MinnEcon is all about sharing our experiences in this economy, so I thought I'd share one about something I highlighted a few weeks ago that's now biting me.
In February, I posted: For some, stimulus delivers a tax shock. I detailed the experience of Ken Vail, a Blooming Prairie man who after years of receiving modest tax refunds or paying small amounts was floored to discover he owed $1,700 after finishing his 2009 federal taxes.
Frustrated, Vail tracked back the problem to last year's federal stimulus. The bill tweaked the tax tables so employers withheld less and people got more take home pay up front.
It was basically a cash advance to help stimulate the economy to be settled up at tax time with the "Making Work Pay" credit ($400 per person, $800 for those filing jointly). But millions of taxpayers unknowingly got more money up front than they were entitled.
Maybe you see where this is headed.
Yes, Ms. MinnEcon, who does our family taxes, told me last night that we will owe several hundred dollars on our 2009 taxes. Tracking back the problem, she was surprised to find how little her employer withheld in 2009. It had to be an error.
Nope. It was the stimulus bill.
The Treasury Department figures more than 15 million people are in a similar boat.
Why? The changes to the withholding tables didn't take into account situations like single taxpayers with more than one job or married couples where both spouses work (hello).
So if you got the maximum "cash advance" from each job, you likely got more than you were supposed to and you may owe money.
Here's the fix: Go to your employer and get more withheld. This will be an issue for 2010 taxes.
Ms. MinnEcon and I typically take more withholding than required and get a refund at tax time. I'm not sure if we did anything to stimulate the economy with the cash advance we didn't realize we had. But now that we'll be paying, we're in hunker-down mode.
Are you doing your 2009 taxes and dealing with issues tied to the Making Work Pay credit? Or did you have this figured out way in advance?
Post below or contact me directly and share your story.
They are tired.
Your friends and neighbors in Minnesota who work multiple jobs are beat. There are probably more of them you realize.
We posted a few weeks ago on some new data showing Minnesota with one of the highest percentages of multiple jobs holders in the country. We got some good feedback from people who wanted to share their stories. (Add your voice here.)
We wanted to learn more about how and why people do it.
There are some obvious reasons. Farm states have the highest percentage of people with two or more jobs. That makes sense given the seasonal work in agriculture and farmers who may work winter jobs. But a North Dakota State analysis also fingered low wages, limited benefits and underemployment (part time, seeking full time) as reasons why people take two or more jobs.
These folks are compelling because we often forget them. They're employed so they don't turn up in monthly jobless numbers.
Today's numbers showing Minnesota's unemployment rate stable at 7.3 percent seem upbeat. But it misses the struggles of people who must work multiple jobs to stay afloat.
Dottie Titus of Minneapolis works four part time accounting jobs, including a 24 per week temp job. She told us she does it because she can't find full time work and needs more money for household bills.While the set-up provides some flexibility and more income, she gets no benefits and pays for her health coverage.
She's tired and has a good reason beyond the schedule.
"I have been battling cancer, and it's hard to find a full time job that will let you take a day off every other week for chemotherapy," she said. "My doctor has told me to limit my work to 24 hours a week but that doesn't bring in enough income to pay my annual $10,000 bill for health insurance, deductibles and co-pays; so I work more hours."
Leah Wilkes of Minneapolis has a full time job at the University of Minnesota but also moonlights as a cafe server 10-15 hours a week. She's also doing it to pay the bills and for a little fun money. But she says she also enjoys working more than one job.
"With the serving, its always a way to have cash in pocket and also, it keeps my body moving," she said. I have been working in bars and restaurants for 20 years and sitting at a desk is difficult. I get my benefits from my job at the U, so I am in a better position than many in the service industry who don't have health or dental insurance."
On the downside, "I'm tired. It's exhausting to work 50-55 hours a week. Also, I work every Saturday so if there is something that I want to do, I have to try and get it covered. Less freedom."
Here's a map put together by North Dakota State researchers (click on it for a larger view):
Nicolle Westlund of Mounds View spoke for a lot of recent college graduates when she told us she was working a bunch of part time jobs because she couldn't find a full time gig. Her jobs include editorial intern, program coordinator and writing tutor.
"I get a variety of experiences and tasks on a weekly basis -- and I get to sleep in one weekday a week!" she said. "While one of my jobs requires work in an office at a computer screen, another gives me interaction with high school and middle school students, so they help balance each other out."
The problem is that she's still struggling to earn enough to live on her own. "Even though I'm a year out of college, finding a full-time job has been difficult and the monetary repercussions require that I still live with my parents."
The overall data show North Dakota and Nebraska were tops with 9.7 percent of employed people working more than one job in 2008. South Dakota, Vermont and Minnesota rounded out the top five with 8.8 percent of employed Minnesotans saying they worked more than one job. The national average was 5.2 percent.
Some of the data defy explanation. Some of the lowest unemployment states have the highest rates of multiple job holders. And Dave Senf with the Minnesota employment department has noted that multiple job holding tends to rise during expansions when job opportunities are good.
So explaining the multiple job numbers is still a bit of a mystery. Understanding the struggles of people who are juggling several jobs is not.
BONUS INFO: MPR's radio story on the unemployment numbers features Shawn Tweten of New Ulm, another Minnesotan who responded to our multiple jobs query.
He's worried he won't be able to break free from working several jobs and he made an intriguing point.
It's disheartening, almost, to the American dream kind of thing. There's this ideology that you go off to college, you get a degree, you get a good job, you have a house with 2.2 kids and you're set in your job for years and years.***************************************