Weekend open thread: Job news edition

Last week’s horrible nationwide jobs report for June is another danger sign for the U.S. economy. Charles Lemos put the numbers in perspective here. The U.S. unemployment rate doesn’t appear to be rising, but that’s mainly because discouraged workers have stopped looking for a job. Other pieces of the economic picture aren’t looking great either, and some analysts think we are on the brink of a double-dip recession.

In terrible news for central Iowa, Wells Fargo announced on July 7 that it is “eliminating Des Moines-based Wells Fargo Financial and 3,800 positions nationwide.” From the Des Moines Register report:

Wells Fargo Financial will eliminate 2,800 positions in the next six months. The majority of those will come with the closing of 638 Wells Fargo Financial stores around the country, including 12 in Iowa. Only 14 of the initial layoffs will be in the Des Moines headquarters.

Wells Fargo also will eliminate an additional 1,000 positions in the next 12 months, most of those positions in Des Moines, said David Kvamme, president of Wells Fargo Financial. […]

Currently, Wells Fargo Financial has approximately 14,000 team members throughout the country, and 3,500 in Des Moines. The remaining 10,600 jobs will transition to other Wells Fargo units, including mortgage and community banking.

Laid off employees will receive 60 days’ working notice and a severance package.

Affected Wells Fargo employees also are encouraged to apply for other jobs throughout the company. Wells Fargo currently has more than 400 open positions in the Des Moines area, Kvamme said.

Wells Fargo is Iowa’s largest bank in terms of deposits and Central Iowa’s largest private employer with about 12,900 employees in the Des Moines area.

The Des Moines area is far from the worst place to do job-hunting; unemployment and the cost of living are pretty good compared to other medium-sized cities. Still, that’s a lot of people who will hit the job market at the same time.

Here’s some good news from the past week: the Iowa Utilities Board adopted “rules to encourage the development of more small wind generation systems across Iowa,” the Newton Independent reported.

One prominent Iowan got a new (unpaid) position this week, as President Obama appointed Vermeer Corporation president and CEO Mary Andringa to his 18-member export advisory council. Heavy-hitter Iowa Republicans tried to recruit Andringa to run for governor last year, and she is a chair of Terry Branstad’s campaign.

The celebrity job story of the week was of course LeBron James abandoning the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. I haven’t watched an NBA game in years, but I think James should have stayed in Cleveland, or at least not humiliated his hometown on nationwide television. A couple of good takes on the unprecedented dumping via tv special: Bill Simmons for ESPN and Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Some enterprising person was able to make google searches for “Terry Branstad” turn up ads for cheap drugs from Canada. The ads look like they are coming from Branstad’s official campaign website. Luke Jennett of the Ames Tribune got the scoop. As of Sunday morning, the problem still hadn’t been fixed.

This thread is for anything on your mind this weekend.

UPDATE: Who else watched the World Cup final? I was rooting for the Netherlands, but at least it wasn’t decided by penalty kicks. Spain scored a goal in the final minutes of extra time to post its fourth straight 1-0 victory. (Paul the psychic German octopus was right.) I’m happy for Spain, because they looked like the better team for most of the game, but it’s incredible to think that they are the World Cup champions after scoring eight goals in seven games.

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Pawlenty appealing to "Party of Hoover" set

Not content to push for a balanced-budget constitutional amendment in his own state, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has endorsed the idea of a federal constitutional amendment to require Congress to pass balanced budgets every year. The Wall Street Journal’s Amy Merrick observes,

Previous efforts to pass a national balanced-budget amendment have foundered in Congress. Many lawmakers believe deficit spending can help boost the U.S. economy during downturns, and calls to balance the budget sometimes fade as other priorities surface.

It would be insane to restrict the federal government’s ability to run deficits during a recession. That’s not just something many members of Congress “believe,” it’s a consensus view among economists. But don’t worry, Pawlenty isn’t entirely rigid on the subject of deficit spending:

Mr. Pawlenty’s proposal for a federal amendment would include exceptions for war, natural disasters and other emergencies. The U.S. has been at war for most of the past decade.

No self-respecting Republican ever let spending worries stand in the way of a blank check for war.

Although it’s tempting to laugh at Pawlenty’s proposal, I think highlighting the budget amendment could boost his standing in the 2012 presidential race. His idea isn’t outside the GOP mainstream; leading Republicans proposed a federal spending freeze instead of the stimulus bill Congress passed in February. Republican politicians in Iowa have also embraced Hoovernomics.

The idea could prove popular with the GOP rank and file too. Mike Huckabee gained a lot of traction in Iowa during the summer of 2007 by being the only Republican to endorse the so-called “fair tax.” That idea is even wackier than a federal spending freeze during a recession, but many caucus-goers embraced it.

Any comments about Pawlenty’s prospects or the Republican presidential field are welcome in this thread.

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New GOP robocall uses old GOP playbook

Oh no! Representative Leonard Boswell must be quaking in his boots now that the National Republican Campaign Committee is running this robocall against him in Iowa’s third district:

“Leonard Boswell spent 2009 helping liberal Speaker Nancy Pelosi push a massive government takeover of health care, a cap-and-trade energy bill that will increase costs for Iowa workers, and a massive $787 billion pork-laden spending bill that he called a stimulus but that has not helped the Iowa economy. Tell him your New Year’s resolution is to watch his votes in 2010 to make sure he is voting for Iowa families, not the liberal agenda of the Democrat party leaders in Washington.”

For years, Republicans have trotted out versions of this script against Boswell: blah blah blah Nancy Pelosi blah blah blah liberal agenda blah blah blah Democrat Party. It hasn’t resonated before, so why would it work now?

Specifically, I don’t think they will get far running against the stimulus package. Even in a weak economy, Boswell will be able to point to dozens of programs from the stimulus bill that benefited Iowa families. He has brought money to the district through several other bills passed this year as well. The Republican alternative, passing no stimulus and freezing federal spending, would have made the recession far worse.

The health care bill doesn’t even contain a weak public insurance option, let alone a “government takeover.” I don’t dispute that there will be plenty for the Republicans to attack in that bill, but Boswell will be able to point to items that benefit Iowans, such as new Medicare reimbursement rates to benefit low-volume hospitals (including Grinnell Regional Medical Center and Skiff Medical Center in Newton).

Boswell fought for concessions in the climate change bill that weakened the bill from my perspective but will be touted by his campaign as protecting sectors of the Iowa economy. Anyway, many people’s utility bills are lower this winter because the recession has brought down natural gas prices.

It’s fine with me if the NRCC wants to drain its coffers by funding robocalls like this around the country. I doubt they will scare Boswell into retirement or succeed in branding him as a Washington liberal.

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Des Moines metro rated fourth-best "bang for the buck" area

Forbes.com compiled a list of the best “bang for the buck” cities in the U.S.:

To find the cities that offer the most bang for the buck, we looked at the country’s 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas–geographic entities defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, for use in collecting statistics– across these measures: foreclosures as a percentage of home prices; vacancies; unemployment rates; a three-year job-growth forecast; a three-year home-price forecast; housing affordability; median real estate taxes; and median travel time to work.

The Des Moines/West Des Moines metro area ranked fourth out of 100:

With low unemployment, at 6%, few vacancies and a promising home price forecast, the real estate market shows fresh signs of robustness. And its home prices make it possible for budget-conscious home buyers to get in the door–it scores above average for home price affordability.

The Omaha/Council Bluffs area ranked first on the Forbes.com list, and also ranked first on the list of cities “best surviving the recession. “No other Iowa metros were large enough to be considered for this analysis.

Click here and scroll down for more details on the methodology used to assess unemployment and healthy housing markets. Click here for the list ranking all 100 most populous metro areas. If you’re feeling down now that snow has arrived in Iowa, consider how much more affordable life is here compared to most of the sun belt cities.

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"Best Performing Cities" index sees improvement for most Iowa metros

The Des Moines Register brought to my attention a new report ranking 200 large metropolitan areas and 124 smaller metropolitan areas:

The 2009 Milken Institute/Greenstreet Real Estate Partners Best-Performing Cities Index ranks U.S. metropolitan areas by how well they are creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth.  The components include job, wage and salary and technology growth.

The list of smaller cities includes eight Iowa metros, and you can view the details here. My short take is after the jump.

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