Tuesday, February 14, 2012

St. Valentine's Gift Giving Advice

Candy is dandy
But liquor’s more trendy.

… or so at least I am lead to believe by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States—a name, alas, a bit too cumbersome to fit into an Ogden Nash verse. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Catholic Vote

In the context of the controversy that erupted a few days ago—the Obama Administration’s regulatory mandate requiring Catholic hospitals and other institutions to offer health insurance to their employees that feature provisions in support of birth control, including sterilization procedures—I thought I’d look up data on the Catholic vote. It is amazingly difficult to get these data, but Wikipedia’s article on “Catholic Church and politics in the United States” (link) provides a tabulation at least on the presidential votes from 1948 through 2008. I present this as a graphic:

The summary: In 12 of the last 16 presidential elections (75%), Catholic majorities voted for the winning candidates, now by large and now by narrow margins. In four elections the Catholics backed the losing candidate, in all but one case (1968 - Humphrey against Nixon) by very small margins. In each of these cases, the loser was a Democrat.

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), Catholics represented 77.7 million people in 2011 (link), a substantial population. The Catholic, not surprisingly therefore, is viewed as a major swing vote, meaning that it does not consistently stick to one party—as these data indicate. Now, of course—as might be expected—one can find numerous sites on the web showing that Catholic women are not uniformly committed to the teachings of the Church regarding birth control, “choice,” etc. And in a story in the NYT this morning the author wonders if the flock will follow the bishops. Well, we shall see. Individual opinions are one thing, identification with the Catholic culture is something else—meaning that even secularized Catholics will feel this sort of thing as a sting.

Initially the media ignored this controversy—so much so that some pundits (the Catholics pundits, of course) noted this here and there. But now it’s out in the open and heating up. The Obama Administration is showing signs of caving. But caving after the damage is already done is miles from wisdom. The very first words of the first amendment to the Constitution refer to freedom of religion—but somehow that did not seem to have occurred to the secular evangelists who seem to lead our Department of Health and Human Services. Mr. President, you already have the pro-choice vote—and you alone have it. But it won’t keep you in office. I for one am sitting here spelling out C-L-I-N-T  E-A-S-T-W-O-O-D on a pad to see what it might feel like.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Re-Exports? Now There’s an Oddity!

Here is a strange fact I’d never noticed before. It is quietly reported but not publicized. Indeed, having spent much of my adult life with economic data, I didn’t consciously note it until this morning. Daughter Monique stumbled across it today in one of our current projects. She discovered an industry which has exports way greater than its actual domestic manufacturing. What?!?!! Yes, indeed. This sort of thing stops you dead in your tracks. How can an industry export something that it doesn’t make? Here is what we discovered.

Within aggregate reports on U.S. exports, the U.S. Bureau of the Census has a category called Re-export. So what does that word mean. Here is the official definition:

Foreign Exports (Re-exports)
Exports of foreign merchandise (re-exports), consist of commodities of foreign origin which have entered the United States for consumption or into Customs bonded warehouses or U.S. Foreign Trade Zones, and which, at the time of exportation, are in substantially the same condition as when imported.

Sure enough, the word is a designation for goods manufactured elsewhere but exported from here. While there is nothing wrong with that, per se, when such re-exports are counted as part of U.S. exports, they somehow fail to meet the conventional definition of “export.”

So how big a proportion of Total Exports is this odd category. I’ve assembled the data from 1998 through 2010, and here it is in graphic format:

In 1998 re-exports were 6.7 percent of total exports, in 2010 12.2 percent. Thus they have become a rather sizeable portion of our total exports. The main problem with this category is that it causes confusion. In effect “re-exports” are really “imports” that don’t stay in the country. Thus they should be deducted from both categories. Suppose a ship approaches one of our ports fully loaded with goodies. But at the last moment in turns back to sea and goes somewhere else. We wouldn’t count that ship’s contents. Would we? But if it lands here, disgorges its wares, reloads them again, or someone else does, and the goodies depart again, why then we do.

The confusion arises because the Bureau does not differentiate real exports from re-exports in its detailed reporting on industries—only in the aggregate. Therefore it appears as if an industry is exporting what it hasn’t produced.  In the case of one industry, for instance, Audio and Video Equipment Manufacturing, the data tell us that the industry’s domestic shipments were  $2.9 million in 2010 but that it’s exports were $9.7 billion. Who can make sense of that? And there is more. This pattern has been in place in that industry since 2007. Confusion!

In its 2010 report, the Bureau also provides a further interesting insight. That year manufacturing exports were $795.4 billion, re-exports $136.7 billion. Thus the ratio for manufacturing was 17.2 percent, much higher than for all exports (which also include agricultural and mineral products) of 12.2 percent.

If we discover more details about this strange pattern, I’ll be sure to note them here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Texas as a Country

If Texas were a country rather than merely a state (it was a country once, 1836-1845), it would fit between Nepal and Afghanistan. In the tabulation that follows, I show other comparative figures.

(in $ billions)
Per capita income ($)
Land Area
(square miles)
Water as % of land area
Density (people per sq.m)

When we left Europe aboard the U.S.S. Muir as post-war migrants to America, the ship headed for New Orleans rather than, as usually, for New York. The reason was that our destination was to be Texas—not Missouri, where we actually ended up. The reason for the change? The man who was our “sponsor” died while we were on the Atlantic, and his son declined to honor that pledge; in effect it amounted to giving my father a job. We were able to find a new/old friend in Kansas City; she was also an emigrant; we’d known her in Europe. So we made the long trip by train to KC rather than some town in Texas the name of which is now lost.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened—how our lives might have been shaped—had we ended up Texans. Compared to its two “neighbors” in population size, Texas is the richest and in land area the largest. It is more densely settled than Afghanistan—indeed than the United States as a whole (87.4 persons/square mile)—and it does have a little water. The state’s motto is simply Friendship. In Missouri we had to remember our Latin to figure out the motto there: Salus populi suprema lex esto. Nicely ambiguous word that, salus. The founders certainly meant the welfare—of the people. But it could also be translated as salvation. Friendship, however, is what we feel for Texas. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Deceptive Unemployment Rate

I have long viewed the Unemployment Rate as an awfully fuzzy concept, and that because “unemployment” as such is measured by the Current Population Survey rather than some more appropriate physical count. Yesterday’s BLS announcements were greeted with pleasure because the unemployment rate dropped from 8.5 percent in December to 8.3 percent in January. Here is a tabulation worth pondering:

(Data in 1,000s or %)
Dec 2011
Jan 2012
% Change
Civilian Work Force
% Unemployed
Not in Labor Force
Not in Force but want to work
If Want to Work is added:
Civilian Work Force
Actual Unemployed
 % Actual Unemployed

The civilian work force is defined as those actually employed and the “unemployed.” The unemployed are those actively seeking jobs—as reported to the CPS, and the survey results are then extrapolated to the nation. Active job-seeking means that you have applied for a job in the last four weeks. The same survey, however, also tracks other categories. One of these is called Not in the Work Force. A subset of that is a rather large number of people who “Want to Work” but do not fit the “unemployed” category because they have not been out beating on doors, keyboards, or telephones to get a job last month. That number, 6.5 million in January, is suspiciously close to the 5.6 million jobs lost in the Great Recession but not yet regained.

Now consider the December to January changes. The Work Force grew by 0.3 percent, the number of “unemployed” decreased by 2.6 percent, and the unemployment rate dropped 2.9 percent. But those defined as outside the workforce but still “wanting to work” grew 5.9 percent in that month.

Next let’s restate those data and include those who want to work both under the Civilian Work Force and the Unemployed. That produces a truer picture. It would show that the number of unemployed actually grew (0.1%) but the unemployment rate went down marginally, by 0.2 percent.

I am still be displeased by this number because it is based on a survey. Instead I prefer simply to look at total jobs over time—and the total population aged 16 and over. That would at least be counted properly every 10 years.

Employment Change by Sector, December 2011 to January 2012

Herewith the details of the 243,000 jobs gain in January 2012, shown by sectors:

Last month I noted with some pleasure that all private sectors showed gains. This month we’ve stepped backward some. The Information and Finance sectors both showed negative job change. All the industries within Information produced negative numbers, but the big one was Motion Picture and Sound Recording Industries accounting for 7,900 of the 13,000 losses. Within the Finance sector, Insurance and Real Estate had positive results, not so banks and investment houses.

Amidst the still loudly echoing Hallelujahs of yesterday, let me stick to negatives. Government fared worst, again—and again worse than last month, losing 14,000 jobs. The big loser? Local government; that sector shed 11,000 jobs. And worst hit within that level? It was the local schools. They lost 9,600 jobs, thus most of the local jobs. That’s the spirit, folks. Let’s short the children, by all means. More stupid today, they’ll vote the right way tomorrow.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Employment Update: January 2012

Bureau of Labor Statistics data released today (link) show that the economy gained 243,000 jobs in January. In further good news, the December numbers were also updated, adding another 3,000 jobs. The year is off to a good start:

Job gains a year ago were 196,000, so we’re a little better this year. And December 2011 values (203,000) compare favorably with December 2010 (152,000 gain). We have now regained 35.6 percent of the jobs lost in  the 2008-2009 period—breaking the 30 percent barrier for the first time. One third of jobs recovered as we begin the third year of recovery. Slow as molasses, but the trend is good. Tomorrow I’ll bring results by sector.