How’s the economy in your county?


Click on the map to get the Brookings Institute Report

…We consider five factors — population density, the degree of industry concentration, the manufacturing share of employment, the share of those without a high school degree, and the share of college graduates — that help explain both vitality and its change over time. In total, these five factors explain 71 percent of the variation in vitality across counties in 1980, and 66 percent of the variation in 2016… They are also helpful in understanding the change in vitality across counties over time.

Please RTFA. Well done, even with the conservative bent of the folks at Brooking. A chance to learn and reflect.

Human Bankers Are Losing to Robots

❝ Something interesting happened in Swedish finance last quarter. The only big bank that managed to cut costs also happens to be behind one of the industry’s boldest plans to replace humans with automation.

❝ Nordea Bank AB, whose Chief Executive Officer Casper von Koskull says his industry might only have half its current human workforce a decade from now, is cutting 6,000 of those jobs. Von Koskull says the adjustment is the only way to stay competitive in the future, with automation and robots taking over from people in everything from asset management to answering calls from retail clients.

I imagine that Sweden’s labor culture will require, enable, a fair amount of retraining and education as required to meet this critical change in professional employment. Do I think anything comparable will be the response in the United States when similar job cuts take place?

That’s a rhetorical question, right?

A case study in crap data put to meaningless use

❝ On Monday, I cast doubt on the many stories about how Black Friday retail sales were off to a disappointing start. This is an important story because retail is such a critical part of the U.S. economy, and because such a large share of the industry’s sales occur during the roughly five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the more important point — at least for my purposes — is that the initial reports, thanks to the National Retail Federation, are a case study in how to obtain meaningless data and then put it to bad use.

❝ The NRF reported a 3.5 percent drop in spending. “Average spending per person over Thanksgiving weekend totaled $289.19, down slightly from $299.60 last year,” the organization said in a statement. This information was based on asking consumers how much they figured they would spend this year versus a year ago…

A lousy guess turns out to be wrong. Q’uelle surprise!

❝ I make a big deal about the retail trade group’s record of inaccuracy every year for a few reasons: it is important for investors — and indeed, citizens — to be grounded in reality. Most human progress is the result of the work of scientists, technologists and logicians who rely on facts and testable theories…

❝ This is crucial because retail sales are such a big deal. Almost 16 million people work in retail, or about 10.9 percent of the U.S. labor force. It accounts for a huge percentage of the overall economy. Retail sales provide a window into consumer sentiment, as well as corporate revenue, profits and investment decisions. By some measures, consumer spending counts for almost two-thirds of gross domestic product.

❝ …It is of course way too early to have the final retail sales data, but we do have some early numbers based on actual sales. First Data Corp., a point-of-sales transaction processor, says that it examined data from almost 1 million merchants and concluded that sales so far this holiday shopping season are up 9 percent from a year earlier. Furthermore, perhaps in a sign of the state of the industry’s health, sales of electronics and appliances rose 26.5 percent, compared with a lackluster 2.3 percent gain last year. First Data also found that the average transaction grew by more than $41 year over year.

Oh.

❝ First Data noted that its analytical methodology “is based on actual consumer transactions rather than surveys or speculation.” The company has access to this information because it processes actual credit-card and debit-card transactions.

RTFA. We’re in an extended season of mediocre surveying, surprising results, poor planning afflicting anyone making decisions based on “truthiness”.

Barry is speaking to investors; but, his point of view on hard data needs to be taken to heart across the spectra from politics to Giftmas shopping.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

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

Marijuana trade employs more than 100,000 – in a fraction of the country

As the calendar turns to 4/20 — the unofficial holiday for marijuana — it’s not just weed enthusiasts who are celebrating. The number of jobs in the pot industry has surged in recent years, fueled by more states legalizing the drug. In fact, there are about as many employees of legal weed businesses as there are insurance underwriters, Web developers or nurse practitioners, according to Marijuana Business Daily. Cannabis is legal for adult recreational use in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia, and it’s available for medical purposes in 24 states.

Honest jobs, bringing more employment than coal mines, less political pollution than Republican hot air or Tea Party hate speech. If the Two Old Parties – or even one of them – ever joins the 21st Century, we might have a faster growing economy. Certainly mellower. 🙂

Wealthiest pay higher taxes — with no substantial impact on economic growth

As the political fight over raising taxes for high-income Americans fades away, so are predictions for negative economic fallout.

The bill for President Barack Obama’s 2013 tax increases comes due April 15, and the first boost in marginal income rates in 20 years is already reducing the U.S. budget deficit without tipping the economy into recession.

“In advance one always hears the squeals of the oxen who would like everyone to think they are about to be gored,” said James Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin. “Then it turns out that they are only nicked, and life goes on.”

The U.S. government is projected to collect more than $3 trillion for the first time in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, a 9.2 percent increase over last year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. CBO forecasts another 9 percent rise in 2015 and estimates that more than half of the increases in revenue stem from tax law changes.

Because of tax increases, spending cuts and economic growth, the federal budget deficit is projected to be 3 percent of gross domestic product this year. That’s less than half its 2012 level and the smallest budget deficit since 2007…

High-income taxpayers face additional levies, effective in 2013, to help pay for Obama’s health-care plan. That means those at the very top of the U.S. income scale face higher marginal tax rates than at any time since 1986…

The high-income tax increase sapped 0.25 percentage points from GDP in 2013, estimates Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania. That slight economic drag, he said, shouldn’t continue.

The question of how much tax-law changes affect the economy also plays out in states, where lawmakers have cut taxes in an effort to provide a jolt to businesses or raised them to bridge budget gaps that persisted after the recession.

California in November 2012 approved a temporary increase in the tax on retail sales and set a nation-high tax bracket of 13.3 percent on incomes of more than $1 million. Opponents warned that it would extract a toll in lost jobs, as businesses cut costs or fled to other states.

The reality in California, now benefiting from a reviving real-estate market, has been different. While job growth slowed in 2013 from a year earlier, employers still expanded payrolls by 2.6 percent, faster than the 1.7 percent pace in the U.S., according to U.S. Labor Department data compiled by Bloomberg.

“There’s just no evidence that the income tax increases have had any substantial impact on California’s economic growth,” said Christopher Thornberg…“It just is not the primary driving force the way some people think it is.”

RTFA. Like most serious Bloomberg articles, this one has lots of red meat and reality. Unlike the ideology-driven crap from Tea Party frumps.

Boss’s prayer meetings + his warnings Gay folks are Hellbound = $1.6 Million award to chef

Mirella-SalemiX390

A New York appeals court has affirmed a lower court’s 2012 ruling that a lesbian chef is owed $1.6 million for being forced to attend weekly prayer meetings where her boss would regularly warn that “gay people” were “going to go to hell.”

Mirella Salemi sued Gloria’s Tribeca Inc., Gloria’s Tribecamex and principal owner Edward Globokar for violations of the New York City Human Rights Law after a string of incidents that occurred between 2004 and 2007. Gloria’s Tribeca is a Mexican restaurant.

Salemi was awarded $400,000 in compensatory damages and $1.2 million in punitive damages in what her lawyer, Derek Smith, called “the largest employment verdict in 2012 in New York.” A three-judge panel of the Appellate Division’s Manhattan-based First Department affirmed the verdict for Salemi.

He not only threatened her soul, but he also threatened her livelihood,” Smith told the New York Post in 2012. “He thought praying might cure her of her sexuality, but she is someone who didn’t need to be saved.”

There is no civil reason in the Land of the Free for an employee to put up with harassment over their sexuality. That is – if you live and work in one of the states that protects your civil rights. There is no federal law, yet, protecting LGBT workers from being fired for their sexual orientation and many states provide no protection at all.

What we witness in this case is an example of American homophobia cloaked once again in the freedom-of-religion trick bag adopted nowadays by rightwing hypocrites.

Don’t blame Health Law for high part-time employment – because Republicans are lying

Don’t blame the health law for high levels of part-time employment. In fact, using the law’s definitions, part-time work isn’t increasing at all as a share of employment…

Nearly 8 million American were working part-time in September because they couldn’t find full-time work. Overall, 27 million people — nearly a fifth of all employees — are working part-time, well above historical norms.

Many critics of the Obama administration have pointed the finger for the prevalence of part-time jobs at the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 law better known to some as “Obamacare.” The law’s so-called “employer mandate” requires most midsize and larger companies to offer health insurance to their full-time employees. That, critics argue, provides companies with an incentive to hire part-timers instead…

But a closer look at the data provides little evidence for the notion that the health law is driving a shift to part-time work…

First of all, over a longer time frame, part-time work has actually been falling as a share of employment in recent years. Before the recession, about 17% of employed Americans worked 35 hours or less, the standard Labor Department definition of “part time.” During the recession, that figure rose, briefly hitting 20%. It’s been trending down since then, but only slowly, hitting 19% in September.

If the health law were driving employers to cut employees’ hours, the most vulnerable workers would likely be those working just above the 30-hour cutoff. That means the data would show a decline in those working 30 to 34 hours and an increase in those working less than 30 hours.

That isn’t what’s happening. The share of part-timers who say they usually work between 30 and 34 hours at their main job has been roughly flat over the past three years, at about 28%. (September data aren’t yet available.) If anything, it’s actually risen in the past year, though the change has been minor. The share working just under 30 hours has indeed risen somewhat, but the share working under 25 hours has fallen—suggesting that employers are giving part-timers more hours, rather than cutting full-timers’ hours back.

Other data tell a similar story. Average weekly hours—a measure that comes from companies, rather than workers themselves—have been flat for the past year, and are near their highest level since the recession. Restaurants, one of the sectors most often cited as likely to shift to part-timers, haven’t cut workers’ hours over the past year.

None of this, of course, means that employers won’t cut workers’ hours in the future…But there’s little evidence they’ve done so yet.

Editing this down to fit on the blog for commentary was a trip. The WSJ crew has never been noted for smiling over good news for American workers. Now that Rupert Murdoch owns the paper, the swing to the Right has only increased.

So, if you compare my copy to the original linked to above – you’ll see I’ve cut away the conservative crystal ball add-ons. Every time there’s a good news paragraph the WSJ plugs in an extra sentence or two to say – “this can all come crashing down and bad news might return”. Fracking hilarious if it wasn’t just repetitious ideology.

Meanwhile, if your stomach can take it don’t mute the sound when CNN or your local TV channel puts up the required clips of Tea Party know-nothings or Republican “leaders” saying exactly the opposite of the labor statistics. You’ll hear what you’re supposed to believe in – along with the Easter Bunny.

When autism may be an advantage


Thorkil Sonne and his son Lars at home in Ringsted, Denmark

When Thorkil Sonne and his wife, Annette, learned that their 3-year-old son, Lars, had autism, they did what any parent who has faith in reason and research would do: They started reading. At first they were relieved that so much was written on the topic. “Then came sadness,” Annette says. Lars would have difficulty navigating the social world, they learned, and might never be completely independent. The bleak accounts of autistic adults who had to rely on their parents made them fear the future.

What they read, however, didn’t square with the Lars they came home to every day. He was a happy, curious boy, and as he grew, he amazed them with his quirky and astonishing abilities…To his father, Lars seemed less defined by deficits than by his unusual skills. And those skills, like intense focus and careful execution, were exactly the ones that Sonne, who was the technical director at a spinoff of TDC, Denmark’s largest telecommunications company, often looked for in his own employees…

Sonne did not consider himself an entrepreneurial type, but watching Lars — and hearing similar stories from parents he met volunteering with an autism organization — he slowly conceived a business plan: many companies struggle to find workers who can perform specific, often tedious tasks, like data entry or software testing; some autistic people would be exceptionally good at those tasks. So in 2003, Sonne quit his job, mortgaged the family’s home, took a two-day accounting course and started a company called Specialisterne, Danish for “the specialists,” on the theory that, given the right environment, an autistic adult could not just hold down a job but also be the best person for it.

For nearly a decade, the company has been modest in size — it employs 35 high-functioning autistic workers who are hired out as consultants, as they are called, to 19 companies in Denmark — but it has grand ambitions….At the World Economic Forum meeting in Tianjin in September, he was named one of 26 winners of a global social entrepreneurship award. Specialisterne has inspired start-ups and has five of its own, around the world. In the next few months, Sonne plans to move with his family to the United States, where the number of autistic adults — roughly 50,000 turn 18 every year — as well as a large technology sector suggests a good market for expansion…

For previously unemployable people — one recent study found that more than half of Americans with an autism diagnosis do not attend college or find jobs within two years of graduating from high school — Sonne’s idea holds out the possibility of self-sufficiency.

A long, fascinating article. The concept isn’t original – except to the demographic defined by Sonne’s experience with his son. One of my close kin was born profoundly deaf and when she and her family won the battle of mainstreaming and getting an education, the question of employment remained. The avenue she discovered – during the era of loud, irritating IBM keyboards – was data entry. Eventually, her experience with the content she read and turned into digital data led to a career managing and administering contracts based on that data.

Still, this can be a wider search and a daunting task. The emotional and social baggage associated with autism can be greater than a traditional “handicap”. The tale of Thorkil Sonne and Lars is inspirational and an education in and of itself.