More Savings If You Have Young Children Or Attend College

STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — It’s the most significant new tax law in a decade, but what does it mean for you? Big savings for millions of taxpayers, more if you have young children or attend college, a lot more if you’re wealthy.

 The package, signed Friday by President Barack Obama, will save taxpayers, on average, about $3,000 next year.

 But many families will be able to save much more by taking advantage of tax breaks for being married, having children, paying for child care, going to college or investing in securities. There are even tax breaks for paying local sales taxes and using mass transit, and a new Social Security tax cut for nearly every worker who earns a wage.

Most of the tax cuts have been around since early in the decade. The new law will prevent them from expiring Jan. 1. Others are new, such as the decrease in the Social Security payroll tax. Altogether, they provide a thick menu of opportunities for families at every income level.

“The tax code wants to encourage people to invest in their homes, invest in their education, invest in their retirement, and you have to know about all of these in order to take advantage of it,” said Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

The law extends most of the tax cuts for two years, including lower rates for the rich, the middle class and the working poor, a $1,000-per-child tax credit, tax breaks for college students and lower taxes on capital gains and dividends. A new one-year tax cut will reduce most workers’ Social Security payroll taxes by nearly a third next year, from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent.

A mishmash of other tax cuts will be extended through next year. They include deductions for student loans and local sales taxes, and a tax break for using mass transit. The alternative minimum tax will be patched, sparing more than 20 million middle-income families from increases averaging $3,900 in 2010 and 2011.

The $858 billion package also includes $57 billion in renewed jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.

“I am absolutely convinced that this tax cut plan, while not perfect, will help grow our economy and create jobs in the private sector,” Obama has said. “It will help lift up middle-class families, who will no longer need to worry about a New Year’s Day tax hike. … It includes tax cuts to make college more affordable, help parents provide for their children, and help businesses, large and small, expand and hire.”

At the request of The Associated Press, The Tax Institute at H&R Block developed detailed estimates for how the new law will affect families at various income levels next year:

-A single taxpayer making $50,000 a year who rents an apartment and pays $3,500 in college tuition and fees would save $2,280 in income taxes and $1,000 in Social Security taxes – a total of $3,280.

-A married couple with two young children, some modest investments and combined wages of $100,000, would save $6,256 in income taxes and $2,000 in Social Security taxes – a total of more than $8,200.

Income taxes would be lower because of the lower rates, a $1,000 per child tax credit and a $1,200 tax credit for child care expenses. The couple earns $2,000 in dividends but it would be tax-free at their income level. Wealthier investors would pay a top tax rate of 15 percent on dividends. The couple would also be spared from paying the alternative minimum tax, and would pay lower Social Security payroll taxes.

-A married couple with a child in high school and another in college, combined wages of $170,000 and larger investments would save nearly $7,800 in income taxes and $3,400 in Social Security taxes – a combined savings of nearly $11,200.

Income taxes would be lower because of the lower rates and more generous deductions for state and local income taxes, property taxes, mortgage interest and charitable donations.

Assuming the couple earned $4,000 in qualified dividends and $5,000 in capital gains, that income would be taxed at 15 percent, instead of the higher rates that would have taken effect without the new law.

At their income level, the couple wouldn’t qualify for the child tax credit and would get only $125 from the education tax credit. However, they would save more than $3,600 because they would be largely spared from the AMT.

“One thing generally about the higher income taxpayers is that even though they have a lot of opportunities, they also phase out of a lot of benefits that are designed for lower- to middle-income taxpayers,” said Gil Charney, principal tax analyst at The Tax Institute at H&R Block.WASHINGTON — It’s the most significant new tax law in a decade, but what does it mean for you? Big savings for millions of taxpayers, more if you have young children or attend college, a lot more if you’re wealthy.

The package, signed Friday by President Barack Obama, will save taxpayers, on average, about $3,000 next year.

But many families will be able to save much more by taking advantage of tax breaks for being married, having children, paying for child care, going to college or investing in securities. There are even tax breaks for paying local sales taxes and using mass transit, and a new Social Security tax cut for nearly every worker who earns a wage.

Most of the tax cuts have been around since early in the decade. The new law will prevent them from expiring Jan. 1. Others are new, such as the decrease in the Social Security payroll tax. Altogether, they provide a thick menu of opportunities for families at every income level.

“The tax code wants to encourage people to invest in their homes, invest in their education, invest in their retirement, and you have to know about all of these in order to take advantage of it,” said Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

The law extends most of the tax cuts for two years, including lower rates for the rich, the middle class and the working poor, a $1,000-per-child tax credit, tax breaks for college students and lower taxes on capital gains and dividends. A new one-year tax cut will reduce most workers’ Social Security payroll taxes by nearly a third next year, from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent.

A mishmash of other tax cuts will be extended through next year. They include deductions for student loans and local sales taxes, and a tax break for using mass transit. The alternative minimum tax will be patched, sparing more than 20 million middle-income families from increases averaging $3,900 in 2010 and 2011.

The $858 billion package also includes $57 billion in renewed jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.

“I am absolutely convinced that this tax cut plan, while not perfect, will help grow our economy and create jobs in the private sector,” Obama has said. “It will help lift up middle-class families, who will no longer need to worry about a New Year’s Day tax hike. … It includes tax cuts to make college more affordable, help parents provide for their children, and help businesses, large and small, expand and hire.”

At the request of The Associated Press, The Tax Institute at H&R Block developed detailed estimates for how the new law will affect families at various income levels next year:

-A single taxpayer making $50,000 a year who rents an apartment and pays $3,500 in college tuition and fees would save $2,280 in income taxes and $1,000 in Social Security taxes – a total of $3,280.

-A married couple with two young children, some modest investments and combined wages of $100,000, would save $6,256 in income taxes and $2,000 in Social Security taxes – a total of more than $8,200.

Income taxes would be lower because of the lower rates, a $1,000 per child tax credit and a $1,200 tax credit for child care expenses. The couple earns $2,000 in dividends but it would be tax-free at their income level. Wealthier investors would pay a top tax rate of 15 percent on dividends. The couple would also be spared from paying the alternative minimum tax, and would pay lower Social Security payroll taxes.

-A married couple with a child in high school and another in college, combined wages of $170,000 and larger investments would save nearly $7,800 in income taxes and $3,400 in Social Security taxes – a combined savings of nearly $11,200.

Income taxes would be lower because of the lower rates and more generous deductions for state and local income taxes, property taxes, mortgage interest and charitable donations.

Assuming the couple earned $4,000 in qualified dividends and $5,000 in capital gains, that income would be taxed at 15 percent, instead of the higher rates that would have taken effect without the new law.

At their income level, the couple wouldn’t qualify for the child tax credit and would get only $125 from the education tax credit. However, they would save more than $3,600 because they would be largely spared from the AMT.

“One thing generally about the higher income taxpayers is that even though they have a lot of opportunities, they also phase out of a lot of benefits that are designed for lower- to middle-income taxpayers,” said Gil Charney, principal tax analyst at The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

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JEANNINE AVERSA | 12/22/10 11:23 AM | AP

WASHINGTON — Expectations for economic growth next year are turning more optimistic now that Americans will have a little more cash in their pockets.

A cut in workers’ Social Security taxes and rising consumer spending have led economists to predict a strong start for 2011.

Still, most people won’t feel much better until employers ramp up hiring and people buy more homes.

Analysts are predicting economic growth next year will come in next year close to 4 percent. It would mark an improvement from the 2.8 percent growth expected for this year and would be the strongest showing since 2000.

“Looking ahead, circumstances are ripe for the economy to develop additional traction,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc. in New York. He is estimating growth for 2011 to be above 3.5 percent.

The economy grew at a moderate pace last summer, reflecting stronger spending by businesses to replenish stockpiles, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. Gross domestic product increased at a 2.6 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter. That’s up from the 2.5 percent pace estimated a month ago. While businesses spent more to build inventories, consumers spent a bit less.

Many analysts predict the economy strengthened in the October-December quarter. They think the economy is growing at a 3.5 percent pace or better mainly because consumers are spending more freely again.

Still, the housing market remains a drag on the slowly improving economy.

The National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that more people bought previously owned homes rose in November. The sales pace rose 5.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.68 million units. Even with the gain, sales are still well below what analysts consider a healthy pace.

Even if analysts are right about 2011 being a better year for the economy, growth still wouldn’t be strong enough to dramatically lower the 9.8 percent unemployment rate.

By some estimates, the economy would need to grow by 5 percent for a full year to push down the unemployment rate by a full percentage point. Even with growth at around 4 percent, as many analysts predict, the unemployment rate is still expected to hover around 9 percent.

The third-quarter’s performance marks an improvement from the feeble 1.7 percent growth logged in the April-June quarter. The economy’s growth slowed sharply then. Fears about the European debt crisis roiled Wall Street and prompted businesses to limit their spending.

“It sure looks like the `soft patch’ is over,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight.

In the third quarter, greater spending by businesses on replenishing their stocks was the main factor behind the slight upward revision to GDP.

Consumers boosted their spending at a 2.4 percent pace. That was down from a 2.8 percent growth rate previously estimated. Even so, consumers increased their spending at the fastest pace in four years. The slight downward revision reflected less spending on health care and financial services than previously estimated.

More recent reports from retailers, however, show that shoppers are spending at a greater rate in the final months of the year.

Companies are discounting merchandise to lure shoppers. A price gauge tied to the GDP report showed that prices – excluding food and energy – rose at a 0.5 percent pace in the third quarter, the slowest quarterly pace on records going back to 1959.

Americans have more reasons to be confident. Stock prices are rising, helping Americans regain vast losses in wealth suffered during the recession. Job insecurity remains a problem, but the hiring market is slowly improving. And loans aren’t as difficult to obtain for those with solid credit histories.

Even with the improvements, though, consumers are showing some restraint. In the past, lavish spending by consumers propelled the economy to grow at a rapid pace. After the 1981-1982 recession, the economy expanded at a 9.3 percent clip. Consumers increased their spending at an 8.2 percent pace.

Consumers have yet to display that level of confidence in the economy. While hiring is improving, employers still aren’t adding enough jobs to lower the unemployment rate.

Even with stronger economic growth anticipated for next year, analysts predict it will still take until near the end of this decade to drop unemployment back down to a more normal 5.5 percent to 6 percent level.

The government’s estimate of GDP in the July-September quarter was its third and final one. The government makes a total of three estimates for any given quarter. Each new reading is based on more complete information. GDP measures the value of all goods and services – from machinery to manicures – produced within the United States.

 

Fortune
Sunday, October 17, 2010; 2:32 AM

 As reported in Washington Post

Let us tell you an Ugly Truth about the economy, a truth that no one in power or who aspires to power wants to share with you, at least until after the midterm elections are over. It’s this: There is nothing that the U.S. government or the Federal Reserve or tax cutters can do to make our economic pain vanish overnight. There are no all-powerful, all-knowing superheroes or supervillains who can rescue or tank the economy all by themselves.

From listening to what passes for public debate in our country, you’d never know that. You’d think that the federal government could revive the economy quickly if only Congress would let it be more aggressive with stimulus spending. Or that the Fed could fix it if only it weren’t overly worried about touching off inflation. Or that the free market could fix it if only we made deep and permanent tax cuts.

Watch enough cable TV, listen to enough talk radio, read enough blogs and columns, and you’d think that they – the bad guys – are forcing the country to suffer needlessly when a simple and painless solution to our problems is at hand. But if you look at things rationally rather than politically, you’ll see that Washington has far less power over the economy, and far less maneuvering room, than people think.

“It’s endemic in our type of society that we always think there’s a person who holds the magic wand,” says Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), a fiscal conservative who isn’t running for reelection, so he can, well, be blunt. “But this society and this economy are far too complex to be susceptible to magic wands.”

Heaven knows we could use such a wondrous fix. Even though the Great Recession ended 16 months ago, according to the business-cycle arbiters at the National Bureau of Economic Research, that only means that the economy started to grow in June 2009. It doesn’t mean that the economy has healed. It certainly doesn’t mean that the recession’s victims have healed. Tens of millions of people are still economically wounded from declines in their home values and investment accounts. Worse, despite some modest employment growth we’re down almost 8 million jobs from the end of 2007, when the Great Recession officially began.

Now, on to the real problems in the economy: why they’ve been so resistant to the traditional cures of lower interest rates and higher government spending. And we’ll show you that, when you talk to them in private (albeit on-the-record) forums, people from across the political and economic spectrum agree that there’s no magic cure for what ails the economy.

The fact is that our nation has suffered a huge financial trauma, and it’s going to take years to get well again. This isn’t exactly unknown in Washington, but it’s not something people in power go out of their way to emphasize.

For President Obama, who campaigned on the promise of transformational change, it’s been especially tough medicine to deliver. Take his performance in a September town hall session on CNBC. People in the audience were looking for immediate solutions to their problems, and Obama seemed to struggle with how to answer them. You can see why. Look what happened to the last president who ran for reelection during bad economic times: George H.W. Bush, in 1992. Bush came under fire for not doing more to help people who lost their jobs in the recession that had started in 1990, and for not showing more empathy in public.

After losing to Bill “It’s the economy, stupid” Clinton, Bush blamed Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan for his defeat. (If Greenspan had cut interest rates, the thinking goes, it would have looked as though Bush were doing something.) Seven weeks after Election Day, the recession arbiters announced that the downturn had actually ended in March 1991 – some 20 months before the election. Bush was right, as it turned out, not to push for extraordinary measures. But tell that to the voters.

Not the normal recession

If you think Bush had troubles, imagine what Obama is wrestling with. Today’s economic problems have proved enormously resistant to the traditional rate-cutting cure Bush wanted “Maestro” Greenspan to order up. That’s because the Great Recession, whose aftermath we’re living through, was different from the 10 previous post-World War II recessions. Those slowdowns were caused by the Fed’s increase of short-term interest rates to combat inflation. Recessions caused by the Fed’s rate-raising could be cured by the Fed’s rate-lowering. If things looked especially dicey, the federal government would send people checks to generate economic activity and spur confidence.

But the Great Recession was different. It was triggered by a financial meltdown brought on by excessive lending, reckless risk-taking, the implosion of an unregulated shadow banking system that assumed that short-term money would always be available – and ignorant and careless borrowing by people and institutions. The recession’s genesis is why things are still sluggish even though the Fed has cut short-term rates, which it controls, to virtually zero and has forced down long-term rates, which it doesn’t control, by buying more than $1 trillion of securities in the open market and letting it be known that it and other central banks will buy more.

Yet although such “quantitative easing” – econo-speak for “printing money” – helped allay financial panic in 2009 by providing cash to institutions that needed it badly, it’s less effective and more risky to use it to stimulate the economy. Hence the knife fight at the Fed Board of Governors between the fans of quantitative easing and those opposing it.

 

Let us explain. Even though the Fed is very powerful, it’s not all-powerful, just as the United States is not all-powerful when it comes to its own financial affairs. The Fed has to worry not only about the U.S. economy and money supply but also about debasing the dollar too much too quickly, lest it spook the foreigners who finance our trade and federal budget deficits. If foreigners lose faith in the dollar’s value, it could run our interest rates up sharply and abort any recovery.

To its credit, the Fed – the one institution that because of its independence can actually act quickly without making a political show – sort of admits that its power is limited.

“Central bankers alone cannot solve the world’s economic problems,” Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in a speech at the Fed’s conclave in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in August.

The Fed wouldn’t let us interview Bernanke about the limits of the Fed’s power. It’s easy to see why: He’d risk diminishing what remains of the Fed mystique by talking on the record about its limitations and problems.

However, former Fed vice chairman Donald Kohn, a 40-year Fed veteran, agreed to discuss those limits, provided we made it clear he was speaking for himself as an outsider, not for the Fed.

“The Federal Reserve can make a difference, but it doesn’t have a magic bullet,” Kohn said. “It can’t take a weak economy facing a lot of major challenges and rapidly turn it into a strong economy.”

Kohn isn’t alone in that view.

“The public has been sold this notion that somehow we can control the economy – that we can fine-tune it so we don’t get inflation on the upside, we don’t get recessions on the downside, [that] when something happens, they can step in and offset it,” says another longtime Washington insider, Douglas Holtz-Eakin. “The economics profession is painfully aware that this is just not true, and [that it] has a terrible impact on politicians, presidents in particular.”

Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, was Sen. John McCain’s economic adviser in the 2008 campaign. He and his Democratic counterparts know the dirty little secret: that the huge financial trauma suffered by the economy won’t disappear overnight.

“No one has found a way to have an incredibly severe financial crisis and snap back a year or two later,” says Jason Furman, deputy director of the White House’s National Economic Council.

Losses: Plenty of them

Look at the numbers on the economy and you’ll see why. The biggest single source of wealth for many people – their home equity – has fallen almost 50 percent from its peak in 2006, according to Federal Reserve statistics. Loss: $6.5 trillion. U.S. stocks are still down 25 percent from their peak in 2007, their 75 percent gain in the past 19 months notwithstanding. Cost: $4.8 trillion. Then there are the 7.7 million lost jobs with their associated lost income, lost wealth and lost consumer spending. Loss: untold trillions of dollars.

This wealth-reducing trauma, combined with consumers becoming afraid to spend and lenders changing from being ultra-lax to ultra-strict, has sucked huge amounts of money from the economy. Don’t let occasional upticks in consumer spending, the stock market or home equity fool you into thinking that things are okay, because they aren’t.

 

“The economy suffered a really deep wound – it’s healing, and it’s a little bit uneven,” says Alan Krueger, assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy. “But that is what you’d expect given the loss of wealth from the financial crisis.”

People used to collectively spend more than they took home – hence, our negative national savings rate, which was covered by borrowing. Now we’re spending 6 percent or so less than we’re taking home. That’s a big head wind to fight. The switch from borrowers to savers augurs well for the long run, if the trend lasts. But in the short run, it hurts the economy by diminishing activity. Compared with all the losses we’ve talked about, the $814 billion in stimulus spending – the effectiveness of which we won’t get into today – is small beer.

So what do you do? One proposed solution is to jump-start the economy with deep and permanent tax cuts. That’s more than a little problematic, given that the Great Recession began in 2007, when tax rates, especially on investment income, were about the lowest in modern times and there were no “Obama tax increases” on the horizon.

President George W. Bush had pushed through two big tax cuts – one in 2001 because the government was supposedly taking in too much money, the second in 2003 to stimulate investment. But the economy tanked anyway. The latest tax-cut screed, the Republican Party’s Pledge to America, has no meaningful numbers, proposes no changes in programs like Social Security, Medicare and defense, and asks no sacrifices of anyone, yet it says it can balance the budget. Good luck with that.

What about having the Treasury engage in a massive stimulus program to put money in people’s pockets and have them spend it, ginning up economic activity and restoring confidence? But stimulus money has to come from somewhere – and it doesn’t seem possible for the Treasury to raise a few trillion more stimulus bucks without dire consequences to interest rates and the dollar’s value.

It doesn’t help that the administration wrongly predicted that its stimulus package would hold unemployment to 8 percent; the rate soared to 10 percent and still hangs stubbornly in the mid-nines.

Other institutions, such as the Fed and the Social Security Administration, both nonpartisan, also underestimated our economic problems. But the administration’s mistake, which seems to have been an honest one, has undermined its credibility.

The fact that stimulus programs seemed designed to favor unionized workers, a core Democratic constituency, didn’t help. Nor did the fact that Cash for Clunkers and the $8,000 credit for first-time home buyers caused one-time spikes in new-car and house sales that fell off sharply after the programs expired.

‘Quantitative’ what?

Our final little secret is that the United States is now being forced to live within its means, and that’s not fun. For years our country could spend and spend because two bubbles showered companies, consumers and governments with free money. Who needed to save when stocks were producing returns of almost 20 percent a year, which they did from August 1982 through the spring of 2000? Or when house prices rose at double-digit rates and you could get cash easily and quickly through refinancing, a second mortgage or a home equity loan? Homeowners raising and spending cash propped the economy for years.

The closest we’re likely to come to free money is the Fed’s proposed quantitative-easing moves to buy Treasury securities. Let us show you how it works – and the problems with it.

Let’s say the Fed buys $1 trillion of Treasury securities in the secondary market. Out of thin air, it creates $1 trillion in credit balances in the sellers’ accounts. The sellers have $1 trillion more cash than they did, increasing the money supply. There is now $1 trillion less in publicly traded Treasurys, which props up their price.

By contrast, if Goldman Sachs wanted to buy $1 trillion of Treasury securities, it would have to find $1 trillion of cash to pay for them. Sellers would have $1 trillion more cash than before. Goldman would have $1 trillion less. There would be no increase in the money supply or decrease in the Treasury supply.

 

If the Fed could buy endless amounts of Treasury securities without any side effects, it would be almost like free money. The securities would cost the Treasury little or nothing in the way of interest, because the Fed turns over its profits – $53 billion last year, $40 billion in the first half of 2010 – to the Treasury.

So if the Fed buys $1 trillion of 2.5 percent, 10-year Treasury notes, Treasury’s $25 billion annual interest expense is offset by the $25 billion of extra profit the Fed would make, all (or almost all) of which would be turned over to the Treasury. See? Isn’t that grand?

There is, however, a problem. The Fed can’t do that indefinitely without touching off inflation, debasing the dollar, or both. Markets are bigger and more powerful than the Fed.

Consider the reaction of people like veteran Wall Street value investor Hugh Lamle of M.D. Sass to quantitative easing.

“It’s one thing to do $800 billion once,” he says. “But if the federal government is going to print $1 trillion a year for five years, maybe I don’t want to be in dollars.”

A second factor is that long-term rates are already so low that it’s not clear how much stimulus you get from cutting them more. It’s a big deal to cut interest rates to 5 percent from 8 percent. But at lower levels, the result is less dramatic.

Do you think the difference between 3 percent and 2.5 percent is going to matter? Meanwhile, these ultra-low rates are penalizing American savers – especially retirees relying on CD income to supplement Social Security. They tend to spend all their income, and it’s down sharply. That’s one reason the economy is weak.

Don’t get us wrong, there are plenty of winners in this game – just not the ones who need help. Cash-rich corporations are issuing billions of dollars of cheap debt for purposes such as buying back stock rather than expanding and creating new jobs. Corporations have record cash on hand but aren’t using it to expand in the United States.

Banks, too, are profiting mightily from quantitative easing. They can borrow short-term money for essentially nothing, then buy Treasury securities, knowing that the Fed will support the securities’ prices by buying them in the market. Playing the yield curve is easier, less risky and more lucrative than what the government wants the banks to do, which is to make loans.

It comes down to housing

Perhaps the biggest problem we have standing in the way of having good times return is housing – which is an example of how deep-rooted our problems are and how resistant they are to government programs.

Housing was a major source of national wealth for decades, and home equity, however sadly diminished, is still the biggest single piece of wealth many Americans have. That’s especially true of lower-income people.

No one shouts this from the rooftops, but the federal government and the Fed are doing all they can to prop up house prices. Thanks to the Fed’s forcing down of long-term rates, fixed-rate mortgages are at record lows. Most of those mortgages come via Uncle Sam.

For the first half of the year, 89 percent of mortgages came from the government-run Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Federal Housing Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. That’s almost triple the levels of housing’s peak years: 31 percent in 2005 and 30 percent in 2006.

Even with all that effort, though, housing prices may be stabilizing at levels far below their peak four years ago rather than recovering broadly.

When will house prices get back to where they were? John Burns of John Burns Real Estate Consulting, one of the nation’s savviest real estate analysts, invokes the seven-and-seven rule. In previous local-market bubbles, Burns says, “the rule of thumb is seven years down and seven years up” after the bubble pops. Apply that rule to the national market, where the bubble popped in 2006, and we’re talking about a sustained recovery starting in 2013, and taking until 2020. That’s pretty grim, but probably realistic.

So when are we going to know when things are getting better? They may, in fact, be getting better now, but it’s going to take a long time for the wound to heal completely. We need to take care of people who have lost their jobs and lost their hope.

But after the midterm elections, when there’s going to be immense pressure to adopt everyone’s programs, we can’t just throw money at everything, searching for magic cures and magic sound bites. If we do, it will take us that much longer to climb out of the hole.

Allan Sloan is senior editor at large at Fortune magazine. Tory Newmyer is a writer at Fortune. Doris Burke is a senior reporter at Fortune.

 

By Neil Irwin

Friday, August 27, 2010; 11:06 AM

JACKSON HOLE, WYO. – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke acknowledged in a much-awaited speech Friday that the pace of economic growth “recently appears somewhat less vigorous” than expected, and said that the central bank would take new steps to bolster the economy if conditions worsen.

“The pace of recovery in output and employment has slowed somewhat in recent months,” Bernanke said at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s annual economic symposium. “Despite this recent slowing, however, it is reasonable to expect some pickup in growth in 2011 and in subsequent years.”

Just this morning, the Commerce Department reported that gross domestic product rose at only a 1.6 percent annual rate in the April-through-June quarter, much worse than the 2.4 percent earlier estimated.

Bernanke said that the Fed’s policy committee “is prepared to provide additional monetary accommodation through unconventional measures if it proves necessary, especially if the outlook were to deteriorate significantly.”

“The issue at this stage” Bernanke said, “is not whether we have the tools to help support economic activity and guard against disinflation. We do. . . . The issue is instead whether, at any given juncture, the benefits of each tool, in terms of additional stimulus, outweigh the associated costs or risks of using the tool.”

In other words, the economy has not deteriorated enough, nor the outlook changed enough, to warrant pulling out some big new monetary policy guns, but the Fed would be willing to do so if its forecast of continued slow-but-steady growth proves to be overly optimistic.

Bernanke enumerated the policy options on the table. At recent Fed policy meetings, he said, participants have discussed renewed large-scale purchases of Treasury bonds and other securities; pledging to keep the Fed’s short-term interest rate target near zero for even longer than analysts now expect; or cutting the rate paid on money that banks park at the Fed.

However, Bernanke explicitly rejected a notion, advanced by some economists outside the Fed, that the central bank temporarily increase its target for inflation. “I see no support for this option” on the Federal Open Market Committee, he said.

In discussing the trade-offs involved in undertaking a major new program to buy securities and thus expand the Fed’s balance sheet to try to boost growth, which is the most powerful of the tools under consideration, Bernanke noted various risks: that the central bank lacks precise knowledge of what effect the action would have; that the action would have the most impact in a time of financial market distress; and that the bigger balance sheet “could reduce public confidence in the Fed’s ability” to unwind the policies.

The speech is one of the most hotly anticipated of Bernanke’s tenure as Fed chairman, especially on Wall Street. In recent weeks, the economic situation has deteriorated markedly, and many forecasters now expect that the U.S. economy will grow much too slowly to bring down the unemployment rate in the second half of the year. Fed watchers were eager for Bernanke to offer clarity on what the approach of Fed policy is over the months ahead, particularly following an action at its Aug. 10 meeting to reinvest proceeds from maturing mortgage securities on its balance sheet.

In discussing the economy, Bernanke adopted a mixed tone, expressing confidence in growth over the medium term while acknowledging that the situation is disappointing at the moment. “In many countries, including the United States and most other industrial nations, growth during the past year has been too slow and joblessness remains too high,” he said.

“Incoming data on the labor market has been disappointing,” Bernanke added, while business investment in equipment and software “should continue to advance at a solid pace.”

The major drain on second-quarter gross domestic product was from trade. “Like others,” Bernanke said, we were surprised by the sharp deterioration in the U.S. trade balance in the second quarter. However, that deterioration seems to have reflected a number of temporary and special factors.”

The revision to gross domestic product data Friday is only the latest reminder of how far the economic outlook has fallen. Just in the past week, new data have indicated that the housing sector was in near free-fall in July, that business orders for big-ticket equipment contracted that month, and that new claims for unemployment insurance benefits remained at recessionary levels last week.

Bernanke takes a measure of optimism from recent reports that Americans are saving more. Although a higher savings rate – about 6 percent, compared with the 4 percent earlier estimated – has helped depress consumption in recent months, in the longer term, he said, it “implies greater progress in the repair of household balance sheets,” which should in turn allow Americans to increase their spending more rapidly in the future.

In the speech, Bernanke made an effort to try to dissuade listeners from the idea that the Fed, or any central bank, can create a return to prosperity on its own. “A return to strong and stable economic growth will require appropriate and effective response from economic policymakers across a wide spectrum, as well as from leaders in the private sector,” he said. “Central bankers alone cannot solve the world’s economic problems.”

What’s your Rate?

We recently were notified that the State of New Jersey would be mailing out updated unemployment rates to all employers in New Jersey starting August 15th

Yawn!!!!

Why the announcement? No one looks at the notice.

So our rate may go up .1% from 2.3% to 2.4%, that’s the cost of doing business!

Wrong!!!!

 

How do you know your rate is calculated properly?

Unemployment is the 2nd highest employer mandated tax. It is like having a checking account with the state. They provide the rate, which tells you how much you must deposit into the account during the next year. They also provide a notice telling you how much they have taken out of your account.

Not Bad! Are you sure no one questions this?

 

Why publicize that employers may be overpaying payroll taxes? They do it willingly, without asking questions.

If your company employs over 150 employees, you should be looking at this rate. If there is a mistake it is not just with one employee, it is on your whole payroll.

Why will my rate be going up?

 Since the economy is been a bit shaky recently there are many individuals collectly unemployment and therefore the tax base supporting unemployment has been slowly depleted. In order to increase this revenue base the State of NJ will be moving to a new tax catagory which will automatically increase the revenues to support this base.

Without doing anything, your unemployment rate will be increased.

The State of New Jersey has over a 10% error rate in the payment of unemployment claims. That means they are taking too much money out of your account and that your rate is wrong!!

Been thru a merger, acquisition or restructuring?  The US Department of Labor statistics show there is close to a 50% chance the incorrect rate has been assigned to the new company. This stems from the governments inability to properly record these transactions.

Hutchinson Business Solutions has great success reviewing and validating if these unemployment rates are correct. Many of our clients are receiving refunds for overpayments! 

 

The state allows us to go back 3 years to verify if the current rate is correct. The state is not asking you to overpay taxes. The onus however is own you to provide the proper information.

What is your Rate?

 

What is your Reserve Balance?

How much have you paid out in claims?

 

Is your Rate correct?

Maybe today is the day to find out!

 

Call Hutchinson Business Solutions and ask about our no fee review of your current unemployment rate.

 

Our findings may surprise you.

 

You too may qualify for a refund!

 

Note:

This service available for companies with more than 150 employees.

 

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 4, 2009; 9:27 AM  

The job market continued its long, steep decline in August, with the jobless rate soaring to 9.7 percent and employers continuing to shed jobs, albeit at a slower rate than expected.

This Story
  • Unemployment Rises to 9.7 Percent; 216,000 Jobs Lost in August
  • Stimulus Credited for Lifting Economy, But Worries About Unemployment Persist
  • Stimulus Status

Analysts generally believe that economic output began rising by late summer. But new Labor Department data released Friday morning shows that that improvement isn’t yet flowing through to the job market, as employers remain highly reluctant to add staff.

The rise in the unemployment rate rose to 9.7 percent in August, from 9.4 percent in July, resumed a steep upward path that has been only rarely interrupted since the recession began in December 2007. Employers shed 216,000 net jobs, significantly better than the revised 276,000 jobs lost in July and less than the 230,000 decline that forecasters expected.

The tally now stands at 6.9 million jobs lost since the beginning of the recession in December 2007. A broader measure of joblessness rose even more sharply than the headline unemployment rate. An expanded unemployment rate that includes people who have given up looking for a job out of frustration and who are working part time but want a full-time job rose to 16.8 percent, from 16.3 percent.

The rate of job losses has been declining, if haltingly, since winter. The August numbers, bad as they are, do offer hope that job losses will continue tapering off. Economists generally consider the job loss numbers to be a more reliable month-to-month barometer of the economy than the unemployment rate, and that measure indicated the slowest rate of job loss since August 2008.

The report also said that the average workweek was unchanged at 33.1 hours. Employers have cut back on hours in the current downturn, in addition to cutting jobs entirely, and are expected to have existing employees work longer hours before bringing new people onto their staffs. The hours-worked number confirms that employers have stopped cutting back hours but gives no evidence they are starting to expand hours yet.

Among the most positive signs in the report, average earnings for non-managerial workers rose 0.3 percent in August, the Labor Department said.

The job losses, though lower than in recent months, remained broad-based. The construction industry cut 65,000 jobs, in line with the recent trend. Manufacturing companies cut 63,000 jobs. The health-care sector, as it has throughout the recession, added jobs.

 

Introduction to New Jersey Unemployment Insurance

New Jersey unemployment benefits provide temporary compensation to those workers meeting the eligibility requirements of New Jersey law. The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and each other state’s unemployment office administers its own unemployment insurance program within Federal guidelines.
The value of unemployment benefits in New Jersey differs from that of other states because each state unemployment office applies its own formulas and limits when calculating the level of unemployment compensation.
The duration of unemployment benefits in New Jersey may also differ from that of other states.
You can compare state unemployment insurance programs, including eligibility, benefit amounts, and duration here.

Eligibility for New Jersey Unemployment Benefits

The basic requirements for collecting unemployment are:

  • You must have been employed. The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development publishes requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established period of time referred to as a “base period.”
  • You must be determined to be unemployed through no fault of your own as defined under New Jersey law.
  • You must file ongoing claims and respond to questions concerning your continued eligibility. You must report any earnings from work and any job offers or refusal of work during any claim period.
  • Meet any other unemployment eligibility requirements of New Jersey law.

For complete details see the Unemployment Insurance section of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development website. Or you can call the State of New Jersey Unemployment Insurance Claim for unemployment related questions from the number listed below.
1-888-795-6672

Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits in Other States

If you have recently worked or resided in states other than New Jersey, you may need to choose the state in which you file your claim. Compare benefits here, and visit the other state unemployment information pages by clicking on the state’s name below.

Filing for Unemployment in New Jersey

Here are some tips for filing a correct and complete unemployment claim:

  • Collect the employer names, addresses, and dates of your recent employment. You may find it easiest to do this by collecting any pay stubs or W2s.
  • Be prepared to show that your unemployment is not your fault. Keep handy any written notification of your layoff, termination, or severance that you may have received.
  • For specific help from a New Jersey state government site on filing for unemployment in New Jersey click here

About Your Unemployment Benefit Check

How much? In general, unemployment benefits are based on an individual’s earnings in the base period. As of December, 2008, NJ benefits ranged from $85 to $560. New Jersey state unemployment benefits are subject to Federal income taxes, and you may elect to have taxes withheld from your unemployment check.
How soon? Across the United States, it generally takes two to three weeks to receive your first benefit check after you file your claim. Check with your state unemployment office for details.
How long? As of December, 2008, The duration of NJ unemployment benefits was 1-26 weeks, but benefits can be extended by New Jersey during times of high unemployment or other special circumstances.

New Jersey Unemployment Rate Statistics

How bad is it out there? Where is the grass greener? The US Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles official national, state, county, and metropolitan area unemployment statistics. To compare the unemployment rate between locations, click one of the links below.

By JASON DePARLE
Published: July 23, 2009

WASHINGTON — Years of state and federal neglect have hobbled the nation’s unemployment system just as a brutal recession has doubled the number of jobless Americans seeking aid.

In a program that values timeliness above all else, decisions involving more than a million applicants have been slowed, and hundreds of thousands of needy people have waited months for checks.

And with benefit funds at dangerous lows even before the recession began, states are taking on billions in debt, increasing the pressure to raise taxes or cut aid, just as either would inflict maximum pain.

Sixteen states, with exhausted funds, are now paying benefits with borrowed cash, and their number could double by the year’s end.

Call centers and Web sites have been overwhelmed, leaving frustrated workers sometimes fighting for days to file an application.

While the strained program still makes more than 80 percent of initial payments within three weeks — slightly below the standard set under federal law — cases that require individual review are especially prone to delay. Thirty-eight states are failing to make those decisions within the federal deadline.

For workers who survive a paycheck at a time, even a week’s delay can mean a missed rent payment or foregone meals.

Kenneth Kottwitz, a laid-off cabinet maker in Phoenix, waited three months for his benefits to arrive. He exhausted his savings, lost his apartment and moved to a homeless shelter.

Luis Coronel, a janitor at a San Francisco hotel, got $6,000 in back benefits after winning an appeal. But in the six months he spent waiting, there were times when he and his pregnant wife could not afford to eat.

“I was terrified my wife and daughter would have to live on the street,” Mr. Coronel said.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said: “Obviously, some of our states were in a pickle. The system wasn’t prepared to deal with the enormity of the calls coming in.”

The program’s problems, though well known, were brushed aside when unemployment was low.

“The unemployment insurance system before the recession was as vulnerable as New Orleans was before Katrina,” said Representative Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington, who is chairman of a House panel with authority over the program.

Now the number of unemployed Americans has doubled since 2007 to 15 million and the program is more than tripling in size. About 9.5 million people are collecting benefits, up from about 2.5 million two years ago. Spending is expected to reach nearly $100 billion this year, about triple what it was two years ago.

Given how suddenly the workload has increased, some analysts say the delays might have been even worse.

“Payments are later than they should be, and later than they used to be, but states have been overwhelmed,” said Rich Hobbie, director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, which represents the program’s administrators. “Considering the significant problems in the program, unemployment is responding well.”

The recovery act passed in February provided states an additional $500 million for administration. It also suspended interest payments through 2011 for states paying benefits with federal loans.

Unemployment insurance began as a New Deal effort with dual goals: to sustain idled workers and stimulate weak economies. States finance benefits by taxing employers, typically building surpluses in good times to cover payments in bad.

In 2007, the average state paid about $290 a week and aided 37 percent of the unemployed.

As downturns over the last 20 years proved infrequent and mild, states cut taxes, and the federal government, which pays administrative costs, reduced its support by about 25 percent. The states’ performance sagged.

In a recent report to the Department of Labor, Ohio said its computer problems “kept the system performance at a snail’s pace.” Louisiana said its call center was staffed with “temporary workers, with little knowledge” of unemployment insurance.

North Carolina said a wave of retirements had left it “unable to maintain pace or volume of work.” Virginia wrote “performance continued to be very stagnant” and called the odds of improvement “bleak.”

By 2007, 11 states were paying benefits so slowly they violated multiple federal rules, up from just two at the start of the decade.

While most eligibility reviews can be done by computer, about a quarter require a caseworker — to ensure, say, the applicant was laid off, rather than quit.

In the last year, states processed just 61 percent of these cases within three weeks — well below the federal requirement of 80 percent. More than a half-million cases, 6 percent, took more than eight weeks, and 350,000 took more than 10 weeks.

The Safety Net

Work-Based RewardsWith millions of jobs lost and major industries on the ropes, America’s array of government aid — including unemployment insurance, food stamps and cash welfare — is being tested as never before. This series examines how the safety net is holding up under the worst economic crisis in decades.

Multimedia

Of the 12.8 million eligibility reviews that have occurred during the recession, 4.6 million took more than three weeks. That is 2.1 million more than federal rules allow.

Appeals take even longer, with 28 states violating timeliness rules, many of them severely.

Perhaps no state is as troubled as California, which has not met timeliness standards for nine years. As in most other states, its 30-year-old computer runs on Cobol, a language so obsolete the state must summon retirees to make changes.

Yet a major overhaul in California has been delayed for five years, with $66 million in federal funds still waiting to be spent. In part, the shelved project was meant to upgrade the call centers, which were “completely swamped” last winter, a legislative analyst wrote, with “desperate unemployed Californians dialing and redialing for hours.”

Deborah Bronow, who runs the state’s unemployment insurance program, said, “The systems were antiquated to begin with,” and “we were unprepared.”

In April, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency, saying the failure to efficiently process checks posed “extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.”

California has not met federal standards for adequate reserves since 1990. Still, it cut taxes and raised benefits in the last decade. It is now paying benefits with federal loans, with its debt projected to reach nearly $18 billion next year.

Among those hurt by delays was Mr. Coronel, the San Francisco janitor who lost his hotel job in January. With the phone lines jammed, it took him two days to file an application and a month to learn it had been denied.

Then the waiting really began, as Mr. Coronel filed an appeal and heard nothing for three months. Luckless as he applied for new jobs, he borrowed to pay the rent, then moved in with his mother, and joined his pregnant wife in skipping meals.

“The worst day was when my daughter was born,” he said. “I had no clothes for her, and no car seat.”

While federal rules require states to decide 60 percent of appeals cases within a month, in recent years, California has met that deadline for just 5 percent. A report by the state auditor last year found the appeals board rife with nepotism and mismanagement.

Mr. Coronel won the appeal, but is soothing a marriage strained by a six-month wait. “It’s extremely stressful when you don’t know how you’re going to support your family,” he said.

Nationally, the program is the worst financial shape since the early 1980s, when back-to-back recessions left more than half the states borrowing from the federal government. Tax increases and benefit restraints gradually rebuilt the funds, then states changed course and pushed taxes well below historical levels.

From 1960 to 1990, the tax rate averaged about 1.1 percent of overall payroll. Over the last decade, it fell to 0.65 percent. That represents a tax cut of 40 percent.

Measured against a decade’s payroll, that saved employers $165 billion. But by 2007, when the recession began, the average state had just six months of recession-level benefits in reserve, half the recommended sum.

“The attitude became, ‘We don’t need a firehouse — we can buy hoses when the fire starts,’ ” said Wayne Vroman of the Urban Institute, a Washington research group.

Some analysts defend the tax cuts, saying they helped both employers and workers, by spurring the economy and creating jobs.

“Lower tax rates make it easier to attract business,” said Doug Holmes, president of UWC, a group that advocates on behalf of employers. “We don’t want to spend a whole lot of time beating ourselves up because we didn’t raise taxes enough. Nobody anticipated a recession this size.”

A big reason the reserves fell, Mr. Holmes said, is that the jobless now spend more time on the rolls — 15 weeks in recent years, up from 13 weeks several decades ago. Each extra week costs the program about $3 billion a year. The solution, he said, is stronger job placement provisions.

But others see an irresponsible past that now promises future pain.

“Workers who had nothing to do with the funds becoming insolvent are going to be asked to pay for that with benefit cuts,” said Andrew Stettner, an analyst at the National Employment Law Project, a workers’ rights group. “That’s the worst thing states can do — it takes money straight out of the economy.”

Among those who say timely benefits are essential is Mr. Kottwitz, the Arizona cabinet maker, who lost his job just before Christmas. He filed a claim and promptly received a debit card, with no money on it. It took him weeks to reach a program clerk, who told him to keep waiting.

“They said, ‘We’re behind — be patient,’ ” he said.

With little savings, no family nearby, and a ninth-grade education, Mr. Kottwitz, 42, had limited options. He got $100 a month in food stamps, collected cans and applied for jobs. When his landlord put him out, he moved to a shelter so overcrowded he spent his first few nights on the ground.

“I felt like I was the scum of the earth,” Mr. Kottwitz said.

In March, the shelter referred him to Ellen Katz, a lawyer at the William E. Morris Institute for Justice, an advocacy group, who secured his benefits. By the time the money arrived, Mr. Kottwitz had lost nearly 40 pounds. His first stop was an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Now back in an apartment, he said he was sharing his story in the hope that someone might read it and offer him a job.

“You think that someone would have seen this coming and been more prepared,” he said.

Written By Arthur Delaney   reported on Huffingtonpost.com

The U.S. economy lost 467,000 jobs in June as the national unemployment rate rose to 9.5 percent, the government announced on Thursday morning. While that’s only one-tenth of a percentage point from May, the current rate is the highest rate in 26 years.

Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, said that the loss of 6.5 million jobs since the start of the recession combined with the growth of the workforce means that the gains of the previous business cycle have been completely blown away.

“This is the only recession since the Great Depression to wipe out all jobs growth from the previous business cycle, a devastating benchmark for the workers of this country and a testament to both the enormity of the current crisis and to the extreme weakness of jobs growth from 2000-2007,” said Shierholz in a statement.

The ranks of the long-term unemployed — people out of work for 27 weeks or more — grew by 433,000 in June to a total of 4.4 million. Three in 10 of the unemployed are now long-term unemployed. The collapse of the housing industry contributes to their plight.

“We know right now because of the housing crisis that people can’t move to find another job,” Shierholz said. “People that in previous recessions may have been able to relocate to find another job can’t now.”

The Huffington Post has been profiling people who’ve been out of work for long periods of time. Marvin Bohn of Ohio hasn’t worked for a year and has been paying for his meds out-of-pocket. Steve Dittmann of Kansas said of the unemployed life, “I feel like I’m on the other side of a Plexiglass wall looking in.”

A broader measure of labor underutilization that accounts for people who’ve stopped looking for work hit 16.5% in June, a 0.1 percentage point increase.

“In June, there were large decreases in manufacturing, construction, and professional and business services,” said Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Keith Hall in a statement. “Together, these three sectors have accounted for nearly three-quarters of the jobs lost since the recession began.

Many economists have predicted that even when the recession is technically over with the economy beginning to expand, there will be a “jobless recovery” as unemployment hovers in the double-digits.

Written by Arthur Delaney HuffingtonPost

On Friday, the Labor Department announced terrible, terrible news: more than a quarter million people lost their jobs in May. But in a sign of how bad things are, commentators from all quarters are heralding the news as good.

The U.S. unemployment rate hit 9.4 percent in May as employers shed 345,000 jobs — the highest since the recession of 1983, the Labor Department announced. The “silver living” is that the losses announced today are about half the monthly average for the past six months.

Friday’s unemployment numbers came as a surprise. Private payroll firm ADP estimated that U.S. companies lost 532,000 jobs in its National Employment Report on Wednesday. Economists had made similar predictions.

“Job losses continued to be widespread in May, but the rate of decline moderated in construction and several service-providing industries,” said Keith Hall, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in a statement.

“The loss of 345,000 jobs in May — 0.3% of employment — makes this jobs report the second worst in a quarter century not including the current recession, but in today’s economy a loss of only 345,000 jobs is welcome news,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute.

Of course, in a Wednesday conference call to help reporters throw cold water on overly cheery reactions to bad numbers, Shierholz stressed that regular folks wouldn’t be seeing any economic benefit for a long time.

“After the 1990 recession unemployment rose for another 15 months, and after the 2001 recession, unemployment rose for another 19 months,” Shierholz said. “If last two recessions any indication, unemployment will rise for at least another year.”

A lot of people are unemployed now.

“The number of unemployed rose by 787,000 to 14.5 million,” said Commissioner Hall. “Since the recession began, the jobless rate has increased by 4.5 percentage points, and the number of unemployed persons has grown by 7.0 million.”

The number of long-term unemployed is also discouraging: “Among the unemployed, the number who have been out of work 27 weeks or more increased by 268,000 in May to 3.9 million. These long-term unemployed represented 2.5 percent of the laborforce, the highest proportion since 1983.”

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