Are you in the American middle class?

About half of American adults lived in middle-income households in 2014, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. In percentage terms, 51% of adults lived in middle-income households, 29% in lower-income households and 20% in upper-income households.

Our updated calculator below lets you find out which group you are in – first compared with other adults in your metropolitan area and among American adults overall, and then compared with other adults in the U.S. similar to you in education, age, race or ethnicity, and marital status.

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Click on graphic to reach article and calculator

New data has updated this calculator – released last December.

Help someone understand how they’re wrong, first tell them how they’re right

The 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal…set out the most effective way to get someone to change their mind, centuries before experimental psychologists began to formally study persuasion:

When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.

People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.

Put simply, Pascal suggests that before disagreeing with someone, first point out the ways in which they’re right. And to effectively persuade someone to change their mind, lead them to discover a counter-point of their own accord. Arthur Markman, psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, says both these points hold true.

“One of the first things you have to do to give someone permission to change their mind is to lower their defenses and prevent them from digging their heels in to the position they already staked out,” he says. “If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to co-operate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to co-operate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows co-operation.”

Markman also supports Pascal’s second persuasive suggestion. “If I have an idea myself, I feel I can claim ownership over that idea, as opposed to having to take your idea, which means I have to explicitly say, ‘I’m going to defer to you as the authority on this.’ Not everybody wants to do that,”

Lots of early thinkers got it right before the modern era.

Of course, stuck in between the two, we still have an enormous heap of True Believers who still believe that imagining something to be true is as valid as evidence-based fact.

Broad range driving growth of atheists, agnostics and religious “nones” in the U.S.

The share of Americans who do not identify with a religious group is surely growing: While nationwide surveys in the 1970s and ’80s found that fewer than one-in-ten U.S. adults said they had no religious affiliation, fully 23% now describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.”

…Two, or even three, closely related things seem to be going on. Americans who are not religiously active and who don’t hold strong religious beliefs are more likely now than similar people were in the past to say they have no religion. But that’s not the whole story, because the share of Americans with low levels of religious commitment (on a scale combining four common measures) also has been growing…

Another factor is generational change. If you think of America as a house of many different faiths, then instead of imagining the “nones” as a roomful of middle-aged people who used to call themselves Presbyterians, Catholics or something else but don’t claim those labels anymore, imagine the unaffiliated as a few rooms rapidly filling with nonreligious people of various backgrounds, including young adults who have never had any religious affiliation in their adult lives.

Indeed, our Religious Landscape Study finds a clear generational pattern: Young people who are not particularly religious seem to be much more comfortable identifying as “nones” than are older people who display a similar level of religious observance. Nearly eight-in-ten Millennials with low levels of religious commitment describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.” By contrast, just 54% of Americans in the Silent and Greatest generations who have low levels of religious commitment say they are unaffiliated; 45% claim a religion. A similarly striking gap between Millennials and others is also seen among those with a “medium” level of religious commitment…

…Whether Millennials will become more religious as they age remains to be seen, but there is nothing in our data to suggest that Millennials or members of Generation X have become any more religious in recent years. If anything, they have so far become less religious as they have aged.

Education, evidence-based factors, accumulated knowledge appear to be working as you might expect. Even in the United States.

Cripes! Optimism may yet surpass my cynicism.

Looks like compulsory voting helps to make voters better politically informed?

voting in Oz

US college graduates are far better informed about basic political facts than Americans with only a high school education, according to studies by the Pew Research Center. And men tend to know more about politics than women. At the same time, the US also has infamously low voter turnout compared with the rest of the world. Recent scholarship on voting laws suggests that requiring citizens to vote would not only up turnout — it might also help boost overall political awareness…

…In 2012, just 53.6% of Americans turned out to vote, according to Pew Research Center. Compare that with 80.5% turnout in Australia, where voting has been mandatory since 1924 and failing to vote is punishable with a fine of A$20. In addition to Australia, 25 countries make national voting mandatory, including Belgium and Turkey…

But compulsory voting has the potential to do more than just increase voter turnout, according to a recent analysis by Jill Sheppard, a political scientist and survey researcher at the Australian National University. Her findings suggests that in nations that enforce mandatory voting, a wider demographic spectrum is politically informed than in other countries…

For the analysis, Sheppard uses data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, which measures political knowledge by how many correct answers a survey respondent gives to three country-specific questions. The CSES data come from 133 election studies, from 1996 and 2013, held in 47 countries.

The CSES data splits countries into four categories by voting policy: strongly enforced compulsory voting, moderately enforced, weakly enforced, and voluntary.

In countries where compulsory voting is strongly enforced, those who scored well on the political knowledge questions hailed from all educational backgrounds. Not so in other countries (including the ones where mandatory voting is less rigorously enforced), where well educated voters tended to be much better informed than everyone else.

The effect on the gap in political knowledge between men and women was illuminating as well. In general, men tended to answer more of the political knowledge questions correctly than women. However, in countries with compulsory voting, this gender gap in political knowledge was much less pronounced than in other countries.

In other words, compulsory voting somehow relates to the more even distribution of political knowledge throughout the electorate.

Sheppard’s study isn’t alone. Of course, there may be other variables as important to the process as compulsory voting – which may be an effect rather than a cause. But, this certainly merits further attention here in the GOUSA.

Of course, the likelihood of states and the federal government agreeing to mandate greater participation in one of the features of our democracy much abused by lousy choices ain’t better than the proverbial snowball in Hell.

If US coal workers were retrained to work in solar – the first thing to happen is they’d make more money

coal to solar
Click to enlargeShutterstock

The global economy is in a massive transition from a fossil-fuel-based energy system to one using sophisticated renewable energy technologies. For tens of thousands of fossil fuel workers, though, the energy industry outlook is not promising. For coal industry workers, the future looks particularly bleak. However, research I conducted with Edward Louie of Oregon State University offers hope for a better future based on retraining workers. Our study…quantified the costs and benefits of retraining coal workers for employment in the rapidly expanding solar photovoltaic industry — and it explores different ways to pay for this retraining.

…As coal investors have fled in droves to invest in more profitable companies and industries, coal workers have been left with pink slips and mortgages on houses with few buyers in blighted coal country. It is clear that coal is no longer a competitive form of electrical generation.

The one energy sector that is growing at an incredible rate is the solar industry — and it is hiring.

For decades the solar industry has battled against enormous government subsidies for coal. But because of the tremendous drop in costs for solar technology, solar adoption is now rising rapidly. Bloomberg reports that the American solar industry had a record first quarter in 2016, and for the first time, it drove the majority of new power generation. The U.S. solar industry is creating a lot of jobs, bringing on new workers 12 times faster than the overall economy…

Our study found that this growth of solar-related employment could benefit coal workers, by easily absorbing the coal-industry layoffs over the next 15 years and offering full-time careers.

Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we looked at all current coal industry positions – from engineers to mining and power plant operators to administrative workers – the skill sets required for each…and their respective average salaries. For each type of coal position, we determined the closest equivalent solar position and salary. For example, an operations engineer in the coal industry could retrain to be a manufacturing technician in solar and expect about a 10% salary increase. Similarly, explosive workers, ordinance handlers, and blasters in the coal industry could use their sophisticated safety experience and obtain additional training to become commercial solar technicians and earn about 11% more on average.

Our results show that there is a wide variety of employment opportunities in the solar industry, and that the annual pay is attractive at all levels of education, with even the lowest skilled jobs paying a living wage (e.g., janitors in the coal industry could increase their salaries by 7% by becoming low-skilled mechanical assemblers in the solar industry). In general, we found that after retraining, technical workers would make more in the solar industry than previously in coal…

The results of the study show that a relatively minor investment ($180 million to $1.8 billion, based on best and worst case scenarios) in retraining would allow the vast majority of U.S. coal workers to switch to solar-related positions. Of course, training times depend on type of job and prior experience…

Workers in any declining industry can learn from the coal industry. They can provide themselves valuable job security insurance by preemptively retraining, and there are numerous opportunities for online training – and even working – in a wide variety of fields. Businesses in tangential industries may also want to consider retraining their own workers — electric utilities, for example, can retrain their coal-fired power plant workers for positions involving utility-scale solar farms

Yes, I think these folks at Harvard are a little naive about voluntary retraining by our coal barons. From the Koch Bros to the Petroleum Club – they couldn’t care a rat’s ass about the workers they lay off. Profits, profits, tax breaks – and more profits is what counts. It’s why they buy and sell politicians from both of the two old parties. Results count more than ideology.

No, we’ll need to light a fire under state and federal politicians to get retraining rolling. And not only in fossil fuels. Send the bill to the bubbas taking the profits from over the years.

Facts don’t matter to Trump’s supporters – faith beats reality every time!


Trump is your daddy

How did Donald Trump win the Republican nomination, despite clear evidence that he had misrepresented or falsified key issues throughout the campaign? Social scientists have some intriguing explanations for why people persist in misjudgments despite strong contrary evidence.

Trump is a vivid and, to his critics, a frightening present-day illustration of this perception problem. But it has been studied carefully by researchers for more than 30 years. Basically, the studies show that attempts to refute false information often backfire and lead people to hold on to their misperceptions even more strongly.

…The reason is that people tend to accept arguments that confirm their views and discount facts that challenge what they believe…

Trying to correct misperceptions can actually reinforce them, according to a 2006 paper by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, also cited by Graves. They documented what they called a “backfire effect” by showing the persistence of the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in 2005 and 2006, after the United States had publicly admitted that they didn’t exist. “The results show that direct factual contradictions can actually strengthen ideologically grounded factual belief,” they wrote.

Next Graves examined how attempts to debunk myths can reinforce them, simply by repeating the untruth…“The more often older adults were told that a given claim was false, the more likely they were to accept it as true after several days have passed.”

When critics challenge false assertions…their refutations can threaten people, rather than convince them. Graves noted that if people feel attacked, they resist the facts all the more. He cited a study by Nyhan and Reifler that examined why people misperceived three demonstrable facts: that violence in Iraq declined after President George W. Bush’s troop surge; that jobs have increased during President Obama’s tenure; and that global temperatures are rising…

Trump’s campaign pushes buttons that social scientists understand. When the GOP nominee paints a dark picture of a violent, frightening America, he triggers the “fight or flight” response that’s hardwired in our brains. For the body politic, it can produce a kind of panic attack.

Stupid still outweighs ignorant. An essential reason why I disagree with activists wasting time on folks who are Trump supporters. Reasons means nothing. He’s pushed all their buttons. They respond like trained rats. Or True Believers.

Folks are liable to accomplish more useful results focusing their efforts on the undecided. That premise already establishes you’re dealing with folks seeking information, facts – rather than a pat on the bum and a reassuring word from the Big Daddy who lives inside the TV screen.

Jobs, jobs, jobs


Click to enlarge

There are now more job openings than there are people who stopped looking for work because there are no jobs.

Morgan Housel ‏@TMFHousel

Yes, folks forget stuff. Especially conservatives who forget their concept of a free market opened the door to the worst financial crash since the Great Depression. It’s been eight long hard years since – and we’re just back to the point where jobs unfilled are greater than the number of those who gave up looking for work.

Lots of reasons in that equation. Most of them affecting mobility in the most mobile society on earth. Education, family, education, fear, cash-on-hand – and education. Many have accepted the option of any kind of job vs. something equivalent or better than what they used to have. It’s still easier to get a job if you have a job. Just as it’s easier to borrow money – if you have money.

But, it’s nice to see we’ve gotten back to where we are in the jobs market. Even though it took longer because of the conservative scumbags in Congress.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

Backlash in Kansas sends at least 11 Tea Party clodhoppers looking for honest work


“Doing OK in cooking and sewing classes?”

A top Senate leader and at least 10 other conservative Kansas legislators have lost their seats as moderate Republicans made GOP primary races a referendum on education funding and the state’s persistent budget woes.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce was among the lawmakers ousted amid a backlash against Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies.

The voting occurred against the backdrop not only of the state’s fiscal woes but ongoing legal and political disputes over funding for public schools. The state Supreme Court could rule by the end of the year on whether the Legislature is shorting schools on their state aid by hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since the GOP-dominated Legislature slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging to stimulate the economy. That’s created concerns among educators about future spending on schools, even as many Republicans see the $4 billion-plus a year the state now spends as generous…

“He seemed to care more about what the Brownback administration wanted rather than what the people he represented wanted,” said Mary Dondlinger, an 80-year-old retired Hutchinson teacher and Republican who voted for Berger.

Five other conservative senators lost in races that spanned the state. So did five conservative House members, all of them from affluent Kansas City-area suburbs in Johnson County, the state’s most populous, where voters have cherished good public schools for decades

Cross your fingers and keep at it, folks. This just may foretell the next best news we may get from the big election in November. I’m more and more confident about Trump failing in his Tea Party Putsch; but, I really hope a batch of Americans wake-up to the threat to everything from education to science to the rule of civil law from populist poopchutes.

Might be nice to have a return to essential debates over differences in approach to progress – instead of how many angels fit atop pinhead reactionaries and their ignoranus fears.

I trained lab rats to trade – and win – on Wall Street


Michael Marcovici

Rattraders is an experiment in which I trained lab rats to trade in the foreign-exchange and commodity-futures markets. With the help of these rodents, I managed to outperform some of the world’s leading human fund managers. My motivation was to find out what kind of highly paid jobs will eventually be replaced by machines — or, as was the case here, by rats.

Like the work of many in this field, my research indicates that all jobs that do not require human-to-human interaction may be replaceable. I focused on brokers because of their high earnings, but the job itself seems to be based on pattern-recognition capabilities and the ability to avoid distractions. I figured that rats might be up to the task.

Pulling it off would be hard work, so I broke the experiment down into three steps:

STEP 1: LAYING THE TICKER TRACKS

The first part of the experiment was to create the so-called ticker tracks. I gleaned information from various futures and foreign-exchange markets to generate sounds that would correspond to real-time price data. According to research, rats respond especially well to the piano, so I chose this instrument for the audio clips…

STEP 2: TEACHING THE TRADE

To train the rodents, I produced ticker tracks for about 800 different market situations (I restricted these to US$/Euro€ futures, though rats may become experts in any segment of the market)…

After 12 weeks, we had four very reliable rats…

STEP 3: DEVELOPING A PEDIGREE

After extensive training we wanted to learn whether the talent was genetically rooted, so we bred the top traders with each other. After only 20 days, we had 28 new rats (15 males and 13 females), and we soon started to train again (even reducing the training time). The results were astounding: The second generation of top traders had a much better performance than their parents…

RTFA. This researcher is legit, so is his work. Poisonally, I think it’s hilarious. Though I still have no inclination to get into ForEx trading. 🙂