Where Are All the Workers?

While Indiana’s unemployment dipped to 3.6% last month, Utah is a full half point lower. The New York Times recently cites some of the challenges that brings. A few excerpts:

After eight years of steady growth, the main economic concern in Utah and a growing number of other states is no longer a lack of jobs, but a lack of workers. The unemployment rate here fell to 3.1%, among the lowest figures in the nation.

Nearly a third of the 388 metropolitan areas tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics have an unemployment rate below 4%, well below the level that economists consider “full employment,” the normal churn of people quitting to find new jobs. The rate in some cities, like Ames, Iowa, and Boulder, Colo., is even lower, at 2%.

That’s good news for workers, who are reaping wage increases and moving to better jobs after years of stagnating pay that, for many, was stuck at a low level. Daniel Edlund, a 21-year-old call center worker in Provo, Utah, learned on a Monday that his hours were changing. On Wednesday, he had his first interview for a new job.

But labor shortages are weighing on overall economic growth, slowing the pace of expansion in northern Utah and other fast-growing regions even as unemployment remains stubbornly high in Rust Belt cities like Cleveland and in regions still recovering from the 2008 recession, like inland California.

To Todd Bingham, the president of the Utah Manufacturers Association, “3.1 percent unemployment is fabulous unless you’re looking to hire people.”

“Our companies are saying, ‘We could grow faster, we could produce more product, if we had the workers,’” he said. “Is it holding the economy back? I think it definitely is.”

But the share of Utah adults who have withdrawn from the labor force remains higher than before the recession. Last year, 31.7% of adults in Utah were neither working nor looking for work, up from 28.2% in 2006. That is part of a broad national trend.

Waiting … and Waiting on a Highway Funding Fix

30449450Federal highway funding is running low. Nothing new there. The Indiana Chamber, and many others, have called for long-term solutions from Washington instead of short-term fixes that simply extend the uncertainty.

How are states reacting to the current dilemma. According to the Kiplinger Letter:

  • Arkansas, Georgia, Wyoming and Tennessee have postponed 440 projects totaling more than $1.3 billion
  • Iowa, South Dakota and Utah have increased gas taxes. Others that may follow include Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Carolina
  • Seeking funds from advertisers: Virginia sells space on highway rest stop signs to GEICO; Travelers Marketing sponsors highway patrols in Massachusetts
  • Partnering with private investors: Florida is seeking private funds to rebuild portions of Interstate 4; New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia are seeking similar ventures

Kiplinger editors add:

But states can only do so much on their own. Ultimately, Congress must act. Odds favor another temporary fix this fall. A long-term solution will likely wait until 2017. Congress and a new president will have a fresh opportunity to tackle broad tax reform, including a possible hike in federal fuel taxes, which no longer approach what’s needed to pay for highway work.

Not what many want to hear in terms of the time frame.

Iowa Senate Race is Pretty Farmin’ Serious

Politically, Iowa remains one of our most interesting states. Obviously, its early caucus status lends itself as a power player in presidential politics. But its makeup is also rather vexing and seemingly unpredictable at times, featuring successes for both Republicans and Democrats — and the longevity of its Senators Chuck Grassley (R) and Tom Harkin (D), who’ve been in office since 1981 and 1985, respectively.

With Harkin retiring, there’s a heated race for his vacated seat featuring Rep. Bruce Braley (D) and State Senator Joni Ernst (R). (I actually interacted often with Braley’s staff during his 2006 campaign, while I was working on a State House race in Waterloo for U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh’s All-America PAC.) Braley, however, has found himself trudging through difficult terrain in light of some unfortunate and dismissive agriculture-related gaffes — the latest in a stump speech by a surrogate. Columnist Kathie Obradovich of The Des Moines Register highlighted Braley’s problems, illustrating how some unfortunate word choices here and there can quickly change the nature of a political campaign.

Below, you’ll find an ad where Ernst attempts to capitalize by relaying her hog castrating bona fides, because… pork. (I like the snuggly pig embrace 20 seconds in, personally.)

Oh yes, it’s campaign season, America. Let’s get hog wild! (I’ll show myself out.)

Ad War Winner is TV Stations in Key States

Combined television advertising spending in the presidential race is on pace to top $1 billion by Election Day. And while you might think you’re seeing more than a few attacks and the occasional "I have an idea" spot here in Hoosierland, we’re actually barely a blip on the radar screen.

Residents in the battleground states are being bombarded. Just last week, the tally came to an estimated $14.3 million in Florida, $13.9 million in Ohio and $9.3 million in Virginia. Colorado and Iowa have also been part of the mix since the summer.

In fact, before the campaign was even in full swing, here were the 10 media markets as defined by most gross rating points (an advertising measure that, in simplied terms, means  reach times frequency) for just July and August.

  1. Colorado Springs
  2. Roanoke-Lynchburg
  3. Richmond-Petersburg
  4. Denver
  5. Des Moines
  6. Columbus
  7. Cincinnati
  8. Cleveland
  9. Tampa-St. Pete
  10. Cedar Rapids

I guess one can always switch the channel, but there’s no guarantee you won’t be "attacked" there as well. Good luck and remember there are only two more weeks to go.

There’s Only So Much (Political Advertising) a Person Can Take

Who doesn’t enjoy a good campaign commercial? With politicians lambasting their opponents, blaming them for the recession, mortgage failure, tax crisis, Midwest drought and McDonald’s taking away the McRib sandwich (okay, those last two are a bit facetious – obviously no one controls the weather), what’s not to love?

And no doubt you’re already saturated with political campaigns. “How can this be?,” you proclaim. “It’s only August!”

You are not wrong in your exasperation. The sheer number of television campaign advertisements shown so far this year is shocking (with three months to go before the election, even) and the amount of money spent by candidates and Super PACs is astounding.

Think you’ve had enough? Be glad you don’t live in Ohio. Or Florida. Or North Carolina. The money spent on the presidential election alone in this cycle has been $37.2 million in Ohio on TV ads; $36.3 million in Florida; and $20.4 million in North Carolina.

In fact, across nine “battleground” states (the three listed, along with Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire), the presidential campaigns and Super PACs have spent $174 million on television spots alone. And that amount was just for nine states through the beginning of July.

Let me put that into perspective: According to ESPN, in 2012 the average cost for a 30-second television ad during the Super Bowl was $3.5 million. That $174 million spent so far on presidential advertisements in nine states equals about 50 Super Bowl commercials. (Unfortunately, politicians don’t include the Budweiser Clydesdales or barking dogs dressed as "Star Wars" characters in their ads.)

It’s not just which states you are in, but also the networks you watch. For instance, if you are a regular Fox News viewer, chances are you’ve seen a number of the 479,055 advertisements that have aired on the network thus far. CNN is next with 191,027 campaign ads and another news network, MSNBC, aired 75,207, according to NCC Media.

You can’t really avoid it by changing the channel, either. ESPN, TNT, USA, Lifetime, HGTV, and the Weather Channel, to name a few, top the list of number of ads aired this election cycle. Even Food Network viewers can’t escape the barrage (33,118 ads so far interspersed between Paula Deen and Bobby Flay).

It’s safe to say that as the election draws closer, we will see even more of these ads. But, are they effective? Americans that are planning to vote most likely have decided which candidate they will support – but there are always individuals that can be wooed at the last minute.

One thing is for sure, however: The broadcast television industry must really love election time.

Gigerich Breaks Down U.S. Chamber Enterprising States Report

Larry Gigerich of the highly respected site selection firm Ginovus penned a column for Inside INdiana Business, in which he relays and analyzes a recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (to whom we have no direct affiliation) listing the top enterprising states. Interesting stuff:

The Chamber breaks policies down into five major areas.

1. Exports and International Trade
2. Entrepreneurship and Innovation
3. Taxes and Regulation
4. Talent Pipeline
5. Infrastructure

The report combines metrics for the different policy areas to measure performance, which has allowed the Chamber to evaluate the top states based upon quantifiable measurements. Please find below a list of the measurements used to rank the states.

1. Long-term job growth
2. Short-term growth
3. Overall expansion of gross state product
4. Productivity – state output per job
5. Productivity growth – growth in output per job
6. Income growth – growth in per capita personal income
7. Livability – median income of four-person households, adjusted for state cost of living

Based upon the metrics used by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here are the top performing states and a brief summary of why they rank in the top 10.

1. North Dakota: The state ranked in the top 10 in six of the seven measurements. The state ranked first in short-term jobs, long-term jobs, gross state product and per capita personal income. The energy boom in the western part of the state has led the growth of the economy in the state.

2. Wyoming: The state ranked in the top 5 in five different categories. The state is second on long-term job growth and gross state product and third in productivity growth and income growth. Energy, chemicals and metals helped drive the performance of the state’s economy.

3. Virginia: The state has the highest income in the nation, after adjusting for cost of living. In addition, Virginia ranks in the top 25 in all seven categories. The state’s growth in professional services and information technology jobs has helped led to excellent results.

4. Alaska: The state ranked in the top 8 in three key areas: overall productivity, long-term job growth and gross state product. Alaska’s economy has been driven by energy, mining and tourism activities. The growth of these sectors has led to the significant growth of retail support entities in the state.

5. Maryland: The state ranked in the top 25 in all seven measurements. Maryland ranked the highest in adjusted family income, followed by productivity growth. The growth in government jobs in the Washington D.C. area, high technology growth and corporate headquarters helped to propel the state.

6. Texas: Texas ranked second in short-term job growth and fifth in long-term job growth. In addition, the state fared well in the growth of gross state product. Its energy sector, affordability, and business climate fueled economic growth throughout Texas.

7. South Dakota: The state ranked fourth in growth in gross state product and per capita income. Long known for its back-office finance operations due to its well educated workforce, South Dakota can credit growth in manufacturing and professional services for propelling its economy today.

8. Washington: The state of Washington jumped five spots from 2011 largely due to rapid short-term job growth. In particular, aerospace and transportation equipment manufacturing has been growing rapidly. Professional services and technology have also been growing significantly.

9. Iowa: The state ranked fifth in growth in economic productivity, sixth in per capita income growth and eleventh in gross state product. Iowa’s finance and insurance industries have grown by nearly 30 percent. Transportation and warehousing are also growing rapidly.

10. New York: The state ranked in the top 25 in six of the seven measurements. The state jumped eleven spots in this year’s rankings due to the rapid growth of gross state product and per capita income. The rebound in the financial services sector, coupled with the growth of educational entities have assisted New York in these rankings.

Governors Faced with Difficult Medicaid Decision

The Medicaid expansion decision for each state is one of several critical aspects of the Affordable Care Act, which was recently deemed Constitutional by the Supreme Court. Although federal dollars are at stake, it’s not a given that states (including Indiana) will agree to the changes to the program for low-income residents. Stateline offers a strong summary.

Although the lineup is shifting, more than a dozen Republican governors have suggested they might decline to participate in the Medicaid expansion. Governors in Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Texas, South Carolina and Wisconsin have said they will not participate. GOP governors in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Virginia indicate they are leaning in that direction.

Meanwhile, about a dozen Democratic governors have said their states will opt in. The rest have not declared their intentions.

According to data from the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government would spend $923 billion on a full Medicaid expansion between 2014 and 2022, and states would spend about $73 billion. But nobody is sure how many people will enroll in the Medicaid expansion. According to a 2010 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, states’ share of the Medicaid expansion could range anywhere from $20 billion to $43 billion in the first five years.

According to Kaiser, most states opting into the expansion likely would have to ramp up their Medicaid spending between 2014 and 2019, but four would spend less (Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont) and several others would have to boost state spending only slightly.

Mississippi’s Medicaid program, for example, cost a total of $4 billion in 2011—the federal government paid $3 billion, and the state paid $1 billion. Expanding that program to everybody at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line would cost the state as much as $581 million between 2014 and 2019, according to Kaiser’s 2010 study.  That’s a 6.4 percent increase in state spending compared to what Mississippi would spend without an expansion

The day after the Supreme Court ruled the Medicaid expansion was optional, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, said: “Although I am continuing to review the ruling by the Supreme Court, I would resist any expansion of Medicaid that could result in significant tax increases or dramatic cuts to education, public safety and job creation.”

Plain and Simple: Communications Missing the Mark

The 2010 Plain Writing Act, an attempt to make government communicate more clearly with the public, was a great idea. Saying it has to happen, however, is proving a lot easier than making it happen.

An update from The Washington Post:

Advocates estimate that federal officials have translated just 10 percent of their forms, letters, directives and other documents into “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use,” as the law requires.

Official communications must now employ the active voice, avoid double negatives and use personal pronouns. “Addressees” must now become, simply, “you.” Clunky coinages like “incentivizing” (first known usage 1970) are a no-no. The Code of Federal Regulations no longer goes by the abbreviation CFR.

But with no penalty for inaction on the agencies’ part, advocates worry that plain writing has fallen to the bottom of the to-do list, like many another unfunded mandate imposed by Congress. They say many agencies have heeded the 2010 law merely by appointing officials, creating working groups and setting up Web sites.

There are examples of plain language working.

In Washington state, a revamped letter tripled the number of businesses paying a commonly ignored use tax, bringing $2 million in new revenue in a year, according to law professor Joseph Kimble, author of a forthcoming book on the benefits of plain language.

And after the Department of Veterans Affairs revised one of its letters, calls to a regional call center dropped from about 1,100 a year to about 200, Kimble said.

“People complain about government red tape and getting government out of your hair,” said Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), House sponsor of the Plain Writing Act. “If every one of these forms was written in plain language, the number of contacts to federal agencies would plummet.” 

Speculation Time: GOP Primary Scenarios

After his narrow Iowa victory, Mitt Romney appears to be the most likely choice to garner the GOP presidential nomination. However, due to the fact that many conservatives simply don’t like him, that’s far from a certainty. CNN has an intriguing article outlining the different possibilities of how things will play out from this point on. Read the entire piece, but I have to run this portion for the die-hard Mitch Daniels enthusiasts out there:

(3) The long shot: Someone else enters the campaign (10% chance or less). Normally, this late in the game, a new entrant to the contest would be the stuff of science fiction. But conservative voters seem to be singularly dismayed by the choices in front of them: as CNN’s Erick Erickson tweeted last night, "Typical of email I’m getting: ‘If you put a gun to my head and said Romney or Santorum I would say pull the trigger.’"

Who would step into the fray? One hears voters pining for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (unlikely to join, especially after endorsing Romney) and some have floated Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (who endorsed Perry). Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would be a strong candidate, but that may be a tough sell to Bushed-out voters only four years after the conclusion of his brother’s presidency.

Would a candidate who jumped in this late even have a path to victory? Perhaps. The early primaries and caucuses are richer in symbolic significance than they are in delegates, especially with the new rules prohibiting winner-take-all allotment of delegates in the early states. And even with such a late jump on fundraising and organization-building, a candidate who was able to rack up a string of impressive victories in the middle- and later-term primaries could theoretically build up a big enough head of steam to take the convention by storm while making use of the Internet and earned (read: free) media coverage to play catch-up on money and organization.

The late-entrant scenario is still a dark horse at best, but even the fact that it’s within the realm of possibility underscores the reason Democrats are quietly cheering last night’s outcome: the GOP is still, at best, a party that’s looking for a standard-bearer — or, more dangerously for their 2012 prospects, a disunited collection of smaller groups of voters still pushing their own.

‘Stay Classy, Terre Haute’: Will Ferrell Brings Beer Ads to Indiana

Back in September, there were reports of Will Ferrell running around Terre Haute.

The actor, famous for his starring roles in “Elf,” “Talladega Nights” and “Anchorman” (his signoff phrase as a news anchor: “You stay classy, San Diego”), was seen by residents and local media wearing a cheesy polo shirt, khaki shorts, tube socks and sandals (yikes) and standing in the middle of a busy city intersection with a small camera crew.

It was rumored at the time that he seemed to be carrying around a can and was potentially shooting a commercial of some kind – though details were vague at best.

Finally, if you live in the Terre Haute viewing area, you’re likely to see the result of Ferrell’s antics at the intersection of Wabash and Seventh streets and along the railroad tracks near 10th and Ohio streets (there are two commercials).

In one commercial posted here on YouTube, Ferrell waxes philosophical for a few seconds on being in the Crossroads of America and then proceeds to crack open a frosty cold Old Milwaukee brew. In the other,  you can see him walking along a railroad track going on about rusty trampolines before popping open the beverage.

The Terre Haute Tribune-Star reported that the ads were Ferrell’s idea and were produced by his web site, FunnyorDie.com (beware: probably salty language), Ferrell reportedly shot three commercials in Davenport, Iowa and at least two in Terre Haute. For now, the newspaper reports, the commercials will only be aired in the markets where they were shot – but you can watch them online no matter where you live.