State and Local Pay vs. Private Pay

Do state and local workers get paid more or less than their private sector counterparts?

That old question has taken on renewed life with the budget and labor disputes raging in Wisconsin and other states. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy question to answer.

As Ford Fessenden notes in a nice set of graphics at the New York Times,one reason is that observers disagree on what “paid” and “counterpart” mean.

If you simply compare average pay and benefits, for example, state and local workers come out well ahead:

But the two workforces differ. State and local workers are more educated, on average, than private ones. About 50% of state and local workers have a college degree, for example, while only 29% of private workers do. Controlling for that reduces the compensation differential.

But then you need to consider other factors as well, such as the generally longer hours and lower job security in the private sector.

Fessenden doesn’t reach a firm conclusion. Some data suggest that public employees are indeed paid more. But some narrower (and therefore more precise or less representative) comparisons show parity (hospital workers) or higher private pay (higher education).

Well worth flipping through the charts if you are interested in this issue.

Underemployment (U-6) Down to 15.9%

Nice jobs report on Friday. Let’s hope we get twenty or thirty more.

One good sign is that the broad U-6 measure of underemployment continues to fall. It peaked at 17.4% in October 2009 and was still as high as 17.0% last November.

In February it was down to 15.9%:

(As you may recall, the U-6 measures includes the officially unemployed, marginally attached workers, and those who are working part-time but want full-time work.)

The Long Term Gets Shorter and Shorter

How long is the long term?

When discussing the U.S. budget, it’s usually something between 5 years and 75 years. At least it used to be.

But the ongoing battle over this year’s funding has begun to warp the language. See, for example, this quote from a recent UPI story about efforts to strike a deal to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year:

 WASHINGTON, March 3 (UPI) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden vowed Thursday the “conversation will continue” after meeting with congressional leaders on a long-term budget deal.

President Barack Obama sent Biden, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew and White House Chief of Staff William Daley to Capitol Hill Thursday to work out a deal for a long-term budget plan, 154 days after the government began operating without one, CNN reported.

Things are now so bad that funding the government through the end of September counts as long-term budgeting. Egads.

I suppose that’s true if your benchmark is this week’s deal funding the government for just two weeks. But calling that deal “short-term” and a deal through September “long-term” seems an insult to the language.

So, readers, any better naming ideas? “Two-week” and “Six-month”? “Really short-term” and “Short-term”?  

Six Thoughts on Taxes and Small Business

This morning I appeared at hearing of the Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee on “Small Businesses and Tax Reform.” My full testimony, “Tax Policy and Small Business,” is available here.

My opening statement:

America’s tax system is needlessly complex, economically harmful, and often unfair. Because of a plethora of temporary tax cuts, it’s increasingly unpredictable. And it fails at its most basic task, raising enough money to pay our government’s bills. For these reasons, the time has come for fundamental tax reform.

Such reform could have far-reaching effects on every participant in the economy, including small businesses. To provide a foundation for thinking about these effects, my testimony discusses basic facts about the relationship between tax policy and small business. I make six main points:

1. Today’s tax code generally favors small businesses over larger ones. Provisions such as Section 179 expensing, graduated corporate tax rates, and special, low capital gains taxes benefit businesses that are small in terms of investment, income, or assets.

2. Many small businesses also benefit from the opportunity to organize as pass-through entities. S corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, and sole proprietorships all avoid the double taxation that applies to income earned by C corporations.

3. The benefits of organizing as a pass through are not limited to small businesses. Some large businesses adopt these forms as well. Although these large firms account for a tiny share of pass-through entities, they represent a substantial fraction of pass-through economic activity. For example, only 0.3 percent of S corporations had revenues above $50 million in 2005, but they accounted for more than a quarter of S corporation income. The situation is even more extreme with partnerships. Only 0.2 percent had revenues above $50 million, but they accounted for 57 percent of partnership income. Lawmakers should therefore take care not to assume that all pass throughs are small businesses.

4. Small businesses face disproportionately high costs in complying with the tax code; they are also more likely to understate their income and underpay their taxes. High compliance costs thus disadvantage responsible small businesses, while the greater opportunity to evade taxes can advantage less responsible ones.

5. An ideal tax system would collect enough revenue to pay for government services while minimizing distortions to economic activity. To the extent possible, economic fundamentals, not tax considerations, should drive business decisions about organizational structure. By treating pass throughs and C corporations differently, our current tax system deviates from that ideal.

6. In discussing reform proposals, it is important to distinguish between businesses—a broad category that includes pass throughs—and corporations, which generally means C corporations. Many tax reform proposals would reduce business tax preferences and use the resulting revenue to cut corporate income tax rates. Such revenue-neutral reforms could lessen the disparity in tax treatment between pass throughs and C corporations. Pass throughs would see their tax burden increase (since they would lose some tax preferences but not benefit from the rate reduction), while C corporations would, on average, see their taxes decline.