Thursday, September 30, 2010
Correlation however, does not imply causation (ie. gender discrimination). Some evidence suggests that in most professions, gender inequities are explained by other exogenous factors not evenly distributed across genders.
How big of an economic issue is incarceration? Pew offers one especially sobering statistic. More black males 20-35 who haven't graduated from high school are incarcerated at any given time than are employed.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Americans often think of obesity as a uniquely American problem, and it is true that only Mexico has a higher rate of obesity and overweight, but a new report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, reported on by the New York Times, reminds us that obesity is a worldwide epidemic that affects all rich nations. Severely obese people die 8-10 years younger than people of healthy weight and every extra 15 kgs of weight (33 pounds) increases the likelihood of early death by 30%. Despite the tremendous costs the rate of overweight and obesity is skyrocketing. By 2020 75% of the United States, 70% of the UK, 65% of Australia and majorities of Spain and Canada will be overweight; 70% of people in Mexico already are. Obesity (being severely overweight) is more medically worrying than overweight, and it too is skyrocketing, reaching 16% among males and 17% among females across the OECD, 30% in Mexico and 28% in the United States. Across countries, the rates of obesity tend to be highest among the poor and uneducated who have less access to healthy foods and know less about healthy choices. In it's only encouraging note, the report does say that small investments in prevention could save lives at very low costs.
The executive summary is available here, and the report dealing specifically with the United States, here.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
According to the New York Times, "polls have found that many of the provisions taking effect Thursday are popular." Those provisions include making it illegal for insurance companies to exclude children with pre-existing conditions from health plans, denying insurance companies the right to drop patients after finding technical errors on applications, and other consumer protections.
According to the same polls, President Obama has gained favor with many Americans by putting restrictions on what insurance companies can and cannot do. In America today there is "a national sense of fairness and...distrust of health insurers."
Since Republicans and Democrats are still arguing over the law--with some Republicans even promising an effort to repeal it--the health care law may become a big issue again when midterm elections roll around. Just how much Americans agree with the President on the issue may be put to the test this November.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
The New York Times looked into some of the more detailed demographic breakdown of those who think it is acceptable or unacceptable to cease making mortgage payments. Among the more interesting findings, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to find it "acceptable" to walk away from their mortgage. Those who rent are more likely than those who actually own homes to find it acceptable, and among homeowners, those who have experienced problems paying bills of any kind are unsurprisingly less likely to judge those who struggle to make mortgage payments.
To put questions about the morality of default in perspective, Bloomberg reports that 12% of defaults are strategic decisions made by debtors who can afford to make their payments In 2007, only 4% of defaults were strategic.
The poll had a 95% confidence interval of +/-2.2%. Detailed information can be downloaded here.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Uncommonly long, the recession was also uncommonly deep. Output dropped more in this recession than in any other postwar recession. On the other hand, the economy was so bubbled before the recession that it hasn't fallen as far bellow "normal" capacity as it did in the 1981-82 recession. And while more jobs have been lost than in any postwar recession, the unemployment rate peaked at 10.1% as compared to 10.8% in 1982. But , the workforce today is older, more established and unemployment "ought" to have stayed lower. Whether or not this recession was the most severe or second most severe since the Great Depression, it does have one notable and disturbing difference from all others. Other recessions of such depth were followed by similarly robust bounce-backs. The recovery from this recession has been so slow that fears of a double-dip recession surfaced and output still remains below pre-recession levels.
Image Courtesy of MarketWatch
According to the Wall Street Journal same trends of globalization and new technology that have helped the rich get richer by exposing them to growth in the global economy also exposes them more to slowdowns and are likely also the reason that their incomes are more volatile.
Homeownership has long been an icon of the American way of life. However, in light of the burst of the housing bubble, many are starting to question whether homeownership is economically viable and whether Americans should still aspire to own a “piece” of the American dream.
Homeownership has risen from 44% in 1944 to nearly 70% at the height of the housing bubble, indicating not only social achievement but preferences favoring suburban single-family lifestyles. While such strong associations between homeownership, property, and democracy will likely deter any major change in homeownership patterns, housing inflation poses a major problem for affordability. Between 2006 and 2008, barely 2% of families with a median income in Los Angeles could afford to buy a median priced home. However, after market correction, the affordability number, or “Housing Opportunity Index”, for Los Angeles is 34% -- 17 times better than two years ago. These lower prices will likely lure new buyers to places with drastically improved housing affordability, but many wonder whether these locations will become overrun with “the next slums”.
Joel Kotkin at Forbes states that the importance of re-establishing homeownership as less of a gamble than a long-term lifestyle choice will soon become apparent. By the year 2050, the American population is predicted to grow by 100 million and the demand for homes will be excessively high. At the same time, the Millenial generation (born after 1983 and now entering their late 20s) are “family-oriented young people who value homeownership even more than their boomer parents”. They also subscribe more strongly to the American ideal of suburban living than the previous generation. These factors should lead to an increase of home buying starting later this decade, a resurgence that has the potential to not only save our economy but restore traditional American values centered around the home.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Stephen Gandel at Time magazine attempts to explain why poverty has gone up so quickly in this recession given that poverty rates have only increased marginally in previous recessions. He argues that in addition to the fact that this recession is steeper than most, it builds on long-term economic trends. The first is increasing inequality: the broadest measure of inequality in the US, the gini coefficient, has gone up 22% since the early 1980s. Thus more people are more vulnerable to cyclical downturns that might force them into poverty. The second is that more of the unemployed have been unemployed for longer; 42% of the unemployed for August (and 46% in July) had been unemployed for more than six months, a much higher percentage than normal. Thus the economic pain of unemployment is concentrated on fewer more vulnerable households. As the graph below shows, term of unemployment is largely cyclical but has shown a secular upward trend over the past thirty years. Thus Gandel argues that even after recovery begins, the United States may struggle with long term poverty.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Finally, Brookings noted that obesity is positively and significantly correlated with lower rates of marriage, lower incomes, lower education rates and higher rates of poverty in women and with lower rates of marriage in men. Of course, correlation does not imply causation and it's quite possible that the same social conditions which cause these negative outcomes also cause higher rates of obesity.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
The Pew Research Center for People and the Press released a biennial survey on the news consumption habits of Americans. It shows that while use of traditional news sources is declining slightly, consumption of media through the internet and other new technology has more than made up the difference. Thus total media consumption is at its highest level since the mid 1990s. The average American consumes a bit more than seventy minutes of news per day (Pew reports seventy without counting news accessed through cell phones). TV news remains important even though cable viewership has dropped slightly from its peak during the 2008 election. The number reading print newspapers has dropped and the number visiting newspaper websites has risen, but by less, thus the total number of newspaper readers is down slightly. Worse, readers of local papers tend to be older than the country as a whole (though the same is not true for readers of national papers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today). Despite slight dips in the number of people consuming traditional media, those who still consume traditional news are consuming slightly more; the average American still spends 57 minutes a day on news from newspapers, radio or television as was the case a decade ago. In addition, we now also consume, on average, thirteen minutes of online news.
The poll surveyed 3,006 adults with land lines or cell phones and has a margin of error (95% confidence) of +/-2.5% for the full sample. Subsamples have higher margins of error, up to +/-7.5% for the 256 person sample of Twitter users. The full report is available for download here.
Monday, September 13, 2010
The other side of the tax question is, of course, the budget deficit. Estimates vary, but Obama's proposal is expected to cost the US Treasury $3 trillion over the next decade compared to allowing all the tax cuts to expire. The Republican plan to continue all of the tax cuts would cost an additional $700 billion for a total cost of nearly $4 trillion.
The purpose of these competitions is to highlight student research papers using RCMD or ICPSR data. The objective is to encourage students to explore the social sciences by means of critical analysis of a topic supported by quantitative analysis of a dataset(s) held within ICPSR or the RCMD archive and presented in written form. Entries to the either undergraduates or master’s competition could be papers written for a capstone course, a senior seminar, or any writing intensive course for which the student uses quantitative data analysis to support or refute a hypothesis. A master’s thesis could be appropriate provided that the terms above are met.
One of the undergraduate competitions is for papers using data in the RCMD archive; the other can use dataset(s) from any ICPSR archive. The master’s competition can use data from any ICPSR archive.
Competitions awards are $1,000 for first place and $750 for second place. The deadline for submission is January 31, 2011. For more information, submission guidelines, and promotional posters, please visit the competition Web site. Please share this exciting opportunity with faculty and students!
Thursday, September 9, 2010
The United States trade deficit was 14% lower in July than it was in June thanks to a $2.8 billion increase in exports (lead by a $2.3 billion increase in capital goods, largely civilian aircraft) and $4.9 billion less in imports (lead by a $1.9 billion decrease in consumer spending on imported goods). Disappointingly weak growth in Europe (especially in the Mediterranean region) did, however, lead to a growth in the American trade deficit with the European Union. GDP for the second quarter grew much more slowly than had been expected (estimates were revised downward from 2.4% annualized growth to 1.6% growth) largely because the trade deficit took 3.4% out of potential GDP growth. The improved trade numbers suggest that American economic growth in the third quarter could be better than expected.
Meanwhile at the Washington Post Bruce Katz and Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution use a great deal of data to argue that the story about American trade and exports is far more encouraging that it has traditionally been seen.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Pew Research Center released a survey showing that 26% of the United States' 139 currently employed people have been unemployed at some point during the recession. More than a third of that group has been unemployed more than once during the recession. Those who are reemployed are less likely to be satisfied with their current job (although 78% still say they are satisfied vs. 89% of those who have not lost their job). They are also more likely to feel overqualified for their current job (54% vs. 36%).
Thursday, September 2, 2010
The Pew Hispanic Center, a non-partisan research organization, says that the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States is down about 900,000 from 12 million to 11.1 million, though the population is hard to estimate. This two-year trend marks the first statistically significant decline in the undocumented population in the last twenty years. The annual inflow is down more sharply: from a peak of 850,00 per year at the beginning of the decade to around 200,000 per year for the period of the study -- March 2007 to March 2009. The decline in illegal immigration was most notable from Central and South American countries other than Mexico.