Uncle Sam: How Much Money Do You Get?

As best I can tell, I don’t receive any money directly from Uncle Sam. I’m eligible to collect Social Security, but I’m not as yet. Saying that, plenty of people are getting substantial folding green from the federal government. And I’m not just talking about federal government employees, members of the military and so on.

Here’s an interesting and informative NYT article, “Economy Faces a Jolt as Benefit Checks Run Out“:

An extraordinary amount of personal income is coming directly from the government.

Close to $2 of every $10 that went into Americans’ wallets last year were payments like jobless benefits, food stamps, Social Security and disability, according to an analysis by Moody’s Analytics. In states hit hard by the downturn, like Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Ohio, residents derived even more of their income from the government.

By the end of this year, however, many of those dollars are going to disappear, with the expiration of extended benefits intended to help people cope with the lingering effects of the recession. Moody’s Analytics estimates $37 billion will be drained from the nation’s pocketbooks this year.

In terms of economic impact, that is slightly less than the spending cuts Congress enacted to keep the government financed through September, averting a shutdown.

Unless hiring picks up sharply to compensate, economists fear that the lost income will further crimp consumer spending and act as a drag on a recovery that is still quite fragile. Among the other supports that are slipping away are federal aid to the states, the Federal Reserve’s program to pump money into the economy and the payroll tax cut, scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

“If we don’t get more job growth and gains in wages and salaries, then consumers just aren’t going to have the firepower to spend, and the economy is going to weaken,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, a macroeconomic consulting firm.

Job growth has remained elusive. There are 4.6 unemployed workers for every opening, according to the Labor Department, and Friday’s unemployment report showed that employers added an anemic 18,000 jobs in June.

In Arizona, where there are 10 job seekers for every opening, 45,000 people could lose benefits by the end of the year, according to estimates from the state Department of Economic Security. Yet employers in the state have added just 4,000 jobs over the last 12 months.

OK. The NYT editors would argue to extend jobless benefits and other safety net benefits until hell freezes over. But realistically that ain’t going to happen — with the Prez and liberals and conservatives in Congress facing some tough choices about how to cut spending. (For an interesting perspective on the debt-ceiling debacle under way Inside the Beltway see Dan Balz in WaPo, “In debt-ceiling talks, Obama tries to keep his balance.”)

So again that brings us to jobs. If we can’t figure out a way to generate and sustain enough quality jobs for those who want and need them today and tomorrow, then we are going to become France. Go figure.

And David Brooks opines in his NYT opinion article this morning that there is no “magic lever” to job creation or fixing the economy.

These three groups — bankers, Democratic Keynesians and staunch Republicans — have one thing in common: They all believe they have identified the magic lever. They believe they can control their economic fate.

Some of us do not believe there is a magic lever. Deficit spending stimulates growth, but not by that much. Tax increases are bad, but they are not disastrous. We believe that there are a thousand factors that go into economic growth, and no single one is dispositive.

We look at the tax cuts of 2001 and do not see tremendous gains. We look at the tax increase of 1982 and do not see a ruinous disaster. We look at high deficit eras and low deficit eras and do not see an easy correlation between deficit spending and growth. On the contrary, if you look around the world there’s a slight negative correlation between government size and prosperity.

We believe that if you rest everything on a single lever (Increase deficits! Cut taxes!), you give people a permission slip to be self-indulgent. They will spend or cut to their hearts’ content and soon you’ll be facing national bankruptcy. We believe that even if you are theoretically right, your policies will be distorted by human frailties and special interests.

The people in my group (you might call us conservatives) are more likely to embrace a low and steady approach to fiscal policy. Control debt. Control entitlements. Keep tax levels reasonable and the tax code simple. Work on the economic fundamentals: human capital, productivity, labor market flexibility, open trade, saving and investment. Don’t believe you can use magic levers to manipulate growth month to month.

Well, we’ll see. Looks like the Prez and members of Congress have stalled on the budget, federal spending and job creation for such a long time that a magic lever should would be welcome.

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