The Wall Street Journal had an interesting graphic today on its website from the latest American Community Survey data. The newspaper ranked all the nation’s metro areas for a quick index for housing stress.
I compiled similar data for the 11 Oklahoma counties covered under the latest ACS data. As you can see, Muskogee County appears to have the highest housing-stress index in Oklahoma. Rogers and Canadian counties are faring the best. The national average is 87.5, so even Muskogee County is faring well compared to the rest of the nation.
The WSJ housing-stress indicator is made up of three components: the percentage of the population not in the labor force; the percentage without health insurance; and the percentage of homeowners with a mortgage spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. From the Real Time Economics blog:
Financial advisers warn against spending more than 30% of a household’s income on housing costs, as it can crimp other expenditures and savings. It also leaves little room for unexpected shocks to income, such as illness or unemployment. Miami was at the top because it had the highest percentage of mortgage holders spending more than 30% on housing among large metro areas — 57.7% compared to the national average of 37.5%. At the same time, a quarter of the city’s residents are without health insurance — compared to the national average of 15% — making it difficult to deal with a the expense created by an illness and still pay a mortgage.
Click on the image below for the WSJ rankings of the metro areas.
Update: You can see the underlying numbers for the Oklahoma counties here.
The Census Bureau came out with new data yesterday on poverty, health insurance coverage and income at the national and state level.
I had a wrap-up of the highlights in today’s paper. Overall, it’s one of those “good news, bad news” reports.
Nationally, poverty rose and health insurance coverage declined in 2009, the Census said. Both are likely traced to the continuing recession.
In Oklahoma, the number of people in poverty declined to about 468,000 people, down from an estimated 484,000 in 2009. But you’d be hard pressed to find many people trumpeting the decline, especially as demand remains high at food banks and the number of people on food stamps continues to grow. (The Oklahoma Department of Human Services reports that more than 588,000 Oklahomans were on food stamps in June 2010, an increase of 19.5 percent from June 2009.)
As with any statistical report, the devil is in the details with the Census data. It’s important to note that this week’s numbers come from the Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement, a long-running Census product that surveys 100,000 households each year:
The Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS ASEC) is designed to give annual, calendar-year, national estimates of income and official poverty numbers and rates. It is, nonetheless, used for many other purposes, including the allocation of federal funding.
. . . The Basic CPS is used to calculate the monthly unemployment rate estimates. Supplements are added in most months; the ASEC is conducted in February, March, and April with a sample of about 100,000 addresses per year. The questionnaire asks about income from more than 50 sources and records up to 27 different income amounts, including receipt of numerous noncash benefits, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (formerly known as the food stamp program), subsidized school lunches, and housing assistance.
The Census tries to caution against too many state-to-state comparisons with the supplemental data, mainly because survey sizes at the the state level are sometimes too small to be meaningful in any given year. That’s partly why I used two-year averages when describing state-level changes in today’s story.
I called the Census yesterday for some explanation, but they needed to research the issue and couldn’t get back to me in time for the newspaper deadline. Here’s what Jessica Smith, a data specialist at the Census Bureau, said about the Oklahoma health insurance anomaly this afternoon:
We couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary with the data, but we don’t recommend people use single-year data for the CPS for single states because the sample sizes are too small.
Meanwhile, the Census will be releasing new data from its American Community Survey later this month. That survey uses a much larger sample size and a different methodology from the Current Population Survey. It will have details from smaller geographies such as counties and Congressional districts:
The American Community Survey (ACS), replaced the decennial census long-form sample questionnaire. The ACS offers broad, comprehensive information on social, economic, and housing data and is designed to provide this information at many levels of geography. During the 2000-2004 testing program, the ACS collected income data for a much larger sample than the CPS ASEC (about 800,000 addresses per year). Beginning in 2005, the ACS sample size grew to about 3 million addresses. As with the decennial census long form, the ACS relies heavily on questionnaire responses mailed in by respondents. These estimates are collected on a rolling basis every month throughout the year, and the questionnaire asks about eight types of income received in the previous 12 months. For example, those interviewed in January 2010 were asked about income received in the January to December 2009 period, and those interviewed in December 2009 were asked about the December 2008 to November 2009 period.
So, don’t be surprised if the American Community Survey data coming out Sept. 28 has a little different picture of the state’s economic and social well-being.
In a case that could have repercussions here in Oklahoma, online bookseller Amazon has filed a lawsuit against North Carolina’s tax agency, accusing it of wanting personal information about Amazon’s customers in the Tar Heel state.
The Associated Press has more here.
Amazon filed the lawsuit Monday in federal court in its home state of Washington. (Read a copy of the complaint.) From the lawsuit:
The [Department of Revenue] is auditing Amazon’s compliance with state sales and use tax laws. To date, Amazon has cooperated fully with the audit, providing the DOR with voluminous information about its sales to North Carolina, including, for each transaction: the order ID number; the city, county, and zip code to which the item was shipped; the total price for the transaction; the date of the transaction; and Amazon’s standard product code for each item (known as the Amazon Standard Identification Number or ASIN). With these product codes, the DOR is able to immediately find on Amazon’s website the full description of every product purchased by Amazon’s North Carolina customers since 2003 – nearly 50 million items in all.
As the AP story notes, states are desperate for all kinds of revenue amid the recession. Lawmakers in Oklahoma are still crafting the state budget for FY 2011, but Gov. Brad Henry has recommended expanded tax collections, including those for online sales. (The Oklahoma Policy Institute has a good discussion of streamlined sales tax collections.)
There is no allegation by the DOR that any of the products Amazon customers purchased is in any way unlawful. Rather, the identities and expressive choices of these customers have become subject to government scrutiny only because those products were purchased from an out-of-state retailer. The DOR’s actions threaten to chill the exercise of customers’ expressive choices and to cause Amazon customers not to purchase certain books, music, movies or other expressive material from Amazon that they might otherwise purchase if they did not fear disclosure of those choices to the government.
The folks over at the Oklahoma Policy Institute released a report this morning on Oklahoma’s numerous tax credits, incentives and rebates. In short, they call for greater transparency and more consistent reviews of existing incentives. From their conclusion:
Rather than accept all tax preferences that are currently in law, or reject them en masse as giveaways to special interests, we hope this brief can be valuable in improving the state‘s tax expenditure system and ensure that in the area of tax preferences, as in the area of direct budgetary expenditures, the state is allocating public resources in the best possible fashion.
Using information from the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s Tax Expenditure Reports and some data from the state’s Open Books site, the report estimates that $5.6 billion in tax expenditures were claimed or used in fiscal year 2008, an increase of $1 billion since 2006. To put that in some perspective, the Legislature appropriated about $7.1 billion in 2008.
Tax expenditures are an extremely prevalent and popular policy instrument in Oklahoma. The most recent Tax Expenditure Report prepared by the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) identifies over 450 separate provisions of state law that provide for some reduction in the amount of state taxes that would have been collected but for the preferential tax treatment benefiting some favored activity or category of taxpayer.
The report makes it clear that the Tax Commission reports likely underestate the total amount of tax expenditures each year. That’s because some programs, such as Quality Jobs, are rebate payments and not tax credits. The state spent about $63.7 million on Quality Jobs payments in FY 2008, and lawmakers have expanded the program almost every year since it took effect in 1993. Other incentives apply not to income taxes, but to gross production taxes on energy production or taxes on insurance premiums.
Some tax credits, such as the rural and small business venture capital credits, have come under fire in recent years in several cases of alleged abuse. The institute’s report touches on this issue:
In at least one prominent instance involving a number of credits intended to encourage venture capital, the [Oklahoma Tax Commission] discovered evidence that investors were exploiting loopholes in the law to claim the credit in unintended, but legal, ways. In one year, the cost of the program soared from $2 million to $66 million, as investors found ways to claim tax credits without putting funds at risk. The Legislature stepped in to amend the law in 2006, and one of the affected credits, the Venture Capital Credit, was allowed to sunset out of existence in 2008. However, the other credits — the Small Business Capital Credit and Rural Small Business Capital Credit — continue to operate and have seen their fiscal impact snowball in recent years amidst allegations of abuse.
For another perspective on those specific tax credits, check out Nick Baker’s Prowling Owl blog. Meanwhile, at the Capitol yesterday, Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, called for an end to several tax credits, claiming the state could save up to $259 million a year.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute report also calls attention to the work by the Incentive Review Committee, set up in 2004 by Senate Bill 1516. That committee has studied several incentives over the last few years, but at times it has been stymied by a lack of available data.
Here’s what the institute recommends in its report:
- Expand Oklahoma’s Tax Expenditure Report to provide more detailed and comprehensive information.
- Expand the Openbooks.ok.gov website to cover a fuller range of tax expenditures and provide more aggregated information.
- Consider exempting certain tax credits and/or information on individual taxpayers claiming credits below threshold amounts from the Openbooks.gov website.
- Integrate the information currently provided separately in the Tax Expenditure Report and Openbooks.gov
- Add sunset provisions to all tax incentives that are not currently sunsetted.
- Enact a statutory requirement that before any sunsetted incentive can be reauthorized, it must undergo a formal “performance review” and legislative recommendation by the Incentive Review Committee or similar entity.
- Strengthen ongoing monitoring and evaluation of existing tax credits.
- Develop a unified economic development budget that compiles information on all forms of development spending, including direct expenditures and tax incentives.
- Establish formal eligibility processes for new and existing incentive programs.
- Promote accountability by creating and enforcing standards for companies receiving incentives.
- Limit the cost impact of existing and future tax incentives through caps on overall amounts.
- Limit the cost impact of existing and future tax expenditures through triggers that would suspend or reduce selected preferences in times of budget shortfalls.
The site should allow users to download the database into a spreadsheet.
Here’s something I came across this morning that might truly depress you (and your grandkids, whether they’ve been born or not).
The U.S. Debt Clock, a real-time counter of debt, taxes and other economic indicators.
Now, you might want to take this with a grain of salt, because they don’t reveal their sources, but it’s a fun thing to look at.
The U.S. Treasury releases its own debt figures, “down to the penny,” here.
The FBI released its preliminary report yesterday on violent and property crime in the United States in 2008.
Overall, reported crime was down 2.5 percent from 2007. But in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the incidents of violent crime rose.
Much of the conventional wisdom out there holds that when the economy sours, crime rises. But how does that explain the increase in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, both of which have been fairly insulated from the worsening economy in other parts of the country? (For what it’s worth, business magazine Forbes last year declared Oklahoma City as one of the nation’s most “recession-proof” cities.)
I came across a recent series put out by the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis. In the March issue of their FedGazette, bank researchers and economists looked into the relationship between the economy and crime:
The matter is complicated, at least somewhat, by findings from economic theory and empirical research. Though some research supports the conventional view of rising crime during economic downturns, a closer look at theory finds a more complex story, and empirical studies over the years haven’t found as solid a relationship as one might think between economic downturns and criminal activity. Many other factors are at play, from demographic changes and shifting cultural norms to legislative initiatives and technological innovation. Thus, forecasting crime trends—like predicting the weather or the economy—is an uncertain venture.
Researchers have different theories on the links between crime and the economy:
… Similarly, economist Philip Cook at Duke University recently examined the course of crime rates in urban areas of the United States in recent decades and concluded that “the statistical evidence presented here indicates that [the 1990s crime rate] decline, like the crime surge that preceded it, has been largely uncorrelated with changes in socioeconomic conditions.”
Others, like University of Missouri-St. Louis sociologist Richard Rosenfeld, future president of the American Society of Criminology, continue to hold that macroeconomic conditions do indeed have a strong influence on crime rates. “Crime rates are likely to increase as the economy sours,” Rosenfeld wrote in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece in March 2008, which warned Angelenos “to brace themselves for more crime to come.”
But other scholars, including political scientist James Q. Wilson, former chair of the White House Task Force on Crime, are less certain. Almost a year after Rosenfeld predicted a rise in L.A. crime, Wilson wrote an editorial for the Los Angeles Times, noting that during 2008, crime had fallen in the city “at a time when the economy was reeling and unemployment was rising.”
Whatever the case, it helps to put the most recent FBI stats in context. The FBI itself cautions about drawing comparisons among cities:
Figures used in this Report are submitted voluntarily by law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Individuals using these tabulations are cautioned against drawing conclusions by making direct comparisons between cities. Comparisons lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. It is important to remember that crime is a social problem and, therefore, a concern of the entire community. The efforts of law enforcement are limited to factors within its control. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual agencies.
Here’s the FBI preliminary stats for Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Norman. The full report, along with the stats of other Oklahoma cities, will be out later this year.
And if you’re still curious, another source of crime information is the National Crime Victimization Survey by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. It surveys people (rather than police departments), and its numbers are usually higher than the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. That’s because residents sometimes don’t report crimes to their local police departments.