Illinois tax breaks often fail to add jobs or keep companies

The Chicago Tribune finds that tax breaks from the state of Illinois often do not work as intended:

In the first comprehensive analysis of 783 EDGE agreements, the Chicago Tribune found that two of every three businesses that completed the incentive program failed to maintain the number of employees they agreed to retain or hire.

State officials can’t say how many jobs have been created through the job program; nor can they say how many jobs EDGE companies have eliminated. The Tribune, however, found that 79 current or former EDGE recipients have reported eliminating 23,369 jobs through layoffs and closures since entering the program.

Officials have long pitched tax breaks as a competitive tool that bolsters the state’s fragile economy, and the program has seen explosive growth as Illinois battles with other states to attract and retain businesses. Leaders of the EDGE program say it has been a lifeline for dozens of companies, helping to create new jobs and improve workplaces.

But the Tribune’s analysis suggests that tax credits often do little to help companies expand or create sustainable jobs. A pattern of deals emerges in which businesses lobbied for maximum rewards and minimum requirements — and the state said yes.

Tax breaks may help politicians claim they are bringing in new jobs and money but they don’t often benefit taxpayers as much as the political and business leaders suggest. See earlier posts here and here. And perhaps the biggest issue is that once come communities or state start offering tax breaks, everyone feels like they have to play the game as well just to get a hearing from major corporations. It can then become a race to the bottom: as governments offer more and more breaks, companies benefit more and more yet the local area gets less and less.

If the Tribune‘s analysis is correct, perhaps a better route for the state would be to improve business conditions overall rather than resorting to tax breaks to simply survive.

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Why men are featured more than women in media coverage

Five sociologists argue the higher number of media mentions of men is tied to how leaders are covered and who gets to be a leader:

A related test of this could then look at social sectors where women are in more positions of leadership and see whether men and women have more parity in media mentions.

There are also issues here with causation going both ways. Leaders are at the top of social hierarchies partly because the media pays them so much attention. People could be in particular important positions – like leading companies or in top posts of governments – but not all of these positions get equal time. In other words, the media plays in important role in influencing who is viewed as an important leader in the first place.

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How a growing suburb plans to remain “a small town at heart”

Many growing suburbs claim to still be small towns in spirit. Here is how the mayor of Warrenville makes this argument while explaining a new development:

At the September 21, City Council meeting, nearly unanimous preliminary approval was given to a new development that will occupy a 4.3-acre site adjacent to the Warrenville Library called Settlers Pointe. this moderate dense development will consist of 34 single-family homes, 14 two-story and 20 three-story units, selling in the $350,000 to $450,000 price range. I believe this project will be a wonderful addition to Warrenville on many levels, but there was a time when I would have viewed this development through a different lens, and because of its density, would have been adamantly opposed to it as “not in line with the character of Warrenville”…

In the case of Settlers Pointe, it will be good for Warrenville in many ways. It is an attractive development being done by an accomplished and quality developer (google David Weekley Homes) who knows the market. You have told us that a very high priority is economic development. Essential to that goal is “rooftops”. Businesses will not invest in areas without enough people to support them. these new homes will help spur the redevelopment of our downtown, something else you have given us as a priority…

Rural may no longer be geographically possible for our town, but we have resolved to remain a small town at heart. this is the “character” that you have consistently told us that is most important to you to enhance and preserve. It is independent of housing style or lot size. The people who choose to come to Settlers Pointe in Warrenville will do so because they see who we are and want to be one of us: small town folks enjoying the best of all possible worlds.

This explanation seems to me to be a bit odd given the relatively small size of the development – it is a small site though centrally located – yet the way it is made is similar to pitches I’ve seen in other suburbs in my research. Here are some key elements:

  1. Americans generally like the ideas of small towns. As this earlier post put it, American politicians push small town values in a suburban country. The vast majority of Americans live in urban areas – over 80% – yet they hold to older visions of community life. Appealing to small town ideals is a safe move.
  2. Broader social forces have pushed a community past its old identity and the community can’t go back. Once there is a certain level of growth or enough time has passed, “progress” is happening with or without us. (Of course, there are plenty of communities where they try to freeze things in time. See this example. But, those who support new development often say this can’t be done – and they’re probably right in thinking about the long-term.)
  3. New growth can be good, even as it contributes to change and a newer identity. Economic reasons are typically cited: business growth is good, an expanded tax base is good, new attention from potential new residents is good.
  4. The development under approval is not too different from what already exists. If there is a group fighting the project, they will argue otherwise.
  5. Even with change and growth, it is possible to hold on to the “character” or “spirit” of a small town. Local officials typically refer to the actions of residents and community groups, implying that people still know and care for each other. For example, Naperville leaders suggest their suburb with over 140,000 people still has this spirit.

Of course, these arguments are often challenged by residents who don’t see it the same way. NIMBY responses typically don’t want a community to fundamentally change; the way it is now is why those residents moved into town. But, some change is inevitable so perhaps these arguments are really about the degree of perceived change. Will this “fundamentally” alter the community? Is this a slippery slope? This can be the case with development decisions but significant change tends to come through a chain of decisions and these patterns are easier to diagnose in hindsight. (See Naperville as an example.) Residents can also feel relatively powerless compared to local politicians or businesses who have power to make decisions while local leaders tend to claim they are looking out for the good of the whole community.

Change is not easy in suburbs. And it is often a process that may look different in its physical manifestations even as the elements of the arguments made both for and against development follow some common patterns.

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Two solutions for Chicago railroad gridlock

The solution to Chicago’s railroad gridlock is not money, according to a new report:

One proposal said that rail dispatchers working for each of the six major freight railroads, as well as separate rail traffic dispatchers at Amtrak and Metra should be located in a unified control center to coordinate trains and improve on-time performance. It’s not the first time the idea has been put forth. Most of the track in the U.S. is owned by freight railroads and they generally oppose sharing control…

The panel also said that several rail-modernization projects that have been awaiting funding for years should be prioritized.

One is the 75th Street improvement project near the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago to eliminate rail conflicts at three rail junctions and one rail-roadway crossing. It involves building two flyover structures, almost 30 miles of new track and new bridges at four locations. The project would eliminate the most congested rail chokepoint in the Chicago terminal district, at Belt Junction, where more than 80 Metra and freight trains cross each other’s paths daily, officials said…

The report also called for expediting the Grand Crossing project in Chicago, as well as improving the approximately 40-mile segment of Norfolk Southern’s rail corridor, used by both freight and Amtrak trains, between Chicago and Porter, Ind.

Centralization and clearing up important bottlenecks. Sounds pretty easy, right? Alas, solving these issues takes a lot of time. I’ve been tracking some of these Chicago area railroad gridlock issues for several years (see an earlier example or two) and change is slow. And this isn’t just because of money issues. There are 160 years of history built into the Chicago railroad lines. There are numerous properties around these sites. There are multiple big corporations as well as government levels and bodies involved. Even if these are changes that everyone agrees are good, the wheels of major infrastructure just often do not turn quickly.

I wonder what it might take to get the residents of the Chicago region to see this as a major issue that needs to be addressed. It does affect daily life for many from using commuter train lines, experiencing blocked at-grade crossings, and the noise and pollution generated by nearby trains. Yet, I imagine many area residents don’t know much about the issue and wouldn’t quite be sure how to affect change (assuming a good number wouldn’t want to pay higher taxes to help provide the funding).


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Majority of Americans wrong about the decline in global poverty

Nicholas Kristof discusses the role of the media in contributing to incorrect knowledge about global poverty:

One survey found that two-thirds of Americans believed that the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has almost doubled over the last 20 years. Another 29 percent believed that the proportion had remained roughly the same.

That’s 95 percent of Americans — who are utterly wrong. In fact, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty hasn’t doubled or remained the same. It has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).

When 95 percent of Americans are completely unaware of a transformation of this magnitude, that reflects a flaw in how we journalists cover the world — and I count myself among the guilty…

The world’s best-kept secret is that we live at a historic inflection point when extreme poverty is retreating. United Nations members have just adopted 17 new Global Goals, of which the centerpiece is the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030. Their goals are historic. There will still be poor people, of course, but very few who are too poor to eat or to send children to school. Young journalists or aid workers starting out today will in their careers see very little of the leprosy, illiteracy, elephantiasis and river blindness that I have seen routinely.

Kristof and a growing number of others have noted that certain aspects of life are getting better for many people – like decreasing violence around the world or lower crime rates in the United States – yet the general public is not aware of this. The media is certainly complicit but they are not the only social forces at work here.

Turning to my own discipline of sociology, several sociologists, including Ulrich Beck, Barry Glassner, and Harvey Molotch, have written books on the topic of fear. Yet, it doesn’t seem to get much attention from the discipline as a whole. Of course, sociologists are regularly pointing out social problems (critics may say even inventing social problems) and often trying to offer arguments for why people and those in power should do something.

If there is positive psychology, how about positive sociology? Here is a rumbling or two

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When conservatives move to squash local control

Republicans are typically known as the party in favor of more powerful local governments. Yet, this may not be the case in places where local governments limits their quest to power:

The strange spectacle of Republicans trying to roll back local control makes a bit more sense in context. For years, Democrats mostly controlled both the statehouse and the governorship. But Republicans captured the legislature in 2010, and the governor’s mansion two years later. Ever since, they’ve been busily passing a series of very conservative measures, some of which I explained here. The rightward shift inspired a prolonged series of protests in Raleigh and other major cities called “Moral Mondays.”

The large demonstrations, combined with their general impotence to stop the legislature—internecine GOP struggles, and not public opposition, have generally killed the most controversial measures—illuminate what’s going on. Rural-urban divides are a fixture of American politics, and they’re a particularly powerful force in North Carolina right now. Its urban centers tend to be far more liberal, while the rest of the state is far more conservative. The liberals can gather large, impassioned crowds to rally against conservative moves, but they don’t have the numbers (so far) to elect a majority in the state legislature—especially after post-2010 redistricting that made the map more favorable for Republicans. (Barack Obama narrowly won the state in 2008 but lost it in 2012.)

Despairing of Raleigh, progressives have often pursued their priorities at the local level. That’s exactly what the state bill was intended to stop. When Congress does this to state and municipal governments, it’s known as preemption—it’s a bedrock constitutional principle that federal laws trump state laws. With a Democrat in the White House, though, there are limits to what the Republican Congress can pass. But the GOP has been gaining seats at the state level for years, and now controls most state legislatures. Cities often tilt left, even in very red states, but conservative state governments around the country have begun passing laws that preempt municipal legislation. Last year, for example, Matt Valentine chronicled how state governments are overturning much stricter gun laws passed by cities with preemption laws…

In other words, it’s a classic case for big-government uniformity. Faced with these bills, Democrats in turn tend to make a strikingly conservative argument: Local people know best, and they ought to have the right to make their own rules about how they live, as long as it isn’t negatively affecting their neighbors.

Local control is very important to many Americans, particularly if you have some means to get to a community where you can have a voice or be assured that local government generally agrees with what you want.

Let’s be honest: both parties today are willing to forgo some (most?) principles if it means that they can use their particular tool of power to get what they want. Opposed to executive power when your party is out of the presidency? Just argue your interests are too important when your party is in office. Control Congress while another branch isn’t doing what you want? Try to bypass their power and/or limit their abilities. This leads to a rhetorical question: how well can these levels of government or different branches work together to get things done if the primary goal is just to exert power?


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The influential 1965 Immigration Act

The current position of the United States regarding immigrants was heavily influenced by the 1965 Immigration Act:

A new Pew Research Center report finds that the 1965 Immigration Act was largely responsible for bringing 59 million immigrants into the American population between then and 2015. These new arrivals, their kids, and their grandkids make up over half of the total U.S. population growth during this period. Looking ahead to 2065, immigrants that came to America as a result of this law, plus their families, will account for almost 90 percent of the nation’s population increase from now to then…

The Immigration Act of 1924 clamped down on immigration from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Western and Southern Europe. Here’s Stephen Klineberg, a sociologist at Rice University, commenting on the explicit racism of the policy, via NPR:

“It declared that Northern Europeans are a superior subspecies of the white race. The Nordics were superior to the Alpines, who in turn were superior to the Mediterraneans, and all of them were superior to the Jews and the Asians.”

The 1965 law re-wrote that policy, and since then America’s white population share has declined from 84 percent at the time to 62 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, the Hispanic population share grew from 4 to 18 percent, and Asians rose from less than 1 percent to 6 percent (below, left). If President Johnson hadn’t signed the 1965 law, America would be 75 percent white today…

Quite a long-lasting impact for a piece of legislation that still doesn’t seem to get much attention today. And, as the article notes, it may not have been easy to know the impact of the Act at the time even as its effect from the vantage point of today looks significant. If supporters or opponents of immigration want to support or change policy, this is a place to start (though there have been changes made since then).

Also noted: much of the population increase in the United States in recent decades is due to immigration. Otherwise, the fate of the country looks more like many other industrialized nations with low birth rates and an aging population.

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Uptick in $100+ million residential properties with several more in LA

The luxury residential market continues to see higher and higher prices:

“There’s a shortage of trophy properties that are available for sale in this pocket of Los Angeles,” Barry Watts, president of Domvs London, said in a telephone interview. “You’ve got high-net-worth people who want to own multiple homes across the world, and Los Angeles offers something different. If you want to drive your convertible car 12 months a year, it’s a city where you can do that.

Homes priced at more than $100 million are becoming increasingly common as billionaires, seeking places to put cash, shatter sales records from Los Angeles to London. Around the world, five properties sold for $100 million or more last year, and at least 23 others have nine-figure asking prices, according to Christie’s International Real Estate.

In the Los Angeles area, the Bel Air homes add to multiple trophy mansions being built, including several on a speculative basis, or without a buyer in place. In December, video-game designer Markus Persson bought an eight-bedroom, 15-bath spec mansion in Beverly Hills for $70 million. The developer of a four-house compound being built in Bel Air hopes to sell it for $500 million…

The Bel Air project that spec developer and film producer Nile Niami wants to sell for $500 million will have a 74,000-square-foot main residence, three smaller houses, a 30-car garage and a “Monaco-style casino.” The most expensive home ever sold worldwide with a confirmed price was a London penthouse purchased in 2011 for $221 million, according to Christie’s.

After a certain point, it doesn’t seem to really matter what is in the unit or how it is built. Instead, two other things matter. Where exactly it is located – typically among other expensive and limited properties. A place where the wealthy can sort of gather together (in their separate compounds) near a cultural and economic center. Second, how much of a status symbol it is because of its high price. How does it compare to other luxury properties? Such an expensive home is a trophy to have until others push past the price point.

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The FBI doesn’t collect every piece of data about crime

The FBI released the 2014 Uniform Crime Report Monday but it doesn’t have every piece of information we might wish to have:

As I noted in May, much statistical information about the U.S. criminal-justice system simply isn’t collected. The number of people kept in solitary confinement in the U.S., for example, is unknown. (A recent estimate suggested that it might be as many as 80,000 and 100,000 people.) Basic data on prison conditions is rarely gathered; even federal statistics about prison rape are generally unreliable. Statistics from prosecutors’ offices on plea bargains, sentencing rates, or racial disparities, for example, are virtually nonexistent.

Without reliable data on crime and justice, anecdotal evidence dominates the conversation. There may be no better example than the so-called “Ferguson effect,” first proposed by the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald in May. She suggested a rise in urban violence in recent months could be attributed to the Black Lives Matter movement and police-reform advocates…

Gathering even this basic data on homicides—the least malleable crime statistic—in major U.S. cities was an uphill task. Bialik called police departments individually and combed local media reports to find the raw numbers because no reliable, centralized data was available. The UCR is released on a one-year delay, so official numbers on crime in 2015 won’t be available until most of 2016 is over.

These delays, gaps, and weaknesses seem exclusive to federal criminal-justice statistics. The U.S. Department of Labor produces monthly unemployment reports with relative ease. NASA has battalions of satellites devoted to tracking climate change and global temperature variations. The U.S. Department of Transportation even monitors how often airlines are on time. But if you want to know how many people were murdered in American cities last month, good luck.

There could be several issues at play including:

  1. A lack of measurement ability. Perhaps we have some major disagreements about how to count certain things.
  2. Local law enforcement jurisdictions want some flexibility in working with the data.
  3. A lack of political will to get all this information.

My guess is that the most important issue is #3. If we wanted this data we could get this data. Yet, it may require concerted efforts by individuals or groups to make the issues enough of a social problem to ask that we collect good data. This means that the government and/or public needs a compelling enough reason to get uniformity in measurement and consistency in reporting.

How about this reason: having consistent and timely reporting on such data would help cut down on anecdotes and instead correctly keep the American public up to date. They could then make more informed political and civic choices. Right now, many Americans don’t quite know what is happening with crime rates as their primary sources are anecdotes or mass media reports (which can be quite sensationalistic).

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The potential to redline customers through Facebook

If Facebook is used to judge creditworthiness, perhaps it could lead to redlining:

If there was any confusion over why Facebook has so vociferously defended its policy of requiring users to display their real, legal names, the company may have finally laid it to rest with a quiet patent application. Earlier this month, the social giant filed to protect a tool ostensibly designed to track how users are networked together—a tool that could be used by lenders to accept or reject a loan application based on the credit ratings of one’s social network…

Research consistently shows we’re more likely to seek out friends who are like ourselves, and we’re even more likely to be genetically similar to them than to strangers. If our friends are likely to default on a loan, it may well be true that we are too. Depending on how that calculation is figured, and on how data-collecting technology companies are regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, it may or may not be illegal. A policy that judges an individual’s qualifications based on the qualifications of her social network would reinforce class distinctions and privilege, preventing opportunity and mobility and further marginalizing the poor and debt-ridden. It’s the financial services tool equivalent of crabs in a bucket...

But a lot of that data is bad. Facebook isn’t real life. Our social networks are not our friends. The way we “like” online is not the way we like in real life. Our networks are clogged with exes, old co-workers, relatives permanently set to mute, strangers and catfish we’ve never met at all. We interact the most not with our best friends, but with our friends who use Facebook the most. This could lead not just to discriminatory lending decisions, but completely unpredictable ones—how will users have due process to determine why their loan applications were rejected, when a mosaic of proprietary information formed the ultimate decision? How will users know what any of that proprietary information says about them? How will anyone know if it’s accurate? And how could this change the way we interact on the Web entirely, when fraternizing with less fiscally responsible friends or family members could cost you your mortgage?

On one hand, there is no indication yet that Facebook is doing this. Is there any case of this happening with online data? On the other hand, the whole point of these social network sites is that they have information that can be used to make money. Plus, they could offer to speed up the approval process for loans if people just given them access to their online social networks. Why do you need mortgage officers and others to approve these things if a simple scan of Facebook would provide the necessary information?

Additionally, given the safety of our data these days, redlining might be the least of our worries…

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