Fun With Data

Third and State This Week: Teacher Salaries, Legislative Updates & Paid Sick Leave in Philadelphia

This week at Third and State, we blogged about teacher salaries and a paid sick leave bill in Philadelphia City Council, along with providing legislative updates on efforts to cut unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania and advance a state budget with deep cuts to education and human services.


  • On workplace issues, Steve Herzenberg takes apart an analysis by an economist for the National Federation of Independent Business that vastly overstates the impact of a paid sick leave bill now before Philadelphia City Council.
  • On unemployment insurance, Mark Price reports on the defeat of an anti-worker unemployment compensation bill in the state House, and has a follow-up post with data on income in York County to explain what is at stake when politicians tinker with unemployment.
  • On the state budget, Chris Lilienthal writes about House passage of a state budget that cuts $1 billion from public schools and reduces Governor Corbett's budget by $471 million for health and human services for women, children and people with disabilities.
  • Finally, on education, Steve Herzenberg highlights a project that is educating Americans on the relatively low teacher pay in this country compared to the most successful educational systems in the world.

More blog posts next week. Keep us bookmarked and join the conversation!

The Safety Net Is a Good Thing: York County Edition

While we celebrate the rejection of House Bill 916 this week, we should remember what is at stake when politicians tinker with the safety net. The figure below presents the annual percent change in personal income and personal income minus transfers (a proxy for market-based incomes) in York County. (Rep. Scott Perry, the sponsor of House Bill 916, represents portions of York and Cumberland counties).

A bit more explanation: personal income minus transfers is a proxy for incomes generated in the market-based economy, so as people in York County lost jobs in the 2001 and 2007 recessions, there were steep declines in market-based incomes. 

Personal income, which includes transfers like unemployment insurance, either fell less or not at all during the last two recessions in part because those who lost jobs had at least some of their income protected by the unemployment insurance system. (Pennsylvania's unemployment insurance system replaces a little over half of your lost wages.) In the absence of such protection, many families in York County would have lost all of their income in the recession. 

Unemployment insurance, thus, gives these families a temporary and modest lifeline to weather the recession, allowing them to pay their mortgages and other essential expenses until they find a new job. In this way, the benefits of unemployment insurance extend beyond individual recipients into the local community by preventing additional layoffs and home foreclosures.

House Bill 916, which failed by a vote of 79-122, would have cut unemployment benefits by about 20%. Unemployment in York County remains high at 7.2%. Even though the economy in Pennsylvania is in the midst of a robust recovery adding more jobs than it is losing each month, new workers are still being added to the unemployment insurance rolls each month. With unemployment so high, many of these newly jobless workers will be unemployed longer because the competition for new jobs is so fierce. House Bill 916 would have made the financial situation of many of these workers and their families more precarious.

Third and State This Week: Pa. Job Numbers, Drilling Tax Plans & Getting Cheeky with Tax Data

This week at Third and State, we had a podcast on Pennsylvania's April job numbers, a three-part series on dishonest claims about taxes, an overview of several natural gas drilling tax plans, and a quick visit to Ohio.


  • On jobs and the economy, Mark Price has a podcast explaining Pennsylvania's April job numbers, what it means for the recovery and why a bill in the state House aiming to cut unemployment benefits could set things backs.
  • On state and federal taxes, Mark also wrote a three-part series playfully titled "Getting Cheeky with Tax Data." In it Mark sheds some light on misleading claims about the impact of state and federal taxes on businesses and how many of them avoid paying taxes. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
  • On the Marcellus Shale, Michael Wood takes stock of several natural gas drilling tax plans now before the Legislature.
  • Finally, on income inequality, Stephen Herzenberg shares an Ohio colleague's article voicing the outrage of many people there, as new Governor John Kasich takes a state and a middle class that are down and gives them a good hard kick.

More blog posts next week. Keep us bookmarked and join the conversation!

Getting Cheeky with Tax Data, Part 3

This is the final part of three-part series running this week on Third and State.

On Wednesday, we highlighted the flaws in a Wall Street Journal editorial that was caught being, shall we say, less than truthful in its presentation of data on taxes.

Then, yesterday we wrote about conservatives here in Harrisburg, like the Commonwealth Foundation’s Nathan Benefield and Jonathan Humma, who want to make the case that Pennsylvania's business climate is bad because of taxes, ergo we should cut corporate taxes and shift more of the tax burden away from the wealthy and onto the rest of us.

Richard Florida has a piece at the Atlantic reviewing the relationship between "business tax competitiveness" and various measures of state level economic performance where he concludes:

The bottom line is this: Lower state investment tax burdens aren't associated with stronger state economies, and higher investment tax burdens aren't associated with worse ones. Tax cuts may be an effective political strategy and lowering business and investment taxes may appeal to corporate interests and attract campaign contributions, but they have little relation to state economies.

And don't forget that in Pennsylvania, middle-income taxpayers already pay more of their income in state and local taxes than the wealthy do.

This all reminds me of a great Upton Sinclair quote:

It's difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!

Getting Cheeky with Tax Data, Part 2

This is the second of a three-part series running this week on Third and State.

As we noted in Part 1 yesterday, getting cheeky with tax data is not a phenomenon limited to New York City and Washington D.C. Just a few steps south of our worldwide headquarters here at Third and State you can find Pennsylvania's own Commonwealth Foundation working hard not to be outdone by their national peers.

Getting Cheeky With Tax Data, Part 1

This is the first of a three-part series running this week on Third and State.

Last week, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal got caught being, shall we say, less than truthful in its presentation of data on taxes.

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