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PW 47-2 quality jobs

Six years after the end of the Great Recession, jobs are finally becoming more plentiful in North Carolina, but the overwhelming majority of those jobs don’t pay enough to make ends meet, provide necessary benefits to help families get by, or create sustainable pathways into middle-class prosperity. In short, North Carolina is not creating enough quality jobs—employment opportunities that pay workers enough maintain basic spending on necessities like food and doctor visits, ensure retirement security, and provide paid time off when they or family members are sick. And without enough quality jobs, the middle class will shrink, consumer spending will drop, local business sales will suffer, and the overall economy will contract.

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Commentary

Following sharp questioning of Commerce Secretary Skvarla in a Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday, it was readily apparent that the Senate would take a different tack on economic development than the House, which passed its own much-criticized package last month. In a surprise press conference yesterday afternoon announcing their own “jobs package” , however, Senate leaders made it abundantly clear that “different” didn’t mean “better” when it comes to growing an economy that benefits everyone in the state. While the bill does take a few positive steps forward on improving our state’s incentive programs, on balance, the bad outweighs the good and does not represent the most effective approach to economic development.

Most importantly, the proposal doubles down on tax cuts and company-specific tax incentives, instead of policies that benefit companies by adding economic value to communities. We’ve known for decades that North Carolina’s competitive edge in the global economy rests on providing companies with the skilled workforce and infrastructure they need boost to their productivity and ensure long-term profitability.

Unfortunately, the proposed changes to the Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) program ignore these time-tested strategies for robust economic development in favor of budget-busting tax cuts and corporate incentives that have proved more expensive and less effective than advertised. In fact, 60 percent of JDIG projects have failed to live up to their promises of job creation or investment since the program began in 2002, and JDIG is out of money because the state spent more than half the available funds on a single project in Charlotte.

At a time when North Carolina needs to create at least 400,000 new jobs just to meet the needs of growing population, now is not the time to double down on ineffective economic development.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

Yesterday, Lawrence Mishel from the Economic Policy Institute made the compelling case that policymakers have missed the mark by focusing on tax levels rather than wage stagnation in their pursuit of improving growth rates and the economic well-being of the majority of Americans.  As Mishel points out:

Wage stagnation is a decades-long phenomenon. Between 1979 and 2014, while the gross domestic product grew 150 percent and productivity grew 75 percent, the inflation-adjusted hourly wage of the median worker rose just 5.6 percent — less than 0.2 percent a year. And since 2002, the bottom 80 percent of wage earners, including both male and female college graduates, have actually seen their wages stagnate or fall.

At the same time, taxation does not explain why middle-income families are having a harder time making ends meet, even as they increase their education and become ever more productive. According to the latest Congressional Budget Office data, the middle 60 percent of families paid just 3.2 percent of their income in federal income taxes in 2011, less than half what they paid in 1979.

Mishel goes on to detail a policy agenda that is far better targeted than tax cuts for delivering benefits to the majority of American workers and the broader economy.  This agenda includes some familiar proposals also appropriate for state policymakers: addressing wage theft and misclassification, raising the minimum wage and protecting workers rights to collectively bargain.  It also includes important macro-economic and trade policy choices like stopping the offshoring of jobs through trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and ensuring the Federal Reserve holds interest rates down until wage growth is more robust.

Again in Mishel’s own words:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, wage stagnation is not a result of forces beyond our control. It is a result of a policy regime that has undercut the individual and collective bargaining power of most workers. Because wage stagnation was caused by policy, it can be reversed by policy, too.

Commentary

raise the wageIn the giant banana republic of haves and have nots that the U.S. economy has increasingly come to resemble, any bump in the pay dosed out to front line workers by a company as huge and generally predatory as Wal-Mart — however modest — is a good thing. When a half-million people are able to take home a few more bucks a week, that’s good for them and good for the companies with whom they shop…like Wal-Mart. So hooray for the news.

Lest anyone get too moist in the eyes, however, and/or start cranking out humanitarian award nominations for the Walton family gozillionaires, it should be noted that the raises (1.1 percent for the average full-time wage over the next year, to $13 an hour and 5.2 percent for part-timers to an average $10 an hour, by February 2016) still leave those workers bringing home incomes much too low to live on. As the Associated Press reports about the new wage rates:

“Both fall below the $15 an hour ‘living wage’ many union-backed Wal-Mart employees have been pushing for. Driven by rising income inequality and a decades-long decline in middle-class jobs, workers are also campaigning for steep wage hikes at other major non-unionized employers, including McDonalds and other fast food chains….

In Fayetteville, Arkansas — near the company headquarters — a single parent of one child would need to earn $16.85 an hour, almost $4 an hour more than Wal-Mart’s pay raise for full-time workers, according to a living wage calculator created Amy Glasmeier, a professor of economic geography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The calculator examines the costs of food, housing, transportation and medical care around the country.

In pricier parts of the country, the living wage is far higher: In Philadelphia, it rises to $19.68 an hour. In San Leandro, California, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s more affordable suburbs, a single parent’s living wage is $23.22.”

The living income standard for a worker with one child in North Carolina averages $16.21 per hour.

Of course, the real solution to the problem of poverty level wages for workers across America would be a sizable bump in the federal minimum wage. President Obama has proposed raising it from $7.25 per hour to $10.10, but obviously, a genuine living wage would be significantly higher.

As the Los Angeles Times editorialized this morning, Wal-Mart’s actions should send a signal to Congress that it’s well past time for such action. Let’s hope fervently that such a message gets through ASAP.

But don’t hold your breath.

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

In case you missed it, economist Patrick McHugh at the Budget and Tax Center, poked some new and truck-sized holes yesterday in the glowing tale of a “Carolina Comeback” that continues to be spun by state leaders. As McHugh reports, worker wages remain stuck in the mud even as corporate profits soar:

A strong recovery should mean bigger paychecks. And yet, wage growth has been decidedly lackluster in the last several years, a sure sign that North Carolina’s comeback is far from complete. Despite corporate profits being at an all-time high and productivity increasing, the recovery has not translated into improved earnings for the average worker….

The latest data from December 2014 shows that across the state average wages have remained flat year over year and in eight of the state’s fourteen metro areas average wages have fallen. Economists generally say that wage growth needs to be at least 3.5 to 4 percent to deliver returns to worker’s paychecks or at least to ensure that labor is enjoying a stable share of the benefits of a recovering economy….

While average nominal wage growth was stronger from 2009 to 2011 in North Carolina, since 2012 nominal wage growth has been negative or flat year over year. Indeed for North Carolina workers, wage growth of 4 percent year over year since 2009 would have meant that the median worker would have been earning $3.00 more each hour in 2014.

The failure to achieve strong wage growth means that many North Carolina workers continue to struggle to keep up with rising costs and basic family needs….Until earnings growth improves, the strength of the economic recovery remains in question and the share of benefits that are going to workers limited.

Read the entire brief by clicking here.