Category Archives: generational equity

Generation Greed: They Aren’t Using Those Words, but Some Folks Are Starting to Connect the Dots

After a three-decade party, with some folks getting to party a lot more than others, there is suddenly no way to avoid the reality other than drifting into closed-eyed fantasy. The generations I have identified as Generation Greed, the richest in American history, are leaving the generations to follow are much worse off in many ways. And, in many cases, those at the back end of Generation Greed are facing old age much worse off then they themselves had been, forced by their prior excess consumption, debts and prior lack of savings to downsize a material lifestyle that for many of them had been the whole project of their lives. As I most recently noted in detail in my previous post.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/generation-greeds-last-economic-orgy-federal-reserve-z1-debt-data-for-2016-rising-housing-prices-census-bureau-data-on-worse-off-young-adults-falling-life-expectancy-etc/

The consequence of this realization has not been an increase in empathy or an attempt to change the worst aspects of a collective legacy while there is still time. There is still no willingness to make any personal sacrifices in the present for the collective future. The fact that the non-greedy minority of Generation Greed hasn’t stepped up to face the facts and battle for their own offspring is one final disappointment. The desperate desire of some of its rich to insulate their own children from the consequences of a diminished society — by repealing the estate tax — is the only effective example of concern by today’s seniors with what they will leave behind. Rather, the media they dominate remains filled with demands for scapegoats and rationalizations, and one more round of “what about my needs!” Needs that are somehow supposed to be met by latter born generations that are poorer, and yet are having large economic burdens shifted to them that will diminish their entire future.

But if one uses the right search terms, one can find some examples over the past year of younger generations beginning to resent the country they have inherited, albeit not enough to get off the couch and do something about it.

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Generation Greed’s Last Economic Orgy: Federal Reserve Z1 Debt Data for 2016, Rising Housing Prices, Census Bureau data on Worse Off Young Adults, Falling Life Expectancy, Etc.

The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money” – Margret Thatcher in 1976

The problem with capitalism is that given enough inequality, eventually businesses trying to sell things run out of other people’s money” — Larry Littlefield, 2016

For 35 years, generations of Americans born after 1957 or so have been paid less but sold more, with the difference covered first by more household members in the workforce, then by inadequate requirement savings, and then by soaring public and private debt. The richest and most entitled generations in U.S. history worked hard and were very creative, but they over-consumed what even they were able to produce and expected too many years in retirement with too little in savings, at the expense of the poorer generations that have followed them. With some members of those generations grabbing far more than the others. With too much money in too few hands, the whole world economy has become dependent on Americans spending more than they had. And since America finally started to go broke with millions retiring into poverty, the world economy has faced a global crisis of demand.

When you put all the trends together, as I have below, it adds to a shocking picture that puts every current debate in context. Today’s young adults paid less than Generation Greed was paid at the same age in 1975, and forced by government policy to pay more for housing. Life expectancy falling. Personal and federal debts once again soaring, all the mistakes of the 2000s being repeated. Topping it off, we now have Donald Trump as President. Does this mean that the U.S. is finally prepared to admit, face and tackle its problems? Or does it mean that the most over-privileged and entitled members of the most over-privileged and entitled generations in U.S. history are just grabbing more, in one last economy orgy before the final collapse?

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Infrastructure: Census Bureau State and Local Government Finance Data for FY 2004 and FY 2014

If there is one thing that virtually every public policy commentator and politician seems to believe, it is that more should be spent on infrastructure. And yet the direction of public policy has been in the exact opposite direction, with maintenance often unfunded or funded by debts that now soak up a large share of revenues dedicated to roads, bridges, airports, and transit, water and sewer systems. The trend has been at its worst in the Northeast. And as costs from the past, including pension funding and debt service, increased between FY 2004 and FY 2014, expenditures on the future – on the infrastructure – decreased when measured per $1,000 of personal income. It’s a trend that, according to anecdotal evidence, continues to this day, with consequences that continue to appear over time as the sold out future becomes the present.

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Overview of State and Local Government Expenditures: FY 2014 vs. FY 2004, Census Bureau Data

State and local government public services and benefits are getting squeezed. There is less money available for them because of rising costs from the past, notably under-funded and retroactively enhanced pensions for public employees who are already retired or soon to retire. In some places, as noted in the prior post on taxes, this squeeze has been exacerbated by falling taxes as a percent of personal income. The total wages and salaries of those public employees who are still working are falling as a percent of taxpayer personal income just about everywhere, as is spending on services for the needy (other than those associated with health care). And the anecdotal evidence suggests that since FY 2014, the latest year for which data is available, the squeeze has gotten worse. Despite the third biggest stock bubble in history by one measure,

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-03-03/what-to-make-of-these-twice-in-history-s-p-500-valuations

which makes public employee pensions seem better funded than the really are, years of zero percent interest rates, which reduce state and local government interest costs, and a long-running economic upcycle, which has boosted tax revenues.

http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/03/03/borenstein-despite-booming-economy-oakland-finances-deteriorate/

Whatever this data shows, things have gotten worse since in most of the U.S.

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State and Local Taxes in FY 2004 and 2014: Census Bureau Data

When measured as a percent of state residents’ personal income, the combined state and local government tax burden of New York State and, in particular, New York City is uniquely high compared with other states. Reputedly high-tax states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and California aren’t even close. The only states where the tax burden is higher than, or even close to, New York are large, low-population states with extensive tax revenues from oil, gas, or other mineral production: Alaska, Wyoming, and more recently North Dakota, where a “fracking” boom has given way to bust. In these states residents and other businesses pay little in taxes – in Alaska they actually get checks. The Census Bureau data for FY 2004 to FY 2014 shows New York’s tax burden rising further, even as the average U.S. state and local tax burden remained close to 10 percent of personal income, about where it has been for decades. And yet all one hears in New York’s media is demands for still higher funding, and higher taxes, and higher staffing, and higher pay, and richer pensions made by New York’s public employee unions and the politicians they control, particularly in those in the New York State Legislature.

While the U.S. average is stable, the data shows a divergence among states. In many other states with above average state and local tax burdens in FY 2004, those burdens also increased further by FY 2014. And in many states where the tax burden was already below average in FY 2004 it fell even further, even in the face of soaring pension costs that have pressured state and local government budgets throughout the country. In several Midwestern states – Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan – the tax burden fell from somewhat above average as a percent of income to average or somewhat below, despite weak per capita income growth. In these aging states, public spending on seniors is rising, not only through federal programs that our current President has promised to protect (and his party has promised to protect for current beneficiaries but not younger generations), but also for the pensions and benefits of retired public employees. So the shrinking tax burden just adds to the downward pressure on other state and local government services, which benefit other age groups.   What do those three states, plus Pennsylvania which has a below average tax burden despite soaring pension costs, have in common? A spreadsheets, further commentary and charts follow.

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State and Local Government Finance: Census Bureau Data for FY2014 Compared with FY 2004

The Governments Division of the U.S Census Bureau released its detailed state and local finance data for FY 2014 on January 31, and I have compiled it and produced a couple of large tables – one for all state governments and one for all local governments by state – comparing that year with FY 2004. The data shows, by category, the amount of revenues (property taxes, federal aid), expenditures (public school spending, police department spending) and debt for every state in the country and, at the local government level, for New York City and the Rest of New York State separately.

To be comparable across states and across the years, the data is presented per $1,000 of the personal income of all the residents of each state. Think of it this way. Your household else spends X percent of its household budget on food, X percent on housing, etc. And, via the taxes and government fees you pay, X percent of its income on public schools, X percent on police, etc. The data is presented per $1,000 rather than as a percent to make the data for small categories easier to see. I plan to write a series of posts, with additional tables and charts, for different aspects of state and local government finance separately. But in the triumph of hope over experience, in this post I will explain where the data comes from and how it was compiled, provide the whole database for download up front, and invite people to look at the numbers themselves at the same time I do, and decide for themselves what the data means. Before getting my take on it.

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Local Area Personal Income Data: The Unsaid

Not long ago, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released its Local Area Personal Income data for 2015.

https://bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/lapi/lapi_newsrelease.htm

And I downloaded some data, using the “interactive data” tool to the right on the website, to see if various trends I have observed in the past have continued.   The data show that the Tri-state area continues to be a much richer than average part of the U.S., due mostly to those living and working in Manhattan (many of the richest of whom live in the suburbs), but Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens remain relatively poor. Manhattan is rich enough that New York City’s share of the nation’s personal income is stable even as its share of the nation’s population continues to fall. In New York State the total earnings per worker of state and local government workers (including employee benefits) continues to soar relative to the earnings of most private sector workers, who are left worse off as a result. The idea that lower wages for private sector workers are offset by, and in some sense caused by, higher employer costs for employee benefits hasn’t been true for more than two decades, and Obamacare did nothing to alter this. And more and more people have become self-employed, freelance, and contract laborers, rather than being employees at all, and the average earnings of such workers continues to fall. A series of charts and some discussion follows.

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