The Campaign Spot

CNN: The Economy ‘Isn’t So Bad’, It’s Just ‘Stagnant.’

I’ll bet every president wished they received as much benefit of the doubt as you see in this CNN headline:

American Sauce: Maybe the economy’s not so bad?

Yes, unemployment is again on the rise and the June jobs report had all the strength of an ICU patient. Yes, economic stress is literally making people sick. But are things as grim as they feel?

Maybe not.

Among the criteria of good signs:

State and local taxes are going up, indicating income and spending are up. Overall, the Census Bureau says states and local government saw tax revenue jump 4.7 percent in the first three months of this year.

Even more of an exclamation point: Individual income tax revenue sprung up 11.9 percent over the year before.

And no, this is not attributed to states increasing tax rates. Texas and South Carolina, just to name two no-new-taxes states, saw tax revenue go up around 7 percent.

Of course tax revenues should be higher in many states and localities; in many places, taxes are higher. As I wrote earlier this year:

The first year of Obama’s presidency, 29 states enacted tax and fee increases worth roughly $24 billion, the largest single-year increase ever. Of course, these taxes went into effect as unemployment skyrocketed and incomes remained flat. Then, in 2010, as the economy continued to struggle, states enacted another $6.2 billion in tax increases and an additional $2.9 billion in separate “revenue measures”, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. While it’s only a fraction of the 2009 hikes, it remains the fourth-largest in the past 19 years.

Nine states increased sales taxes; eight states increased income taxes, seven states increased corporate income taxes, seven states increased tobacco taxes, five states increased gas taxes, and ten states increased other taxes. It’s enough to drive you to drink; by some miracle, no state increased taxes on alcohol in 2010. (New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Vermont increased them in 2009.)

As for surprise that tax revenue is up in low-tax, low-regulation states like Texas, as Rich wrote last year:

More than half of the net new jobs in the U.S. during the past 12 months were created in the Lone Star State.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 214,000 net new jobs were created in the United States from August 2009 to August 2010. Texas created 119,000 jobs during the same period. If every state in the country had performed as well, we’d have created about 1.5 million jobs nationally during the past year, and maybe “stimulus” wouldn’t be such a dirty word.

Later in the CNN piece, we read: “Still, after GDP plunged at the end of 2008 and into the start of 2009, the economy seems to have stabilized and is not tanking. Unfortunately, it is stable and stagnant. See this as a question of perspective; the glass may now be at least a quarter full.”

It takes a unique perspective to characterize “stable and stagnant” as “not so bad.”


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