BEBR in the news

Wrapping up your back-to-school shopping? It's tax savings time

Summer is nearly over, school supply lists are out and Florida's sales tax holiday runs Friday through Sunday, giving all shoppers a break from the 6.5 percent added to store receipts.

That break is limited, but the limits have been raised this year: clothing that costs $75 or less, up from $50 last year; and school supplies up to $15, up from $10. Books, however, have been removed from tax-exempt status.

Parents have the lists for school uniforms or acceptable fare and classroom supplies: khakis, cleats, pencils, notebooks, hand sanitizer, pair of ear buds. Even without the tax holiday, the back-to-school season is lucrative for retailers.

However, while the tax holiday concentrates on school shoppers, it also brings out people who just want a tax break. And retailers add on the deals and promotions, says Florida Retail Federation President and CEO Rick McAllister.

"No questions, looking at revenue numbers, the back-to-school holiday does have a stimulus effect on what is already a good shopping period in Florida," he said.

Retailers bank on the idea that people put non-tax-exempt items in their shopping baskets, too, and the numbers support that, McAllister said.

The National Retail Federation is predicting people nationwide will spend nearly $70 billion on back-to-school purchases. And Florida consumers in July showed a slight uptick in their outlook on spending money, according to the Florida Consumer Sentiment Index tracked each month by the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

"Most of the increase can be attributed to an increase in optimism about whether it is a good time to buy. This component is now back to the level it was last fall," said BEBR's Chris McCarty. "Some of this may have to do with declines in gas prices during the month of June and much of July. This leaves more money in people's budget for other purchases."

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Wrapping up your back-to-school shopping? It's tax savings time - Palm Beach Post - August 8, 2011

BEBR evaluates population forecast errors for the state

In a new report, members of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR) Population Program at the University of Florida investigate the accuracy of several sets of state and county population projections published by BEBR over the last 30 years.

The BEBR Population Program, under contract with the Florida Legislature, has been making three sets of population projections (low, medium, and high) for Florida and its counties for many years. Many decisions in both the public and private sectors are based on expectations of future population change. Planning for schools, hospitals, shopping centers, housing developments, electric power plants, and many other projects is strongly influenced by expected population growth or decline. The distribution of government funds and the granting of various types of licenses and permits may be affected as well. Given their many uses, it is essential to evaluate the accuracy of these projections.

Download this report at http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/content/evaluation-population-forecast-errors-florida-and-its-counties-1980-2010

BEBR evaluates population estimates compared to census counts

The Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR) Population Program has had a contract with the Florida Legislature since 1972 to produce annual population estimates for all cities, counties, and unincorporated areas within the state. These estimates are used for a wide variety of purposes by businesses, research analyst, and state and local governments. Furthermore, they are used for allocating more than $2 billion each year to city and county governments through Florida's revenue-sharing programs. Given their many uses, it is essential to evaluate the accuracy of these estimates.

In a recent report published by the BEBR Population Program, researchers describe the methodology used for making state and local population estimates in Florida and evaluate the accuracy of the 2010 estimates by comparing them with the results of the 2010 census. They also evaluate the accuracy of previous BEBR estimates and estimates produced by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The result of their findings can be viewed in the full report located at http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/content/spr-no-8-evaluation-population-estimates-florida-april-1-2010

UF survey: Consumer Sentiment registers modest increase in July

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Increased optimism about making major purchases played a significant role in Consumer Sentiment rising two points in July to 68, according to a new University of Florida survey.

Four of the five components that make up the index increased or remained unchanged. The biggest improvement was in confidence to purchase big-ticket items such as cars and appliances which rose five points to 77.

“Some of this may have to do with declines in gas prices during the month of June and much of July,” said Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “This leaves more money in people’s budgets for other purchases.”

The other index components that rose were perceptions of personal finances now compared with a year ago, which increased three points to 57, and expectations of personal finances a year from now, which climbed one point to 75. Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years remained at 72. The only component to decline was perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next year, which fell one point to 59.

McCarty said another reason for the increase was improved confidence among seniors, which rose five points to 66. Last month’s overall decline, McCarty said, was due in large part to seniors’ uncertainty over potential cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Although the federal government has not yet released its budget plans, the delay in reducing those programs may have led to a slight improvement. McCarty also said seniors may have learned that proposed entitlement cuts might not affect those in or near retirement as much as previously thought.

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UF survey: Consumer Sentiment registers modest increase in July - University of Florida News - July 26, 2011

More on this topic:

Florida Consumer Sentiment up in July - South Florida Business Journal - July 26, 2011

State Consumer Sentiment improves slightly - Gainesville Sun - July 26, 2011

Floridians feel a little better about the economy, but remain almost as gloomy as ever - Miami Herald - July 26, 2011

State's Consumer Sentiment rises with summer's drop in gas prices - SunSentinel.com - July 26, 2011

Debt crisis frustrates area residents

WASHINGTON — With the clock ticking down, our leaders still haven't cut a deal on the debt ceiling. Boynton Beach retiree Gerald Levine, 80, believes he knows exactly who's to blame. The problem is: it's a long list.

"If I had my druthers, I'd fire everybody in Washington," he said Wednesday. "Here we are, two weeks away from a default, which would be an economic disaster of immeasurable proportion, and they think it's a joke."

Levine's view may seem drastic, yet a new poll shows that Americans as a whole have little confidence in our elected officials to lead during this financial crisis.

A third or fewer Americans have even a fair amount of confidence in any of the top five congressional leaders, in a Pew Research/Washington Post poll. President Obama made out a little better with 48 percent of those surveyed expressing a fair amount or a great deal of confidence in his ability to broker a deal to stave off default.

The debt deadlock isn't just affecting the way we view our leaders. It's affecting the way we the view the country's economic prospects.

Last month, just as talk of debt ceiling began to heat up, Florida's Consumer Sentiment fell to the lowest levels since the BP oil spill seemed destined to destroy miles of Sunshine State beaches. Before that, the last time confidence fell this low was in 2008 as Lehman Brothers was collapsing and "the financial world was unraveling," said Chris McCarty, director of Bureau of Economic and Business Research at University of Florida.

A new reading is due out next week, and McCarty expects it to fall again - with good reason.

Few states can claim a bigger stake in the deficit debate than Florida. The Sunshine State ranks second in the nation in Medicare clients, with nearly 3.4 million residents receiving benefits. It also ranks second in Social Security recipients with nearly 3.8 million. Both programs are slated to take a hit in comprehensive plans being floated around Congress.

"If you're a senior and you're on a fixed income, it becomes difficult for you to look ahead and say 'Well, I'm going to be better off next year,' " McCarty said.

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Debt crisis frustrates area residents - Palm Beach Post - July 20, 2011

Republicans in Washington, Tallahassee push tax breaks to create Florida jobs

WASHINGTON ——

Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Republicans in Congress are betting that tax breaks and government spending cuts will spark widespread hiring in their job-starved state.

Some early signs indicate the bet might pay off, as companies expand or trickle into Florida to take advantage of tax refunds and low corporate tax rates while tapping a huge pool of unemployed job seekers. Business promoters appreciate the help, but acknowledge anything politicians can do is dwarfed by the natural forces of the marketplace.

"It's a hundred jobs here, 50 jobs there, it just keeps adding up," Scott boasted in an interview while touting Florida's employment-generating efforts to a recent gathering of business leaders in Washington. "The Legislature gave me more authority to make this happen. There's a lot of enthusiasm. People are excited."

Florida Republicans, propelled by the tea-party movement, are pushing similar tactics in Congress. They hope President Barack Obama and Republican leaders will strike a budget deal on debt reduction that will whack federal spending, fend off tax hikes for the wealthy and corporations, and clear a path for targeted tax incentives benefiting small businesses.

"I have never met a job creator who told me they are looking for a state with high taxes and burdensome regulations," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said on the Senate floor this week. "If we do it the right way, [we will] lower everybody's tax rate so people have more money in their pockets to spend on the economy, to grow their business or start a new business. Because that's how jobs are created."

Economists remain skeptical that tax incentives alone will prompt businesses to begin hiring in great numbers. They say tax cuts in recent decades have had limited impact on the creation of jobs.

"Companies are already sitting on record amounts of cash, but they are not using that cash to create jobs," said Chris McCarty, consumer survey director at the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "So I'm not clear how creating breaks that send them more cash necessarily translates into jobs."

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Republicans in Washington, Tallahassee push tax breaks to create Florida jobs - SunSentinel.com - July 16, 2011

Florida consumers' funk hurts economy

Florida's consumers are financially queasy.

For two years, they have bobbed along in a sea of anxiety. Shaken by job losses and sagging home values, their unease is reflected in the monthly Consumer Sentiment reports produced by the University of Florida's Survey Research Center.

The numbers reveal a population stuck in a recessionary funk. For 24 months, the index has hovered near 70, well below the 80s and 90s registered during good times.

Three times in the past two years the index rose briefly into the high 70s – suggesting Floridians were finally beginning to feel better – but those gains proved as durable as a soap bubble.

Now the figure is back down to 66, after falling to 68 in April and May.

"We're sort of stuck," said Chris McCarty, the survey's director. "There's no clear direction yet for this."

And that's bad news for everyone, because consumers drive the Florida and overall U.S. economy. They account for about two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity, spurring demand for goods and services.

The economy is affected by a host of complicated factors – the stock market, international money policy, prevailing interest rates – but, ultimately, much of the nation's fiscal health comes down to a Consumer Sentiment game.

When people feel secure and upbeat, they spend, creating demand. When there's adequate and sustained demand, businesses expand and add jobs. When jobs are plentiful, consumers feel confident and spend.

In the past year, Florida's month-over-month Consumer Sentiment Index has fallen seven times and remained flat twice. It's improved just three times. Generally, the index has shown little variation, hanging out in the high 60s or low 70s. The recession's low point was in June 2008, when the index plunged to 58.

McCarty wonders if Floridians have settled into a "new normal" – acclimating to a level of confidence significantly lower than what they've expressed in the past. And while the index can swing dramatically based on current events – an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a tsunami in Japan – McCarty said Florida's persistently low numbers reflect problems that play themselves out over a longer period of time.

"Here, it's a function of the jobless recovery, and the fact that home values haven't come back yet," he said. "Those are things that go directly to a person's sense of wealth."

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Florida consumers' funk hurts economy - Orlando Sentinel - July 10, 2011

Smaller checks for government workers

State budget cuts will begin draining millions of dollars out of the local economy this month as government employees see their paychecks shrink.

The average government worker in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties will lose $1,151 annually as the state, for the first time since 1974, requires workers to help cover their own pension costs.

Republican state leaders decided to shift 3 percent of wages to cover pension costs as part of their plan to balance this year's budget and because they said government workers should be treated more like those in the private sector.

Recent surveys by the University of Florida Bureau of Economic Research indicate that Consumer Sentiment slid throughout the spring, a fact researcher Chris McCarty attributes in part to pessimism by state and local government workers facing pay cuts. They make up 7 percent of the state's workforce.

"We're not just talking about people in Tallahassee here. That 3 percent affects lots and lots of people at all levels across the state," McCarty noted.

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Smaller checks for government workers - Herald-Tribune - July 9, 2011

Orange expected to lead Florida growth

Emptiness is what people see today when they drive through the monogrammed iron gates of Lake Drawdy Reserve in east Orange County. There are paved cul-de-sacs, lakefront lots and fancy frosted-glass streetlights. But nobody lives there.

Thirty years from now, they will likely see 28 upscale homes occupied by young families, residents from abroad, refugees from coastal counties, in-migrants from other states and well-to-do retirees.

Orange County is expected to lead the state in growth for the next 30 years, adding nearly 670,000 residents by 2040, according to the latest projections from theUniversity of Florida.

The new projections are the first based on the 2010 census. They show Orange County outpacing Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties, while Osceola County is predicted to add more people than Broward County.

"The expectation is that eventually we will get out of this recession and things will return more to normal," said Stan Smith, director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at theUniversity of Florida.

To Orange County, normal means about a third of its growth will come from the natural increase of more people being born than dying. Central Florida's population has always been relatively young compared with that of the state, where only 18 percent of population growth comes from births over deaths. Some of this is because of the area's tourism-based jobs, which attract young people, and its growing Hispanic population, which tends to have larger families, Smith said.

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Orange expected to lead Florida growth - Orlando Sentinel - July 10, 2011

Consumer Sentiment falls again amid likely worries about Social Security, Medicare

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Consumer Sentiment among Floridians declined for the fourth time in five months — falling to 66 in June — as the U.S. economy continues to sputter, according to a new University of Florida survey.

“Floridians appear to be growing concerned about the short-run health of the U.S. economy,” said Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “As the deadline to adjust the debt ceiling approaches, some Floridians, particularly seniors, may be anticipating cuts to Social Security and Medicare which will likely have to be part of any long-term deficit reduction solution. Others may have concerns about raising the debt ceiling.”

Four of the five index components the survey measures decreased. The largest decline was in perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next year, which fell seven points to 61. Perceptions of personal financial situation expected a year from now fell one point to 74, perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years fell one point to 72 and confidence in purchasing big-ticket items such as cars and appliances dropped four points to 70. The only component to increase was perceptions of personal financial situation now compared to a year ago, which rose one point, to 53.

The declines among senior citizens surveyed were significant with possible cuts to Social Security and Medicare looming. Confidence among those aged 60 and over fell by an average of 7.25 points in four index components. Confidence in purchasing big-ticket items fell 11 points to 68, perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next year fell eight points to 55, perceptions of personal financial situation expected a year from now fell six points to 59 and perceptions of personal finances now compared to a year ago dropped four points to 45.

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Consumer Sentiment falls again amid likely worries about Social Security, Medicare - University of Florida News - June 28, 2011

More on this topic:

Floridians’ Consumer Sentiment declines in June - South Florida Business Journal - June 28, 2011

Florida remains glum about economy - Miami Herald - June 28, 2011

Consumer Sentiment dips: What's up with the economy? - Sun Sentinal - June 28, 2011

Home prices, Consumer Sentiment fall - St. Petersburg Times - June 28, 2011

Florida's Consumer Sentiment dips for fourth time in five months - Ocala.com - June 28, 2011

Consumer Sentiment slips in South Florida, where home values aren’t rising as in other metro areas - Palm Beach Post - June 29, 2011