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Category: Building Progressive Region

Saving Democracy: In the Next Recession Government Stimulus Will Not Be Enough to Help the Middle Class – Innovative Initiatives Are Needed

A recession is emerging with interest rate curves inverted, the end of the business cycle at hand, world trade falling and consumers and businesses beginning to pull back spending.  The question is: will monetary or fiscal stimulus turn around a recession?  In this post, we find both stimulus alternatives likely to be too weak to have the necessary economic impact to lift the economy out of a recession and will not help the middle class out of a stagnant financial position. Finally, we identify a new approach to government intervention based on an innovative ‘seed’ and multi-partner program to lift the middle class out of economic decline.

Our economy is at the nexus of several major economic trends formed over decades that are limiting monetary and fiscal options. The monetary policy of central banks has caused world economies to be immersed in liquidity yet resulting in limited growth. Central bankers in Japan and Europe have been trying to revive growth with $17 trillion injections using negative interest rates.  Japan can barely keep its economy growing with an estimate of GDP at .5 % thru 2019. The Japanese central bank, holds 200 % of GDP in government debt.  The European Central Bank holds, 85 % of GDP in debt and uses negative interest rates as well. Germany is in a manufacturing recession with the most recent PMI in manufacturing activity at 47.3 and other European economies contracting toward near zero GDP growth.  

Lance Roberts notes that world economy is not running on a solid economic foundation if there is $17 trillion in negative yielding debt in his blog, Powell Fails, Trump Rails, The Failure of Negative Rates . He questions the ability of negative interest policies to stabilize world economies,

You don’t have $17 Trillion in negative-yielding sovereign debt if there is economic and fiscal stability.”

Negative interest rates and extreme monetary stimulus policies have distorted financial relationships between debt and risk assets. This financial distortion has created a significantly wider gap between the 90 % and the top 1 % in wealth.

Roberts outlines in the 6 panel chart below how personal income, employment, industrial production, real consumer spending, real wages and real GDP are all weakening in the U.S.:

Sources: Real Investment Advice – 8/23/19

Trillions of dollars of monetary stimulus has not created prosperity for all. The chart below shows how liquidity fueled a dramatic increase in asset prices while world GDP declined by about 25 %:

Sources:World Inequality Lab, Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman et al – 2018

There are a number of reasons monetary stimulus by itself has not lifted the incomes of the middle class. One of the major reasons is stimulus money has not translated into wage increases for most workers.  U.S. real earnings for men have essentially been flat since 1975, while earnings for women have increased though basically flat since 2000:

Source: U.S Census Bureau – 9/10/19

If monetary policy is not working, then fiscal investment from private and public sectors is necessary to drive an economic reversal.  But, will private and public sector sectors have the necessary tools to bring new life to an economy in decline?

Wealth Creation Has Gone to the Private Sector

The last 40 years has seen the rise of private capital worldwide while public capital has declined. In 2015, the value of net public wealth (or public capital) in the US was negative -17% of net national income while the value of net private wealth (or private capital) was 500% of national income. In comparison to 1970, net public wealth amounted to 36% of national income while the for net private wealth was at 326 %.

Source: Wealth Inequality Lab, Thomas Picketty, Garbriel Zucman et al – 2018

Essentially, world banks and governments have built monetary and fiscal economic systems that increased private wealth at the expense of public wealthThe lack of public capital makes the creation of public goods and services nearly impossible. The development of public goods and services like basic research and development, education and health services are necessary for an economic rebound. The economy will need a huge stimulus ‘lifting’  program and yet the capital necessary to do the job is in the private sector where private individuals make investment allocation decisions.  

Why is building high levels of private capital a problem?  Because as we have discussed private wealth is now concentrated in the top 1 %, while 70 % of U.S GDP is dependent on consumer spending.  The 90 % have been working for stagnant wages for decades, right along with diminishing GDP growth.  There is a direct correlation between wealth creation for all the people and GDP growth.

Corporations Are Not In A Position to Invest

Some corporations certainly have invested in their businesses, people and technology.  The issue is the majority of corporations are financially strapped.  Many corporate executives have made profit allocation decisions to pay themselves and their stockholders well at the expense of workers, their communities and the economy. 

S & P 500 corporations are paying out more cash than they are taking in, creating a cash flow crunch at a – 15 % rate (that’s right they are burning cash) to maintain stock buyback and dividend levels:

Sources: Compustat, Factset, Goldman Sachs – 7/25/19

In 2018 stock buy backs were over $1.01 trillion are at the highest level they have ever been since buybacks were allowed under the 1982 SEC safe harbor provision decision. It is interesting to consider where our economy would be today, if corporations spent the money they were wasting on boosting stock prices and instead invested in long term value creation.  One trillion dollars invested in raising wages, research and development, cutting prices, employee education, and reducing health care premiums would have made a significant impact lifting the financial position of millions. This year stock buybacks have fallen back slightly as debt loads increase and sales fall:

Source: Dow Jones – 7/2019

Many corporations with tight cash flows have borrowed to keep their stock price elevated causing corporate debt to hit new highs as a percentage of GDP (note recessions followed three peaks):

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas – 3/6/19

Corporate debt has ballooned to 46 % of GDP totaling $5.7 trillion in 2018 versus $2.2 trillion in 2008.  While the bulk of these nonfinancial corporate bonds have been investment grade, many bond covenants have become lighter as corporations seek more funding. Some bond holders may find their investment not as secure as they thought resulting in less than 100 % return of principal at maturity.

In a recession corporate sales fall, cash flow goes negative, high debt payments become hard to make, employees are laid off and management is trying to hold on.  Only a select set of major corporations have cash hoards to ride out a recession, others may be able obtain loans at steep interest rates, if at all.  Other companies may try going to the stock market which will be problematic with low valuations.  Plus, investors will be reluctant to buy stock in negative cash flow companies.

Thus, most corporations will be hard pressed to invest the billions of dollars necessary to turnaround a recession. Instead, they will be just trying to keep the doors open, the lights on, and maintain staffing levels to hold on until the day sales stop falling and finally turn up.

Public Sector is Tapped Out Too

In past recessions, federal policy makers have turned to fiscal policy – public spending on infrastructure projects, research development, training, corporate partnerships and public services to revive the economy.  When the 2008 financial crisis was at its peak the Bush administration, followed by the Obama government pumped fiscal stimulus of $983 billion in spending over four years on roads, bridges, airports, and other projects. The Fed funds interest rate was at 5.25 % at the peak, so interest rate reductions had a significant impact versus today at 2.25 %. It was the combined monetary and fiscal stimulus that created a V-shaped recession with the economy back on a path to recovery in 18 months. It was not monetary policy alone that moved the economy forward.  However, the recession caused lasting financial damage to wealth of millions. Many retirement portfolios lost 40 – 60 % of their value, millions of home owners lost their homes, thousands of workers were laid off late in their careers and unable to find comparable jobs.  The Great Recession changed many people’s lives permanently, yet it was relatively short lived compared to the Great Depression.

As noted in the chart above, public sector wealth has actually moved to negative levels in the U.S. at – 17 % of national income.  Our federal government is running a $1 trillion deficit per year.  In 2007, the federal government debt level was at 39 % of GDP. The Congressional Budget Office projects that by 2028 the Federal deficit will be at 100 % of GDP.

Source: Congressional Budget Office – 4/9/19

We are at a different time economically than 2008. Today with 80 % of GDP public debt, a Fed balance sheet with $4 trillion while the federal debt level is projected to grow to 100 % of GDP by 2028. In a recession federal policymakers will likely make spending cuts to keep the deficit from going logarithmic. Policy makers will be limited by the twin deficits of $22.0 trillion national debt and ongoing deficits of $1 trillion a year eroding investor confidence in U.S. bonds. The problem is the political consensus for fiscal stimulus in 2008 – 2009 does not exist today, or probably even after the 2020 election. Our cultural, social and political fabric is so frayed as a result of decades of divisive politics it is likely to take years to sort out during a recession. Our political leaders will be fixing the politics of our country while searching for intelligent stimulus solutions to be developed, agreed upon and implemented.

What Will the Next Recession Look Like?

We don’t know when the next recession will come. Yet, present trends do tell us what the structure of a recession might look like, as a deep U- shaped slow period over years, hurting the poor and working class the hardest:

  1. Corporations Short of Cash – Corporations already strapped are short on cash, lay off workers, pull back spending, are stuck paying off huge debts.
  • Federal Government Spending Cuts – The federal government caught with falling revenues from corporations and individuals, is forced to make deep cuts first in discretionary spending then social services and transfer funding programs. The reduction transfer programs will drive slower consumer spending.
  • Consumers Pull Back Spending – Consumers will be forced to tighten budgets, pay off expensive car loans and student debt, and for those laid off seeking work anywhere they can find a job.
  • World Trade Declines – World trade will not be a source of rebuilding sales growth as a result of the China – US trade war, and tariffs with Europe.  We expect no trade deal or a small deal with the majority of tariffs to stay in place. In other words, just reversing some tariffs will not be enough to restart sales. New buyer – seller relationships are already set closing sales channels to US companies. New country alliances are already in place leaving the US closed out of emerging high growth markets.  A successor Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)  agreement with Japan and eleven other countries was signed in March, 2018 without the US, China is negotiating a new agreement with the EU. EU and China trade totals 365 billion euros per year. China is working with a federation of African countries to gain favorable trade access to their markets.
  • ­Pension Payments in Jeopardy – Workers dependent on corporate and public pensions may see their benefits cut from pensions which are poorly funded today. GE announced freezing pensions for 20,000 employees, the harbinger of a possible trend that will  reduce consumer spending
  • Investment Environment Uncertain – Uncertainty in investments will be extremely high, ‘get rich quick’ schemes will flourish as they did in 2008 – 2009 and 2000.
  • Fed Implements Low Rates & QE – The Fed is likely to implement very low interest rates (though not negative rates), and QE with liquidity in abundance but the economy will have low inflation, and declining GDP feeling like the Japanese economic stasis – ‘locked in irons’.
  • Unemployment Soars – workers in low wage jobs, support, non-core (HR, IT, Admin) jobs will be laid off first. Industries already weak in the economy feel the downward spiral the most: retail, materials, manufacturing, and energy. As the recession deepens, small businesses that can not get loans to get through the rough times so they close. Even medium businesses are hit hard, as they do not have the access to worldwide markets to offset declining US sales. The rate of multiple job holders is at an all time high now, it will continue to soar as workers try to sustain their standard of living in a contractor economy with no safety net for workers.

Next Steps:

A recession of the magnitude we expect will hit the middle class hard as they are the most vulnerable.  Their wages have been flat for most of the decade while the top 10 % have enjoyed the majority of income and wealth increases. Due to the private sector holding most of the positive wealth in the U.S. a new approach to simulating the economy will be necessary.

1.Corporate Stimulus

While most corporations will be cash poor, some companies will be cash rich.  Firms like Apple, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft all hold over $100 billion in cash.  Cisco and Oracle both have over $50 billion cash on hand.  These tech giants hold most of their cash overseas.  To spur spending in the right places for the economy, tax laws could be passed to reduce taxes when repatriated funds are spent on employee development, research and development, productivity and wage increases.  Google, Facebook, and Apple have taken a good first step on housing, with all three donating about $4 billion to housing programs. While housing may not seem like a ‘public good’ it has become a major issue in the San Francisco Bay Area from high growth businesses and long commutes to inexpensive housing 2 hours away. We would like to see the emergence of the ‘servant’ CEO from these companies and others in sectors of the economy with cash like banking, pharma, and health insurance.  Over 180 Business Roundtable executives released a declaration that corporations need to take responsibility for their communities, not just seeking profits. The introduction to their statement notes

“Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity. We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.”

Ensuring economic opportunity for all means corporate executives make investments in the future financial health of their communities.  Business leaders can take the lead by ending stock buybacks which totaled $1.01 trillion last year and investment those funds in employee development, pension plans, price reductions, productivity enhancements, maintain staffing levels and innovative research.  Otherwise the safe harbor policy the SEC approved in 1982 can be revoked to prod executives to make investment decisions to ensure the future of both their businesses and communities.

2. Transfer of Private Wealth and Income to Public Sector

Wealthy business people and individuals can take the lead in driving the passage of legislation transferring some wealth back to the public sector. In November, 2017 over 400 millionaires and billionaires sent a letter to Congress to strongly recommend against the passage of the Tax Cut bill which created a $1.5 trillion additional federal deficit while 80 % of the benefits went to the top 5%.  We will need more of this kind of active leadership across the political spectrum to make the necessary shift to finance the creation of public goods and services necessary to turnaround a recession.  Other wealthy individuals have called for increased taxes on income and wealth of the top 5 to 10 %.  Just changing the present tax laws back to 2016 levels would help to boost funding to fund fiscal stimulus programs in innovative ways. There is backing by some wealthy leaders to end the carry tax exclusion that hedge fund managers and others in the financial industry use to reduce taxes. 

Taxes as a percentage of profits has continued to fall from 1960 at 45 % to 15 % in the last year.  Corporate lobbying of Congress worked to reduce company tax rates, create loopholes and subsidies for some industries.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 6/29/19

Corporate taxes can be evaluated as a percentage of GDP as well where it is clear corporations were able to lower their federal tax burden from a peak of 6% in 1955 to a low of 2 % in 2012 a 66 % reduction, and is estimated to be lower with the Tax Cut Bill of 2017 lowering the standard tax rate from 35 % to 22 %.  The GAO in 2012 evaluated all the tax law benefits and deductions corporations enjoyed and found the effective tax rate was really 12.9 %.  Today, the effective tax rates is even lower as corporate federal tax receipts fell to an all-time low of $204 billion for fiscal 2018 a 31 percent decline from 2017. Some corporations are paying no federal tax at all. Amazon declared $11 billion in income for 2018 and paid no taxes.

Source: GAO – 5/13

One way corporations evade US taxes is by depositing billions in profits in offshore tax havens to shelter their profits from taxes.

Sources: Zucman – UC Berkelty, Torslov & Wier – University of Copenhagen, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 11/13/17

Clearly the use of tax havens needs to end, as our federal government is losing billions of dollars of receipts to invest in the public goods this country so desperately needs.. Corporate taxes raised and loopholes plugged make sense to begin shifting the necessary funds over to the federal government.

The tax legislation process is critical for long term success and support.  Bringing corporate taxes back to levels seen over a decade ago would go a long way toward reducing the federal deficit and fund public services at necessary levels to create more economic opportunities for all. Multiple points of view across the political spectrum need to be sought out and brought together in a special congressional committee focused on writing a fair tax bill to get the federal budget on a firm foundation and fund Medicare and Social Security programs.

3, Deploy Innovative Multi Partner Economic Innovation Programs to Solve Economic Challenges – Heartland Region Development

At the heart of political divisions in our country today is the decline of a strong middle class and economic inequality at the highest level since 1929.  Building a strong middle class that enjoys the economic benefits of a secure home, job, health care and safe community will result in people seeing a common good emerging for everyone. Monetary policy has failed to provide economic benefits to the middle class, while boosting the values of financial assets largely held by the top 1%.  If a recession comes, what will happen to the middle class, and vulnerable people in our economy?

It is unlikely given the present financial structure of our economy that monetary policy alone which has failed the middle class with stagnant wages will somehow turn the economic status around for the middle class.  The decline of the middle class is happening in parallel with a fall in  GDP to 1.9 % forecast for the 3rd quarter of 2019.  Part of the decline in GDP is associated with a declining labor participation rate. There were 7.6 million job openings, last January with more than 8.6 million unemployed for a gap of 1 million jobs.  This gap started in the spring of 2018 for the first time in 18 years.  Part of the reason for the gap between job openings and job seekers is the imbalance in our labor force by skills and regional limitations. Millions are not working due to lack of education, skills, health, lack of child care or limited work opportunities in their area.  For the core workforce between ages 25 – 54 the participation rate recently has been declining since the peak in 2000.

Sources: Federal Reserve – St. Louis, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 6/10/19
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, CBO, NBER, Morgan Stanley – 8/9/19

The most vulnerable regions are in non-metro areas of our country where the economic boom on the coasts and big cities has passed them by. Research indicates a key contributing factor to the decline in participation of 18 – 24 years old group is the lack of young workers in non-metro regions.

Source: USDA – 2017

Poverty remains a major issue in rural areas of the country, Midwest and South.  These areas have lost millions of manufacturing jobs due to automation and moving factories offshore.  Lack of economic health, forces supporting businesses to leave, closing of hospitals and support services.  The opioid epidemic is highest in rural regions of the country.

Sources: US Census Bureau, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 10/18/19

Many of these rural, Midwest and Southern counties have been left out of the economic mainstream for decades as noted by the darkest purple areas of the chart. While, there single factor programs like enterprise zones with reduced taxes, or innovation institutes at major land grant universities we have not seen multi-factor programs that give a ‘focused force’ of economic impact necessary to turnaround these regions.  The Heartland was chosen for the first implementation in addition to the reasons above, there are additional cultural, health and education issues that need to be addressed. 

The Heartland is where: (1) mobility to take new jobs is the lowest in rural and small cities in the Midwest and South (2) there is the highest concentration of young people without a 4-year degree (3)  the lowest concentration of entrepreneurs is holding back business formation and development to create new higher paying jobs with a future (4) the largest number of people without health insurance are found in the South and rural areas of the Southwest and West  (5) slow speed Internet connections are the norm leaving many heartland regions way behind in the digital revolution where new jobs, opportunities for education and quality health are being developed and accessed (6) accounting for births, deaths and migration rural population has declined for five consecutive years.  It is deplorable that a complete socio-economic region of the country has so many factors that have not been addressed to extent necessary to transform people’s lives toward good health and fair share of prosperity.

Rural and small town America enjoyed a renaissance of increasing jobs and prosperity into the mid 1990s. During this time rural counties were home to more than one-third of all net new businesses establishments fueling the job creation engine. Yet, in the past ten years the economic conditions have changed dramatically, leaving these regions out of robust growth in coastal areas since the Great Recession.  For more details and research please read our blog: The Hallowing Out of Heartland America.

We think that the multi-partner program outlined below besides working in rural regions will work as well in economically depressed neighborhoods of our inner cities on the coasts or major cities of the Midwest with local modifications to take into account cultural, ethnic and societal differences. 

The Multi-Partner Economic Innovation Initiative

The Silicon Valley innovation process is a multi-organization model used as a base for the Multi-Partner Economic Innovation Initiative (MPEII).  Universities working as incubators, with investors, local and state government support, investors, highly educated workforce, and immigrants all contributed to making the Silicon Valley model successful in giving birth to Google, Facebook, Apple, LinkedIn, Twitter, and hundreds of other companies. We have added other necessary elements to jump start a slow growth economic regions like non-government organizations  providing training or recovery services, health providers to take on major issues like opioid addiction, faith-based organizations for counseling and financial assistance. Finally, federal government agencies will need to play a key role in turning around a slow growth region vulnerable in a recession to a spiraling down turn. We introduce the idea of a Federal Reserve Labor Bank, organized much like the present Federal Reserve for monetary policy yet with a charter to constantly build and renew our labor force for unimagined new jobs.

The MPEII would be structured as a non-profit corporation with representatives from all the organizations necessary to drive the coalition to success in meeting the economic objectives of the region.  The federal government rather than building a large bureaucracy would seed the development of the MPEII entities called Development Centers with $25 – 50 million, joined by corporate foundations, local and state government and social entrepreneurs. In our first imitative The Heartland Development Center (HDC) is the central innovative entity bringing all the partners together and taking leadership to drive solutions in rural regions. The HDC is formed as an investment organization, putting out a call for business plans from local social entrepreneurs to solve a local regional problem with the help of the MPEII organizations. The economic goals could be achieved by profit making companies or non-profit organizations where making a profit is not appropriate or not fitting within the development goals.

The People – At the center of this economic imitative are the people. The voter participation level during the 2018 – mid-term election hit a 50 year high at 47.5 % with 110 million Americans voting in congressional races. This engagement in the political process at the local, state and federal is crucial if we are to develop the consensus moving forward to solve our economic problems.  Voters need to demand that corporate, private investors, government and related organizations needs to change polices to focus on building the middle class, protecting our environment, cutting the costs of education and ensuring equal opportunities and a level playing field for all that participate in our economy. In our Heartland example implementation to bring our rural and southern regions into the economic mainstream, local communities, and leaders from multiple institutions need to be involved in making the changes necessary to bring a lasting economic boost to the Heartland.

Universities – The HDCs in selected rural and southern regions would be located in nearby universities for support to be forward looking with local students and professors – consultants as core staff along with local leaders to solve major challenges. The Heartland Development Center acts as a catalyst creating an innovation ecosystem to jumpstart local economics and social structures. HDCs would focus on all the key issues that a region needs to address to rebuild their economy and people’s lives: business formation, education and training, digital infrastructure, affordable housing, engaged local innovation media and health care. There already is an imitative by Congressman Ro Khanna, to fund a modern version of the Morrill Act, that funded the development of land grant universities to support agricultural development in the U.S in 1862. Fifty universities would receive grants of $50 – 100 million to fund technology centers to focus on training and development programs for 21st century jobs. This bill is a good start, the HDC is extension of this imitative to provide a ‘focused force’ on solving regional economic problems and create an innovation ecosystem that is self-renewing.

Federal, State, Local Government – Federal government funding is necessary for a cross regional program with multiple components along the scale of the Marshall Plan after WWII for re construction of Europe.  State and Local governments have the local knowledge, leadership and links to local universities, health providers and non-government organizations that will be helpful in forming the consensus required to focus people and resources on the key problems with workable solutions. The Federal Reserve has analysts who have completed research and continue to monitor the economic health of the 12 Federal Reserve districts that will be helpful to base programs on patterns in the facts.  We propose that a pilot ‘Federal Labor Reserve Bank’  (FLRB) be created in the 12 districts to focus on the labor issues, composed of governors in the 12 areas with labor expertise in corporations, universities or labor leaders.  The FLRB would set minimum wages for key regions conduct studies like the Fed beige report, called a ‘lavender’ report on the health of the workforce in each region.  The report would identify key labor trends, wage issues, and obstacles to creating a thriving workforce. The FLRB would offer loans to key entities with assistance from the Federal Reserve to providing of key training and development initiatives, in a timely manner. The FLRB’s mission is to build a thriving labor force and take on major challenges like identifying why the labor participation rate is so low compared to pre – 2008 levels and implement programs accordingly to increase the rate. Every month the FLRB would review how well it is doing in achieving goals of increased labor participation rate, increasing wages for the middle class and other goals as established by the Governors.

Corporations & Investors – Companies in these slow growth regions need support in multiple areas that are unique to the economics of each area.  Major employers should be included in the steering councils of the HDCs to provide valuable local guidance to HDC leaders on where to focus resources, training for job candidates and the product and sales direction of their businesses. Many corporations have investment groups and can be invited to participate in the HDC program, to achieve results for their business that they are willing to share with the community. Venture capitalists, angels and private equity firms will be encouraged to participate and may be invited to be on the HDC steering council. Telecom firms need to be invited to bid on digital infrastructure projects which may be funded by government grants. It is likely that some of these Internet projects may not be profitable for telecom companies or they would have already laid the fiber optic cables and setup the links to homes in these areas. Like the Rural Electrification program in the 1930s, the digital infrastructure must be in place for rural areas to gain fast access to the Internet.  Plus, high speed Internet access is a requirement to build innovation centers and create businesses with 21st century high technology jobs.

Non-Government Organizations, Foundations & Health Providers – Health services in many rural regions has deteriorated along with companies leaving the loss of jobs.  Unemployment rates are often twice the national average.  The lack of health service providers and hopelessness of not having a job is driving disease and death rates higher.  The CDC reports deaths due to cancer, heart disease and respiratory illness are 15 – 35 % higher in rural areas since the Great Recession. A number of communities have no hospital closer than 2 – 3 hours away.  Doctors setup a practice based on government rural doctor incentive programs, then leave after they have put in their required tenure.  Opioid overdoses are concentrated in rural states and Midwest region.

Source: CDC – 2017

A health services revitalization plan needs to be developed by region which includes hospitals, clinics and incentives for doctors to come, stay and build a practice in reach region. Often, the lack of high speed Internet limits the opportunities for health providers to shift to electronic records, services and even use of tele-medicine which would be helpful to reach out over long distances. Health and job candidate support are related as one research organization found that for many manufacturing employers in Indiana that for factory floor jobs as many as 45 % of the workers tested positive for drugs.

Training, career development, and apprenticeship working closely with universities can make a major contribution in a coordinated effort to put unemployed workers to work. NGO groups like the Opportunity@Work program are one approach to attack the job training challenge.  The training group started in the Obama White House focuses on providing Internet economy job training to workers in the heartland to gain digital skills for jobs in fields like programming and information technology.

Colorado has invested in its CareerWiseto bring businesses, colleges and vocational training groups into partnerships providing all Colorado high school juniors and seniors with a dual career path leading to a community college associates degree plus key skills.  Students can begin working on the factory floor as juniors learning key company job skills, and are guaranteed full time employment at the end of their apprenticeship along with financial support to earn a community college degree. 

Faith Based Organizations – many faith based organizations provide counseling services, welfare, foods services and other resources to those in need.  Working closely in the HDCs with their steering councils programs can be coordinated and focused in areas where churches, synagogues or mosques are located.  FBO groups often have been in neighborhoods for many years, with a deep understanding of the needs, trends and social issues that are unique to their area.  Leaders and staff in the HDC would do well to establish good connections with these groups to gain insights into which programs, services and resources are needed to turnaround the economic situation in their community.

In the end, Americans have always pulled together, solved problems and moved ahead toward an even better future. After a reversion to the mean in our capital markets and an economic recession things will get better.  A reversion in social and culture values is likely to happen in parallel to the financial reversion. The complacency, greed and selfishness that drove the present economic extremes will give way to a new appreciation of values like self-sacrifice, service, fairness, fair wages and benefits for workers, and creation of a renewed economy that creates financial opportunities for all not just the few.

Building the Economic Power of Youth

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: opportunityinsights.org

Last week a non-profit research and policy organization, Opportunity Insights published a startling map and database linking the success of children in poverty to their neighborhood to climb out of poverty.  A key finding is that children growing up in neighborhoods where there is low income continue to live in poverty as adults.  Though of more interest is that all factors being equal children where there where two parents in the household did significantly better than children in one parent households.  Family structure made a significant difference.

Source: Opportunity Insights – 10/4/18  (areas in blue, children who grew up in low income areas tended to make more money, children in dark red far less)

Certainly, households with just one bread winner, generally automatically means that there  is less income in that household.  Opportunity Insights notes that often single parent communities do not have the same ‘social capital’ as two parent communities.  In terms of parents that can support their children, tutoring after school, going to after school activities and a father who is there to provide support to the mother.  Particularly, for boys having a father in the household seemed to be determinative in future opportunities boys enjoyed in adult life.  Key to forming the right skills for a higher income is an example of a mother or father working a job, focusing on nurturing their children’s skills and being an advocate for the child in the school system.

John Hope Bryant, CEO of Operation Hope, a for purpose non-profit group helping low income people through financial coaching and skills development to build a secure economic future. Bryant notes that 63 % of middle income Americans cannot afford a $500 car repair or $1000 in emergency health care. Without financial independence, people cannot protect themselves from social injustice, economic manipulation and profiling, People need to learn how to build personal ‘capital’ to dig out of the community that keeps them in poverty. He observes growing up in Compton, a California low income community, that children in the neighborhood grew up with no positive aspirations.  They continue to be surrounded by negative roles models: drug dealers, loan sharks, and criminals who have the economic power.  Yet, they don’t have the ‘capital’ or knowledge on how build wealth in a positive way and key relationships.  A person with no hope is a dangerous person, who becomes angry, vengeful and desperate. Bryant says there are three types of issues for children in poverty neighborhoods:  low aspiration and few opportunities for 25 % of the problem, poor role models and a negative family and community environment for another 25 % and finally low confidence and self-esteem for 50 %.

Next Steps:

The Labor Force Participation Rate for  adults ages 24 – 54 is 82.5 % is at a new low, and has been declining since the Great Recession. The opioid crisis, a symptom of the hopelessness that many of our young people feel today is causing millions of otherwise productive people to not join the labor force.  Deutsche Bank completed an analysis of how the opioid epidemic is hurting labor participation in many states.

Sources: OECD, Deutsche Bank Research – 9/10/18

Researchers found that states in the South (overlays the poverty areas in the neighborhoods map above) Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and East Central – West Virginia there is a high correlation of opioid prescriptions and labor force rate.

It clear from a moral, ethical and economic standpoint we need as a country to invest in our young people who face increasing challenges in becoming upwardly mobile.  How do we do it?

John Hope Bryant is investing in people in these neighborhoods by providing families and individuals with tutoring to increase credit scores (maps of FICO scores of under 500 map into the above areas too) and how to get low cost loans.  Bryant sees developing entrepreneurial skills in starting new businesses as a way to move economically ahead as well.  More important is learning how high income people became wealthy through building relationships and developing the courage and skills to start a new business.  As he notes, moving from one failure to the next to learn and see trial and error as a necessary part of the path toward creating a product or service of value. The entrepreneurial process builds self-esteem and confidence so crucial in transforming lives and creating opportunities.

Opportunity@Work, a non-profit group originated in the Obama White House, then spun off is tackling the education issue head on with training focused on helping those outside of the economic mainstream to get jobs in the new economy. The group helps candidates get the skills they need in high tech, then making the connection between employers and workers with a non-traditional resume.  In addition, they are pioneering new ways to finance education so that students will not be saddled with thousands of dollars of education debt when they start their careers.  Opportunity@Work is targeting assistance for 1 million people to get hired in the next decade.

We have proposed that a Marshall Plan-like initiative with an entrepreneurial approach be led by the federal government, venture capitalists, corporations, health providers, non-profits and universities to gain a beachhead in many low income communities particularly in rural areas of the Midwest and South. The Heartland Initiative brings key leaders in many fields to focus with high impact on enabling a community and its people to join the economic mainstream from upgrading Internet speeds to providing local access to affordable health care and counseling for mental health issues.  It is a multi-faceted project because there are connected issues, it is one thing to provide a young person with training, but if they are still taking opioids they will fail a drug test by a hiring firm.  Details about the Heartland Initiative are in our post, calling for a new approach to social programs using an entrepreneurial model with seed financing and cooperative groups to spring into action.

We need to bring those that have been on the economic sidelines back into the mainstream of our economy if we are to make any progress as a nation on building an economy that works for all.  With mounting national debt in the trillions of dollars, student debt at $1.5 trillion and opioid deaths at epidemic levels we need to see building the economic power of our youth as one solution to our economic challenges.

Declining Mobility Limits Millennials Careers, Economy

 

Image: dailymail.co.uk

More millennials are living with their parents than ever before due to lack of income, availability of housing and marriage later in life.  Moves by people under age 35 are continuing to decline.  Seniors are moving a bit more but overall they are staying put in their homes for retirement, as the cost to move to a new home is soaring.  Home prices have increased on average by 6.7 % per year over the past five years, skewed toward large square foot homes for upper income buyers.

Source: Trulia – 1/31/2018

Overall Americans are not moving like they used to in the 1990s, and before the Great Recession. In 2017, 34.9 million Americans moved to new residences, translating to a household mobility rate of 10.9%, which is the lowest rate in the last 50 years since the Census Bureau has been tracking this statistic. Lack of mobility is showing up in total household formations including rental units, new and existing home figures.  For all of 2017 there were only 400,000 household units formed, notice this is a similar pace to the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Source: Federal Reserve of St. Louis, 1/2018

The mobility that is taking place is from major cities to major cities or coast to coast.  We noted in our post on Heartland Economics that one of the issues that faces many rural regions in the South and Midwest is lack of new jobs, digital infrastructure, health and education services.  When young people in these regions cannot receive the education they need to build a career where there are jobs in the cities they stay where they are in low wage jobs with few prospects of advancement. The opioid epidemic is worst in rural regions in the country where a sense of hopelessness has set in for many people.  While in the last quarter some of these regions have seen an increase in jobs, this increase in economic activity is likely to be a passing surge from a very low economic base to begin with that will not last without long term investment.

Next Steps:

Why should we be concerned with lack of workforce mobility?  Because, when people do not move to take on new jobs, or start families or get away from home, home purchases decline, furniture sales drop, appliance sales fall and the overall economic life blood of our economy stagnates. What do we need to do?  Raise wages for workers to a decent level in each metro and rural region of the country, so people can build a nest egg and make a down payment on a home.  Rental unit pricing needs to be addressed in a way that is fair to the multiunit owner while holding down rental costs. The most recent Tax Bill passed in December of 2017 eliminated the provision for tax deductions by employers or workers for unreimbursed moving expenses.  This provision needs to be reinstated to drive the costs of moving down.  Interest on first mortgages should be made tax deductible for all regions of the country with a special emphasis on low income first time buyers. In rural regions we recommend special tax zones be established to offer incentives for investors to setup businesses there, with partnerships with local universities to build incubators for startups much along the model pioneered in Silicon Valley yet tuned to the needs of the region.  The size of our workforce is declining, we have young people staying at home so we need to address the issue of lack of mobility head on to provide the  life opportunities to our young people that earlier generations enjoyed.

Build Countervailing Labor Power: Let’s Demonstrate How It Works, Prototype

Evolution of Democracy image

The View:

From a big picture economic perspective, we can’t wait any longer to build democratic capitalism. The Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates almost to zero since 2008, which has fueled the stock market, helped corporations borrow money at cheap rates, and allowed them to do stock buybacks to manipulate the stock price – benefiting the Elite.  The Middle Class continues to lose ground with percentage of net household wealth at its lowest point last seen in 1941!. Recent Gallup Poll figures show the real unemployment rate (including those that want to work ad can’t or have dropped out of looking for work) at 9.7 %.  Job automation and virtualization marches on, cars may drive themselves – reducing the need for taxi drivers, factories continue automation, the Internet provides access to low cost workers and contracted skill sets, and virtualization means fewer face to face contacts (reducing the number of jobs in the hospitality industry for example). New business formations have dramatically dropped a key engine of job growth versus major corporations.

What labor model can provide us insight?   The German labor policy supports worker councils in partnership with management, short term hours (meaning when there is a recession all workers reduce their hours and are still employed), child care is available to help mother’s balance work-family life, and summer 4 week vacations support family life. New high value jobs are created, and Germany has a net export economy (more goods and services are exported than imported). During the 2009 recession unemployment rates actually went down in Germany from 2007 levels!  Workers took shorter hours, instead of being laid off.  Prior to the Great Recession workers established a countervailing balance of power with corporate management.

So, how do we create labor equality and economic upward mobility?  We need progressive programs jump started and headed in the right direction.  Who will lead? Today, our Congress is gridlocked, with little leadership in providing vision, or investing in programs to support the growth of the Middle Class. Waiting for government to take the first step will be a long political process (though worth doing in parallel).  Corporations are at the highest level of cash hoarding in the last 10 yrs at $1.3 Trillion, and benefit by investing in automation resulting in increases in productivity. Corporations have no interest to shift investments toward worker development or creating new corporate governance programs sharing management.

Take action now!  How do we get started? Bring together NGOs, advocacy groups, wealthy progressive leaders, enlightened corporations focused on worker development and build a proof of concept or prototype of a democratic capitalist region.  Programs would be built in cooperation with progressive corporations creating worker development initiatives, short term hours, training, career development, $15 an hour wages.  Create transparency in corporate stock programs, ending extraordinary CEO pay, worker – management councils, offer child care at reasonable rates, provide vacation options. Offer low cost or free 4-yr public college education programs, and low cost student loans with reasonable terms. Focus on how to support workers dislocated by job loss in retraining, and new workers gaining skills to compete. We need to create incubators and programs developing new businesses in a variety of sectors not just technology. Where do we setup these programs? Possible proof of concept regions with progressive leaders: Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Boston.  Nick Hanauer’s team has been working in the Seattle area – Civic Ventures.

The Story:

The Federal Reserve has been priming the economy with near zero interest rates since the 2008 recession by itself, with little worker or infrastructure investment by Congress or corporations.  Low interest rates has created a very low cost of capital used by Wall Street to inflate stock values and corporate executives to borrow money, sometimes to perform stock buybacks to keep stock prices high.  Who benefits?  The top 10 % in population (generally very wealthy) holds 81 % of all stock investments, so they have been the big beneficiaries (Forbes, May 2015) creating more inequality.

The Middle – Class continues to lose ground as this chart from Saez and Zucman, NBER, 2016 indicates (click on the image make larger):

Piketty split - wealth inequality

The bottom 90 % has continued to lose ground while the top .1 % has increased their share of household wealth, it even accelerates after the Great Recession.  We see few programs being put in place to change this paradigm.

Recent Gallup Poll figures show the Real Unemployment rate is actually 9.7 % (vs. reported unemployment rate of 4.7%) when figures for those who have stopped looking for work, or a worker who works a minimum of 1 hr per week and receives $20 in compensation are included. Gallup has created a Good Jobs (percentage of population in 30 hr week job with regular paycheck) indicator now at 46.1% has been been moving sideways since 2010.

Job creation has been driven by the formation of new businesses, however the formation of new businesses is at an all-time low, with business closings actually ahead of new business formations (click on the image to make larger):

New business formations til 2010

The present rules of the game tipped toward major corporations, franchises, and box stores make it extremely difficult for new businesses to form in many regions.

In addition to new business formulation, overall where will new jobs be created, we need to look at trends in virtualization and automation.  Driverless cars – mean fewer taxi drivers, factory automation (ie. Amazon is deploying robot automation to all 10 of its distribution centers across the US), requires fewer handlers.  Virtualization will mean fewer face to face contacts (robots delivering food to rooms for example) in customer services, impacting the hospitality industry among others. A trend we need to face is the continuing reduction in labor force participation due to fewer jobs, as Bill Gross points out that labor participation was at a peak of 82% in 2000 and in 2015 down to 78% translating into a 6M job loss. What kind of future labor policy, and programs in partnership with corporations do we want for democratic capitalism?

What labor policy model seems to be working demonstrating basic democratic capitalism principles?  The experience of Germany during the Great Recession is helpful to trigger some ideas. .  John Schmitt, CEPR (Center for Economic and Policy Research) outlines how German labor policy established a resilient response to the crisis even though it suffered a painful recession deeper than the US.  Prior to the recession, Germany already had 63 % of its work force under collective bargaining agreements vs. the US at 13 %. They were able to have this high percentage of collective bargaining in place, yet raise real average worker salaries by 35 % since 1985 (Saving Capitalism pg 127, Robert Reich). Germany is running a net export economy at $20B in 2016 (without having to hollow out their Middle Class jobs).  Their resilience was in the offering short-time work agreements to reduce the number of hours worked vs. layoffs. When I worked at HP in the mid – 1980s during a recession then, we reduced hours by 10 % by not working the 10th day, yet we were requested to voluntarily work on the that day to get new products out and build sales.  We were successful in jumping ahead of competitors and opening new product lines and sales because the work force was in place when demand increased.

It works, but management has to work harder at developing new markets, creating demand, and competitive value propositions. Germany has moderate employment legal protection at 3.0 based on an OECD 6 point scale (with 6 the greatest protection in terms of severance pay, advanced notification of dismissal and legal process). The US is at .2 the very lowest of all OECD countries. So, the US has some labor policy work ahead. Other labor policies that are implemented include low cost child care, longer vacations than in the US, worker councils sharing management of corporate policies, and

We need action now!   Where is it going to come from?  Congress is controlled by the GOP, with no interest in creating a democratic capitalist economy but continuing the present oligarchy run by the Elite.  Our two presumed presidential nominees have the the highest unfavorable ratings of all presidential candidates in the last 30 years – they carry little mandate for change.  Corporations are now sitting on over $1.3 Trillion in cash, yet with limited investment in technology have been able to achieve increases in productivity to drive profits returned to shareholders. I have participated in corporate councils, and see corporations making de facto employee policy decisions every day, and planning 5 – 10 years ahead. We need to be thinking ahead too, looking out for workers welfare working with progressive corporations.  We can change minds with results from a proof of concept program, while we continue political change, at a certain point in time there will be a tipping point in citizen opinion and the laws will get passed.

The Action:

By moving ahead now, we can show results much quicker, with measures to support advocacy programs.  First, we take a baseline survey or analysis of the region along the line of the parameters our programs will change ie former manufacturing workers who can’t find work, implement retraining, corporate partnerships, get these workers jobs and then survey the results.

We focus our efforts in specific regions to have impact ‘narrow and deep’ vs. wide and shallow. Regions with progressive leadership as possible project areas include: Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, and Boston. Nick Hanauer’s team has been working in the Seattle area – Civic Ventures.

Working in partnership NGOs, advocacy groups, local government and progressive corporations key programs can be designed, implemented and evaluated for worker development, short term hours, training career development and $15 hr wage.  New levels of transparency and management policy sharing in stock programs, CEO pay, worker-management councils, child care at reasonable cost, with longer vacation/off time options (HP, Tandem and other Silicon Valley companies used to offer sabbatical leaves for personal development).  Develop low cost or free public college education programs.  Assist students in converting student loans to reasonable interest rates and suitable payoff policies with local banks.  To support new business formation; we provide new business incubators, with local business leader support, venture financing and business in a variety of business sectors not just technology.

When we bring together NGOs, advocacy groups, progressive politicians, foundations, wealthy progressive leaders, corporations to build a prototype example of democratic capitalism we are building countervailing power for labor.

 

 

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