Friday, December 19, 2014

The Catskills Return: Five Ways the Montreign-Adelaar Casino Resort Will Help Sullivan County

Once, New York State’s Catskills area, spearheaded by the Concord and Grossinger’s resorts near Monticello and Liberty in Sullivan County, was one of the most popular vacation destinations in the country.  Its proximity to New York City, within about 100 miles, helped bring in millions of visitors, who wanted both indoor and outdoor activities.  Known as the Borscht Belt for its special appeal to Jews, it started an entire generation of comedians, from Jack Benny to Lenny Bruce, who brought Yiddish words such as bagel, chutzpah, and kibitz into our language.  Gambling, though technically illegal, was always a part.  The area started losing its tourists in the 1950s and 1960s, and by the 1980s the resorts were almost a thing of the past.

But now there will be a reason for many to return.  At long last – over a year after it was authorized, and 40 years since locals began asking for one – a legal casino will be built in the Catskills.

The New York State Gaming Facility Location Board announced its approval decisions on Wednesday.  There will be three full-scale gambling facilities.  One will be in Tyre, near the Finger Lakes.  Another will be in Schenectady, next to the state capital of Albany.  The third, the Montreign Resort Casino, will be in Kiamesha Lake, near Monticello, on the former property of the Concord.

There has been some controversy about whether locals wanted the casino to be approved, but not a lot.  When the state’s voters weighed in on the referendum in 2013, Sullivan County led the state with 76% in favor, and the Monticello and Liberty areas were over 80%.  The measure passed, and since then the board had been requesting and assessing proposals.   
So what will the casino and resort complex mean for the county?

First, it will bring in jobs.  The Times Herald-Record, in a pre-decision wrap-up of the nine proposals from which the three above were chosen, claimed the Montreign and its associated Adalaar would create 2,400 new positions, almost all of which will need to be worked locally.  In a county with a civilian labor force of under 32,000, that is a lot. 

Second, it will multiply recreational activities.  The Montreign and Adelaar, neither of which would have been built without the casino authorization, will offer entertainment, skiing, fishing, golf, various water sports, snow tubing, zip lines, live entertainment, spa treatments, poker, other gambling, a buffet, a variety of other dining options, and more, many not available now.

Third, it will help other businesses in numerous ways.  The complex will offer conference and meeting facilities, along with a 390-room hotel.  For new commercial opportunities, Montreign and Adalaar need advertising, beverages, cleaning supplies, commercial food service equipment, dry cleaning and laundry, financial services, fixtures, food, furniture, information technology, merchandise for retail sale, motorcoach operations, office equipment, office supplies, paper products for food service, and printing services, among others.  If you are with a company that provides any of these, Empire Resorts, the owners, would like to hear from you.

Fourth, it will bring in tax revenue.  The actual amount is unknown, but with tax rates of 37% to 45% for slot machines and 10% for table games, it will be large. 

Fifth, it will skyrocket tourism for Sullivan County in general.  Some facilities and attractions will do better than others, but it is absurd to think that the greatly increased number of visitors the county will see, even if it only gets a tiny fraction of the 52 million who visit the New York City area each year and the 23 million who live there, will not generally help many other businesses, and individuals, tremendously.

The Montreign and Adelaar resort complex is expected to open in early 2017, possibly sooner.  They are already taking resumes for employment and marketing information from possible partners and suppliers.  If you want to be involved, go to the website

The Catskills are coming back.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Elizabeth Warren on Jobs: A Worthwhile Challenge to Hillary

So far, Hillary Clinton has appeared to be as much of a presidential-candidate juggernaut as anyone has at this still early point.  This year, the odds on her being elected have ranged from almost even to 2-to-1 against, which, by comparison, is several times more likely than any other candidate.  You can now get 9-to-5 on her winning – second most likely is Mitt Romney with 12 to 1, followed by Jeb Bush at 15 to 1.  Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are at 20 to 1, followed by the second most likely Democrat, Elizabeth Warren, currently 22 to 1.

Who is this Elizabeth Warren?  She is the 65-year-old Massachusetts junior senator, a former Harvard law professor who dealt most often with bankruptcy law and consumer finance issues.  She won the first election Scott Brown, the Republican who replaced Ted Kennedy, had to face while in that office, and almost ever since has been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate, with slow but steadily increasing attention paid to her prospects and desirability.  As recently as April she publicly denied wanting to run, but has been involved with so much Democratic fundraising that she seems to have established a foundation, and of course may change her mind. 

Warren is best known politically, and perhaps now professionally, for opposing Wall Street and big business financial domination.  That is why The Washington Post said she would be “instantly relevant” in the 2016 campaign, as most Democrats have a negative view of both.  She is regarded as being to the left of Hillary Clinton, which could help her within her party, if not in the general election.

So how does Warren seem on jobs?  She has sponsored only one bill directly related, the Equal Employment for All Act of 2013, which would bar employers from using workers’ and candidates’ credit reports against them.  She is in favor of minimum wage increases, citing great productivity gains which have not come through in pay.  Her books, The Two-Income Trap and A Fighting Chance, both point out a major effect of the jobs crisis, that workers average lower incomes and less overall prosperity than they did in what I have called the Winning by Default Years ending in 1973.  Peripherally, she is staunchly in favor of higher top-end tax brackets, saying that those with unusually high incomes needed roads, police, and worker education that were collectively provided.  Otherwise, she has said little about American employment, and now has nothing – literally – on her website under “Issues.” 

There would be several good things about a declared Elizabeth Warren candidacy.  First, Clinton needs strong competition, which Warren could provide - without it, we could see the election of the most noncommittal Democratic or Republican nominee in decades.  Second, despite her being pegged as in the leftmost half of her party, she could well materialize into a bipartisan leader, as she consistently voted Republican before 1995 and has said, as recently as 2011, that neither party should be allowed to dominate.  Third, she is aware of what the permanent jobs crisis has caused, even if she does not seem to credit that as the cause.  Fourth, and most importantly, she could well prove independent enough to pursue solutions beyond a mainstream Democratic platform. 

For these reasons, and whether we agree with her views so far, we should encourage Elizabeth Warren to run.  Since we have got almost nowhere on the jobs crisis during Obama’s presidency, an election of another center-to-right Democrat beholden to many within the party could easily be the worst reasonably likely 2016 outcome.  I can imagine Warren taking guaranteed income, for example, more seriously than Clinton would. 

Another thing about Warren is worthy of our attention.  If she were voted in and did not succeed, she would be easier to get rid of in 2020, which we may well want to do if and when another recession lays our employment situation bare once more.  Win or lose, whether she is right or wrong, we want Elizabeth Warren – and others with different views than what we have seen – in the race and running hard. 


Friday, December 5, 2014

In November, the Largest Employment Increase in Years, but AJSN Says America’s Still 18.3 Million Jobs Short

The headlines on articles about the Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report today will say that payroll employment jumped more last month than any since at least the summer of 2012.  There were 321,000 more people in jobs than in October, which caps off a long series of months in which more positions were added than the population increase covered. 

That is a good thing – in fact a superb thing – but, looking at the number of additional jobs America could quickly absorb, we wouldn’t know it.  So what happened?

First, both the seasonally adjusted and unadjusted unemployment rates were unchanged, at 5.8% and 5.5% respectively.  Second, despite the employment gain, the number of officially jobless was down only 50,000 to 8.63 million.  Third, the number of people officially described as “marginally attached” to the labor force more or less broke even, with fewer reporting as discouraged and immediately unavailable for “other” reasons, but 117,000 more saying they wanted a job but did not look for one for at least the previous year.  In all, the American Job Shortage Number, or AJSN, was almost stationary, as follows:

What I call the four BLS “foundation” measures all either improved slightly or treaded water.  The count of those officially jobless for 27 weeks or longer dropped 100,000 to 2.8 million, and the number working part-time for economic reasons, or wanting a full-time opportunity but not finding one, fell the same to 6.9 million.  The proportions giving the shares of people on the front lines of employment, though, both held steady, with civilian labor force participation holding at 62.8% and the employment to population ratio still 59.2%.  These two measures give us the best idea of the pervasiveness of American work, which is still roughly as low as it’s been since Jimmy Carter’s first full year as president.

Compared with a year ago, the AJSN came in almost exactly one million lower.  In November 2013, there were 1.6 million more Americans officially jobless, but 562,000 fewer saying they hadn’t looked for a year or longer, and 225,000 more willing to work in principle but not able to right now.  These 12- month improvements, while still substantial, are now becoming smaller.

So what can we take from this month’s AJSN?  It shows us that even when one of the most valuable statistics – in this case, the number of net new jobs – excels, that still does not mean a smaller American job shortage.  Over 18 million people wishing they could work is a lot, whether they are technically unemployed or not, and of course the AJSN does not account at all for those looking since May or before, or for those working only part-time not by choice.

Accordingly, regardless of the payroll increase, the turtle sat still last month.      

Friday, November 28, 2014

Time to Think About the Not-So-Unthinkable - A Guaranteed Income

If the American jobs crisis is permanent, it calls for a permanent solution.  Small improvements such as lower employment taxes for businesses, or even a federal work program, won’t be enough by themselves.

One possible answer is an assured amount of money for all.  It has been described as a “citizen’s income,” a “basic income,” or a “basic guarantee.”  It is as simple as it sounds – all Americans, all citizens, or all residents would receive a certain amount each month.  Although individual proposals vary, it usually involves enough money to assure people of food, shelter, and possibly medical care, but little more.  It’s not a new or exclusively liberal idea, with advocates back to founding father Thomas Paine and from all over the political spectrum. 

The main question about guaranteed income is:  How could we pay for it?  Author Charles Murray determined that, if health insurance were not included and programs such as food stamps and unemployment compensation were discontinued, our federal government could pay each adult citizen $10,000 per year, with those earning over $25,000 from outside sources returning some of it, with no increase in taxes at all.

Others have put together schemes for increasing tax revenue in various ways, with cutting corporate loopholes the most popular.  Writers have proposed many new taxes – a recurring one is a one-half percent fee for stock and other financial transactions, which could raise literally hundreds of billions of dollars. 

So what other disadvantages could assured money for all have?  One is its effect on incentive to work, as some would choose to live unproductively.  That could become a huge social problem, or no issue at all, if those not seeking jobs would only offset declining employment in general. 

As for the good side of a basic national income, there would be renewed security across the land.  Americans would not have to worry about being wiped out if they lost their jobs and could not find replacements.  The cost of administering the program, compared with the likes of welfare, would be trivial.  And the conservatives and libertarians supporting it could see their hope of lower government involvement - realized. 

Over the next year, this blog will have much more on guaranteed income – the theories, the specific plans, and viewpoints on it from all over the political spectrum.  So I want yours as well.  What do YOU think?  Get your comments in!  Because, whether a guaranteed American citizen’s income is justified or not, we need to discuss it – and there is no time like the present.     

Friday, November 7, 2014

AJSN Down Again, As America Is Now "Only" 18.3 Million Jobs Short

October was another good month for United States employment.

The country added 214,000 net new jobs and the headline seasonally adjusted unemployment fell to 5.8 percent.  Long-term joblessness, those looking for 27 weeks or longer plunged to 2.9 million, and unadjusted unemployment fell to 5.5 percent.

Other secondary measures changed little or not at all.  The labor force participation rate and the employment to population ratio came in at 62.8% and 59.2% respectively.  There were 7.0 million people working part-time for economic reasons, or wanting full time work and not finding it, the same as in September.

Two developments were worthy of concern.  Those wanting work but not looking for the past year grew over 150,000 to 3,350,000.  The job groups with the largest gains in employment were food services, drinking places, retail trade and health care, at least 3 of which are full of low-paying positions.

Overall, the American Job Shortage Number, or AJSN was down 135,000, as follows:

Total Latent Demand % Latent Demand Total
Unemployed 8,680,000 90 7,812,000
Discouraged 770,000 90 693,000
Family Responsibilities 247,000 30 74,100
In School or Training 229,000 50 114,500
Ill Health or Disability 131,000 10 13,100
Other 816,000 30 244,800
Did Not Search for Work In  Previous Year 3,350,000 80 2,680,000
Not Available to Work Now 580,000 30 174,000
Do Not Want a Job 85,919,000 5 4,295,950
Non-Civilian, Institutionalized, and Unaccounted For, 15+ 9,514,318 10 951,432
American Expatriates 6,320,000 20 1,264,000
TOTAL 18,316,882

The turtle is still moving forward.

Thanks to my wonderful wife Mary for being my eyes, on which I had surgery, this week.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Triple Revolution Statement – 50 Years Later, It’s as Perceptive as Ever

In the spring of 1964, a group of scientists, professors, social activists, and experts on technology issued a report and addressed it to then-President Lyndon B. Johnson.  The document, published in Liberation magazine, claimed that mankind was on the edge of not one but three profound historic transitions. 

The second shift was “the weaponry revolution.”   In the center of the Cold War, fears about nuclear bombs, which per the report “cannot win wars but can obliterate civilization,” peaked.  The third was “the human rights revolution,” fueled by the American black equality movement, which it described as “only the local manifestation of a worldwide movement toward the establishment of social and political regimes in which every individual will feel valued and none will feel rejected on account of his race.”  Both of these were highly accurate, though with different outcomes.  Nuclear weapons, for various reasons, especially as Sting put it that the Russians did indeed “love their children too,” have not been used in war since.  In America the civil rights revolution has erased maybe 90% of the legal, structural, and major social inequalities – hardly complete, but a very admirable result given the difficulties in changing human behavior.   However, the country, and other developed ones, has done less well on the second part of Martin Luther King’s march – the need for jobs.  That brings us to the first upheaval – “the cybernation revolution.”

It may seem hard to imagine that in 1964, only 18 years after the first true computer was released and few existed outside governments, the military, universities, and the largest companies, that people were concerned about the effects of automation, but they were – and well before then.  Mathematician Norbert Wiener had published The Human Use of Human Beings:  Cybernetics and Society in 1950, and Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Player Piano, about a future where machines had made the great majority of work unnecessary, had arrived two years later.  The Triple Revolution paper called cybernation “a new era of production,” following the agricultural (extraction) and industrial phases.  For the revolution, it credited “the combination of the computer and the automated self-regulating machine,” which would result in “a system of almost unlimited productive capacity which requires progressively less human labor.” 

If that doesn’t seem predictive enough, we can look at what else the article foresaw:

  • Machines would use most resources, leaving more and more humans dependent on government handouts.  (We now have 3 million officially long-term jobless.)
  • “A growing proportion of the population is subsisting on minimal incomes, often below the poverty line, at a time when sufficient productive potential is available to supply the needs of everyone in the United States.”  (That reflects the rising gap between mean and median individual or family income, and the ever-growing piles of money in the hands of the 1% and the largest companies.)
  • “The general economic approach argues” that demand for goods and services is understated, and that all of the capacity in workers and other resources will be needed again.  (That is still the largest reason for observers not seeing the jobs crisis as permanent.)
  • “The underlying cause of excessive unemployment is the fact that the capability of machines is rising more rapidly than the capacity of many human beings to keep pace.”  (Rising prosperity and demand prevented the jobs crisis from really taking effect until 1973, with various booms and bubbles slowing it down for 36 years after that, but automation, along with globalization, has been the main cause of the work shortage.)
  • “A permanent impoverished and jobless class established in the midst of potential abundance.”  (Exactly what has been happening here; see “The American Rasta Class” in Work’s New Age.) 
  • “The number of people who have voluntarily removed themselves from the labor force is not constant but increases continuously.”  (The article didn’t anticipate the mass influx of women, which allowed the labor force participation rate and employment-to-population ratio to keep rising for decades, but both measures are now at or near the lowest ever since that trend was only halfway finished.)

The document contains many recommendations for dealing with the jobs crisis.  They include, as “the traditional link between jobs and incomes is being broken… to provide every individual and every family with an adequate income as a matter of right,” as a replacement for welfare, unemployment compensation, and other similar programs.  It also advocates, among others, the following:

  • A huge public works program (which I have supported since 2011, and columnists from Paul Krugman to David Brooks have since called for)
  • Much more low-cost housing (a lot has been built since 1964)
  • A new public-power system based on coal (actually, in the case of anthracite, an almost  pollution-free fuel)
  • Repurposing old military bases (has been done a great deal since then)
  • More of an “excess-profits tax.”

For various reasons, especially within the service-sector phase which the committee either played down or missed, truly widespread joblessness has not happened yet.  The majority of adults are still working, with most of those getting the bulk of their income that way.  It is not true, though, that because the worst effects of automation did not come to pass as quickly as this committee expected, they never will.  On this planet we have probably run out of labor-intensive work areas.  Large online servers, for example, employ less than a hundredth of those once working for the auto industry.  The Triple Revolution authors also did not anticipate competition from foreign workers, with at least ten times as many suitable for American-style jobs as in 1964. 

Sometimes prophecies don’t take effect for a while.  Christians, whose spiritual forbears were Jews waiting for the son of God for millennia, will tell you that.  And there are frankly no good reasons to think we will have full employment any time this century, which will bring, and is bringing, new problems we must solve.  As this visionary statement said, history will record that – even if it takes fifty years longer than expected.                     

Friday, October 31, 2014

This Halloween, Fiends to Fear and Not Fear

Here in the Catskills, Halloween is sort of classic.  Eldred, New York is too small and spread out for children to go house-to-house, but our “Trunk or Treat,” with people like me giving out candy in the Peck’s supermarket parking lot, is well attended.  The weather is usually appropriate, cool but not too cold, and it’s dark early.  There’s enough wind to imagine you’re hearing things, but children here, playing outdoors, develop good judgment about what to fear and not fear.  That’s better than many older people.

What do I mean?

Here are some things none of us should be afraid of. 

One is widespread gun confiscation.  It will never happen in the United States.  There will long be debates on what can be sold to whom, and even on what the Founding Fathers intended as the spirit of the Second Amendment, but I’ve never heard of anyone in any kind of responsible position making a case for taking them away from law-abiding people.  For that matter, I haven’t heard that from insane or irresponsible ones either.

Two is the effect of climate change during our lifetimes.  Even if you accept the five-horse parlay that a) Earth’s long-term weather is getting warmer, b) a large portion of that is caused by 200-pound creatures on a 6.6 sextillion ton planet, c) such change is consistently harmful, d) our actions are capable of halting it, and e), no technology will emerge that will reverse or largely mitigate the problem, it is a slow process, and about as likely to stop us, in this half of the century, as a glacier. 

Three, Ebola.  There will be no epidemic here.  It is barely more contagious than AIDS, meaning casual contact, unless somehow involving eyes, lips, or open cuts, cannot spread it.  Containing Ebola is a good idea, since we don’t want to trifle with diseases so deadly, but few of us need to be concerned. 

Four, statistics-based racial profiling by police.  Civil rights matter, but until crime patterns are uniform across groups, police, and others, will continue, in the absence of other information, to draw inferences on what they can see.  Two things coming up will help here – cameras on police officers to record what they actually do, and more and more legalization of marijuana, which will end much of what has been a silly “war” anyway.

Five, any and all worries about American inflation.  With a $17 trillion national debt, our government has about the strongest vested interest in keeping interest rates low we will ever see.  True, there is a lot of money out there, but where is it going? 

However, monsters we should all fear, this time of the year, are political candidates who don’t care about jobs.  Fewer give employment as high a priority as in 2010 or 2012, and that’s understandable, but all running for legislative office outside of, say, North Dakota should be aware finding work is a real problem for many.  Hide from that kind!

As of last night, there is one more we don’t need to fear either.  The man strongly believed to have laid in wait for and shot two Pennsylvania state troopers in front of their barracks has, after seven weeks, been captured.  That was actually a local issue here – the whole scene was close enough to us that for a while Eldred schools were under special guard.  Entire hunting seasons at some locations, cutting out not only local recreation but a real income source for many in these economically weak areas, and numerous community events, including trick-or-treating, were cancelled.  Now, though, we can celebrate Halloween - with one less monster.  Let’s do that.