Carpe Diem

Stagnant middle-class? End of the American dream? Jobless recovery? Not in energy-rich states of PA, ND, and TX

1. Exhibit A:  How The Shale Boom Has Transformed One Rural Pennsylvania County

While Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania was heading over a recessionary cliff in late 2008, northeast Pennsylvania began to see the trickle of what would become millions of  dollars pouring in from drillers looking for gas.

Business Insider recently traveled to Susquehanna County and its seat, the town of  Montrose, to see how life had changed since the dawn of the gas boom. What we found were lots of people grateful for the infusion of commerce  injected into a local economy that had stagnated.

The county has seen a surge in wealth. By one count, county residents have taken in a total of $300 million in gas royalties.

“There are new facades on buildings, new streets being poured, a lot of  people working,” say local “petropreneur” Adam Diaz. “People are upgrading their homes, there’s all kinds  of stuff going on.”

Indeed, nearly every local we spoke with who works in the service industry  told us receipts had ramped up. Jay Agkinson, a lifelong county resident who runs Montrose’s Shell station, said morning fill-ups can sometimes resemble  truck meets.

“A lot of people who never had money have money now,” he said.

2. Exhibit B: How Oil Made Working-Class North Dakota a Whole Lot Richer

And here is yet another reminder of why it’s going to be very tough to convince a lot of working-class Americans that we should move away from fossil fuels.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently produced a breakdown of job growth during North Dakota’s oil rush, and it’s pretty remarkable. In counties where oil rigs have sprouted up to drill from the Bakken Shale Formation — a few of which are actually in Montana — employment grew by 35.9 percent from 2007 to 2011, from about 78,000 jobs to more than 105,000. But much as in Texas’s shale country, the impact on local job growth has actually been dwarfed by the impact on local income. Total wages more than doubled from $2.6 billion to $5.4 billion. Average pay jumped by more than half, from $33,040 to $50,553.

Blue-collar men suddenly finding high-paying work in the fields is a big part of the story. But jobs and paychecks have surged across industries. Some of the fastest growth has been in professional and technical services, a category dominated by college educated workers. Earnings have grown the most in real estate, which, with rents rivaling Manhattan in the boom town of Williston, isn’t that much of a surprise. But they’ve also jumped in working class sectors like transport (think trucking), construction, and even food services.

The overriding point is that when a lot of politicians and workers in places like North Dakota, Texas, Louisiana and even parts of California these days think of oil, they see not just jobs, but well-paid jobs. They see a middle-class livelihood, even when the rest of the economy looks as if it’s fallen apart. Those of us who worry about what our love affair with hydrocarbons is doing to the planet need to keep that in mind.

MP: Two great examples of how shale prosperity is providing significant economic benefits to middle-class Americans in states like North Dakota and Pennsylvania by providing thousands of well-paying, blue-collar jobs and paying billions of dollars in royalties to local landowners and farmers. The middle class are prospering like never before in areas of the United States like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas thanks to the development of shale oil and gas.

A disappearing, stagnant, or declining middle class? Talk of the younger generation today being the first generation to not do better than their parents? Being disillusioned with the American dream of rising prosperity? Concern about a “jobless recovery” and a falling labor force participation rate? You’ll hear none of that these days in energy-rich North Dakota, Texas and Pennsylvania.

HT: Robert Kuehl for Exhibit A.

39 thoughts on “Stagnant middle-class? End of the American dream? Jobless recovery? Not in energy-rich states of PA, ND, and TX

  1. not everyone in Pennsylvania is happy about shale gas:

    Landowners fight eminent domain in Pa. gas field

    http://online.wsj.com/article/AP1757d7404b1742d9a0f4b386defd4cb0.html

    ” Many of them say they favor natural gas drilling and some have leased land to gas drillers. What rankles them is that the federal government has invested the company with the power of eminent domain, taking away their bargaining power.

    “Once the government becomes involved, this is what happens. Because you lose that leverage,” said Amy Gardner, who, with her husband, faces condemnation of part of their 175-acre parcel in Sullivan County.

    The Gardners say the company offered them less than a third of the amount they got from another pipeline company that installed a gathering line on their land. “

  2. I wish economists would make up their minds.

    They say when the USA imports everything and eviscerates American production, that is actually good for our living standards; but then when manufacturing shifts back to America and we also start producing oil here again, that that boosts our middle and working classes…oops.

    I think I might have stumbled onto something….

    • i think you may be missing the point.

      you are confusing two issues:

      increasing the supply of anyhting (and dropping its price) is always good for consumers as a whole.

      imports and domestic production are really the same thing in this respect.

      it’s just that if we produce oil here, the jobs are concentrated and easy to point to.

      if we import oil and drop the price of energy, it saves everyone a little money which also increases well being and buying power which also creates jobs, it just does so in a diffuse fashion that is difficult to point to.

      if you have extra money after filling your gas tank, maybe you go out to eat. that creates jobs and well being, it’s just not easy to point at and say “that restaurant benefited from cheaper oil”.

      • re: ” if we import oil and drop the price of energy, it saves everyone a little money which also increases well being and buying power which also creates jobs, it just does so in a diffuse fashion that is difficult to point to.”

        and if we export gas which has the effect of lowering the domestic supply and increasing the price to domestic consumption – what’s the Up-side of that?

        if the price of energy goes up, won’t it hurt jobs that depend on energy?

        • “and if we export gas which has the effect of lowering the domestic supply and increasing the price to domestic consumption – what’s the Up-side of that?”

          Seriously?

          “if the price of energy goes up, won’t it hurt jobs that depend on energy?”

          Not according to green jobs theories of your boyfriend and his apparatchiks(assuming you mean strictly fossil fuel energy.) But who can argue with him? It’s worked out fabulously so far, just as predicted on the faculty lounge chalkboard.

          • re: ” “if the price of energy goes up, won’t it hurt jobs that depend on energy?”

            Not according to green jobs theories of your boyfriend and his apparatchiks(assuming you mean strictly fossil fuel energy.) But who can argue with him? It’s worked out fabulously so far, just as predicted on the faculty lounge chalkboard.”

            no boyfriend theory Paul… just economic theory.

            if you increase the price of energy – doesn’t it hurt industries that are energy-intensive?

            what’s the up side of that? It will benefit the people who are developing and selling the oil/gas, right?

            is it a net zero difference? the energy intensive companies lose and the energy producers win?

          • no boyfriend theory Paul… just economic theory.”

            And your boyfriend’s economic theory has been articulated by him and his advisers like John Holdren, Van Jones, and Steven Chu many times. What do you think cap-and-trade does? The new EPA regs? Or his hard-on for oil company “subsidies?” What do you think that will do to energy?
            Obama’s theory, one he bet billions with not-his-money on, is it will suddenly make Solyndra, Ener1, and Karma Fisker viable.

            “if you increase the price of energy – doesn’t it hurt industries that are energy-intensive?”

            Yes. Unless they have a good plan B.

            “is it a net zero difference? the energy intensive companies lose and the energy producers win?”

            Who can say for sure in the long run? One thing is certain, it’s not our business to be telling energy producers who did the heavy lifting that they can’t make their own decisions what to do with the energy.

          • re: ” bottom line is that bigger markets and more overall production of all goods make everyone better off.
            …..
            these distinctions you are drawing are completely artificial.”

            well… it appears a number of domestic companies that are energy intensive do not like it – right?

            and it will cost them profits and jobs, right?

            higher energy costs harm the economy – right?

            we hear that argument when stricter pollution controls are proposed…. – even though jobs will also be created in manufacturing the pollution equipment.

            it just seems like we argue – for instance that as Paul says Obama’s policies will increase the price of energy which will harm the economy….

            and companies like Dow and the electricity producers make that same argument.

            does it matter what increases the price of energy as long as the result is increased prices that adversely affect consumers of energy?

          • well… it appears a number of domestic companies that are energy intensive do not like it – right?

            Of course they don’t.

            It appears a number of domestic companies that are energy intensive are asking government regulators to delay the inevitable increase in gas prices for as long as possible to their own advantage.

            Supply and demand will adjust toward equilibrium based on price signals just as they always does, following an immutable law.

            Currently the supply of gas in the US is higher than demand, causing a low prices, as producers must offer their product at low prices in order to sell it.

            Eventually the price of gas will rise as production decreases due to marginal producers failing, and the rest cutting back production to levels that ensure a profit, and which more closely matches supply to demand.

            Adding demand from a global market would have the same effect, except MORE gas production would occur (jobs/wealth/ prosperity) rather than less.

            If global gas prices become lower due to additional supply from the US, then consumers worldwide will benefit, and will have more money to spend on other things – perhaps even things exported from the US.

            Nothing happens in a vacuum.

        • larry-

          but it also helps jobs that produce energy.

          if we export energy, it creates jobs producing energy.

          higher prices from other markets lead to more investment and more overall production. of course, more production then drives price back down, but you now have a similar price, but more supply.

          this leads to more overall production and more overall jobs and may not even cost any long term jobs in energy using industries as price may not stay up.

          you are thinking in much too static terms.

          bottom line is that bigger markets and more overall production of all goods make everyone better off.

          you get more benefits from specialization and comparative advantage, more jobs more goods, and more prosperity.

          exports are good. imports are good. local production in good. it’s all the same thing: fuel for voluntary transactions. that is how you achieve jobs, prosperity, and well being. bigger markets increase demand which increases price and profits which leads to more investment which leads to greater production which, ultimately, brings price back down but at a higher Q equilibrium.

          these distinctions you are drawing are completely artificial.

        • No, if there is an effective international market in NG then it becomes just another fungible commodity. And if history is any guide it will take less and less labor to purchase 1,000 ft^3 of NG over time so that should be the measure we use to look at economic effects not whether domestic energy supplies are or are not attracting business relocations.

    • Vangel: The dot.com boom was a gossamer of fantasy…people investing hoping their website would “get the eyeballs” and corner some commerce somehow.

      The success rate on fracking is very high. People seem to have a solid idea of what a well will cost to drill and the revenues in the first year which usually more than pay for the well.

      I just can’t imagine investors today drilling 2,000 new wells in Texas just hoping to make money if and when people buy oil the future, which was the dot.com model.

      There is a market for oil, is has sustained itself for 100 years, I suspect there will be a good market for oil for another 10 to 20 years, and there is money to be made at $80 a barrel….

      Past 20 years, I see lots of competition and conservation, selling crude may become harder and harder…..

      • Vangel: The dot.com boom was a gossamer of fantasy…people investing hoping their website would “get the eyeballs” and corner some commerce somehow.

        I agree. The idea was that eventually there would be money being made.

        The success rate on fracking is very high. People seem to have a solid idea of what a well will cost to drill and the revenues in the first year which usually more than pay for the well.

        If that is the case why can’t the companies self finance? And given the actual ultimate recovery, the prices, and the total costs, there is no way that the average well will turn a profit in its lifetime. I believe that you are thinking of some of the very good wells in the core areas. If all shale wells were like them there would be no argument. The trouble is that they aren’t.

        I just can’t imagine investors today drilling 2,000 new wells in Texas just hoping to make money if and when people buy oil the future, which was the dot.com model.

        I bet you couldn’t imagine them doing the same for shale gas but that is exactly what happened. Investors do what the promoters convince them to do. So far they have been great at avoiding dealing with the economics of production and wonderful at hyping the potential. The same people who got caught by the shale gas scam are now lining up to throw their money into shale oil.

        There is a market for oil, is has sustained itself for 100 years, I suspect there will be a good market for oil for another 10 to 20 years, and there is money to be made at $80 a barrel….

        The trouble is that $80 oil does not work for the average well. It only works for the core areas.

        Past 20 years, I see lots of competition and conservation, selling crude may become harder and harder…..

        I am willing to bet that it is the production of crude that will be much harder. Americans are under this impression that consumption is hard but it really isn’t.

  3. Some Americans benefit from employment, wages, and royalties. However, U.S. consumers will pay for the high oil prices in production and high gasoline prices.

    U.S. consumers will also pay, through higher prices, lower income, and less employment, for more overregulation in an overregulated economy, rising tax rates, less government spending (to reduce federal deficits), falling net imports, and when interest on the national debt rises to the normal historical level of 5%, the federal government will pay $1 trillion a year just for interest.

    • And, over the past five years, the economy, in general, has been stagnant, because the U.S. has underproduced by $1 trillion a year, which is output lost forever.

      • Moreover, demographics aren’t in our favor, like 1980, when the 80 million Baby Boomers were entering “prime-age” (i.e. their most productive years).

      • This is the trend stationary/unit root debate the Mankiw and Krugman had way back in 2009 where the Obama quants predicted real GDP in 2013 15.6% above real GDP in 2008. Ooops. According to Mankiw production isn’t “lost”, because the change was structural and the economy is on a different growth path. But the long term results prior to the current recession support the quasi-Keynesian notion of trend stationarity. If there has been a structural change to the economy we should not worry about gaps and such and focus on what those structural changes have been and formulate policy accordingly rather than assuming that there is slack in the economy and Keynesian type stimulus is what we need to jump start.

        My view is that our growing reliance on asset income and corporations holding more of their net worth in financial assets than ever before are factors in the structural shift. It is not just a matter of idle resources it is long standing choices by individuals and corporations that are adding to the structural shift.

        • Those decisions, made by individuals and corporations to hold more of their net worth in financial assets, are not being made in a vacuum, they are being made in the context of a regulatory and tax environment that is every bit as incoherent as Keynesian attempts to “stimulate” the economy.

          So, if you are saying that part of the structural shift is the entrenchment of stupidity by our political elites – well, few people would argue with that.

          • che-

            this same thing happened during/was a cause of the depression.

            the new deal FROZE economic activity.

            government spending forced out more private spending.

            the best estimates i have seen are that $1 of government pork crowds out $1.20 in private investment.

            add to that the uncertainty of the regulatory and fiscal environment, employments costs, and taxes, and no wonder companies are sitting on cash.

            and with asset markets soaring from qe, it makes a ton of sense.

            the terrible irony here is that the keynsians and monetary “stimulus” crowd are oblivious to the fact that they are stepping on the brake, not the gas and seem to want to press harder when, in fact, it is precisely these stimulus policies that are making this recovery the weakest since the 30′s.

      • “”And, over the past five years, the economy, in general, has been stagnant, because the U.S. has underproduced by $1 trillion a year, which is output lost forever.

        Nonsense. That’s production that may come later than your model predicted because the real economy hasn’t obediently followed the trend-line you drew on your chart, because you mistake Fed induced bubbles for real growth.

        There was a recent discussion here on another type of model that fails to predict the future. Maybe there’s something to be learned about the reliability of models in general.

        • Ron, does that mean you’ll do two years of college in one year for laying around the house last year?

          Asset bubbles induce demand. Employing some idle resources, or taking some slack out of excess capacity, isn’t inflationary. Therefore, real growth increases.

          • Ron, does that mean you’ll do two years of college in one year for laying around the house last year?

            No, that means I’ll complete 2 years of college in 3 years instead of the 2 years my model projected. There is no schooling that can never be made up.

            My 2 year model, based on previous trends, failed to predict that I would choose to lay around the house for a year. The reality is 2 years of schooling in 3 years. The model was wrong.

            Asset bubbles induce demand. Employing some idle resources, or taking some slack out of excess capacity, isn’t inflationary. Therefore, real growth increases.

            Asset bubbles induce demand for things that wouldn’t be demanded at those bubble levels absent the incentives created by artificial credit expansion. First equities, then housing, and now treasuries.

            Bust follows boom just as night must follow day as assets are reallocated, and I fear this next one will be catastrophic. At this time, the Fed can’t apply the interest rate brakes without causing a serious crash.

            It is nonsense to speak of excess capacity without understanding what the actual demand is for the output of that excess capacity. Handing people money to increase “aggregate demand” won’t necessarily make use of those exact resources that are “idle” or take “slack” out of “excess capacity”.

          • Ron, it’s ridiculous to assume there aren’t massive idle resources and the Fed isn’t a positive force on economic growth.

            Moreover, I stated before, asset booms and busts aren’t important. What’s important is sustainable growth of goods & services.

            One way of looking at excess capacity is the over 20 million Americans who are unemployed and underemployed and want to work.

          • Ron, it’s ridiculous to assume there aren’t massive idle resources and the Fed isn’t a positive force on economic growth.

            The Fed creates purchasing power out of thin air and transfers wealth from savers and workers to the financial sector. How is that a positive force on economic growth?

            Moreover, I stated before, asset booms and busts aren’t important. What’s important is sustainable growth of goods & services.

            They are important to the people that they destroy. And the people who got rich by promoting the bubbles. We live in a world of scarce resources. When Fed actions discourage investment in real economic activity and promote financial speculation the structural changes reduce wealth creation.

            One way of looking at excess capacity is the over 20 million Americans who are unemployed and underemployed and want to work.

            Most of them find that it is easier not to work than to work under the current system. Many of them cannot find entry level jobs because the minimum wage laws make them too expensive to hire. Many get more in transfers that are clawed back than the net income they could earn if they actually chose to work. In a free market idle resources and excess capacity do not exist for very long.

          • I guess, you miss the pre-Fed good old days when there were big economic booms followed by big recessions and depressions, and when per capita real income growth was much slower.

            Perhaps, you believe raising interest rates for households and firms to boost saving, and reduce spending and borrowing, along with depressing net worth in 401(k)s, IRAs, and equity in houses, would cause consumption, investment, and employment.

          • Also, I may add, the real minimum wage has declined over the past few decades. It has a very small effect on economic growth.

            The (positive) income effect may be stronger than the (negative) employment effect, particularly in this economy where profits and income disparities are at all-time highs relative to the minimum wage.

          • Ron, it’s ridiculous to assume there aren’t massive idle resources and the Fed isn’t a positive force on economic growth.

            I can’t even think of a way to respond that doesn’t include mentioning your head and your ass.

            Moreover, I stated [ad nauseam] before, asset booms and busts aren’t important. What’s important is sustainable growth of goods & services.

            Again, your head and your ass are the first things that come to mind,. Fed actions cause resources to be misallocated during booms, and then they are reallocated during the inevitable busts, made longer and more painful by additional Fed actions intended to prevent the busts. Tell those who lose a lot during these cycles that they don’t matter.

            As for “sustainable” growth, do you really intend to say that it doesn’t matter how wide the excursion are from the norm, as long as the overall trend line is up.

            One way of looking at excess capacity is the over 20 million Americans who are unemployed and underemployed and want to work.

            That number Includes the unskilled and underskilled who you believe should be forbidden to work.

            And of course some of the unemployed have skills that aren’t needed, while employers need skills that aren’t available.

            Unlike the labor in your models, real people are not a homogenous resource that can be matched with any demand for labor.

            Get a clue.

          • Perhaps, you believe raising interest rates for households and firms to boost saving, and reduce spending and borrowing, along with depressing net worth in 401(k)s, IRAs, and equity in houses, would cause consumption, investment, and employment.

            Perhaps I believe that that interest rates should be set by the market, and not by central planners who can’t possibly know the time preferences of 300 million people.

            As for net worth, bubble equity only matters so long as there are greater fools willing to pay the higher prices. As soon as everyone realizes the emperor has no clothes, it all comes crashing down.

            Flooding the economy with money IS ultimately inflationary, and is not a prescription for the sustained growth you desire. Only real savings – deferred consumption – can finance real growth. Less valuable dollars don’t increase the value of the things they buy just because the number is bigger.

          • Also, I may add, the real minimum wage has declined over the past few decades. It has a very small effect on economic growth.

            In which case it has little purpose, and should be eliminated. Why spend taxpayer resources administrating, and business resources complying with, something that doesn’t much matter?

  4. oil and natural gas producing states have some of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. Many of these Many states have increased their total number of recorded jobs to a level that surpasses pre-recession employment figures.

    A study by IHS has also determined that every state, regardless of its capacity for natural resource production, is benefiting from job growth and tax revenues generated by the oil and gas industry.

  5. Steven Hales, it depends on the series for cointegration. I think, there has been three major structural breaks recently.

    1. Unlike 1980, household and government saving are low and debt are high. There isn’t a wall of saving to flow into the economy to spur economic growth.

    2. Peak Oil is a constraint on economic growth. If growth accelerates, rising oil prices will slow growth.

    3. Demographics have resulted in more retirements and disabilities, resulting in a shrinking workforce. However, it should’ve been a slow process, over 20 years, rather than the accelerated process we’ve had over the past few years.

    These three major factors not only affect U.S. economic growth, it also affects global growth in the U.S.-centric world.

    Although monetary policy has been most effective, fiscal policy has generally been weak, ineffective, or counterproductive, along with very expensive.

    • Monetary policy has spurred spending and borrowing, and created a wealth effect in financial markets to stimulate the economy. The Fed created money out of thin air. When economic growth picks-up, the Fed can tighten the money supply to slow growth.

      Fiscal policy has taxed and borrowed money from the private sector and foreigners to stimulate the economy. There’s a major crowding-out effect. When output and employment increases, tax revenue can rise and government spending can fall to slow growth.

      • A $5,000 tax cut per worker in 2009 (or $750 billion for the 150 million workers at the time) would’ve done much more good than harm in the economy.

        The tax cut would’ve paid-down household debt, cleared the market of excess goods & services, strengthened the banking system, and closed the output gap, raising output and employment. Government would’ve collected more in taxes and spent less in benefits, and the Fed would’ve tightened the money supply, as a virtuous cycle of consumption-employment took hold. The big negative is the price of oil would’ve rose towards $200 a barrel.

  6. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT…

    …our incompetent Oval Office pretender remains at war against one of the very few bright spots in our economy?

  7. Then things just didn’t add up.

    How ironic. That is exactly my point. For Mark’s argument to be sound and the economics of production to be positive we would expect that an exponential increase in the number of wells would cause the average production per well to go up. (That would show that depletion is not the problem I say it is.)

    Note that I did not make up the average production rate. That came from the ND government, which publishes the data that Mark was using.

    Put it all together and you cannot support Mark’s narrative. Examples of a handful of great wells that produce large profits cannot prove that the average production is uneconomic. In fact, when you plug in the average values that come from the data into the models that you use to claim profitability for those wells you see that there are losses instead of profits.

    But since I hardly comment and the only one I’ve dogged is you, I think calling me a troll is inaccurate. I actually have more of a life than scanning blogs, obsessively attacking bloggers everytime disagreed subjects are posted (doing it for years and often being the first to post), clashing with commentors with an overbearing, monolithic tone that continues for days – even weeks! – until there’s only one victor – you.</b.

    The troll comment was began by the people who attacked my views, not by me. I try to attack muddled thinking and unsupported conjecture, not make personal attacks. But after a while, if a person keeps repeating the same errors without bothering to actually do the little bit of research that would shed new light on the issue I tend to get personal when the other posters do.

    Since you are smart enough to figure things out for yourself I am beginning to wonder why it is that you have not bothered to look at the data and think things through. Do you want to win an argument or learn something.

    Note that I am perfectly willing to lose this argument. All that is needed to prove me wrong is to come up with evidence that shale oil production from the average well is profitable. Show me that the EURs given by the industry are correct and that the analysts that I cited are wrong. Show me companies that can self finance their shale oil operations and are doing it. Show me that they actually produce enough to be reflective of what is going on in the shale oil sector in general. (This last bit is required to prevent using one or two wells as representative of formations that are not very uniform.) When you do that I would be happy to move on to some other issue that can be debated.

    I’ve actually yakked with CEOs and successful, wealthy people online. I have on occasion seen one jeer an idiot with a semi-juvenile insult. However, they all have one thing in common: NONE of them obsessively debate internet users to the end of time until they’re the victor (if they even reply, it’s usually one or two and never beyond a day). Or obsessively attack bloggers for years EVERYTIME the same ‘ol disagreed subject gets posted – and is often the first to comment.

    I am not interested in debating CEOs. All I want from them are financials that support their positive narrative. Note that the shale gas industry attacked Arthur and got him fired from his job. Yet, he was right and the CEOs got to keep their money and most still have their jobs as they sell their companies as shale oil players.

    Anyway, I’ll hit the links tomorrow, but I gotta warn you save for one, they don’t look good…

    They should support much of what you say superficially. To make them ‘look good’ as you put it you have to compare their conclusions and look at the difference between what they tell you and what the industry is claiming. The data points are all there but you have to connect the dots for yourself. If you don’t, you will still have the same opinion as you do now. If you need help in doing the comparison take a look at the approach that Hughes uses and note the discrepancies that he finds. That is a good start and if you are willing to put in the time I am sure that you will come to the right conclusion before reality forces massive write-downs or until inflation helps a few of the producers deal with their debt problems.

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