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NC Budget and Tax Center

The Institute for Emerging Issues wrapped up its forum on the future of work yesterday. The forum brings together leaders from across the state each year to discuss issues of importance to the well-being of the state. This year the topic was the future of work– the ways in which automation and technology are changing how we work and the relationship between workers, employers, consumers and communities.

Despite the projections and well-intentioned guesses about what the future will bring, no one knows for sure what the outcome will be.  What we do know is what we do today can support better economic outcomes for more families, businesses and communities in the state.  Research is clear that wage growth and public policy will be key to ensuring that the future of work has the number and quality of jobs that can boost the economy for everyone.

If this sounds familiar, it should. North Carolina’s wage problem is front and center in the daily lives of workers and the communities where they live today.  Without wages that ensure workers can provide for the basics and spend locally, employers struggle to see the demand for goods and services that allow them to expand and communities are challenged to support the opportunities that build the long-term potential for children’s economic success as adults.  North Carolina’s uneven recovery and elevated hardship today are indicators of what happens when policy doesn’t focus on wages or the ways in which all communities can connect to economic opportunity.

On the first day, a panel of policymakers, Senator Chad Barefoot and Speaker Tim Moore, were joined by Rick Glazier with the North Carolina Justice Center and John Hood with the John Locke Foundation to discuss just where policy can ensure that the future of work delivers greater opportunity and shared prosperity.

John Hood highlighted the critical goal of ensuring that workers have the “capital” to meet their needs and make investments that support advancement of themselves, their families and build assets in their community.  This is indeed the goal and a broadly shared one that is the concern of the vast majority of North Carolinians. A workers’ ability to make ends meet and spend is what the economy needs to function well and expand.  That is why a focus on boosting wages and what communities need to do so, not on reducing the size of government, is needed.

The solutions are readily available to North Carolina policymakers today. They are proven ones that will strengthen the economy for the future. To grow wages, North Carolina must: Read More

Commentary

The Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University is holding the second day of its two-day 2016 Forum on the future of work today. It’s a provocative topic with lots of ramifications for current and future public policy debates. Last fall, economist Patrick McHugh of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center wrote an outstanding “Progressive Voices” essay for N.C. Policy Watch in which he spelled out some of the central issues in this discussion along with some of the steps we need to take. Enjoy this rerun!

RobotsThe future of work in our rapidly changing economy: Don’t fear the robots, so long as we raise wages

By Patrick McHugh

The first time I saw a GPS-equipped bulldozer a decade ago, it was a revelation. The machine could take a set of plans and peel away soil down to exactly the chosen depth, based on satellites tracking the precise location of the bulldozer’s blade in real time.

Today, you probably have GPS in your pocket. GPS made a lot of industries more efficient, but it also has meant that a lot of jobs are no longer necessary. No need to follow earthmoving equipment around with two-person surveying crews, and the GPS-equipped machines allow even seasoned dozer hands to work faster. There’s still an operator in most bulldozers right now, but that may not be the case for much longer.

This is the sort of thing that has many people fretting over whether the next few decades of innovation will make people better or worse off. Some foresee robots dominating a blasted economic landscape, leaving masses of unemployed people struggling for survival. Others tell of a coming technological utopia with humans freed to follow higher pursuits, spending more time with friends and family. The reality will almost certainly fall somewhere in the middle, with the policy choices we make playing a big role in shaping whether the future looks more like purgatory or Eden.

Technology keeps getting smarter. It solves complicated problems that only people could tackle before. Computer programs analyze data, diagnose problems, and write cogent prose (will a rose smell as sweet when named by a computer?). At the same time, nimble robotics are learning to do tricky work in the physical world, like stocking shelves, cooking food, and driving. All of this means that we soon won’t need people to do a lot of the jobs that exist now.

If we make sure this improved productivity translates into rising income for everyone, we will create a bunch of new jobs in new occupations that we still can’t imagine. If enough people have money to buy new goods and services, those new jobs will make up for the work that machines are doing. But if we continue on the path of the past few decades, declining wages will further undermine consumer demand, and there won’t be enough new types of work to replace what is taken over by computers and robots. Read More

Commentary

The wonks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities are out with a new report that, once again, derides the central premise  of the “economic development” strategy being pursued by Governor Pat McCrory and the General Assembly.

Here’s the opening to “State Job Creation Strategies Often Off Base”:

To create jobs and build strong economies, states should focus on producing more home-grown entrepreneurs and on helping startups and young, fast-growing firms already located in the state to survive and to grow ? not on cutting taxes and trying to lure businesses from other states.  That’s the conclusion from a new analysis of data about which businesses create jobs and where they create them.

The data show that:

  • The vast majority of jobs are created by businesses that start up or are already present in a state — not by the relocation or branching into a state by out-of-state firms. Jobs that move into one state from another typically represent only 1 to 4 percent of total job creation each year, depending on the state.  Jobs created by out-of-state businesses expanding into a state through the opening of new branches represent less than one-sixth of total job creation.  In other words, “home-grown” jobs contribute more than 80 percent of total job creation in every state.
  • During periods of healthy economic growth, startups and young, fast-growing companies are responsible for most new jobs.  During the Internet-driven boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, for example, startup firms (those less than one year old) and high-growth firms — which are likely to be young — accounted for about 70 percent of all new jobs in the U.S. economy.  Firms older than one year actually lost jobs on average; any new jobs they created were more than offset by jobs they eliminated through downsizing or closure.  In short, startups and young, fast-growing firms are the fundamental drivers of job creation when the U.S. economy is performing well.

State economic development policies that ignore these fundamental realities about job creation are bound to fail.  A good example is the deep income tax cuts many states have enacted or are proposing.  Such tax cuts are largely irrelevant to owners of young, fast-growing firms because they generally have little taxable income.  And, tax cuts take money away from schools, universities, and other public investments essential to producing the talented workforce that entrepreneurs require.  Many policymakers also continue to focus their efforts heavily on tax breaks aimed at luring companies from other states — even though startups and young, fast-growing firms already in the state are much more important sources of job creation.”

If only our state policymakers would pay attention and abandon their archaic and failed , tax cuts uber alles approach to the economy, North Carolina might really be making some hay. Unfortunately, that clearly is not the case.

Click here to read the entire report.

NC Budget and Tax Center

While the first storm of winter was heading our way yesterday, prominent economist Jared Bernstein discussed a low pressure system of a different type, how the persistent failure to achieve full employment is pushing wages down and contributing to growing wealth inequality.

Drawing on his work on the importance of full employment, Dr. Bernstein discussed how underemployment is responsible for much of the wage stagnation we have seen in recent decades. Particularly as attacks on organized labor have reduced the power of workers to directly pressure employers for better pay, and with a lack of political will to increase the minimum wage, workers’ only tend to see better pay when employers have to actively compete with each other to attract employees. When the economy isn’t creating enough jobs, and a large pool of unemployed people are desperate to find work, employers are not compelled to increase wages, which is precisely what we have seen in recent years.

Unemployment with Missing WorkersThe problem of underemployment depressing wages is not unique to North Carolina, but it is particularly pressing here in the Tar Heel state. Included in our End of the Year Chartbook for 2015, the two charts included here indicate that the dynamic Dr. Bernstein identified is alarmingly active here in NC. First, if we include all of the “Missing Workers” who were forced out of the labor pool during the recession due to lack of jobs, the real unemployment rate in North Carolina is likely still in the double figures. With so many people still looking for work, employers in many industries are not raising wages, which means that workers are receiving less of the value they create.NC Workers Receiving Less of the Value they Create

Dr. Bernstein argued that we don’t have to accept this state of affairs. There are policy responses that could get us closer to full employment and deliver wage growth, but a lack of political will at both the state and federal levels is preventing those remedies from being administered. So long as state leaders pursue tax cuts instead of raising the minimum wage, expanding educational and workforce investments, and wage supports like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Dr. Bernstein worries that we will continue to see inflated unemployment and wage stagnation and miss the critical opportunity to make the economy work for more people.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Uncategorized

Last Thursday, members of the Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee saw evidence that many “business climate” rankings overstate how well North Carolina is actually doing.Abernathy Slide - Rankings and Econ Performance

Respected economic expert Ted Abernathy, formerly the Executive Director of the Southern Growth Policies board and now with Economic Leadership, an economic development and analysis consultancy, briefed the committee on a range of economic dynamics from growing wage gaps between urban and rural North Carolina to factors that influence our competitiveness on the global market.

Abernathy also examined how North Carolina’s economic performance compared with how we fared in several business interest group and media publications. This analysis shows that North Carolina’s economic performance has fallen short of its stature in many of the rankings. As can be seen in the graph, North Carolina is in the top 20% in performance (“Statistical Ranking”), but is a top 5 state in the “Best States” rankings. Our economy is doing better than many states, but not nearly as well as many state rankings would imply. Read More