News of the Day

New Weekly Jobless Claims Plunge to 199K, Lowest Level Since 1969

New weekly claims for jobless aid plunged to the lowest level in more than 50 years last week, according to data released Wednesday by the Labor Department.

In the week ending Nov. 20, there were 199,000 initial applications for unemployment insurance, according to the seasonally adjusted figures, a decline of 71,000 from the previous week. Claims fell to the lowest level since November 1969 and are now well below the pre-pandemic trough of 225,000 applications received the week of March 14, 2020.

“Getting new claims below the 200,000 level for the first time since the pandemic began is truly significant, portraying further improvement,” said Mark Hamrick, chief economic analyst at

“The strains associated with higher prices, shortages of supplies and available job candidates are weighed against low levels of layoffs, wage gains and a falling unemployment rate,” he continued. “Growth will likely be above par for the foreseeable future, but within the context of historically high inflation which should relax its grip on the economy to some degree in the year ahead.”

Biden Administration to Release 50 Million Barrels of Oil from Strategic Reserve

The Department of Energy will release 50 million barrels of oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the White House announced Tuesday, as the Biden administration seeks ways to control rising costs at the pump.

Tuesday’s announcement was made in concert with China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom, which will also tap into their own strategic reserves.

The consumer price index, which tracks inflation for a range of staple goods and services, rose 0.9 percent last month and 6.2 percent in the 12-month period ending in October. The rise in prices was driven largely by a 4.8 percent increase in energy costs for the month, including a 1.6 percent increase in gasoline prices.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the ranking member of the Senate Energy Committee, said on Tuesday that Biden’s own policies were to blame for needing to tap into the strategic reserve.

“We are experiencing higher prices because the administration and Democrats in Congress are waging a war on American energy,” Barrasso said in a statement, arguing Tuesday’s announcement would not fix the problem alone.

“Begging OPEC and Russia to increase production and now using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve are desperate attempts to address a Biden-caused disaster,” Barrasso added. “They’re not substitutes for American energy production.”

Housing Permits Rise in Wisconsin

The number of new housing units permitted in Wisconsin from January through September 2021 increased 26% over the same months in the prior year, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau show. That compares to a 22.9% increase seen nationally during this period. This trend does not simply reflect a rebound from the pandemic: new housing unit permits also are up through September 2021 compared to the same months in the previous four-year average, by 31.9% in Wisconsin and 29.1% nationally.

The trend differs, however, according to housing type. In Wisconsin, single-family housing permits were up 12.2% through September compared to the average of the same period in the prior four years, while multi-family permits were up 67.8% (see Figure 1). This difference separates Wisconsin from neighboring states and from a national trend in which recent permits for single-family and multi-family housing units have increased at relatively comparable rates.

Also worth noting is that the vast majority (67.1%) of the total increase in Wisconsin was for multi-family housing units in complexes of five or more. Notably, this comes in spite of some speculation early in the COVID-19 pandemic that it might dampen demand for higher-density housing.

Data referenced in this report are for residential construction permits issued by about 21,000 local governments collected as part of the Census Building Permits Survey. About 9,000 jurisdictions respond to the monthly survey, with the remainder reporting only on an annual basis. The year-to-date data we examine here is adjusted by the Census Bureau to try to account for missing annual reporters.


U.S. House Passes $2 Trillion Spending Bill, but Braces for Changes in the Senate

The House voted on near-party lines Friday morning to approve a roughly $2 trillion social and climate spending package, ending months of squabbles among Democrats over the details of the far-reaching measure. The vote was 220-213, with one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, joining all Republicans in opposition.

The House vote is just the latest step in a lengthy process that will almost certainly involve further changes to the bill.

Centrist Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have each expressed concerns about the House version of the legislation. Manchin is particularly opposed to a provision that would provide four weeks of paid family and medical leave for most workers. Sinema’s objections are less clear but Democrats need both lawmakers on board in order for the legislation to pass.

It is unclear how long it would take for senators to work out their disagreements and finalize the legislation. Once that work is done, the Senate would have to start a lengthy process to vote on the bill using the budget reconciliation process that would allow the bill to be passed in the Senate with 50 votes, rather than the 60 votes needed for most legislation.

IRS Issues Guidance on Per Diem Rates and the Temporary 100% Deduction for Food or Beverages from Restaurants

Yesterday, the Internal Revenue Service today issued Notice 2021-63 to make clear how the temporary 100% business deduction for food or beverages from restaurants applies to taxpayers properly applying the rules of Revenue Procedure 2019-48  for using per diem rates.

Previously, the IRS issued Notice 2021-25 providing guidance under the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2020, which added a temporary exception to the 50% limit on the amount that businesses may deduct for food or beverages. The temporary exception allows a 100% deduction for food or beverages from restaurants, as long as the expense is paid or incurred in 2021 or 2022.

For a taxpayer properly applying the rules of Revenue Procedure 2019-48, Notice 2021-63 provides a special rule that allows the taxpayer to treat the full meal portion of a per diem rate or allowance as being attributable to food or beverages from a restaurant beginning January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2022.

OSHA Suspends Implementation and Enforcement of Vaccine Mandate Pending Litigation

Yesterday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it is suspending all implementation and enforcement efforts related to the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination and testing in the workplace.

The announcement follows the Nov. 12, 2021 order from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals staying enforcement of the ETS pending a final ruling on its legality.

OSHA intends to resume implementation and enforcement of the ETS following litigation, if permitted.


President Biden Signs $1.2 Trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill into Law

President Joe Biden signed the more than $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill into law on Monday.

The package will put $550 billion in new funds into transportation, broadband and utilities. Biden’s signature follows years of failed efforts in Washington to overhaul physical infrastructure, improvements that advocates have said will boost the economy and create jobs.

The legislation will put $110 billion into roads, bridges and other major projects. It will invest $66 billion in freight and passenger rail, including potential upgrades to Amtrak. It will direct $39 billion into public transit systems. The plan will put $65 billion into expanding broadband, a priority after the coronavirus pandemic left millions of Americans at home without effective internet access. It will also put $55 billion into improving water systems and replacing lead pipes.

IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2022

Last Thursday, the Internal Revenue Service today announced the tax year 2022 annual inflation adjustments for more than 60 tax provisions, including the tax rate schedules and other tax changes. Revenue Procedure 2021-45 PDF provides details about these annual adjustments.

Highlights of changes in Revenue Procedure 2021-45:

The tax year 2022 adjustments described below generally apply to tax returns filed in 2023.

The tax items for tax year 2022 of greatest interest to most taxpayers include the following dollar amounts:

  • The standard deduction for married couples filing jointly for tax year 2022 rises to $25,900 up $800 from the prior year. For single taxpayers and married individuals filing separately, the standard deduction rises to $12,950 for 2022, up $400, and for heads of households, the standard deduction will be $19,400 for tax year 2022, up $600.
  • The personal exemption for tax year 2022 remains at 0, as it was for 2021, this elimination of the personal exemption was a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
  • Marginal Rates: For tax year 2022, the top tax rate remains 37% for individual single taxpayers with incomes greater than $539,900 ($647,850 for married couples filing jointly).The other rates are:
    35%, for incomes over $215,950 ($431,900 for married couples filing jointly);
    32% for incomes over $170,050 ($340,100 for married couples filing jointly);
    24% for incomes over $89,075 ($178,150 for married couples filing jointly);
    22% for incomes over $41,775 ($83,550 for married couples filing jointly);
    12% for incomes over $10,275 ($20,550 for married couples filing jointly).
    The lowest rate is 10% for incomes of single individuals with incomes of $10,275 or less ($20,550 for married couples filing jointly).
  • For 2022, as in 2021, 2020, 2019 and 2018, there is no limitation on itemized deductions, as that limitation was eliminated by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
  • The Alternative Minimum Tax exemption amount for tax year 2022 is $75,900 and begins to phase out at $539,900 ($118,100 for married couples filing jointly for whom the exemption begins to phase out at $1,079,800). The 2021 exemption amount was $73,600 and began to phase out at $523,600 ($114,600 for married couples filing jointly for whom the exemption began to phase out at $1,047,200).
  • The tax year 2022 maximum Earned Income Tax Credit amount is $6,935 for qualifying taxpayers who have three or more qualifying children, up from $6,728 for tax year 2021. The revenue procedure contains a table providing maximum EITC amount for other categories, income thresholds and phase-outs.
  • For tax year 2022, the monthly limitation for the qualified transportation fringe benefit and the monthly limitation for qualified parking increases to $280.
  • For the taxable years beginning in 2022, the dollar limitation for employee salary reductions for contributions to health flexible spending arrangements increases to $2,850. For cafeteria plans that permit the carryover of unused amounts, the maximum carryover amount is $570, an increase of $20 from taxable years beginning in 2021.
  • For tax year 2022, participants who have self-only coverage in a Medical Savings Account, the plan must have an annual deductible that is not less than $2,450, up $50 from tax year 2021; but not more than $3,700, an increase of $100 from tax year 2021. For self-only coverage, the maximum out-of-pocket expense amount is $4,950, up $150 from 2021. For tax year 2022, for family coverage, the annual deductible is not less than $4,950, up from $4,800 in 2021; however, the deductible cannot be more than $7,400, up $250 from the limit for tax year 2021. For family coverage, the out-of-pocket expense limit is $9,050 for tax year 2022, an increase of $300 from tax year 2021.
  • The modified adjusted gross income amount used by joint filers to determine the reduction in the Lifetime Learning Credit provided in § 25A(d)(2) is not adjusted for inflation for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020. The Lifetime Learning Credit is phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income in excess of $80,000 ($160,000 for joint returns).
  • For tax year 2022, the foreign earned income exclusion is $112,000 up from $108,700 for tax year 2021.
  • Estates of decedents who die during 2022 have a basic exclusion amount of $12,060,000, up from a total of $11,700,000 for estates of decedents who died in 2021.
  • The annual exclusion for gifts increases to $16,000 for calendar year 2022, up from $15,000 for calendar year 2021.
  • The maximum credit allowed for adoptions for tax year 2022 is the amount of qualified adoption expenses up to $14,890, up from $14,440 for 2021.

Wisconsin’s Drop in State-Local Tax Burden Among Nation’s Largest

Over the past 20 years, almost no state has seen a greater drop in its tax burden than Wisconsin, which also saw its ranking among states fall from fourth to the middle of the pack. Depending on how it is measured, the drop in Wisconsin’s state and local taxes as a share of personal income was the largest or nearly the largest nationally since 1999.

New federal data confirm the remarkable decline in Wisconsin’s state and local tax burden over the past two decades, which has exceeded that of almost all other states. The Forum and one of its predecessor organizations – the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance – have long tracked this metric, which we define as annual taxes paid to state and local governments here as a percentage of residents’ personal income.

In 1999, state and local governments took in $17.4 billion from taxpayers – about 12.2% of total personal income in the state (the fourth–highest percentage in the country). By 2019, the $30.6 billion in total taxes accounted for just 10.3% of personal income (23rd in the nation). If the state’s tax burden were as large today as it was in 1999, taxpayers in Wisconsin would be paying billions of dollars in higher taxes to fund additional state and local services.

The decline in the state and local tax burden is due in part to growth in the economy and personal income following the Great Recession – where that growth exceeded the increase in actual tax collections the burden fell. In addition, while sales taxes, corporate income taxes, motor vehicle license fees, and other taxes have all shown declines as a share of personal income from 1999 to 2019, the majority of the decline can be attributed to a drop in individual income taxes and property taxes as a share of income.

Since 2011, the state generally has restricted the percentage increase in municipal and county property taxes used for operations to a community’s rate of net new construction, which at the statewide level has been below 1.7% since 2008. The state has also limited revenues for school districts, including property taxes, and made cuts to property taxes for technical colleges and personal property while also repealing the state levy. In addition, the state passed a series of income tax cuts since 1999, including decreases in marginal rates, the elimination of one tax bracket, the exemption of Social Security income from taxation as well as most income from manufacturing and agricultural production, decreases in capital gains taxes, and numerous other changes.

Federal Unemployment Insurance Benefit Slowed Employment Growth

Shortly after the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion bill designed to alleviate the negative economic consequences of government-mandated shutdowns. Included in the bill was a $600 weekly federal unemployment bonus payment on top of the state benefits that unemployed workers already could receive.

Since the combined federal/state unemployment insurance benefit was greater than the weekly wages of many employees, some economists worried that it might depress employment growth. The Badger Institute decided to examine whether the federal bonus payments served as a disincentive to workers returning to jobs once the economy rebounded.

During the throes of the crisis, when many restaurants, retail establishments and other businesses were closed, the boost helped people weather job losses. But to prevent the supplemental benefits from discouraging a return to the workforce, lawmakers set them to expire after six months.

That changed in August 2020 when the Trump administration, via executive order, extended the benefit at half of the original $600 rate. The American Rescue Plan, which passed in March 2021, extended this $300 weekly benefit until Sept. 6, 2021 — although states had the discretion to end it earlier, and many did.

We first examined what happened to labor markets when the federal benefit decreased from $600 to $300 a week. We find no evidence that this affected the labor markets to a significant degree.

In June, a number of governors took steps to end the federal portion of unemployment insurance in their states. Ultimately, 22 states ceased to provide the supplemental benefits. The remaining 28 states and the District of Columbia kept the federal supplement in place after July 1.

The variation between states that extended benefits to September and those that did not gave us a second opportunity to measure the supplement’s impact on labor markets.

We compared the two sets of states to see if their labor markets differed during the three months when the unemployment insurance benefits differed.

Our early analysis showed that there is a modicum of evidence that the higher benefits did affect employment levels, at least once labor market demand picked up. We compared the unemployment rate and its changes across the two groups of states and observed that in the three months before the July 1 cutoff, the states that were to continue to provide supplemental benefits saw their unemployment rate fall by 0.26%, while the states that would soon end the benefits saw theirs fall by an average of 0.07%.

In Wisconsin, which maintained the federal bonus until it expired on Sept. 6, the unemployment rate has remained virtually unchanged for the past six months at 3.9% even as the national unemployment rate fell an entire percentage point, from 6% to 5%.

Overall, in the 22 states that did eliminate the supplemental benefits earlier, the unemployment rate fell by 0.33% over the next three months, compared to a 0.22% drop for the states that continued providing the supplement.

The differences are modest but statistically significant.