Des Moines Register. April 4, 2018
Iowa's people shortage is bad for business, and immigrants can be part of solution
Have you noticed your Iowa town is being overrun with undocumented immigrants while local officials flout federal immigration law?
Neither has anyone else.
Because it isn't happening.
But that reality didn't stop the GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature from passing legislation targeting so-called sanctuary cities. It authorizes revoking state funding for communities that "prohibit or discourage" the enforcement of immigration laws.
The bill does not solve any real problem. It is all about grandstanding politicians sending a message.
Supporters say the message is about the need to uphold the rule of law and maintain public safety. The real message: Immigrants are not welcome here.
Iowa should be sending exactly the opposite message.
This state needs more people, including immigrants. We have a worker shortage, and businesses are desperate to fill positions.
"The demographics are straightforward," said David Swenson, an Iowa State University economist. Adults are moving from rural to urban areas, our population is aging and the workforce is shrinking as people exit the labor market. The only way for our state to grow is by attracting people from elsewhere, he said.
And it is not as if Iowa has mountains or ocean-front property or even clean rivers to lure them. What we do have are comparatively affordable housing, few traffic jams and jobs. Lots of jobs.
Iowa's "labor plight" of too many jobs and too few people was the subject of a recent front-page story in The Wall Street Journal.
The story raises questions about elected officials' focus on worker training programs.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has made upgrading Iowans' workforce skills a top priority and recently signed a bill aimed at providing more Iowans with training and education beyond high school.
The so-called Future Ready Iowa legislation, which was passed unanimously with bipartisan support, "helps Iowa employers hire the skilled workers they need to grow, which means Iowa communities will be even more prosperous," she said at the signing.
It's hard to argue against training. The bill is well-intended, and will benefit some Iowans.
But such legislation fails to address the big picture: You cannot train or hire people who do not exist.
"The crux of the problem is that we don't have the people here," Dave Zrostlik, president of Stellar Industries in Garner, told the Journal.
The hydraulic truck equipment manufacturer has its largest backlog of orders ever because it can't find the workers for a second shift. Normally, the 450-employee company fills orders in about eight weeks, but now it is taking 18 weeks or more.
Iowa's labor shortage is not a new problem, and it is not confined to rural manufacturing.
"We've run out of people for jobs," Christopher E. Nelson, chief executive of Kemin Industries, told the New York Times in 2016. Last week the global agricultural and biotechnology company, headquartered in Des Moines, had dozens of open jobs listed on its website, including 10 in Iowa for, among other positions, utility technicians and an attorney.
Where will these and other companies find the workers they need?
The U.S. labor market is the tightest it's been in nearly two decades. Iowa's unemployment rate is a mere 2.9 percent, significantly lower than the national average. The share of Iowa adults in the workforce is about 5 percentage points higher than the national average. That suggests people who are willing and able to work are already doing so.
If every unemployed person in a 12-state Midwest region tracked by the U.S. Labor Department filled an open job, there would still be more than 180,000 unfilled positions, according to the agency's data.
In other words, just about anyone who wants a job can get one — or two. Community colleges do not have students "beating down our door to apply," an education official told the Wall Street Journal.
Manufacturing, agriculture, retail, service, senior care and other industries frequently compete for the same workers from a labor pool that is simply not large enough. Iowa does not have too many immigrants or a shortage of training programs.
We have a shortage of people.
No doubt many of the legislators who voted for the sanctuary city penalties would note that the legislation is aimed only at people here illegally and would claim they welcome legal immigrants. What are they doing to show that?
Our elected officials should be working overtime to attract as many newcomers as possible — not passing legislation that codifies anti-immigrant sentiment in state law.
Dubuque Telegraph Herald. April 13, 2018
Financial literacy not a taxing proposition
This is the weekend for millions of Americans to finish — or start? — their federal income tax returns. Right about now, many of the do-it-yourselfers might be wishing that they had a higher level of financial literacy.
That might especially be the case among younger folks who attended secondary school in Iowa and Wisconsin, two states that received middling or failing marks in the most recent survey by the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College.
For the third time, the college in Burlington, Vt., ranked every U.S. state on personal finance education offered in its high schools.
While instruction in personal finance is not the same as accounting or specific training in tax preparation, wise decisions a consumer makes throughout the year certainly won't hurt at tax time.
"We would not allow a young person to get in the driver's seat of a car without requiring driver's education, and yet we allow our youth to enter the complex financial world without any related education," authors of the study note. "An uneducated individual armed with a credit card, a student loan and access to a mortgage can be nearly as dangerous to themselves and their community as a person with no training behind the wheel of a car."
Well, that might be a tad overstated. Nobody crossing the street ever got mowed down by a credit card. But you get the point.
Among the states of our region, Illinois graded the best with a B-plus. Iowa rated only a C. And Wisconsin bottomed out (with 10 other states) with a big fat F, indicating that it has none or few requirements for finance education in high school.
Iowa and the 11 other states receiving a C require "substantive" personal finance instruction, but due to decision-making at the local level, implementation varies widely. "Some districts may be doing an exceptional job," the study's authors note, "while others are barely covering the topic."
Illinois, which hasn't fared well in many other national rankings lately, earned its strong B-plus by delivering an estimated 30-38 hours of financial literacy instruction in a 60-hour, semester-long course.
By the way, Utah was the only state to ace the survey, scoring an A-plus for requiring every high school student to take a half-year course exclusively dedicated to personal finance topics and then take a state-administered exam.
Iowa's ranking might improve somewhat the next time the Champlain College survey comes around, thanks to action by the Dubuque School Board.
Starting in the 2018-19 school year with Dubuque public school freshmen, students will have a semester of financial literacy as part of the district's "applied learning" requirement.
Unlike several other courses a high school student might take, financial literacy is something that people can put to use — whatever their career or calling — for the rest of their lives.
More states and school districts should recognize the importance of financial literacy instruction and set requirements and course offerings accordingly.
Sioux City Journal. April 12, 2018
Iowa Republicans should explain how they will pay for tax cuts
As we said in this space in December when Congress was debating tax reform, members of our editorial board believe, as a general principle, in lower taxes for everyone who pays them — individuals, families, businesses — because we believe Americans should keep more of the money they earn.
The same holds true in Iowa.
Of the tax reform plans debated in the Legislature this year, we don't advocate for one over another at this point, but we do support a goal of lowering the tax burden on Iowans.
On this condition.
We believe Republican lawmakers should explain how they intend to pay for whatever plan ultimately emerges from the Statehouse.
To different degrees, tax plans proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds and lawmakers in the Senate and House will, of course, reduce revenue to the state. Even if tax reform produces economic growth in Iowa, the growth won't happen overnight. In other words, short-term state budgets will need adjustments — perhaps significant adjustments, depending on what plan the governor signs.
Iowa isn't (thankfully) Washington, D.C., where spending more than what the government has and running deficits is common practice.
It's possible the two chambers of the Legislature won't agree on tax reform this year, but let's say they do. And let's say they agree to something closer to what the Senate passed. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, the Senate bill will reduce revenue $207.8 million for fiscal 2019, $770 million for fiscal 2020, $941.3 million for fiscal 2021, $1.069 billion for fiscal 2022 and $1.163 billion for fiscal 2023.
We don't have a problem with less spending by state government, but we do believe it's reasonable for Iowans to ask Republicans to lay out their budget strategy for loss of those dollars.
Today, not tomorrow.
Fort Dodge Messenger. April 13, 2018
A second look makes good sense
For a time, President Donald Trump said, he thought about vetoing the $1.3 trillion spending bill Congress laid on his desk a few weeks ago. Too much money was being spent unnecessarily and some priorities had been ignored, he explained.
In the end, Trump signed the bill. Now, he reportedly is consulting leading lawmakers about amending it later this year.
Well, why not?
Throughout the swamp — the vast, powerful federal bureaucracy — the thought of altering a spending law comes close to being sacrilegious. Be assured that if Congress actually does consider the president's idea, there would be much talk in Washington of how the sky would fall if even a dime in appropriations is taken away.
No such catastrophe would occur.
We all know from our personal finance struggles that having to make adjustments can be tough, but we do it because we have no choice.
That thought has never occurred to anyone in Washington.
Members of Congress find themselves in a bit of a bind. Some worry that if they alter the spending plan, they could pay dearly at the ballot box this fall. No doubt most lawmakers would rather let the sleeping dog lie.
But this is one flea-ridden, mangy mutt, part of the reason our national debt continues to soar.
Trump is right: Look at it again.