Category Archives: generation greed

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 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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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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A Value Added Tax Would Be Far More Fair Than the Payroll Tax

As I showed in my prior post…

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2019/07/31/dont-increase-the-federal-payroll-tax-replace-it-with-a-value-added-tax/

The federal payroll tax on the first $132,900 in wage and salary or self- employment income, a tax that has been increased over the decades, is both unjust and economically damaging.  All the groups of people who have become richer over the past four decades, at the expense of making everyone else poorer, have either all or much of their income exempt from it.  Today’s seniors, the richest generations in U.S. history, because their retirement income is exempt from the payroll tax (they also get special exemptions from the federal and state income taxes).  The very wealthy, because investment income is exempt from the payroll tax (divided and interest are also taxed at a lower rate under the federal income tax).  And those who get very rich non-wage benefits, generally unionized public employees – all that income is exempt from both the payroll tax and income taxes.

These groups have used their political power to capture a greater and greater share of total U.S. income, while the work income of ordinary private sector workers has been going down, generation by generation. With Millennials paid 25 percent less than Baby Boomers had been at the same point in their careers.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2019/05/25/retirement-benefits-are-to-white-collar-crime-and-generational-inequity-what-handguns-are-to-street-crime/

And yet it is these less well off workers who are forced to carry the burden of Social Security and Medicare for the richer and more entitled generations that preceded them, the soaring cost of public employee pensions and health care, and the huge national debt run up by the multiple rounds for tax cuts for the rich.

So what would I propose to make federal taxes more equitable on a generational basis, and more progressive (with the better off paying more) as well? Replace the regressive, worker-only federal payroll tax with less regressive, everyone pays as they spend their money Value Added Tax (VAT).

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Don’t Increase the Federal Payroll Tax –Replace It With A Value Added Tax

If there is one tax that both Republicans and Democrats love to increase, it is the federal payroll tax, now at 15.3% of your paycheck, theoretically split between employers and employees with the “self-employed” paying both halves.  The biggest tax change in my lifetime took place in the early 1980s, at the start of my career.  With the biggest cut in the progressive income tax in history, followed by the biggest increase in the regressive payroll tax in history, during the Reagan Administration.  The income tax cut has been repeated twice since, to benefit the richest members of the richest generations in history at the expense of loading debt on the less well off generations to follow.  That has been a Republican policy.  But increasing the payroll tax – the base, the rate, or both — is a Democratic go-to as well, to increase or at least maintain Social Security benefits under various Democratic proposals, as noted here…

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2019/02/17/social-security-the-democrats-join-generation-greeds-theft-of-the-future-from-less-well-off-later-born-generations/

Or to pay for things like family leave, as in the state program in New York or the federal program proposed by New York Senator Gillibrand.

Why increase the payroll tax?  Because the types of people who have gotten richer and richer over the past 40 years, at the expense of those who have gotten poorer and poorer (to the point where their life expectancy is falling), don’t have to pay it, or as much of it.  Only regular workers do.  We are now in the special interest pandering, campaign contribution collecting portion of the 2020 Presidential campaign.  No wonder everyone wants higher payroll taxes – or, as alternative, even more in cuts in federal old age benefits for already-disadvantaged later-born generations only.

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It Would Seem That Somebody Doesn’t Like NYC Public Finance Charts

About a month ago, I went to post a comment on an article on the NYC blog Gothamist, which is owned by WNYC (to which we have contributed for decades), and found that I had been banned from commenting.

At about the same time, I sought to comment on an article on the NYC education blog Chalkbeat, and found that the same thing had happened.

Some other funky things started happening to some other comments I made elsewhere at about the same time.  I wrote to each of these sites to ask why I was banned, no so much out of disappointment, but out of curiosity.  Neither responded.  So I am left to look at my last comments on each site, which they deleted from their sites but cannot be deleted from my disqus account, to try to figure out the actual reason.

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Public School Finance Over Two Decades, in NYC And Elsewhere, Based on Census Bureau Data: Anyone Remember “School Reform”?

Remember school reform?  The idea that funding for public schools, in New York City and across the country, would be increased, and in return the kind of education those schools were expected to provide would rise as well, even for poor and disadvantaged students.  “No child left behind.”  Republicans such as George W. Bush were in favor, but so were Democrats such as Teddy Kennedy and Barack Obama.  But nobody talks about it anymore, and for good reason.  In New York City, and some places like it, the schools – and the teachers union — grabbed vastly more money, but once that was locked in they rejected any increased expectations, or any expectations at all, and have since demanded still more money.  In some other states anti-tax politicians reversed higher school funding, though not completely, and left the quality of education lower than it had been decades ago.

Nationwide the reversal was driven by three trends.  Since FY 2007, with the children of the Baby Boomers (aka the Millennials) exiting school, public school enrollment has been falling in many places, and barely increasing nationwide.  So the only generation that matters, the Baby Boomers, wants money and attention shifted to other things — even as the schools and the politicians they support, in places like Upstate NY, want more money funneled through the increasing empty schools as a jobs and retirement program.  Throughout their adulthood, this generation either failed to fund the pensions teachers had been promised, or retroactively increased those pensions to benefit the generations cashing in and moving out – themselves.  As a result much of the increase in school funding per student that did occur actually went to retired school employees, rather than to the classroom. All this came to a head with the Great Recession, followed by a perpetual fiscal crisis across the country.  One associated with falling tax burdens in some places, but rising tax burdens in New York. School reform is over across the country, but in New York City it was probably a fraud to start with.

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