Posted by: Josh Lehner | February 27, 2015

Tax Structure and Volatility

During each of the past two recessions, Oregon’s general fund revenues dropped twice as much as in the typical state. In fact only Alaska and its reliance on oil (see: oil prices) saw considerably larger losses each time. Similar states to Oregon in terms of its economy and/or tax structure, like California, Connecticut, Idaho and Massachusetts, likewise see large revenue swings along with the business cycle. No other states have seen similar or worse revenue swings than these.

So it came as a surprise when a recent Pew report on state revenues found that Oregon’s tax system is not, in fact, that much more volatile than the typical state. However, past experiences have shown that both Oregon’s economy and tax system are indeed volatile. The differences arise at least partially in the methodology and calculations. For example, Pew examines each revenue source individually instead of comparing state general funds. Here, one can see a very large issue in that Oregon’s personal income tax really is not that much more volatile than the typical state, however our reliance on the tax makes our overall general fund volatile. More on this below. Making accurate state comparisons is always challenging since each one taxes certain items or activities at different rates and the like. However, similar to a previous Pew report, the specifics of the analysis do impact the interpretation for Oregon.CensusGFgrowth

As shown above, Oregon’s overall tax structure (using the same data over the same time period as Pew) is more volatile than the typical state. The one surprising finding in the Pew report that does turn out to be true however, is that Oregon’s personal income tax revenue is not much more volatile than the typical state. Initially I thought that would not be the case, particularly given the state’s economy is more volatile. However, it is true. So how then is Oregon’s overall volatility higher? It has to do with our reliance on the income tax; no other state comes close. Additionally, many of the states that have higher revenue volatility overall rely on severance taxes and/or are energy producers.CensusGFVolatilityPITSo this means Oregon needs to institute a sales tax, right? Well, maybe. If you want to shift the tax burden from income to consumption, then yes. Or if the primary goal is revenue stability, then yes. Work from the Legislative Revenue Office has shown that diversifying the tax base (i.e. put in a sales tax, lower income taxes) does result in more stable year-to-year fluctuations. While our office has no official position on the tax system (we are tasked with forecasting revenues), we do try to provide some broader points for discussion.

First is the issue of risk versus return. Previously we dove deep into comparing Oregon’s income tax with Washington’s sales tax. Those results still stand. In the typical year, income taxes generate more revenue than do sales taxes. (Of course some see this as a drawback, not a benefit.) However with a greater return does come more volatility and year-to-year fluctuations. This creates challenges not only for forecasters, but more importantly it creates management issues for the Governor and Legislature trying to draft budgets and provide services.

Second there is the broader issue of an eroding tax base, something our office previously discussed as well. With an aging demography and with a larger share of purchases shifting from goods to services (which are not generally taxed to the same degree) both income and sales tax effectiveness is and will continue to erode. Grandma has less current income in retirement than during her working years, which generates less income tax revenue. So she spends less overall (lower sales taxes) and what she does spend money on is largely not taxed (e.g. food and medical care.) Even as both major tax instruments face pressure over the extended horizon, sales taxes began eroding first due to the shift in consumption from goods to services and online sales, and sales taxes have certainly eroded further in the past decade.

CensusPITSalesCompNone of this is to say that instituting a sales tax is bad policy by itself. There are some really big benefits as well, such as exporting the tax to visitors. Rather, our office tries to bring a broader discussion to light and for individuals and interest groups to realize some of the trade-offs that would occur.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | February 19, 2015

Economic and Revenue Forecast, March 2015

This morning the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis released the latest quarterly economic and revenue forecast. For the full document, slides and forecast data please see our main website. Below is the forecast’s Executive Summary.

With each passing month, it is becoming more evident that the U.S. economy is finally emerging from the aftermath of the Great Recession and financial crisis. In particular, the labor market is reaching near-boom levels of job growth. Such gains are not only strong enough to keep up with population growth but are also drawing more workers into the labor force, as these individuals seek out one of the now-plentiful job openings. The combination of job growth acceleration, solid economic output and the impact from substantially lower energy prices has the typical economic forecaster more optimistic today than any other time in recent years. Taking stock of 2014 reveals a surprisingly solid economic year. 2015 is expected to be even better. While the longer-term growth prospects of the economy remain below previous expansions, primarily due to the aging workforce, it does not rule out a year or three of good growth in the near term.

While the nation’s labor market acceleration began only recently, Oregon’s recovery picked up considerably in 2013. The stronger pace of growth was maintained throughout 2014 and is expected to continue this year and next before demographics weigh on longer-run growth. Today, Oregon still lags the typical state relative to pre-Great Recession levels. However Oregon has regained its traditional growth advantage in expansion and is making up lost ground. More importantly, signs of a deeper labor market recovery are evident in the state. Unlike in the nation as a whole, strong job growth is bringing real wage gains to Oregon. Not only is the labor force growing with more Oregonians looking for work, but the labor force participation rate itself increased throughout 2014. The key question is whether or not Oregon can take another step up in growth, to rates seen during the typical Oregon expansion. All told, Oregon is approximately halfway back to full employment with the current pace of improvement considerably faster than the nation as a whole.


Oregon’s General Fund revenues have grown at a rapid pace in recent months driven by a healthy job market together with solid growth in taxable investments and business income. In particular, advance payments of 2014 personal income taxes have been very strong in recent weeks, outstripping the December forecast. These large advanced tax payments suggest that taxpayers expect to face large tax liabilities when they file in April.

Despite strong recent collections, overall General Fund revenues still closely match the Close of Session forecast that was used by the legislature when crafting the 2013-15 state budget. Although revenues have mirrored the Close of Session forecast to date, the end of the biennium is likely to be stronger than was expected when the budget was built. An increasingly strong outlook for April 2015 tax payments, combined with revenue increases enacted during the 2013 Special Session, together suggest that 2013-15 biennial tax collections will wind up near or above the 2% personal income tax kicker threshold.

The March 2015 outlook assumes that revenues included in the personal income tax kicker base will exceed the kicker threshold by $59 million at the end of the biennium. Should this outlook hold true, a personal income tax kicker of $349 million will be issued. Due to actions taken by the 2011 Legislature, this potential kicker payment will take the form of a credit on 2015 tax returns rather than being issued as a check at the end of the year.

Although a kicker payment is now the most likely outcome, there remains the distinct possibility that the kicker will not be triggered during the current biennium. There is still around $4 billion of kicker-related revenue yet to come before the biennium ends in June. If these collections fall just 2% below expectations, the kicker threshold will not be reached.

If the March 2015 outlook comes to pass, and a kicker is triggered, it will not fundamentally change the task faced by legislative budget writers during the current session. Most of the reduction in 2015-17 income tax collections due to the kicker will be offset by larger balances heading into the biennium together with improved prospects for the regional economy over the next two years.



For the full document, slides and forecast data please see our main website or view our presentation to the Legislature below.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | February 17, 2015

Oregon Population 1900 – 2050

This edition of the Graph of the Week explores Oregon’s population over time and is quick since our next quarterly forecast is fast approaching (Thursday.) I love what Bill over at Calculated Risk has done now a couple of times with a GIF of the U.S. population and have simply borrowed his idea and made an Oregon version. There are quite a few interesting points: health care and longer life expectancy, the Baby Boomer and Millennials, etc. Oregon does differ from the nation primarily due to our strong in-migration patterns which have occurred basically since Lewis & Clark. Among other things, in-migration boosts Oregon’s overall population growth rate above the typical state and it also helps fill in the generational gaps.


Migration has certainly been a boon to the Oregon economy over time and our office’s forecast includes above average population growth and migration trends moving forward as well. The number of migrants is expected to remain relatively high in the next decade as the Millennials are in their 20s and early 30s (the young move much more than do the old.) After which, it can be expected that Oregon will likely retain it’s relative advantage of migrants. The numbers and growth rates will likely be lower, but due to demography as the grandchildren of Generation X are a smaller cohort.

For more on our office’s population and demographic outlook, plus county level forecasts, please visit our main website. Also, for those interested, I used

Posted by: Josh Lehner | February 11, 2015

Graph of the Week: Alcohol Cluster

Still working on the start-up brewery report, which will hopefully be out in about a month. For now, here’s a quick update on the alcohol cluster. This is our office’s working definition of the cluster, based on detailed employment sectors. See the note at the end for specifics.

While Oregon’s overall employment just returned to pre-Great Recession levels a couple months ago, a few of our clusters have outperformed and done considerably better. One in particular is the state’s alcohol cluster — the group of breweries, wineries, distilleries and their distributors and retail outlets. Since the start of 2008, these jobs in Oregon have increased 46 percent (!), or about 5,200 jobs. This is also an undercount of growth as some breweries (or brewpubs) are classified as restaurants and pulling their information is difficult, although the Employment Department does an annual beer report.


Fun Fact: In general, when looking at Oregon as a share of the U.S. we are usually 1.2 to 1.4 percent of the total — be it population, jobs, exports, etc. However in terms of the alcohol cluster, Oregon is 2 percent of the U.S. which is quite large relative to all of our other rankings. In terms of a location quotient, Oregon’s alcohol industry is a 1.6 (2014 data), indicating Oregon’s alcohol cluster is 60 percent larger relative to the typical state, after adjusting for size.

Alcohol Cluster definition: Breweries (NAICS 31212), Wineries (NAICS 31213), Distilleries (NAICS 31214), Beer, Wine, Distilled Alcohol Beverage Merchant Wholesalers (NAICS 4248), Beer, Wine and Liquor Stores (NAICS 44531), Drinking Places, Alcoholic Beverages (NAICS 7224)

Posted by: Josh Lehner | February 5, 2015

Population, Demographics and Generations

I don’t know if it’s paternal instincts or not, but I’ve been thinking a lot more about generations and demography lately. I just wanted to share some of graphs our office uses and talk briefly about why this is so important from an economic point of view.

First, a recent PEW report discussed how Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S., overtaking their parents, the Baby Boomers. The same is generally true here in Oregon as well, although using our definition of generations, Millennials overtook Boomers back in 2008. This is in large part due to Oregon’s strong in-migration trends, which drive the vast majority of our above average population growth rates. In both good times and bad, people move to Oregon and younger adults have higher migration rates than older adults.  Oregon Generations

Here’s another way to look at the generations in Oregon over time. Two notes. First, the very small dark gray portion in the lower left hand corner of the graph refers to the Lost Generation, born in the late 1800s. Second, given the lack of definitions around Gen Z (iGen, post-Millennials or whichever name demographics settle on) I am simply cutting off their age cohort at 2020 and starting a new one. OregonPopGen

More importantly, why does this really matter for Oregon and the economy? Well, it has been said that demography is destiny. Additionally, Mark talked at length in his Destination Oregon speech about how if an aging and retiring population is the issue, then young, working age households are the cure. We have highlighted previously the impact of individuals in their root setting years, generally 25-34 years old. During this time many begin their careers in earnest, get married, buy a house, start a family and the like. Oregon — and our metropolitan areas in particular — have a long history of attracting these types of individuals and households, which is a boon for longer run economic growth. However, even with these strong migration trends, Oregon, much like the nation, is now seeing its working age population decline as a share of the overall population. Now the absolute total number of working age adults continues to increase, but as a relative share of Oregon’s overall population, it has been falling the past few years and will continue to do so over the next decade. This directly feeds into the potential capacity of the economy. Such trends led Bill McBride over at Calculated Risk to say “2% is the new 4%” referring to real GDP growth.

WorkingAgePop Call it secular stagnation, or whichever term you prefer, but the combination of slower population growth and a relative decline in the working age population directly feeds into our office’s long-run economic and revenue forecasts. We are expecting growth to be slower this decade than in past expansions. However these bigger picture, longer-run trends do not rule out a year or three of relatively robust growth in the near term. 2014 was actually a pretty strong year, even relative to Oregon’s history. There is no reason 2015 and 2016 cannot be just as strong, before the demographics weigh more on the longer-run outlook.

Finally, it is important to note that even with slower job growth moving forward, it does not necessarily mean there will not be enough jobs available. About 60 percent of the job openings this decade, according to the Oregon Employment Department, will be generational or occupational churn. The other 40 percent will be new job openings. So there will/should be enough jobs, even if net growth rates are lower. The generational transition as the Boomers age into their retirement years will be at least a decade long process.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | February 2, 2015

Graphs of the Week: Oregon MSA Employment

Below is one quick graph per MSA to help put the strong employment numbers from the past year in better context.

Bend is Rising. Not only did Bend suffer a more severe recession than anything seen in Oregon since Coos Bay in the early 1980s, job loss in Deschutes County was much worse than even in the other housing bust metros across the country. These comparison metros — the 50 largest boom and bust housing metros — are the worst of the worst in terms of the bubble and its aftermath. Even so, Bend is rising and now playing catch-up to the state and nation overall. Job growth of 4-5 percent in each of the past couple of years will do that.


Corvallis: Stable and Growing. Benton County is generally more stable economically than the rest of Oregon and the Great Recession was no different. The city has also been more stable than most of its western state peers, as seen below.


Eugene is growing, following structural changes. Lane County employment overall is now growing 1.5-2 percent annually the past couple of years, however the region underwent a major structural change during the Great Recession. In particular the losses of major manufacturing operations. It is not easy for a regional economy to shrug off such impacts and it takes time to readjust and begin to grow again. Over the past couple of years, all other industries in Lane County have regained nearly 70 percent of their recessionary losses. During this time, state education employment (mostly University of Oregon) has been largely unchanged, after growing strongly in earlier years, so the growth is coming from other private sector industries.


Medford leads the State of Jefferson. At times it appears that Medford and Jackson County get the short end of the stick. University of Oregon’s regional indices continue to show the metro is growing slower than in past expansions and the recent cover story of Oregon Business asks “Will Medford Ever Be Cool?” The region does make for a challenging comparison given it is a growing metropolitan area that receives a good influx of migrants, however it is more geographically isolated and historically tied to manufacturing than a lot of other metros at the same time. Another way to look at is to compare Jackson County with its counterparts in the State of Jefferson. Meford — another housing bust metro — suffered severe job loss during the Great Recession however its growth in recent years is leading the regional recovery. It’s two sides of the same coin: Medford is growing faster than its peers (mostly nonmetro counties) but in-line or maybe a hair slower than many of its metro peers up and down the West Coast or even across housing bust MSAs.


Can Portland take another step up? To me, this is the key to the statewide outlook. Right now all of Oregon’s metros excluding Portland are growing about as fast as they can, or as fast as they have in decades, collectively. It is unlikely they will accelerate further, so if Oregon’s job growth is to pick up even more, it is likely going to be due to stronger growth in and around Portland. Here the story is a bit more mixed. The more reliable, but not as timely QCEW data shows Portland’s 5 Oregon counties both accelerating and decelerating since the last benchmark, while the officially published BLS figures for the entire 7 county MSA show growth holding steady at nearly 3 percent job growth. There is no question that Portland’s regional economy has outperformed the state and about in-line with other big cities across the country. The question is whether or not it can grow faster and sustain rates closer to 3 percent or more.


Salem is rockin’. This may come as a surprise to some, but in the past 2 years, Salem’s job growth has been even faster than the housing boom era, but without the bubble this time, we think. You have to go back to the early to mid-1990s to see such sustained growth rates in Marion and Polk counties that are higher. Salem has now regained about three-quarters of its recessionary losses in terms of employment.


Stay tuned for more regional economic material in our next quarterly forecast, to be released on Thursday, February 19th.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | January 28, 2015

Oregon’s Labor Market and Wages

As our office has discussed over the past year (HERE and HERE, e.g.), the expected pattern for the economy would be first more jobs, then higher wages due to a tighter labor market and then more individuals in the labor force looking for these more plentiful and/or better paying jobs. As the overall economy continues to improve and jobs are at an all-time high, more and more focus is being paid to wage growth. In particular, the Federal Reserve is closely monitoring wages and inflation to determine the underlying strength in the economy so they can begin raising interest rates (aka, normalizing monetary policy.) Well, the good news for Oregon is that these expected patterns of growth or labor market dynamics are emerging locally and may already be here.


While we know job growth accelerated back in 2013 and the labor force followed suit in late 2014, the wages are a bit more of a muddled picture. We know for sure aggregate wages are doing well. Unfortunately for the typical worker though, the wage picture depends on which measure one uses. Below are 5 various measures of wages or earnings per worker and their cumulative change since the Great Recession. For our office’s core purposes (the state budget) we track the monthly withholdings out of Oregonian paychecks (this is the largest component of the state’s personal income tax collections) and use BEA wages in our economic forecasts. The good news is that we are seeing growth above and beyond the rate of inflation across most measures. One missing piece here for the red line is that if employees aren’t seeing real hourly gains, but seeing more hours worked, their total paychecks are still going up, which matters most for household budgets, and state tax collections.


A key piece to the outlook is average wage growth. Below is what our office currently has in the forecast. In brief it shows growth picking up over the next couple of years and reaching rates approximately on par with the housing boom expansion. These rates of growth are lower than those seen in the 1990s. Some improvement in wage growth is to be expected given the tighter labor market. However is this outlook too optimistic? Too pessimistic? This outlook is going to be a big part of our preliminary forecast meetings this week with our advisors.


Posted by: Josh Lehner | January 26, 2015

2015 Outlook – Energy Prices

One big development for the 2015 economic outlook is oil prices and more importantly for households, the price at the pump. Below is a quick summary of the developments and a collection of these various impacts from other sources.

The steep drop in the price of oil and by extension, gasoline, is a big development for the near-term economic outlook. The combination of increased production — mostly North American shale and oil sands — and weaker global demand has sent oil prices into free fall in recent months. The price per barrel of oil is down over 50 percent in the past six months with gas prices following suit. On net this development is expected be a positive for the U.S. economy as lower energy costs free up disposable income for households. GDP, employment and consumer spending are all expected to grow faster, according to IHS Economics.


However these positive impacts are muted somewhat by two big factors. First, energy intensity or the amount of energy used relative to output is much smaller today than a few decades ago. That means, both to the upside and downside, the U.S. economy is less sensitive to price movements than, say, back in the 1970s. Second, as the U.S. has become a larger producer of oil in the past decade, some regions of the country are expected to be negatively impacted with any slowdown in production and/or new drilling activity. Oregon does have some ties to the mining industry in terms of machinery and equipment manufacturers, however the state should see an above average positive impact due to increased discretionary spending by households.


All told, lower oil prices are a net positive to the U.S. and Oregon economies, but also even more for lower income households, which spent a higher share of their income on energy costs. The key question is how long will low oil prices stay. As in good times and bad, energy price forecasting yields a wide range of opinions and current events are no different. Markets are building in only small increases in the price of oil for the next few years, while some prominent forecasting units are predicting larger gains. The U.S. Energy Information Agency’s near-term outlook, the IHS forecast and the WSJ economic forecasting survey (not shown here) all are indicating larger gains than the futures market.OilForecast

Posted by: Josh Lehner | January 23, 2015

The Manufacturing Renaissance in Perspective

Besides the references in President Obama’s State of the Union speech earlier this week, there has been much discussion (and consternation) of the so-called manufacturing renaissance in recent years. It’s hard to put a formal definition of what people mean when they say manufacturing renaissance, but in general it certainly means growth of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Some of the reasons economists give for such growth include increased U.S. competitiveness from low energy costs (natural gas in particular due to fracking) and relatively lower wages (U.S. manufacturing wages aren’t growing much while those in the developing world are increasing fast), rules/regulations increasing abroad, intellectual property rights concerns, publicity for U.S. made products, a relatively weaker U.S. dollar, to name a few. So how is the so-called renaissance going?

First, manufacturing jobs are increasing in recent years, nearly 8 million 800,000 from the depths of the Great Recession through today. Of this, there is no question. However, how do you place these gains in context of the overall economy? One common way is to show manufacturing jobs as a share of all jobs.USMfgShareThis is the graph or measure many use to dismiss the concept of a manufacturing renaissance or proof that is isn’t happening. However, while the share of jobs isn’t increasing, the movement sideways is a historical outlier. The fact that manufacturing jobs are growing just as fast as the overall number of jobs is fundamentally different than the past 60 years in this country. So does that mean the renaissance is real? Maybe. In a Twitter exchange yesterday with Josh Zumbrun of the Wall Street Journal, I shared a few of the ways I try to characterize the manufacturing rebound.

The first graph shows the share of lost jobs regained during the subsequent expansion. In this context, our recovery so far doesn’t look so impressive. However it must be pointed out that U.S. manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979 and have largely been flat to down since. The current gains are considerably better than the mid-2000s recovery.USMfgJobs While that shows the share regained, it’s also important to look at how many jobs were lost. The next graph shows both the lost jobs and subsequently how many were regained over the expansion.USMfgJobs2

Finally, as our office has pointed out previously, manufacturing in Oregon typically outperforms the average state. Manufacturing jobs today are in a very similar position coming out of a deep recession as they were back in the 1980s. More importantly, Oregon’s share of all U.S. manufacturing jobs is increasing over time. Much of this has to do with the fact that Oregon manufacturing is not tied as much to what we call old-line manufacturing which has been hit harder in recent decades. This would primarily be auto makers, steel makers, textiles and the like. Of course wood products and paper mills would be here as well, which have not fared well over the past 30 years. The reason Oregon outperforms is that a large amount of our manufacturing can be considered new-line, such as our semiconductors and aerospace firms. Plus food processing has done extremely well over the past decade.

ORUSMfgRegainedAll told, the manufacturing sector certainly is recovering, however not significantly out of line from the previous 4 business cycles. Even with the impacts of globalization and technological change which impact nearly all industries but manufacturing the most, expectations were and are that U.S. manufacturers would add back some of their lost jobs. It is very unlikely that all of the lost manufacturing jobs will be regained, just as they have not for 35 years. Even in this realm of ever increasing output and higher productivity (which results in fewer workers needed to produce the same amount of goods) it is beginning to look like the mid-2000s recovery is the outlier here where essentially none of the lost manufacturing jobs come back. Moving forward our office expects many of these trends and pressures to continue. Production jobs will not keep pace with output, but employment will continue to grow. We’re on the economic upswing today and progress will continue to be made. At least until the next recession, when this cycle begins anew.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | January 21, 2015

Oregon Employment, December 2014

With the December jobs report, another year is in the books for Oregon’s economy. Preliminary estimates show December was another big month (more on that in a minute) but for the year overall, 2014 was actually quite strong. 43,500 jobs on an annual average basis for a growth rate of 2.6%. Both of which are the strongest since 2006. However, more importantly, progress continues to be made across the broader measures of the labor market, see the Economic Recovery Scorecard. While Oregon’s economy, number of jobs and the like have never been larger, we know that the economy is still not fully healed some 7 years after the onset of the Great Recession (primarily due to it being a financial crisis.)

With that being said, December brought to close a solid year in terms of the Total Employment Gap. The unemployment rate remains in the high 6 percent range, but labor force participation is increasing and those working part-time but want full-time work is slowly declining. The Total Employment Gap closed nearly 2 percentage points in 2014, the best year so far in recovery, but the state still is just about 60 percent of the way recovered.


On the monthly jobs figure, December’s gain of 8,200 seasonally adjusted along with strong October and November figures makes the 3 month average the best on record according to our friends over at Employment. Good news, no doubt. However our office has some very technical concerns about these numbers. In particular the seasonal factors used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which presets the monthly seasonal factors a year or so in advance. For a recent example, think back to June when the preliminary estimates said Oregon lost 4,300 jobs over the month and everyone freaked out. Well June’s revised (and preliminary benchmarked) data shows gains of 1,500 jobs. At that time our office pointed out that the seasonal factors did not make sense and it was highly unlikely the state lost that many jobs. Today we’re talking about the reverse of that. No doubt the economy has improved, and job growth has picked up. However the headline monthly employment numbers are likely overstating the growth purely due to the seasonal factors from BLS. To try and make this clear, below I show the job gains over the past year from both the not seasonally adjusted data and the seasonally adjusted data.

The differences here work out to over 500 jobs per month. These numbers should be the same, and after annual revisions and benchmarking, they will be. However in real time the data do differ, due to the preset seasonal factors. The story isn’t these technical issues. Let me make that clear. However, don’t be surprised that once revisions are taken into account Oregon saw good, strong job growth to end 2014 but maybe not quite record setting.

All told, 2014 has been a good year for the economy and labor market. Much progress has been made as the state has finally regained all of its lost jobs due to the Great Recession, middle-wage job growth returned and the like. Our office expects 2015 to more of the same, with some expectations for better wage growth as well.

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 353 other followers