Posted by: Josh Lehner | March 10, 2015

In the News: La Center Casino

The Columbian is reporting that the Cowlitz Tribe now has a reservation in La Center, Wash. after a decade-long legal battle. I do not know enough about the legal process, taking land in trust, potential challenges and the like to comment on the specifics of it. However, from a state revenue perspective the impact on Oregon video lottery sales is likely to be similar to the previously proposed Wood Village, Ore. casino. Of course the Wood Village proposals were voted down decidedly by Oregonians (68% No in 2010, 72% No in 2012) but Oregonians do not get to vote on the La Center casino, obviously. Three points for now.

First, the Portland market is one of the largest untapped gambling markets in the U.S. in terms of casinos. The nearest casino is Spirit Mountain, about an hour and fifteen minutes from downtown Portland, while the Indian Head Casino near Madras is about two hours away. Given the various proposals over the years, there is a clear desire on behalf of casino owners and operators to get as close as possible to Portland to gain a lion’s share of the gaming dollars. Of course that does not mean Portland is devoid of gaming today. The State see significant video lottery sales in the region, in addition to the various (illegal) card rooms and so-called gray machines.

Two, how will a casino just on the northern edge of the country’s 24th largest metropolitan area impact video lottery sales? At this time, it’s hard to say. Proponents of the Wood Village casino estimated the impact would be a loss of 6 or 7 percent (if memory serves, no documentation), which is smaller than the opponents estimate of about 17 percent. While La Center may be a bit further away geographically from Oregonians, the share of video lottery sales within an hour’s drive time of the site is nearly identical to the Wood Village site. The data is a little old (FY2011) and I am using zip code averages here, but the patterns today are very similar, of course.

LotterySalesCasinoSitesFinally, the gaming industry is intensely competitive. Be it new machines, online gaming, illegal operations or brand new casinos nearby, existing facilities are constantly under attack from other venues and opportunities for customer’s discretionary spending. Beyond the general trends in sales across the country, there is one item that really stood out in our office’s report on the gaming industry. While a brand new casino can do well for a year or three, sales do slow and even decline. At least in part due to more competition and also the novelty factor of something being new going away. Our report highlighted Pennsylvania where even brand new casinos in big metropolitan areas like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have seen this pattern. Expectations would be for similar trends in sales for a new casino in the Portland MSA.


This will certainly be a big topic of discussion in our upcoming forecast meetings with Lottery and our advisory groups. Should the La Center casino be built, it will certainly have an impact on our forecast. How big and the exact timing of the impact are still TBD.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | March 6, 2015

Graph of the Week: Estate Taxes

Death and taxes, right? Literally, in this case. In all seriousness, Oregon’s estate and inheritance tax is one that our office has trouble with in recent years. We did not initially build in a large enough drop in revenues due to the housing market collapse (many households that are impacted by the estate tax still have a sizable portion of their wealth tied up in the home itself.) In recent months our office has been having errors in the other direction as revenues are coming in above forecast (although still below the previous Close of Session outlook.)


There are two big, competing issues for the outlook in this case, which is something we routinely discuss with our revenue advisory committee. On one hand is the fundamental growth in underlying asset prices (home, equities, etc.) couple with an aging population. This strongly suggest estate tax revenues will grow briskly over the coming decade or two. However on the other hand, our advisors point that accountants and estate planners are much better today at planning and managing around these life events, inheritances and the like. From this view, expectations are that revenues will be relatively constant moving forward, or show little growth. This is not because estates are less valuable and not because people are not paying taxes, but because households are better able to manage the tax implications of larger estates. For the record, our office has a moderate growth outlook for estate tax collections moving forward, which reflects both of these competing trends.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | March 3, 2015

Populations in Need: Poverty and SNAP

Oregon’s underlying economy is more volatile than the typical state. We do worse in downturns (larger job losses, higher unemployment, higher populations in need of assistance) but we also do better in expansions. The good news is that the economy spends a lot more years in expansion than it does in recession and on net, Oregon comes out ahead of the typical state over an extended period. The 2000s are somewhat of an exception given that the decade was book-ended by recessions that hit Oregon harder than most places given our concentration in high-tech manufacturing and the housing bubble. Nevertheless, Oregon today is growing significantly faster than the typical state and making up lost ground. We’ve closed about 2/3rds of the employment gap between Oregon and the typical state, and not quite half of the poverty rate gap, although we’re making progress there as well.

Today the Census Bureau released a new report on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) use for 2013. As has been the case for quite some time now, Oregon ranks really high in terms of the program’s use. While SNAP usage is certainly a measure of the state of the economy and the size of the population in need of assistance, it’s also subject to administrative/bureaucratic/governmental policy decisions that impact eligibility or redetermination of benefits and the like. Our office (Mark) chairs a DHS/OHA forecast oversight committee and in discussions with our counterparts in those agencies, this is certainly something that has come up. For lack of better words and these are my words, Oregon is successful in not only enrolling eligible individuals in SNAP but also keeping them enrolled while eligible. This may or may not be the case in other states. One big potential issue is administrative/paperwork issues that can make it more or less challenging for individuals to stay enrolled in the program. E.g. throw up a bunch of administrative hurdles and participation in the program can fall. I cannot confirm this occurs elsewhere, however one easy comparison I like to make is the relationship between the poverty rate and the SNAP rate.

SNAP2013StateIt’s clear that Oregon is an outlier. While the state is tied with Mississippi for the highest SNAP usage rate, Oregon has the 19th highest poverty rate. The other states with similar poverty rates as Oregon (16-17%) have an average SNAP rate of just 13.9 percent compared with Oregon’s 19.8 percent. Portland is in a similar situation relative to the other largest metros in the country.

SNAP2013MSAWhile it is certainly harder to say what the optimal level of benefits should be in the bigger picture, Oregon does appear to be successful at providing SNAP benefits to those in need. Overall there should be a clear relationship between poverty and SNAP given the broad eligibility requirements, and there is. However with subsets of the population and various ifs and ors in the specifics of eligibility across states and the administrative requirements of participants, differences do materialize.

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.


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