The New York Times has exposed anew an age-old problem that has taken on new dimensions as state and local governments attempt to battle stubborn unemployment.

Competition among states to lure industries with tax incentives has grown more intense as jobs have become more precious.

Pennsylvania, for example, has a deal with Shell Oil to provide a stunning $67 million a year in tax credits for 25 years in exchange for its construction of a petrochemical refinery in Beaver County to convert Marcellus Shale natural gas into industrial chemicals.

The Shell credits, at least, are tied indirectly to job creation. But there is abundant evidence in Pennsylvania and elsewhere of what happens when tax credits and other incentives at public expense benefit companies far more so than workers and taxpayers.

The scene is common across the country, as reported by The New York Times. Factories financed partially by public incentives sit empty in almost every state. And even where they operate, their value is questionable. Texas, for example, approves about $19 billion a year in credits and other incentives, yet has the nation's third highest level of low-wage jobs and the 11th-highest poverty rate.

To prevent states from racing one another into dead ends, federal tax law should be changed to require industry receiving incentives to return their value in payroll - or return the money.