The latest federal employment report revealed yet another month of recovery for the American workforce. Members of the Project 21  black leadership network credited the Trump Administration for policies that have brought back jobs – particularly in black communities – after businesses were devastated earlier this year by COVID-19 lockdowns.

“The news just keeps getting better. The free-market policies of President Trump have lowered the unemployment rate at the fastest level in history! The jobless rate dropping from nearly 15% to under 7% in less than a year is stunning,” said Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper. “Incredibly, the unemployment rate is now lower than it was during Obama’s entire first term. Notably, black Americans lead the employment gains – the exact opposite of the experience of the Obama years.” 

The American workforce added 245,000 new jobs in November – making it the seventh  straight month of declining unemployment since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. The overall unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point to 6.7%, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Prior to the lockdowns, unemployment rates posted record lows. 

“Unemployment continues to decline fastest for those who need jobs the most right now – black Americans, Hispanics and other minorities. These positive jobs numbers represent another example of the Trump Administration’s commitment to the black community,” said Project 21 member Donna Jackson. “Even in the face of ill-advised lockdowns, I’m grateful that the White House continues to deliver for all Americans – especially black Americans like me.”

In the black community, total unemployment fell once again by half a percentage point to 10.3%. Approximately 136,000 blacks entered the workforce in November, and black participation in the workforce increased for the third straight month. More than half of black Americans who were forced out of work by the lockdowns are employed again – far outpacing the progress of the Obama Administration after the 2008 recession. Additionally, the U-4 alternative unemployment measure that includes discouraged workers who leave the workforce – often considered the true unemployment indicator – also fell to just 7.1%. That figure has dropped 4.3% since June. 

“The cause of the earlier collapse – and what’s preventing the economy from returning to pre-pandemic levels – has been the destructive and punitive response to COVID-19. Job gains in November showed the economy remains resilient despite the addiction of liberal state governments to socioeconomic lockdowns,” noted Project 21 member Derryck Green. “In my opinion, the employment rate would be much lower, and the labor force participation rate much higher, if business owners were allowed to decide which safety protocols were in the best interests of their employees and customers. The gains we see today will almost certainly be undone – and jobs won’t return – if more states follow California in forcing business owners to shut their doors and ‘temporarily’ lay people off. on.                                                                     

Founded in 1982, the National Center for Public Policy Research is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from some 60,000 individuals, less than four percent from foundations and less than two percent from corporations.

Real state personal income grew 2.4 percent in 2019 after increasing 3.1 percent in 2018, according to estimates released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

Montana’s Real Personal Income, 2018-2019, increased 1.8 percent.

Real state personal income is a state’s current-dollar personal income adjusted by the state’s regional price parity and the national personal consumption expenditures price index. The percent change in real estate personal income ranged from 4.1 percent in Maine to 0.7 percent in Hawaii, Wyoming, and Rhode Island. Across metropolitan areas, the percent change ranged from 7.6 percent in Hanford-Corcoran, CA, to –3.2 percent in Panama City, FL, and Wheeling, WV-OH.

In North Dakota it increased 3.3 percent, South Dakota, 2.1 percent and Idaho, 3.6 percent.

Real Personal Income in 2019

Large metropolitan areas—those with populations greater than two million—with the fastest growth in real personal income were Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, TX (5.3 percent), Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO (4.0 percent), and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA (3.7 percent).

Large metropolitan areas with the slowest growth in real personal income were Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL (1.4 percent), Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI (1.4 percent), and Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI (1.4 percent).

Regional price parities (RPPs) measure the differences in price levels across states and metropolitan areas for a given year and are expressed as a percentage of the overall national price level. RPP covers all consumption goods and services, including housing rents.

States with the highest RPPs were Hawaii (119.3), California (116.4), and New York (116.3) (table 3).

States with the lowest RPPs were Mississippi (84.4), Arkansas (84.7), and Alabama (85.8).

Across states, California had the highest RPP for housing rents (153.6), and Mississippi had the lowest (60.0).

Large metropolitan areas with the highest RPPs were San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA (134.5), New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA (125.7), and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA (118.8).

Twelve Montana counties have officially founded the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority to advocate for the return of passenger rail service across southern Montana.

The finalized joint resolution, fully executed the last of November, seals the commissioner actions and provides for the appointment of one representative from each county to serve on the authority.

Gallatin County was the first to act on July 28, and Powell County the last on Nov. 18.

“Counties in Montana have done what has never been done before: establish the first regional passenger rail authority in the state. This will set the stage for re-establishing regular passenger rail service through the southern tier of the state—a transformational project for Montana that will add to and complement the Empire Builder along the Hi-Line,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said.

“We hope to schedule our first board meeting of the authority in December or January and get this train moving!” The purpose of the authority is to provide for the preservation and improvement of abandoned rail service for agriculture, industry or passenger traffic and to provide for the preservation of abandoned railroad right-of-way for future transportation uses, when determined to be practicable and necessary for the public welfare.”

The authority constitutes the governance structure to investigate, analyze, seek funding for and develop long-distance, inter-city rail service to further the health, safety, welfare and economic prosperity throughout Montana. The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority board comprises commissioner-appointed representatives from each of the following counties: Broadwater; Butte-Silver Bow; Dawson; Gallatin; Granite; Jefferson; Missoula; Park; Powell; Prairie; Sanders and Wibaux.

By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

President Donald Trump and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a new drug payment model a week ago that will significantly lower the cost of Medicare Part B drugs, in a move the president said was a threat to “Big Pharma.”

Beginning in early January, the Most Favored Nation Model will test an innovative way for Medicare to no longer pay high-cost, physician-administered Medicare Part B drugs than the lowest price charged in similar countries.

Following the president’s recent Executive Orders to lower drug prices and improve access to life-saving medications, the MFN Model will protect current beneficiary access to Medicare Part B drugs, make them more affordable, and address the disparity of drug costs between the U.S. and other countries, Trump said at a White House news conference at the White House.

The program is being administered through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and is estimated to save American taxpayers and beneficiaries more than $85 billion over seven years.

The model “will be the most significant single action any administration has ever taken to lower American drug costs,” HHS Secretary AJ Azar said.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said the president was taking on “the entrenched special interests that have stymied patient-centered reforms in Washington for generations” and that the new model will protect seniors, not the middle men.

“The current system creates incentives for drug manufacturers to price Medicare Part B drugs as high as they can in the U.S. system because the program pays doctors more when they prescribe more expensive drugs, even when a lower cost, clinically-equivalent alternative is available,” Varma said. “The Most Favored Nation Model will lead to lower drug prices for seniors.”

She also noted that premiums are down in Medicare Part B from 34 to 60 percent. In the last three years, the Trump administration has lowered premiums across the board on the exchange, increased price transparency, enabled portable digital records, reduced regulatory burdens, and afforded more options for patients, she said.

As of November 2020, patients have more than 1,600 plans offering insulin at 66 percent less the cost than they did three years ago, she said.

Historically, Part B costs resulted in taxpayers paying “whatever drug companies wanted to charge,” Varma said. “It’s no wonder that American seniors are paying twice as much as seniors in other countries are paying.”

A new rule change, the American Patients First drug pricing blueprint, released in May 2018, addressed high out-of-pocket costs, foreign subsidies plaguing Medicare Part B, Azar said.

Over the last five years, Medicare Part B drug costs increased at an annual rate of 11.5 percent, accounting for 37 percent of the change in Medicare Fee-for-Service Part B benefit spending from 2015 to 2019. Medicare Part B drug spending of $30 billion in 2019 made up 14 percent of total Medicare Fee-for-Service Part B spending, up from 11 percent in 2015.

Medicare Part B drug spending has also grown faster than drug spending in Medicare Part D and the U.S. as a whole, HHS notes.

In a new report, the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation found that between 2006 and 2017, Medicare Part B Fee-For-Service drug spending per enrollee grew at 8.1 percent, more than twice the per capita spending on Medicare Part D (3.4 percent), and nearly three times as high as overall retail prescription per capita drug spending (2.9 percent).

While state Medicaid programs and Medicare Advantage plans have tools in place to reduce certain drug costs through price negotiations, current law requires the Medicare Part B program to pay for most drugs administered by physicians at the average sales price in the U.S. in addition to a percentage-based add-on payment. Manufacturers have largely been able to set these prices independent of market forces, which has resulted in Americans paying more than double in other countries, according to the study.

“This anti-competitive system leaves taxpayers and American seniors on the hook for paying the highest drug costs in the world,” HHS said in a statement.

The model payment will include two parts: a drug payment amount that will phase in the lowest price in other similar countries by blending it with the average sales price, and a flat add-on amount per dose that will be the same for each model drug, HHS reports. The model will accelerate the phase-in of the MFN Price if drug manufacturers increase U.S. prices faster than inflation and the lowest price in other similar countries. The model’s flat per-dose add-on will remove the incentive for participating physicians, hospitals and other providers to furnish high-cost drugs, HHS says. Beneficiaries’ cost sharing on this add-on payment will be waived.

The CMS will test paying based on the MFN Price for 50 Medicare Part B drugs and biologicals with the highest Medicare Part B spending. These 50 drugs and biologicals account for approximately 73 percent of Medicare Part B drug spending although they only represent less than 10 percent of Medicare Part B drugs.

Under the new model, all Medicare-participating physicians, hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers in the U.S. and territories will be paid through this new payment system instead of the current average sales price plus 6 percent add-on.

Billings has partnered with the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) of Montana for a new REAL ID campaign in 2020-2021.

As the extended deadline of REAL ID approaches, a 2021 REAL ID campaign is being created by MSUB students and faculty members. Less than a year away, on October 1, 2021, domestic travel and entering federal institutions will no longer be accessible without a REAL ID or passport identification.

This academic year, MSUB students enrolled in Integrated Marketing Communications and Research Methods participated in a study similar to that of 2017-2018, to design the “Real Me” campaign featuring historical figures Lewis and Clark. Marketing Instructor, Dr. A.J. Otjen of the College of Business and Dr. Sarah Keller of the Department of Communication lead the courses.

Campaign work began by sending a survey on the effectiveness of the campaign, to 5,000 registered Montana voters. An analysis of these results showed that people exposed to the Real Me ads on TV, radio or social media were more likely to have a REAL ID, or intend to get one in the near future. People who saw or heard the ads were also more likely to believe that the REAL ID process was easy to understand.  Students enrolled in these courses have crafted new messages to further clarify how to get a secure driver’s license or identification. Production of the new REAL ID campaign is underway.

In 2017-2018, MVD partnered with students and faculty of MSU Billings to create and promote the REAL ID campaign. The award-winning campaign was produced to inform Montana citizens about the costs, benefits, and requirements of the REAL ID, with a Lewis and Clark theme.

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Montana’s unemployment rate declined to 4.9% in October, down from 5.4% in September, due to strong job growth over the month.

Montana’s unemployment growth remains lower than the national rate of 6.9% for October.

Total employment, which includes payroll, agricultural, and self-employed workers, gained 3,700 jobs from September to October. Total employment has regained approximately 51,500 jobs since the April recession trough. Payroll employment also posted a gain of 1,200 jobs over the month. Employment growth in the leisure and hospitality sector has been the main driver of payroll employment growth over the month, adding 2,200 jobs.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) did not change in October, with energy commodities indexes decreasing while food indexes increased. The index for all items less food and energy, also called core inflation, also remained unchanged.

When it comes to having a booming thriving economy nothing is more important than ideas. Innovation leads economic success.

Production levels, efficiencies, etc. only matter once there is an idea of what to produce or how to produce it. New ideas and innovation are critical to keep ahead of competitors —and protecting those ideas in the market place are patents. Not only must individuals have the freedom to create, being able to guarantee ownership of the idea incentivizes the effort, and that is what patents do.

A total of 1,914  patents were filed and granted in Montana between 1975 and 2019, according to a new study recently released by CommercialCafé which drew upon data from the US Patents & Trademark Office,  exploring the importance of US innovation over four decades.

Montana is among the states with the fewest patents awarded. California is the highest.

Most of Montana’s patents were in Chemistry & Metallurgy, totaling 555, most of which were filed by Dr. Lloyd Berg, who holds the most patents in the state. The late Dr. Berg was formerly head of Montana State University’s Chemical Engineering Department.

The most innovative CPC class in Montana was Technical Subjects Covered By Former Uspc, followed by Basic Electric Elements with 430 and 356 patents, respectively.

Textiles & Paper was the least innovative section in the state, with a patent count of 11.

Nationally, the data for the past 44 years shows that highest patent applications falls under Physics, with 1.1 million patents, followed closely by Electricity, with 900,000 patents.

It used to be that most patents in the US were granted by individual inventors or entrepreneurs, but now more are being granted to large companies.

CommercialCafe also looked at patent applicability, which is different than a true count of distinct patents, in that it counts one patent multiple times, one time for each application across a different field of innovation. Fields of innovation refer to what are called “sections” in the cooperative patent classification (CPC) scheme. There are nine CPC sections, each including several “classes.” It is often the case that one patent claims an invention that applies across multiple sections or multiple classes within one section, or combinations of both.

The study states, “Historically, small U.S. businesses and widespread entrepreneurship have driven American innovation. And, over time, the infrastructure of U.S. innovation itself has undergone several stages of progress and adaptation. For instance, during the ‘Golden Age’ of invention — between the late 1800s and mid-1900s when the U.S. led the world’s industrial revolution — innovative activity happened largely outside of the corporate frame. At that time, world-changing ideas were given physical form by individual creators with financial backing from various investors. As the Harvard Business Review noted in a comprehensive 2017 study, the modern corporation research and development model had outweighed individual inventor patents by the middle of the 20th century. Then, by the year 2000, corporate assignees accounted for 80% of patents.”

The five most innovative U.S. corporations to date are IBM, General Electric, Intel, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft. Among the top ten innovators in 2020 are Micron, Texas Instruments, Xerox, etc. It is interesting to track how dramatically corporations leading the pack have changed over a 45 year period, reflecting how dynamic free markets really are. In 1975 only IBM and GE were in the top ten. Others who have come and gone include Westinghouse, US Phillips, DuPont, RCA Corp, Caterpillar, Ciba-Geigy, Dow, Bell Labs, Motorola, Kodak, Qualcomm.

The five most innovative states to date are California, New York, Texas, Illinois and New Jersey. In particular, a total of 731,705 U.S.-based assignee patents were filed and granted in California between 1975 and 2019, which puts the Golden State in the lead for patenting activity.

Patent activity in the US peaked in 2013, when 144,072 patents were granted — the most in a single year.

About 51% of patents that were granted in the U.S., between 1975 and 2019, have U.S.-based assignees, amounting to 3,331,802 claimed inventions.

The highest patent applicability to date falls under physics (1.1 million patents). Within this field, innovation in computing and information storage has contributed significantly to increases in patent activity in recent years.

Regardless of the originator innovation has had a positive influence on economic growth. The study unveils “a strong positive correlation between patenting activity and gross domestic product per capita at the state level.”

That means, states the study document, “securing economic growth depends on investing in dreams of progress. As such, it’s reasonable to assume that the best way to invest in the dream is to support the dreamers. But, because humanity has yet to invent a way to predict ideas and inventors, the safest bet on securing long-term growth is to invest in education and innovation across the board.”

Nationwide, “patent applicability distribution” shows how innovation in different fields has progressed and concentrated differently in different regions.

The fact that California leads the nation for invention, points to the need for an area to be socially and economically open to the disruption that comes with new concepts. Innovation is most strong in populated areas with strong capital markets that can finance invention.

California stands out with the highest patent applicability for six of the nine main patent classification sections: human necessities; performing operations and transporting; chemistry and metallurgy; physics; electricity; emerging cross-sectional technologies.

Bar and casino owners in Billings and Yellowstone County are very apprehensive about the impact of a revamping of zoning regulations, called Project Re-code, which is very near to being adopted by both the city and county. One owner said the code could have “traumatic consequences” for the gaming industry.

Real estate agents and builders also voiced concerns to the Billings City Council on Monday, prompting the council to postpone further action until December 14. Last week, Yellowstone County Commissioners also delayed taking action on the county’s revised codes, which differ than those being considered by the city.

Regulators have been working on rewriting the 600 plus page document for three and a half years and one of its authors, Darell Tunnicliff, questioned why it’s detractors are waiting until now to object to some of its requirements. Tunnicliff is among  a dozen or so citizens who were appointed by the City County Planning Board to completely overhaul the codes.

Nicole Cromwell, Billings Zoning Coordinator and Code Enforcement Supervisor, said that since the first hearing on November 9, her office has received many calls and emails from casino/bar owners, builders, sign companies and real estate agents with concerns. Most of the time, she said, they were mistaken in their interpretations of what was meant and clarifications on her part satisfied them.

The passage of Re-code will immediately put almost all 134 casino and bar owners in Billings out of compliance. A 600-foot distance requirement from parks, churches, schools and residents, was specifically designed to do that, in order to push such businesses into being concentrated in a few areas of the city. Cromwell said that once in force, only five casinos on Grand Avenue will be in compliance with Re-code. Non-complying businesses are “grandfathered in” until they have to rebuild or remodel for some reason.

As one owner, Fred Liske, wrote to the city council, “If a bar or casino gets destroyed by accident or disaster, it can’t rebuild as a bar or casino if it doesn’t fit the new zoning requirement.” He was among numerous gaming owners pointing out the issue, saying the requirement stands to destroy the property values, investments and livelihoods of all those involved in the business.

City Councilwoman Pam Purinton urged the council to agree to a delay to allow the Planning Department to deal with the citizens’ concerns.

Wyeth Friday, who heads the Planning Department, and a number of council people, expressed frustration with the delay saying that some of the issues they were being asked to re-examine were achieving exactly the things that those writing the codes said they wanted to do, especially those having to do with casinos.  City planners expressed concern that by entertaining the citizen’s current complaints about Re-code, the council was initiating a process that could go on for a long time and shouldn’t be encouraged.

City Councilwomen Penny Ronning  and other council people made the point that the distancing regulations were the result of safety concerns of residents located near those kinds of businesses and that those concerns were valid and just as important as business interests.

“I don’t think you can devalue private property like that,” said one casino owner,  pointing out that it would “create a skid row. You can’t put one kind of business in one area of the city.” He said he had asked for a map indicting where casinos and bars “would be allowed to locate”, but had not received one.

There were others who questioned why casinos are being targeted and whether that is a legal policy.

City Attorney Brent Brooks was asked whether the document has been reviewed for its legality, to which he replied that it has not and advised that that process needs to be done.

“We need to weigh it very carefully,” he said, “We need to look at it… and  be very careful and get it right and accurate so that property owners will know exactly what is going to happen.”

Among other concerns expressed most frequently by real estate agents was what they believed were requirements for homeowners to hire professional landscapers to landscape their property. It added to the cost of home ownership they said, and would not help housing affordability.

Cromwell said that the regulations were not directed at home owners but at developers and pertained primarily to the aesthetic requirement for trees.

Council members asked the staff to look at rewording the landscaping code since so many comments were about it, which indicated that it was not understandable.

Other issues which prompted citizen concerns had to do with garage doors and spacing for residential units, single use zoning, etc. many of which said builders would add to the cost of home ownership.

Jerrick Adams, The Center Square

On Nov. 19, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Dillingham announced that, “during post-collection processing, certain processing anomalies have been discovered” in the 2020 United States Census. Dillingham said he had directed the bureau “to utilize all resources available to resolve this as expeditiously as possible.” Also on Nov. 19, The New York Times reported that “a growing number of snags in the massive data-processing operation that generates population totals had delayed the completion of population calculations at least until Jan. 26, [2021], and perhaps to mid-February.”

This expected delay could postpone state redistricting efforts in 2021. At least one state (California) has already extended its redistricting deadlines in light of the uncertainty surrounding the conclusion of the census. On July 17, the California Supreme Court unanimously ordered the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to release draft district plans by Nov. 1, 2021, and final district plans by Dec. 15, 2021. The original deadlines were July 1, 2021, and August 15, 2021, respectively.

The census, apportionment, and redistricting: Every ten years, the United States conducts the census, a complete count of the U.S. population. Census results determine congressional apportionment (i.e., the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives). Because the U.S. Constitution requires that seats in the House be apportioned to the states on the basis of population, a state can gain seats if its population grows or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states.

Federal law requires congressional and legislative districts to have substantively equal populations. States use census data during their redistricting processes to ensure compliance with this requirement. The standard census timeline calls for the bureau to submit apportionment counts to the President by Dec. 31 and redistricting data to the states by April 1, 2021.

In the 2010 cycle, redistricting authorities enacted 43 new congressional district maps and 50 new state legislative district maps. The majority of these – 63 maps (31 congressional and 32 state legislative), 67.74 percent of the total– were enacted in 2011. In 2012, 28 maps (12 congressional and 16 state legislative) were enacted, 30.11 percent of the total. The remaining maps were enacted in the first six months of 2013.

Governor Steve Bullock announced that over 100 contracted medical staff from across the country are deployed in Montana to assist hospitals with responding to COVID-19 and filling in gaps in healthcare worker shortages due to quarantine or isolation.

“The situation in Montana is serious. Hospital capacity is stressed and our healthcare workers are exhausted, with many unable to work from being exposed to the virus,” said Governor Bullock. “I know I join all Montanans in being incredibly grateful for this additional medical staff to ensure critical care continues during this time. For these national teams and our frontline workers here at home to be successful, we need every Montanan to stay home as much as possible, wear masks, social distance, and avoid gatherings.” 

The medical staff have been deployed to Montana through a partnership between the State of Montana and the employment agency, NuWest Group, to help respond to the rising caseload and a rising number of Montana healthcare workers in quarantine or isolation. The medical staff come from across the nation and will not pull from existing employees within the medical system in Montana. Medical staff include registered nurses and respiratory therapists.

There are currently 110 medical staff on the ground that arrived throughout the weekend working in hospitals at or nearing capacity in Montana, with an anticipated total of 200 staff deployed before Thanksgiving. They will serve until the end of this year. The majority of the medical staff are currently assisting Benefis Health System, Billings Clinic, Kalispell Regional Medical Center, and St. Vincent Healthcare. Medical staff are also deployed at Bozeman Health, Community Medical Center, Great Falls Clinic Hospital, Livingston Healthcare, Providence St. Patrick Hospital, and St. James Healthcare. 

“Hospitals are in critical need of travel RNs and RRTs that are ready and able to take rapid response assignments throughout the State of Montana this week,” said NuWest. “We are urgently deploying RNs with Covid experience within the ICU, ED, Med Surg, or Tele, as well as Respiratory Therapists.”