroll Data

This post will complete my series on different government functions based on employment and payroll data from the Census of Governments, for March 2017 and previous years. It includes data for the kind of general government and legal workers one might generally expect to find hanging around in city and town halls, and county seats and courthouses, reviewing applications, keeping records, handling cases and doing inspections, rather than providing services.  At the local government level the functions included are, as delineated by the U.S. Census Bureau, Health, Financial Administration, Other Local Government Administration, Judicial and Legal, and Other and Unallocable. At the state level there are two additional functions:  Social Insurance Administration, basically state Departments of Labor, and “Other Education,” which includes oversight agencies such as the New York State Department of Education and Board of Regents.

For decades I’ve been making the case that for public employment and expenditures alike there is not much to see here. New York State is about average when you add everything up, and no part of the state is really out of line. Today, however, things have changed enough in one part of the state that this time around I don’t feel that to be true anymore.

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Public Amenities: Census of Governments Employment & Payroll for 2017

This post is about government functions I refer to as public amenities:  parks, recreation, culture, and libraries. Just because they are amenities doesn’t mean they are unimportant, although they are often treated that way in a budget crisis.  For the young and old, in fact, the availability of these shared, social spaces is one of the most important reasons to live in central cities. In modern suburbs people shuffle between detached homes and workplaces, and generally only interact with people they don’t already know in places that have significant admission fees. In New York City you can be with people, get entertained, and get exercise without spending much of anything.

Taxpaying workers who don’t have children in public schools, don’t commit crimes, and aren’t on Medicaid, are cash cows for the City and State of New York. These public amenities, along with streets, mass transit and garbage pick up, are really all they get for the taxes they pay, since the cost of water and sewer service is funded by charges.  These are things that benefit everyone, but given the special interest-driven politics of state and local government here, the goal is always to take from everyone and give it to the “special people.”  So benefitting everyone is the same as benefitting no one in particular who actually matters.  Fortunately, Census of Governments employment and payroll data shows that as of March 2017 New York City’s agencies in these functions were not understaffed (unlike in the past for parks), and their workers were not underpaid. We’ll see what happens when the tax dollars aren’t gushing in from yet another Wall Street and real estate bubble, as they have been.

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Infrastructure: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

This series of posts based on Census of Governments state and local government employment and payroll data for March 2017 (and 2007 and 1997) continues with a post on infrastructure functions:  highways and streets, mass transit, air transportation, water transportation, government-run electric and gas utilities, water supply, sewerage, and solid waste management.  Along with related private sector activity.  When I joined New York City Transit out of graduate school in 1986, I was told it was the largest industrial/blue collar employer in New York City.  It probably still is, with the other functions described adding as many blue collar jobs, and jobs with contractors many more.

In the past 10 years or so, subway riders have experienced a drastic decrease in their quality of life despite rising fares, relative to the very low inflation of the period.  This is something I have attributed to costs from the past – the big pension increase in 2000, with huge costs deferred until later, and decades of zero state and city funding for the MTA capital plan, with money borrowed instead.  But after reviewing the data for these functions, I have begun to worker if even worse is coming. And not just at the MTA. But we will have water!

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Hospitals, Social Services, and Housing: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

Health care vies with elementary and secondary education as the largest destination for federal and state government spending.  In fact, when I added it up in 2006 the federal, state and local governments were already paying for 75.0% to 80.0% of third party (insurance and public program) health care expenditures nationwide, which is to say expenditures other than co-payments and services people pay for themselves in cash (such as cosmetic surgery).  Directly (Medicare, Medicaid, the VA Hospital system) or indirectly (health insurance purchased on behalf of civilian public employees and their families, the exclusion of employer funded health insurance from taxable income, other tax breaks).

Socialized Medicine? Get Real, It’s Already Here

Since then the population has aged, leading to more Medicare and Medicaid spending, Medicaid has been expanded to more working people, and Obamacare has added another form of indirect federal support for private health insurance.  For all the discussion of “socialized medicine,” here in the U.S. the government share of third party health care expenditures is probably up to 85.0% or so, and as a percent of GDP it probably exceeds the cost of the entire health care system in developed countries.

Health care and social services, however, are provided by the government primarily through payments to private sector organizations, generally non-profits in New York City and throughout the Northeast.  Therefore in this, the fifth post based on my tabulation of state and local government employment and payroll data from the 2017 Census of Governments, data on related private sector organizations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics will take center stage.   And this analysis features the most shocking trend I have found so far.

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