Iowa JobWatch: Jobless Rate Dips — Payroll Jobs Improve

The state still remains almost 41,000 jobs behind where it was at the start of the last recession in December 2007. Still, things are looking better.

David Osterberg
David Osterberg

Unemployment Rate 5.4 Percent in January; Job Growth Still Slow in State

IOWA CITY, Iowa (March 13, 2012) — Analysts at the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project noted the unemployment rate dipped to 5.4 percent in January, down from 5.6 percent in December, as payroll jobs also improved by 3,700. IPP, which tracks employment trends in Iowa, released this statement from Executive Director David Osterberg:

Employment over the last year in Iowa is showing good signs, though growth remains very slow. Payroll data showed a net gain of over 9,000 jobs during the year, with about 40 percent of those jobs added in January.

Especially good news was the fact that the state gained nearly 12,000 manufacturing jobs from January 2011 to January 2012. These jobs generally are higher paid and often have benefits. However, the state also lost 4,000 government jobs and 3,200 professional and business services jobs, also generally better paid than jobs in some sectors.

Now that the economy seems to be picking up with the unemployment rate dropping to 5.4 percent, it is time to question the quality of the jobs we are getting back. And it is time to stop shedding jobs in the public sector. That is one area that the governor and legislature have some control over.

The state still remains almost 41,000 jobs behind where it was at the start of the last recession in December 2007. Still, things are looking better.

Key Numbers

— Nonfarm jobs were up in January by 3,700, to 1,484,300, from the revised December estimate.
— Nonfarm jobs are 43,900 behind the May 2008 peak of 1,528,200, and 40,900 behind the level at the start of the last recession in December 2007.                           
— The unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in January, down from 5.6 percent in December and down from 6.1 percent a year earlier.
— The labor force, those working or looking for work, was virtually unchanged (up 100), but slightly down (1,900) over the year.
— Initial unemployment claims were down — by 37 percent, to 19,846 — for the month, and down 6.3 percent over the year.                                    

Key Trends

— Iowa averaged a monthly increase of only 800 jobs, in the last 12 months.
— Nonfarm jobs are above year-ago level for the 16th month in row.
— Manufacturing is the top-gaining job sector over the past 12 months, up 11,800, followed by construction at 3,100 and trade, transportation and utilities at 2,900. Manufacturing led gains for the month at 3,500, with leisure and hospitality up 3,200 and “other” services up 1,600.
— Government jobs declined by 4,000 over the year, and professional and business services fell by 3,200. For the month, education and health services led declines at 2,500, and professional and business services dropped 1,200.


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Will Iowa ever put taxpayers’ dollars where their voices are?

The only thing that is self-evident is that Iowa lawmakers are not putting taxpayers’ money where their voices are: toward more and better water-quality initiatives.

Mike Owen
Mike Owen

The Des Moines Register editorial staff has produced some excellent perspectives about budgets in recent days, about budget cutting run amok, and budget cuts affecting the courts and human services (including accountability and oversight). Noted The Register:

It’s unlikely you will hear a politician say state government is too small. But at some point, it is.

You could certainly make the same case about environmental quality programs, particularly in water quality, as we showed in a report last week. In Drops in the Bucket: The Erosion of Iowa Water Quality Funding, IPP’s Will Hoyer, Brian McDonough and David Osterberg noted:

In a state with almost 90 percent of its land worked for agriculture, it should be of stark concern to Iowa policy makers that the water running through both our agricultural lands and urban landscapes contains excess nutrients, toxic chemicals, and sediments. These pollutants end up in Iowa’s rivers and streams. The impacts upon public health, fishing and other recreational activities, and cleanup and water treatment costs show up not just in Iowa, but all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. There, the nutrients from cornbelt farm fields are creating the area of hypoxic (low oxygen) conditions known as the “Dead Zone,” where sea life cannot live. …
 
Iowa voters demonstrated strongly that they favor additional efforts to protect Iowa waterways when 63 percent voted in 2010 to approve the Water and Land Legacy amendment, so one might expect the state to increase its commitment to protecting its water. While funding by itself is not an indicator of performance, it is a necessary ingredient in the fight to protect and improve Iowa’s water resources. This report looks at funding for several key state water programs over the last decade and finds that, from a fiscal perspective, the state’s commitment to water protection programs is woefully lacking. (emphasis added)

Among the IPP analysts’ findings is that for most of the period from FY2002-12, inflation-adjusted totals for 10 critical water programs hovered at just over $20 million, and that there were significant drops from those funding levels in FY03 and FY11, with little rebound from the latter in FY12. See the figure below (Figure 3 in our report).

Recent Drop in Water Quality Funding in Critical Programs
Figures in thousands
Table1

At the same time of these funding trends, we have learned that more and more waters in Iowa were impaired. One might expect greater awareness to produce greater attention to remediation, but clearly we are not seeing it. In fact, the Legislature would have to restore $5 million in state water-quality funding just to move to what it had been during the previous decade — as if those earlier levels were enough, something that is not self-evident.

The only thing that is self-evident is that Iowa lawmakers are not putting taxpayers’ money where their voices are: toward more and better water-quality initiatives.

Posted by Mike Owen, Assistant Director

Drops in the bucket: an erosion of water quality funding

At what point do we say, “Enough is enough,” and start making the investment in our natural resources?

Will Hoyer
Will Hoyer

Lawmakers in Des Moines working on the state budget should remember that 63 percent of Iowans approved of a constitutional amendment creating a new fund for natural resources and water quality in the state.  And now there is new evidence that that funding is needed.

In our March 1st report, Drops in the Bucket: The Erosion of Iowa Water Quality Funding, we show that overall water quality funding in the state has dwindled over the past decade and it would take at least $5 million in next year’s budget just to get us back to an average funding level for the past decade.  This begs the question of whether those average levels were adequate or not.

The 10 water quality programs we looked at most saw significant declines of around 30 percent when adjusted for inflation.  These programs provide a good snapshot of overall water quality funding in the state.

Table 3 from IPP report
When adjusted for inflation most of these programs saw significant decreases; the average inflation-adjusted decrease for these seven budget items is over 30 percent.

Numbers can sometimes be deceiving and in some cases look better than they really are.  The water monitoring program of the DNR, for instance, has maintained nominal funding of about $2.9 million for nine straight years. Because of shifting money within the department, however, the monitoring program is not able to monitor things like groundwater quality, or test for pesticides and pharmaceuticals like it used to.

Money is not the only factor in improving Iowa water quality, but it is a necessary part of any effort.  Iowa’s water quality can be improved.  For evidence, just look at trout streams in northeast Iowa, which have made dramatic improvements since the mid-1980s, with six or seven times more streams having naturally reproducing trout now.

Improvements like that won’t  happen without funding and the state’s current investment in water quality is not going to be adequate to make a significant improvement across the state. If these trends continue where will be in another 10 years?  At what point do we say, “Enough is enough,” and start making the investment in our natural resources?

Posted by Will Hoyer, Research Associate

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Read new IPP report by Will Hoyer, Brian McDonough and David Osterberg

See Radio Iowa and Cedar Rapids Gazette stories about the report

Osterberg interview Tuesday 7 p.m.

Hear IPP’s David Osterberg Tuesday evening on “The Fallon Forum,” online at 983wowfm.com or on 98.3 WOW-FM.

“The Fallon Forum” is Monday through Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

To participate, call (515) 312-0983 or (866) 908-TALK.

For more information about the program, see http://fallonforum.com/?p=840.

 

Get budget rhetoric in line with reality

In Iowa, budget rhetoric is what’s been out of control. Politicians have manufactured a crisis, when we need budget discussions to be based on logic and facts, not scare tactics.

David Osterberg
David Osterberg

Now that we have a new state budget in place that was balanced in a cuts-only approach, we at least can finally all agree that state spending in Iowa is down.

Even before the new budget was passed, the general fund budget was smaller in relation to the Iowa economy than it was when Gov. Terry Branstad was last in office in 1998.

In other words, state spending has not kept pace with the growth in wages and business profits over the past dozen years. This shifts costs to Iowa citizens.

One example is in the Regents universities. In the just-ended fiscal year, the state provided fewer dollars to the University of Iowa than it did in 1998. By not adjusting state funds for inflation, tuitions have been forced higher: 227 percent up since 1998, from $1,333 per semester to $4,357.

In Iowa, budget rhetoric is what’s been out of control. Politicians have manufactured a crisis, when we need budget discussions to be based on logic and facts, not scare tactics.

When we do that, we can see that Iowa can afford to provide preschool for every Iowa 4-year-old, because we know it improves education and economic opportunity across the board. We can hold down the rapid increases in tuition at Kirkwood and the University of Iowa. We can mow the grass in our parks, improve the low salaries of our teachers and nurses, and do much more while keeping spending at or below 1990s levels.

What we can afford to cut are the perks for the profitable. Tax cuts for big corporations that already avoid their fair share of the bill cannot be sustained if we want to provide and maintain superior state services that attract residents and a productive workforce — which, by the way, is how companies make money.

Let’s put the old budget rhetoric on the shelf and invest in Iowans as we once did, for a dynamic economy and services in line with Iowa values.

Posted by David Osterberg, Executive Director

Iowa students find sustainable lessons in India

One example of how sustainability helps rural villagers in India is a solar lighting program for places not reached by the electric grid.

David Osterberg
David Osterberg

Deendayal Research Institute (DRI) in Chitrakoot, India, works with India’s poor. Ten University of Iowa students and Associate Professor David Osterberg have come to this holy city to study this organization’s approach to sustainability.

We had hoped to send a blog each day describing the school for tribal girls, the entrepreneurial center, villagers growing plants used in Ayurvedic medicine, the agricultural experiment stations and others of the 19 programs that exist in villages located within 50 kilometers of this center. However, the internet connection has been down most of the time. Thankfully it was up Wednesday evening so the students could go online for materials for the presentations they will make to our hosts today.

One example of how DRI makes the lives of villagers better is the solar lighting program for places not reached by the electric grid. Solar panels power 10-watt LED lamps, 60 of them in each of two villages we visited. Powering lamps solves the problem of storage of solar power generated during the day. The charge captured by a lamp on an average day will produce six hours of light at night.

A local village person, a woman in each of the places we visited, runs the solar charging station as a combination business and community activity. The setup — two 100-watt panels, 60 lamps and wiring — would be beyond the micro loan level so a hybrid arrangement, something akin to a U.S. public utility arrangement, was needed.

Charging the lamps and maintaining the system is a private-sector endeavor but because the system itself was given to the village, there is a limit to what can be charged. Villagers pay the charger woman about 4 cents for a nightly charge. She in turn maintains the system. She was trained in maintaining the system by the DRI’s entrepreneurial center so the systems are well-maintained.

By the way the system can also charge a couple dozen cell phones at a time. And it may be surprising to us but even poor villagers have cell phones.

This is one example of how sustainability works in rural India. We have seen many more during the seven days we have been here.

Posted by David Osterberg, Executive Director