Thursday, July 25, 2013

North Carolina posts its highest increase in continuing unemployment claims in a decade

Did the bottom just fall out of the North Carolina labor market?

Weekly data on unemployment insurance (UI) claims reported by North Carolina to the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) of the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that the number of continuing UI claims in its regular state program skyrocketed 52 percent from 84,699 for the week ending June 29 to 128,739 for the week ending July 6. The increase of 44,040 continuing claims is the largest in North Carolina in more than a decade.

The week covered by the data is the same week that ill-conceived changes in state law led to the elimination of federally-funded extended UI benefits for the state's long-term unemployed. However, claims for those extended benefits are not included in the regular state figures.

Continuing UI claims are seasonal and tend to grow in the weeks right around holidays when unemployed people are less likely to accept work. This is especially true of the Christmas and New Year holidays, which have the highest seasonal spikes, but also true of the July 4 holiday, which has a modest spike. For instance, this year continuing claims increased 10.5 percent in the rest of the country over the same week.

However, changes like North Carolina just reported are exceedingly rare. Data from the ETA go back to 1987. Over that 26-year period, there were only five other weeks in which the number of continuing claims increased more, and all but one of those increases were associated with Christmas or New Years. You have to go back to January 2002 to find a larger increase for the state.

By Occam's razor, the most likely explanation for an unbelievably large change in the UI numbers is that the numbers are indeed unbelievable. The information technology systems for North Carolina's social service agencies have suffered a number of embarrassing setbacks, including problems paying Medicaid claims and problems processing food stamp benefits, so the possibility of a processing glitch can't be ruled out.

As mentioned, this was also the same week as other changes in North Carolina's UI system took effect; something peculiar to those changes could have contributed to an artificial spike.

However, if the numbers are accurate, things just got horribly worse for North Carolina's workers.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

NC legislature would give a gun to John Hinckley Jr.


Both houses of the NC legislature have voted to strike the provision that "No individual who has been found not guilty by reason of insanity may petition a court for restoration under this section" from the NC statute regarding the restoration of gun rights (see Section 9 of HB 937).

Under this provision, if John Hinckley Jr. were a NC resident, he could petition to get his gun "rights" restored.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

US Airways' contribution$ to the Charlotte airport grab

The sudden and fierce determination of North Carolina Republicans to snatch the seemingly well-functioning Charlotte airport away from the city of Charlotte has been something of a head-scratcher.

However, a detailed story by the Charlotte Observer helps to fill in the background.
In early 2012, an executive with US Airways, the airport’s largest tenant, had a tense meeting with then-City Manager Curt Walton over how much say the airline would have over (Charlotte Aiport Aviation Director Jerry) Orr’s eventual successor.

Planning consultant Michael Gallis, who has worked with Orr, heard about the tensions and raised concerns with Stan Campbell, a former member of the City Council and Airport Advisory Committee. At the same time, developer Johnny Harris was warning of the politicization of the airport by city leaders he saw as “paralyzed” over a dispute about building a streetcar. US Airways forwarded a draft of possible authority legislation to Campbell. In December, Campbell approached Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican.

But the prospect of an authority only became public in February, shortly before Rucho filed legislation. He said lawmakers and still-unidentified business leaders thought the city was about to stop managing the airport “wisely.”
Got that? US Airways--an out-of-state corporation--wrote draft legislation to change Charlotte's airport authority. That draft was passed to Sen. Bob Rucho who then submitted legislation to carry out US Airways' bidding.

But draft legislation wasn't US Airways' only contribution to the airport grab (or to Sen. Rucho).

US Airways' political action committee followed up the delivery of the draft legislation in December with a $1,000 contribution to Sen. Rucho and $8,000 in contributions to other North Carolina politicians. Senator Rucho's campaign finance report indicates that his committee received the check on January 30, 2013.

Two weeks later on February 13 (time enough for the check to clear, you never know given the sorry financial state of air carriers), Sen. Rucho filed the authority-change legislation in the Senate. Sen. Tom Apodaca, who was also the recipient of a $1,000 contribution in January, was a co-sponsor on the legislation. Rep. Bill Brawley, who was a primary sponsor of a companion House bill, received $500.

Previous to its contributions in January, US Airways had not taken an especially big interest in North Carolina elections. In 2012 (an election year), its PAC only reported $1,000 in contributions. Similarly, the PAC appears to have only made $1,000 in contributions in 2011. However, with draft legislation under review by Sen. Rucho, its contributions in a non-election year jumped to $9,000.

The suspect timing and unusually generous size of the contributions strongly suggest a quid pro quo. They also suggest that a criminal investigation may be in order.

NC politicians have taken dim view in recent years toward tenants' rights, but maybe some well-timed contributions from Charlotte airport's largest tenant are changing that.

Gov. McCrory unleashes another "nightmare" on the poor

Gov. McCrory, who has enacted legislation to strip unemployment benefits from more than 70,000 long-term out-of-work North Carolinians and cut earned income tax credit payments for low-income working families, has now unleashed a new "nightmare" on poor families and children--a malfunctioning Medicaid payment system.

The News Observer reports
The state Department of Health and Human Services warned providers to expect a few bumps after the new Medicaid billing system came online July 1. For many, the bumpy weeks have been worse than they imagined, and they have not been told when the frustration will end.

...“This change with NC Tracks has been anything but successful,” said Susan Walsh, office manager at the Purcell Clinic, a pediatric practice in Laurinburg. “They have serious defects . Practices aren’t getting paid, which is very serious for all of us financially.”

Doctors, dentists, pharmacists, in-home care providers and medial equipment companies say the new software system is riddled with problems. Pharmacists cannot get approval to fill some prescriptions for medicine. Companies submit bills only to learn that they’ve vanished into the system. Doctors’ offices do not have at the ready information they need to know which patients they should treat or whether they need to collect copayments – information the old payment system provided.

...NC Tracks is “really a nightmare,” said Beth Bowen, executive director of the N.C. Association for Medical Equipment Services.

“We were expecting glitches,” she said. “We weren’t expecting complete failure of the system here, and that’s what happened.”
The problems were foreseen. In May, the state auditor reported that results from more than one-third of 834 critical system tests were missing. The auditor also reported numerous other problems, including the lack of formal "go/no-go" criteria to determine whether the system would be ready to operate on July 1. The auditor further recommended that "the Department should re-evaluate its current 'Go' decision for July 1, 2013."

No matter, Gov. McCrory unleashed the NC Tracks system anyway.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What's Greensboro got to do to get a little love?

Bloomberg profiles the development of the new HondaJet (a.k.a. the "Flying Acura") but fails to mention where the darn thing is being built.

North Carolina employment stuck in neutral

The latest estimates from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) show that North Carolina's employment situation remains stuck in neutral.

The DOL's establishment figures indicate that the state added just under 6,000 payroll jobs in June on a seasonally-adjusted basis. While this reverses the last three months of job declines, it's hardly cause for celebration, as the total number of payroll jobs in June remained lower than the levels from February and March.

The DOL's household figures were worse. The estimated number of unemployed people was essentially unchanged, but the estimated size of the labor force shrank by 10,000.

The state's employment trends stand in sharp contrast to the national trends, which have been pretty solid for several months running.

Two years ago Republicans promised that tax cuts and government downsizing would accelerate the economy. Instead, they appear to have broken the clutch.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Some good national job numbers but a sobering bottom line

The U.S. Department of Labor reported this morning that the country added nearly 200,000 non-farm jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis in June. It also revised its estimates of job growth in April and May up to about 200,000 in those months.

The most recent figures continue a trend of solid, though hardly overwhelming (marginally whelming?) job growth. Overall, the U.S. has added 182,000 non-farm jobs per month over the past year.

Job growth certainly beats job decline. However, the growth figures are just barely exceeding the growth in the working-age population, which gives rise to the following sobering graph of the percent over time of the civilian, non-institutionalized population aged 16 and over that is working on a seasonally-adjusted basis:

At the start of the Great Recession, the percent of the adult population that was employed was around 63 percent. The rate plummeted during the recession, and since late 2009 has been mired at or below 58.7 percent. Despite solid job growth in the last two months, the June employment percentage was only able to creep back up to that 58.7 percent high-water mark.

The U.S. has been steadily adding jobs since early 2010, but there will be little cause for celebration until it consistently adds jobs fast enough to raise the employment-to-population ratio.