Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Holiday Stimulus Package

Copyright, The New York Times Company

With Christmas each year comes lessons about the role of demand in the economy.

Retail sales are typically 15 to 20 percent higher in December than they are in September, October and November, and 30 percent higher than they are in the following January (as averages show for 1939 to 2009).

In dollar terms, that means that retail sales rise and fall by roughly $90 billion in a single month.

A $90 billion change in spending in a single month is larger than even the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the fiscal-stimulus legislation that was increasing federal government spending by about $50 billion a quarter (less than $20 billion a month).

Likely a consequence of December retail spending, December employment is high each year. Retail employment in December is typically 3.9 percent higher than in October and 5.2 percent higher than in the following January. Some extra retail employment comes at the expense of non-retail employment, but total employment may be as much as 500,000 greater in December than in other months, because of the retail surge.

Although the holiday spending surge is clearly associated with a high level of employment, it also shows how spending is a rather indirect way of creating jobs. That holiday spending of roughly $90 billion more in December is associated with about 500,000 additional jobs for a month – that amounts to $180,000 per job per month!

Both Christmas and the fiscal-stimulus act increase demand, but the fiscal-stimulus act depresses supply, because many of its major programs – the unemployment-insurance extension, the food-stamp program expansion, the home buyer tax credit and more – are directed at people with low incomes.

In other words, the less you work and earn, the larger your entitlement to various components of the act.

By reducing supply as it increases demand, the fiscal-stimulus act could well reduce total employment, rather than increasing it as Christmas does.

In any case, our experience with Christmas shows how large amounts of spending do not necessarily create large numbers of jobs.

1 comment:

Guachafitour said...

interesting point! do you think, then, that a stimulus without the low income targeted programs would be more efficient?