Weekend open thread: Good news and bad news on jobs

Anyone else in the Bleeding Heartland community not planning to watch the Superbowl tonight?

Jobs are on my mind this weekend. On Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics released some encouraging employment numbers. On the same day, news broke about proposed Air Force cuts that could eliminate around 500 jobs in the Des Moines area.  

I thought that the private sector job growth found during December 2011 was merely temporary holiday season hiring, but the nonfarm payroll employment increased by another 243,000 in January 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate dropped by 0.2 percent to 8.3 percent nationwide. (UPDATE: The U6 rate, which includes underemployed people, is still above 16 percent.) This chart shows that 46 states saw unemployment decline from December 2010 to December 2011. Iowa’s unemployment rate of 5.6 percent is the sixth-lowest in the country, after North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Unemployment declined by 0.5 percent in Iowa between December 2010 and December 2010. Four states and the District of Columbia still have unemployment rates above 10 percent, but in December 2010, ten states registered double-digit unemployment. President Barack Obama may be particularly encouraged to know that the largest year-on-year declines in the unemployment rate happened in Nevada, Florida, New Mexico, and Michigan. He’ll need to win at least one of those states to be re-elected.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised upward its estimates of job growth in November and December 2011.

Now for the bad news: Chad Stone posted some discouraging charts at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities blog.

Payroll employment is still 5.6 million jobs short of where it was at the start of the Great Recession in December 2007, there are four jobless workers for every job opening, and long-term unemployment remains at an historic high level.

Click here for a more detailed analysis of the January jobs report.

Tip for conservative readers who believe “big government” is the problem: this chart shows that expressed in terms of public employees per 1,000 population, the public education workforce is now at its lowest point since August 1999. Meanwhile, the “non-education state and local public workforce” is smaller than it has been since March 1986. The number of state and local public employees not working in education per 1,000 population started dropping sharply in 2009 and hasn’t recovered. Nicholas Johnson comments,

Unfortunately, the downward trend in overall state and local employment shows no signs of slowing, due to continuing and upcoming budget cuts at the local, state, and federal levels.  (About one-sixth of the federal budget goes to grants for state and local governments.)

A shrinking public-sector workforce as a share of the overall population can have a real impact on residents’ quality of life, since the services that states and localities provide – education, public safety, health care, and the like – tend to be pretty labor-intensive.  It also risks undermining future economic growth, since businesses need educated, healthy workforces and safe streets to prosper.

This weekend on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program, Governor Terry Branstad hailed the additional $128 million Iowa’s Department of Transportation has to spend on road work this year. That’s one small example of how federal support for state budgets creates jobs.  

Speaking of good government jobs, the U.S. Air Force is recommending that the Iowa Air National Guard F-16 squadron be decommissioned in the coming fiscal year.

The squadron is composed of 21 jets, 1,000 personnel and a budget of $50 million, which includes a $35 million payroll.


An Air Force memo obtained on Friday shows the squadron’s jets would be removed in fiscal 2013. The recommended cuts would be part of a plan to trim $8.7 billion from the Air Force budget, and would affect more than 60 installations, the memo said.

[Colonel Greg] Hapgood said the budget proposal focuses more on equipment than people. He said the Air Force recommends retiring 21 F-16 fighter jets from an Iowa Air National Guard base in Des Moines and cutting the number of refueling tankers at a base in Sioux City.

Hapgood said the Air Force has proposed replacing the F-16s with remotely piloted aircraft at the 132nd Fighter Wing in Des Moines. The Air Force would cut the number of KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft from nine to eight at the 185th Refueling Wing in Sioux City.

The news provoked bipartisan outrage in Iowa’s Congressional delegation on February 3. Statement from Senator Tom Harkin:

“Iowans should know that the Air Force’s proposal is by no means a final decision about this unit.  Many questions still remain on how the Air Force came to focus on the 132nd’s F-16 flying mission and the cost-effectiveness of decommissioning this unit.  This decision is more than just a military one; it has implications for the families who have sacrificed so much and for the Des Moines community and the nation as a whole.    

“I have requested a meeting with the Secretary of the Air Force and intend to share my concerns about decommissioning this unit.  The 132nd is among the best in the country and we will do everything in our power to keep them flying.”

Statement from Representative Leonard Boswell (IA-03):

“I’m going to fight this tooth and nail. The 132nd Fighter Wing is, without question, the finest and most cost-effective F-16 Fighter Wing in the Air National Guard. Retiring its F-16 wing would be a terrible decision considering how beneficial this unit has been for the country. The 132nd Air Wing is one of the most award-winning fighter wings in the county as it greatly exceeds all expectations in maintenance, mission readiness, effectiveness, and overall efficiency. When compared to the standing Air Force, the Air Guard provides some of the most cost-effective protection for our country.

“Even compared to other Air National Guard F-16 Wings, it has the lowest military personnel cost, is second lowest in flying cost and it fulfills its deployments with over 90-percent volunteers who average over four combat tours. Keeping them intact is just plain common sense.”

“This fighter wing represents the best of the best. To lose them would be doing a disservice to Iowans and the entire country. I strongly urge the Air Force to take a closer look at what this F-16 fighter wing represents and can accomplish in its service to the United States.”

Statement from Representative Tom Latham (IA-04, 2012 candidate in new IA-03):

“I have deep concern with the initial recommendations for the future mission of the Des Moines based Air National Guard Wing announced today.  I cannot for the life of me understand why such a consistently high performing unit is being singled out for elimination of this function above all the other F-16 fighter wing units in the nation.  This decision does not appear to be a result of a true cost benefit analysis to find greater efficiency or savings.  I believe that the White House must request a reassessment of this recommendation with full transparency into why and how the decisions are made.”

Statement from Representative Steve King (IA-05):

“Today we learned that big changes may be in store for the mission of the Air Guard in Des Moines. I am very concerned about the impact that this proposal could have on the Iowa Air Guard, and I am frustrated that the Air Force has left us searching for answers as to why a unit that has one of the highest levels of mission readiness, one of the lowest military personnel costs, and some of the most experienced personnel in the Air Guard has been singled out to lose its fighters. The Air Force and the White House need to provide us with answers about the rationale used to justify this move. It appears that a true cost-benefit analysis was not used here, but if the goal is to save the taxpayers money, we should be building up the Guard, not stripping it down. Every dollar invested in the Air National Guard is used as efficiently as possible, and the structure of the Guard allows every federal dollar to be leveraged to its maximum effect,” said King.

I haven’t seen any comment from Senator Chuck Grassley, but if one appears, I will add it to this post.

LATE UPDATE: Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01) is urging Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to reconsider the Air Force recommendation, according to this February 8 press release:

Braley Urges Defense Secretary to Reverse Recommendation to Cut F-16 Jets from Iowa Air National Guard Facility

Washington, DC – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today urged Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to immediately reconsider an Air Force recommendation that would lead to the loss of all F-16 fighter aircraft operated by the Iowa Air National Guard in Des Moines.

21 jets at the 132nd Fighter Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard would be removed within two years under the plan, part of a larger effort to cut $8.7 billion from the Air Force budget.

“The Air Force gets an incredible value from the experienced pilots and maintenance personnel of the 132nd Fighter Wing,” Braley said.  “That’s why I’m disappointed that the Air Force has chosen to target one of the most cost-efficient units in their force to find savings.

“It doesn’t make sense that the Iowa Air National Guard is on the chopping block while less efficient units and less experienced pilots are preserved as part of this plan.  How can you justify this decision when it’s not in the best interest of our national security and not in the best interest of American taxpayers?”

Braley met earlier today with Iowa National Guard Adjutant General Timothy Orr and senior leaders of the Iowa Air National Guard to discuss the Air Force proposal.  Tomorrow, Braley will join the rest of the Iowa Congressional delegation for a meeting with Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley to discuss the removal of the jets.

Braley made the request in a letter to Secretary Panetta.  Text of the letter follows; a copy of the signed letter is attached.

February 8, 2012

Secretary Leon Panetta

Department of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, D.C. 20301

Dear Secretary Panetta,

I write with serious concern regarding the Air Force’s recently clarified decisions on force restructuring and its impact on the Air National Guard.  The combat aircraft retirements and re-missioning discussed in the Air Force proposal unduly affect the Air National Guard over the Active Component, and do not reflect an effort to maintaining the Guard and Reserve or show a balanced approach to achieving budget efficiencies.

Mr. Secretary, you’ve stated yourself that the Guard and Reserve forces have proved their combat readiness and combat effectiveness over the past 10 years.  As decisions are made to reorient our force and drawdown our current combat commitments, we must work to maintain that readiness and effectiveness while also capitalizing on the wealth of knowledge and experience within our Guard and Reserve units to maintain the total force.  The Air Force proposal highlights the value of our Guard forces in associations with the active component while also removing a significant number of combat aircraft from them

Furthermore, I have serious concerns over the lack of budgetary consideration in the decision. While I applaud the Air Force’s efforts to find budget efficiencies through the early retirement and delayed procurement of some aircraft, I have great concern that the bulk of retirements appear to come at the expense of Guard and Reserve units.  The Guard and Reserve are highly efficient forces, maintaining experienced pilots and performing many of the same missions of active component forces when activated at a much lower costs to the Active Component over the long-term. The shifts of combat aircraft to Active Component and elimination of missions in the Guard Component achieves significantly less savings than if the situation were reversed. Furthermore, the decisions to replace combat air force missions in the guard with unmanned aircraft Remote Split Operations missions also make little budgetary sense as there is a continued need for unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan and elsewhere. These missions will require a significant investment of time beyond the standard drill periods of many of our Guard that will have a higher cost and a greater impact on our Guardsmen’s civilian careers.

I recognize that the funding constraints we currently face require difficult decisions to be made in prioritizing the roles and resources of all aspects of the Air Force. I am disappointed that faced with these challenges, the Air Force chose to target one of the most efficient aspects of their force in finding reductions.  This proposal is deeply flawed and deserves a full explanation of the budgetary analysis that went into making it.  I urge you to reconsider this decision to better protect the National Guard and support its long-term viability as part of the force.

Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.


Bruce Braley

Member of Congress

Cc: Mr. Michael Donley, Secretary of the Air Force

This is an open thread; all topics welcome, even the Superbowl.

P.S. For your “better late than never” file: after hedging for about a week, Branstad confirmed that he is not asking for his title to be removed from the seventh annual Iowa Governors Conference on LGBTQ Youth. On the contrary, the governor sent this letter to the executive director of Iowa Safe Schools:

Dear Mr. Monson,

As you know, I am regrettably not able to attend your upcoming conference because of a scheduling conflict. However, I support the conference and its goal of eliminating bullying and making Iowa schools safe for all students. I do not object to you including the word “Governor’s” in the conference title in keeping with the historical name and the emphasis on its importance to Iowa schools.

As you know, I have already officially proclaimed September 1 “Safe Schools Day.” I hope that in my absence, you will read that proclamation to conference attendees.

You have my very best wishes for a successful conference this year and in future years.


Terry E. Branstad


The FAMiLY Leader group had claimed in a message to supporters that Branstad’s office “asked the conference organizers to remove the word ‘Governor’s’ from the event” and would not have state government agencies participate.

Nice two-fer, governor: making a statement against bullying while making Danny Carroll and Bob Vander Plaats look like idiots.

UPDATE: Branstad said at a January 30 press conference, “I believe in treating everybody with respect and dignity and certainly we want to make sure that nobody is bullied.” On February 6, Bob Vander Plaats slammed Branstad in a press release:

The conference encourages dangerous and unhealthy behavior, the group’s president, Bob Vander Plaats said in a news release today. Vander Plaats said he opposes bullying of all students, including gay students, but it troubled by the agenda this conference seems to push. He noted that conference seems to promote pre-marital sex, and encourages boys who identify as female to share restrooms with teenage girls.

“Governor Branstad needs to be held accountable for his support of this conference and the promotion of a very radical and dangerous left-wing agenda,” Vander Plaats said. […]

The Family Leader’s written statement says the group “does not support LGBTQ behavior and believes that a conference of this nature approves, promotes, and accelerates this behavior among students.” […]

“The Family Leader publicly complimented the governor’s action via an email alert,” Vander Plaats said in the news release today.

It’s particularly disturbing that the conference has special bathroom instructions, Vander Plaats said. The FAQ section of the Iowa Safe Schools website on the conference says: “Will there be transgender friendly restrooms available? Bathrooms are available for the gender any individual identifies with.”

“Parents can only conclude that their teenage daughter may well be sharing a restroom with a male who ‘identifies’ as a female,” the Family Leader’s press release says. “Also troubling is the fact that exhibitors are allowed to distribute condoms and/or safe sex kits.”

UPDATE: The Nevada Republican caucuses were held on February 4, but final results didn’t come out until about 5 am eastern on February 6. Jamie Dupree observed, “That means it took 33+ hours to count just over 33,000 votes.” Turnout was below 2008 levels. Mitt Romney received about 50 percent of the votes, Newt Gingrich 21.1 percent, Ron Paul 18.7 percent and Rick Santorum 9.9 percent.

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  • It still hurts too much

    for this Packer fan so I’m still undecided on watching…

  • The New Yawk Football Giants !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Brady’s and Gisele’s new digs in Brentwood are over the top. He should give the $ to charity and live in a four level split in Clive.  

  • Football and the ANG

    No football interest in this household.

    Having served six years in the ANG some fourteen years after I had served four years in the Regular Air Force, I learned at least that really there are no ANG outfits anywhere in the country that fail to meet Mr King’s praise for the DesMoines outfit. They all generally operate at the same level as the standards that King pointed out in his PR blurb. That being said, when cuts must be made if every outfit is efficient and highly trained, quite realistically politics will get factored in.

    The question that needs be examined is how well have Iowa’s seven guys gotten along with the rest of the Congress? Do they play well with others?

    • it sounds like

      they will be cutting all over the country, and every member of Congress will be fighting to save the outfits in their area. I wonder if they will end up putting together a plan like the base-closing program of the 1990s, where Congress had to vote up or down on the whole plan.