Category Archives: Unemployment

Businesses Taxed For Somebody Else’s Layoffs?

Labor Force Participation Rates, March 2021. Source: VEC  Click for larger view. It represents the percentage of population of working age employed or seeking a job.

by Steve Haner

So many Virginia employers faltered or failed during 2020, the remaining companies may be charged a special tax of $95 on each of their own employees in 2022. It will cover the unemployment benefits paid to workers somebody else laid off, the highest so called “pool tax” ever imposed, more than double the amount collected following the previous recession in 2012.

The total unemployment insurance tax (average) may reach $360 per employee in 2022: A base tax of $249, the pool tax of $95 and a special “fund builder” tax of $16. That is more than 50% higher than the previous peak tax in 2012.

The figures emerged this morning as the Virginia Unemployment Commission staff briefed a legislative oversight panel on the financial health of the state’s beleaguered Unemployment Insurance program, swamped by a record number of claims in the COVID-19 recession and hampered by administrative failures in dealing with claims that needed extra attention.

For details, here is the UI Status Report presented today, following the usual format. VEC also provided more information on Virginia’s employment history over time, by region, industry, and locality.  Continue reading

State Tax Harvest Under Northam Expands Again

by Steve Haner

With the release today of the April 2021 Virginia state revenue report, a correction in an earlier post becomes necessary. Overall general fund state tax collections are not up 26% so far compared to four years ago, they are up almost 30 percent. Corporate income tax collections are not up 68%, but 86% over the same period four years ago.

Your correspondent regrets the error and admits jumping the gun after the March report knowing things would become more dramatic soon. Since the essence of good communication is repetition, expect another update in a month. And as has been the case for a while now, expect Governor Ralph Northam to seek to distract the voters from what is really going on. Continue reading

Unemployment of Blacks Exceed that of Whites at Every Level of Educational Attainment

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Here is another salvo in the culture wars that have been reflected on this blog. An article in a newspaper today begins with this sentence: “From advanced-degree holders to high-school dropouts, Black workers have substantially higher unemployment rates at every level of educational attainment than white workers….”

And which woke newspaper with a critical race theory bias ran this article? Why, the Wall Street Journal, of course!

The article goes on to say that the disparity between Blacks and whites increased this year during the pandemic. (Black unemployment levels exceed those of Hispanics at every educational level, as well.) Finally, not only are Blacks more likely than whites to be unemployed, they are more likely to be underemployed. “Black employees with full-time jobs also earn less than similarly educated white workers.”  The article quotes one economist as saying, “Frequently, Black workers need to send additional signals about their qualifications to get the same job. That’s why you’ll see a Black person with a master’s degree in a job that only requires a bachelor’s.”

The article suggests several reasons for these discrepancies:

  • “Black Americans more frequently attend lower-quality elementary and high schools in racially segregated neighborhoods, which may leave them less prepared to succeed in college or at their first jobs.”
  • “Black workers also can lack access to better, more stable jobs because they may not have the network of contacts to know about them.”
  • “They may face challenges like lack of access to transportation or child care.”
  • Finally, the economists interviewed in the article suggest that old fashioned discrimination plays a part. “There are negative penalties in the labor market associated with gender and race that can’t be explained by anything else,” they contend.

Assembly Protected Utilities, Not Other Businesses

First published this morning (with some slight differences) by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

By Steve Haner

Now that the Virginia General Assembly’s “Cops and COVID” special session is all but finished, will it be easier or harder for the state’s struggling economy to recover in 2021? It will be harder, probably, except for the utilities.

The initial reason Governor Ralph Northam recalled legislators starting August 18 was to review the state budget for COVID recession-related changes. Then a series of confrontations between police and Black Americans added law enforcement and criminal punishment to the agenda.

But the legislators reached far beyond those issues in the 270 pieces of legislation introduced, of which 56 have now passed (many of them duplicates).  The Assembly recessed October 16, but did not adjourn, and that will delay the effective date of the various new laws until perhaps March 1.

What did the legislature do for or to the business climate in Virginia? Continue reading

VEC: 1.5 Million Unemployment Claims In 2020

Virginia and US employment fluctuations since 2004, showing the dip in 2009-10 and plummet in the last four months. Source VEC. Click for larger view.

By Steve Haner

By the end of this amazing year, almost 1.5 million Virginians may have filed claims for unemployment insurance payments, leaving the state’s once-record unemployment trust fund balance of $1.5 billion reduced to $750 million in the red, legislators were told this morning.

That $2.25 billion swing is due to $2.6 billion spent out of the state fund, to cover basic unemployment benefits. To date, the federal government has supplemented that with another $6.3 billion paid to Virginian under special COVID-19 related benefits, which do not come out of the state trust account.  Continue reading

Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. Continue reading

“The Dog Ate My Homework” Does Not Work for VEC

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Employment Commission has been inundated with unemployment insurance claims. Virginians seeking to file claims have been frustrated at not being able to get through to the agency with their questions and by delays in receiving payments.

All of this was the subject of a meeting and presentation to a Senate Committee on Tuesday as reported by the Daily Press. As has been speculated by Steve Haner in his comments on this blog, the Unemployment Trust Fund is in the hole. According to a presentation by the VEC to the Senate Committee, the trust fund balance has gone from $1.5 billion at the beginning of FY 2020 to a projected -$500 million.

None of that is too surprising. What did intrigue me, however, was an excuse often made by agencies — antiquated technology. A VEC spokeswoman explained that it was put into place in 1985.  As far as the VEC is concerned, that excuse will not suffice.

The 2004 Appropriation Act provided VEC almost $21 million to “upgrade obsolete information technology systems.” Two years later, the 2006 Appropriation Act included language authorizing VEC to utilize $51 million in federal funds “to upgrade obsolete information technology systems.” That identical language was included in every Appropriation Act since then. In a 2020 budget decision package submitted to the Department of Planning and Budget, VEC said that the upgrade “is scheduled to be completed prior to the end of fiscal year ending June 30, 2021” and offered to return $3.2 million of the appropriation.

There may be good reasons why it has taken VEC more than 15 years to upgrade its information technology systems. At the very least, VEC owes the General Assembly an explanation. Going further, JLARC should investigate this delay. Unemployed Virginians deserve better than a shrug and the modern version of “the dog ate my homework.”

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why Northam Is Such An Important Governor

By Peter Galuszka

This is a bit like throwing chum at a school of sharks, but here is my latest in Style Weekly.

I wrote an assessment of Gov. Ralph Northam that is overall, quite positive. My take goes against much of the sentiment of other contributors on this blog.

They are entitled to their views but, to be honest, I find some of the essays shrill and not really fact based. If Northam wants to delay elective surgeries at hospitals for a week or so, some want to empanel a grand jury.

An acute care health facility in Henrico County becomes one of the most notorious hot spots for coronavirus deaths and it is immediately Northam’s fault even though the care center has had serious problems that long predated the governor’s term in office.

He’s a trained physician who served as an Army doctor in combat during the Iraq War yet he is vilified as being incompetent and incapable of understanding the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s like the constant repetition of the “Sins of Hillary” on Breitbart and Fox News about emails and Benghazi.

Like him or not, Northam is bound to be one of the most consequential governors in Virginia history given the gigantic problem of the pandemic. He’s not a showboat salesman like Terry McAuliffe nor a smarmy, small-time crook like Robert F. McDonnell.

Anyway, here’s the piece.

COVID Casualty: Unemployment Insurance System

The rise and fall of Virginia’s unemployment insurance tax, per worker, in response to the 2008-2009 recession. The COVID-19 recession, just starting, is likely to set new records for amount of tax and the length of time those elevated taxes are imposed. This chart includes the average (not maximum) base tax, an additional $16 fund builder tax, and a pool tax imposed on everybody who pays to compensate for employers who default. Source: Virginia Employment Commission.

By Steve Haner

This first appeared in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch and has also been distributed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.  

America’s and Virginia’s unemployment insurance program – born of the Great Depression and the Social Security Act of 1935 – may be another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has mutated unemployment insurance into a form not financially sustainable.

Each state has its own unemployment insurance trust fund, financed by taxes on employers and steadily growing in good times. The last time the Virginia Employment Commission publicly reported on our fund’s status, almost a year ago, it projected a balance of $1.3 billion by the end of 2019.  Continue reading

Virginia Unemployment Fund Gains In Good Times

2018 labor force participation rates. Source: VEC. Click for larger view.

Laissez les bon temps roulez. Virginia’s strong employment climate is adding a financial spare tire to Virginia’s unemployment trust fund, now above 83 percent solvency by one actuarial measure and exceeding a federal recommended minimum balance on another measure.

The annual unemployment fund status update for a legislative oversight commission Wednesday lasted about 30 minutes, with the chairman, Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, noting it was far shorter and less dramatic than some previous meetings in tight times, adding “it’s a good drama not to have.” The presentation is here.

The projected $1.45 billion fund balance for next December 31 will be another record, said Virginia Employment Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess. The figures used are not adjusted for inflation, however, and the state has been at higher solvency levels in previous periods of prosperity. The funds are just sitting there earning interest and awaiting the next recession, which history deems inevitable.  Continue reading

Trailing Spouse Benefit Proving of Minimal Impact

Results of the first 40 months paying unemployment benefits to military spouses leaving Virginia jobs due to family transfer. Source: VEC

Virginia’s unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund continues to show improved balances despite dropping tax rates, reflecting a strengthening economy.   The most recent semi-annual report, released at a legislative meeting yesterday, projects half as many initial claims during 2018 as there were five years ago: 134,000 this year versus the earlier 276,000.

It the trend holds that would be a 45-year low, the Daily Press reported, quoting Virginia Employment Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess.

The trust fund balance probably peaked at $1.35 billion June 30, with slight declines expected in coming months.  With the lower unemployment and higher workforce participation rates, the system is working as designed.   More than 68 percent of the almost 215,000 Virginia employers paying into the fund pay at the lowest possible tax rate, which works out to $88 per employee.

The tax rates go up with a history of layoffs or other successful claims and are higher on new employers or employers based outside of Virginia.  In general Virginia has some of the lowest taxes in the region, in part because it also has less generous payments.

The various charts track many other signs of economic improvement:  More employers registered with the system, fewer of them paying elevated taxes due to past layoffs, lower general unemployment rates, and a labor force participation rate (66.2 percent) higher than the national average.

The report also tracks the impact of a controversial recent change in the system, allowing unemployment benefit payments to the spouses of military personnel who get reassigned outside Virginia.  Prior to 2015 that was considered a voluntary termination, not a layoff, and thus not eligible for benefits.

Over the first 40 months 766 people have claimed benefits costing about $2.3 million.

Business groups, including the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, opposed giving this benefit to so-called “trailing spouses” because of fear it would be a major drain on the fund.  The employer ultimately responsible for the move, the Department of Defense, pays zero into the state UI fund, but taxes are collected from whatever employer had the departing spouse on the payroll.

So far, the number of claimants has been so small there has been no measurable effect on the fund balance or tax rates. The military spouse benefit was passed with a sunset clause and has two more years to run before the General Assembly must end or extend it.  It was advocated as another way to demonstrate Virginia’s commitment to the military, for economic as much as patriotic reasons.

Having the benefit may give Virginia some positive points should there ever be another round of base closures, but if there is and Virginia is on the losing end, the number of claims under this provision would spike.

How Computer Games Are Sapping the Initiative of Young Men and Shrinking the Workforce

We’re all familiar with the stereotype of the young male slacker, disinterested in looking for work and holed up in his parents’ basement, wiling away the time surfing the Web or playing computer games. Many of us have observed such behavior in our own homes. (I’m not mentioning any names.)

Now four economists writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research have quantified how computer gaming has led to a decline in workforce participation.

Writing in “Leisure Luxuries and the Labor Supply of Young Men,” Mark Aquiar, Mark Bils, Kerwin Kofi Charles, and Erik Hurst start with the observation that younger men, ages 21 to 30, have experienced a larger decline in hours worked over the past 15 years than women and older men.

Time-use studies show a dramatic shift since 2004 in the amount of time that 21- to 30-year-olds have devoted to leisure — video gaming and recreational computer activities in particular. On average, the age cohort dedicated 2.3 hours more to leisure activities in 2012-2015 than in 2004-2007. Of that increase, recreational computing and video gaming accounted for 82% of the increase.

The big question: Are young men spending more time playing computer games because they are working less? Or are they working less because they are playing computer games more?

The authors argue that the declining cost of computer and gaming hardware, along with a revolution in online gaming, made gaming late in the decade of the 2000s more appealing to young men.

This chart shows how between 2009 and 2010, the employment rate for young men plunged much more than for those over 30.

Examining the data, the authors rule out differential changes in wages for the shift. Changes in real hourly wages for men with less than 16 years of education tracks that of their elders almost exactly. Rather, in the tradeoff between gaming/video watching and other daily activities (eating, sleeping, personal care; working, job searching, home chores, child care and education), leisure became more attractive. On average, young men spent more time with computers and less time on other things, because they found gaming to be so much more enjoyable.

To some degree, this behavior is subsidized indirectly by parents. In 2000, 23%  of  younger men and 34% of less educated younger men lived with a close relative, the authors write. By 2015, 35% of all younger men, and 49% of those with less education, lived with a close relative.

Young men found this working-less/freeloading-on-parents arrangement to be largely satisfactory, according to happiness responses in the federal General Social Survey. Write the authors:

The happiness of younger non-college men actually increased by 7 percentage points since the early 2000s, from 81 to 88 percent. So, in conjunction with a steep decline in employment, reported satisfaction has increased for these younger men. … Among non-college younger men, both the employed and non-employed exhibit increases in happiness. This pattern stands in stark contract to that for older workers.

After crunching a large volume of numbers and running them through indecipherable equations, the authors estimate that the computer-recreation revolution, by increasing the value of leisure, accounts for 23 to 46 percent of the decline in market work for younger me during the 2000s. “Innovations to computer and gaming leisure may have dynamic effects on labor supply. It is possible that individuals develop a habit (or addiction) for such activities.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Yes, computer gaming and web surfing can be addictive — especially for young men, who seem to be wired differently than women or older men. If you’re down on your luck and can’t find work, it’s easy to get lost in World of Warcraft instead of looking for a job or earning workforce credentials — especially if Mom and Dad are covering the room and board. Some people seek escapism through alcohol and drugs, others through computer games. I’m willing to bet that the underlying brain chemistry — triggering the release of dopamine — is the same. I know from personal experience that it’s entirely possible to blink your eyes and shake your  head, and realize, “holy mackerel, it’s three o’clock in the morning!”

In the ongoing debate over joblessness and income inequality, it is helpful to understand that what many people assume to be a problem of structural rigidities in the economy reflects, in fact, in part a sociological problem. Many young men — enough to affect the workforce participation numbers — would rather spend their time playing games than getting serious about earning a living.

Dave Brat’s Bizarre Statements

 By Peter Galuszka

Almost a year ago, Dave Brat, an obscure economics professor at Randolph- Macon College, made national headlines when he defeated Eric Cantor, the powerful House Majority Leader, in the 7th District Brat Republican primary.

Brat’s victory was regarded as a sensation since it showed how the GOP was splintered between Main Street traditionalists such as Cantor and radically conservative, Tea Party favorites such as Brat. His ascendance has fueled the polarization that has seized national politics and prevented much from being accomplished in Congress.

So, nearly a year later, what has Brat actually done? From reading headlines, not much, except for making a number of bizarre and often false statements.
A few examples:

  • When the House Education and Workforce Committee was working on reauthorizing a law that spends about $14 billion to teach low-income students, Brat said such funding may not be necessary because: “Socrates trained Plato in on a rock and the Plato trained Aristotle roughly speaking on a rock. So, huge funding is not necessary to achieve the greatest minds and the greatest intellects in history.”
  • Brat says that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is a step towards making the country be more like North Korea. He compares North and South Korea this way:  “. . . it’s the same culture, it’s the same people, look at a map at night, half the, one of the countries is not lit, there’s no lights, and the bottom free-market country, all Koreans is lit up. See you make your bet on which country you want to be, right? You want to go to the free market.” One problem with his argument:  Free market South Korea has had a single payer, government-subsidized health care system for 40 years. The conservative blog, BearingDrift, called him out on that one.
  • Politifact, the journalism group that tests the veracity of politicians’ statements, has been very busy with Brat. They have rated as “false” or “mostly false” such statements that repealing Obamacare would save the nation more than $3 trillion and that President Obama has issued 468,500 pages of regulations in the Federal Register. In the former case, Brat’s team used an old government report that estimated mandatory federal spending provisions for the ACA. In the latter case, Politifact found that there were actually more pages issued than Brat said, but they were not all regulations. They included notices about agency meetings and public comment periods. What’s more, during a comparable period under former President George W. Bush, the Federal Register had 465,948 pages, Politifact found. There were some cases, however, where Politifact verified what Brat said.
  • Last fall, after Obama issued an executive order that would protect up to five million undocumented aliens from arrest and deportation, Brat vowed that “not one thin dime” of public money should go to support Obama’s plan. He vowed to defund U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services but then was told he couldn’t do so because the agency was self-funded by fees from immigration applications. He then said he would examine how it spent its money.

The odd thing about Brat is that he has a doctorate in economics and has been a professor. Why is he making such bizarre, misleading and downright false statements?

Interview: McAuliffe’s Economic Goals

 maurice jonesBy Peter Galuszka

For a glimpse of where the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe is heading, here’s an interview I did with Maurice Jones, the secretary of commerce and trade that was published in Richmond’s Style Weekly.

Jones, a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College and University of Virginia law, is a former Rhodes Scholar who had been a deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama. Before that, he was publisher of The Virginian-Pilot, which owns Style.

According to Jones, McAuliffe is big on jobs creation, corporate recruitment and upgrading education, especially at the community college and jobs-training levels. Virginia is doing poorly in economic growth, coming in recently at No. 48, ahead of only Maryland and the District of Columbia which, like Virginia have been hit hard by federal spending cuts.

Jones says he’s been traveling overseas a lot in his first year in office. Doing so helped land the $2 billion paper with Shandong Tranlin in Chesterfield County. The project, which will create 2,000 jobs, is the largest single investment by the Chinese in the U.S. McAuliffe also backs the highly controversial $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline planned by Dominion because its natural gas should spawn badly-needed industrial growth in poor counties near the North Carolina border.

Read more, read here.

(Note: I have a new business blog going at Style Weekly called “The Deal.” Find it on Style’s webpage —   www.styleweekly.com)