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Columnists
OTHER VIEW
Other View: Good times have come to some Trump-leaning states

One of the biggest visible impacts after last November’s presidential election was a surge in economic confidence among Republicans, and somewhat less of a drop among Democrats. Perhaps not surprising given how much we all view the world through partisan-tinted glasses. But it raised a larger question: In the months following the election, would the “hard” economic data confirm what these “soft” measures of sentiment and confidence were showing? Nearly a year after the election, the answer appears to be yes.

The really interesting numbers come from state employment data. The two states with the biggest drops in their unemployment rates since November are Alabama, whose unemployment rate has fallen to 3.8 percent from 6.2 percent, and Tennessee, whose rate has fallen to 3.0 percent from 5.1 percent. Trump won those states by 27.7 percent and 26.0 percent, respectively. Other Trump-leaning states like Tennessee and Idaho are now at record-low levels of unemployment.

By comparison, places with a strong Clinton lean have not seen a similar improvement. The unemployment rate in Washington, DC, has increased to 6.5 percent from 5.8 percent. Massachusetts’s has increased to 3.9 percent from 3.1 percent, New York’s rate is unchanged from 4.9 percent, and California’s has fallen just 0.2 percentage points, to 5.1 percent from 5.3 percent.

Seven of the 10 most Trump-leaning states have seen their unemployment rates fall by more than the national average. Only three of the 10 most Clinton-leaning states can report the same, including none of the top seven. Outside of New Mexico, Trump-friendly Ohio now has the highest unemployment rate in the continental U.S.

The hard part is figuring out what to attribute this to. We’ve seen no major movement on the national policy front — there’s yet to be any movement from Congress on health care, taxes or fiscal policy. What we’re left with is evidence that the psychological impact of the election has shifted labor markets at the state level. Perhaps some employers in Republican-leaning parts of the country were holding back on hiring during the Obama years in large part due to their political leanings, in the same way that perhaps some employers in Democratic-leaning parts have grown cautious in the new political environment.

The nature of the fall in the unemployment rate in Alabama and Tennessee raises particular questions. In a strong labor market driven by rising confidence, one might expect to see a combination of more hiring on the part of employers and rising labor-force participation. But what we’ve seen in both states is that the pace of hiring since the election has been somewhat steady, while the size of the labor force has fallen. Alabama’s labor force has fallen by 32,000 people since November, and Tennessee’s labor force growth rate has fallen sharply since the election. But those two states appear to be aberrations.

The next big question is whether policy makers in Washington can come up with positive-sum ideas that everyone can buy into, or if we’re destined to endure an economic confidence swap every time there’s a partisan change in the White House.


Letters
Letter: Vote Hawkins for City Council

Suzanne Hawkins has served our community with dedication and common sense while serving on our city council. Here are a few things you should know about Suzanne:

· Advisor to the Twin Falls City Youth Council. She works with the students in the eighth to 12th grade on civics, leadership and community events. She plays the role of guidance and mentoring.

· Volunteers at sixth to eighth grade classes giving presentations on local government and servant leadership.

· Volunteers for younger students with COW days (Careers on Wheels) with introduction to local government.

· Currently second vice president of the Association of Idaho Cities; a resource for all local government for learning and training; works very closely with state leaders on all issues facing cities.

· Volunteered with SCCAP’s Park Event, Paint Magic Team Captain and Special Olympics Idaho.

· Presently vice mayor on the Twin Falls City Council.

I am 100 percent behind Suzanne Hawkins to remain on our City Council and urge you to cast your vote for her on Nov. 7.

Ruth Fixsen

Twin Falls


Columnists
Brugger: Student loans: Good intentions gone rogue

The history of the Guaranteed Student Loan is a cautionary tale for anyone interested in public policy. It is also an archetypal example of complex systems theory and how tinkering with one part can change all or some of the parts

It is important to keep in mind that these events occurred cumulatively but not consecutively over a 60-year period. It is also important to note two economic trends. The cost of higher education has risen faster than the cost-of-living index and even higher than the cost of medical services since 1978. The economically resilient middle class has significantly shrunk in the same time with much of the shrinkage at the lower wage scale.

Student loans have a long history in U.S. higher education, but I will start in 1958 with low-cost Direct Student Loans from the Treasury. There were many reasons these loans were a promising idea. Perhaps one of the best reasons was the overwhelming economic success of the G.I. bill. Federal investment in education for veterans resulted in significant economic prosperity throughout the country. Why not have a broader plan? Although a sizeable number of students put together scholarships and work plus family financing to get them through college, the “space race” showed us that we needed more college graduates in the years to come. Some of the best private colleges were still out of reach of students who had the potential to succeed.

By 1965, the government changed to a guaranteed student loan program. This change, prompted by accounting practices within the budget and investors (banks plus private capital entities) noticing that these loans promised profit. Of course, investors wanted to make the largest loan they could, especially since the government guaranteed it. Students covered even the extras with loans. The interest rates were also higher.

For-profit schools, which had specialized in secretarial and low-level medical certificates, began to see potential in both expanded course offerings and higher tuition paid by a guaranteed loan. They targeted “second chance” students who had left high school or not graduated. They had all the financial incentive in the world not to worry much about whether they graduated or got the jobs they trained for.

Starting with voter anger at students who were demonstrating against the war and/or disrespecting their elders in general and pushed by referendums which lowered taxes, states lowered the rate of funding for higher education. Tuition went up, but guaranteed student loans filled in.

The baby boom and more students able to attend college meant that institutions had to expand; more buildings, more staff salaries. Even donated buildings require maintenance. Research grants improved the bottom line, but recruiting expenses soared in the search for the best and brightest to attract those dollars. As majors changed, there was the problem of tenured faculty who didn’t attract enough students to pay for their program.

There is also the problem of over production in some majors and not enough in others. Currently, we have a crisis of graduates in education and medicine. The salary expectations of the former limit students who want to assume loans for that career. The cost of medical school limits the students who want to start out with so much debt. Law school or an MBA is cheaper and requires less time.

After several attempts to deal with just the loan program, it once again is a government loan but administered through the Department of Education. The other forces that pushed the cost of education up remain in place.

I urge Idaho to come up with innovation to ease student loan debt. Perhaps state loans with a percent forgiveness at graduation? Tuition credit for education, engineering, medicine or production management? Credit for moving education and medicine to rural settings? Publicize tax credits for contributions to education? We need young wage earners who have economic resilience to grow our Idaho economy. Student loan debt may hinder it.