The March 2018 release came out and did not provide a ton of good news. The new data represents events of January 2018 and therefore pushes us through the entire holiday season. The March 2018 data was down 4.79% from the March 2017. The first quarter of 2018 declined 6.02% from the first quarter of 2017. The city likes to report a rolling 12 month total. For those that do not know, this means they look at the total for the last twelve months and as a new month is added they drop the oldest month. The city suggests this is more accurate, though I am not clear what the term accuracy implies here. The rolling 12-month total generally crosses multiple fiscal years so it is not really reflective of a specific budget year which would be something like calendar year accumulations. The other issue is this measure is down 19 of the last 20 months.
Grand Forks released retail sales tax collections which are for the month of December 2017. There are various different ways to look at the number. It is a .31% increase over December of 2016. An increase is an increase I suppose, though it should be cause for concern if the general optimism permeating the economy surrounding the tax cut happened to miss Grand Forks. The January and February releases for this year, which represent sales tax collected in November and December of 2017, are around 6.5% less than this time last year. It is also the case that 17 of the last 38 months have been lower than year ago values for sales tax collections.
So JT asked me about the existence of a labor shortage in Grand Forks. Essentially asking if there really is one or is it something we make up to explain some issue in local labor markets. Let’s first understand that this can change from time to time, month to month as it were. Let’s go to the data.
There are many ways to slice and dice employment and the change in employment in a community. How webs to do it, and whether the approach generates meaningful outcomes, is not always clear. We can look at particular sectors and attribute outsize importance to them and fear job loss is symptomatic of a declining employment base. It could also be the case the local labor market composition changed and the losses in one sector were the gain in another.
Sales tax data is a continuing theme for me these days and so I thought we could look at any seasonal patterns in the data. I am going to hold off on the formal statistical tests for right now and we will go with the graphical approach. If there is seasonality in the data the graph should show common movements in the lines for different years. For example, if June is always a slow month for retail sales the collections should drop for most June observations compared to the May observations. I generate this for 2001 to 2017.