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Posted by On Feb 26, 2009

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Monday, August 31, 2009

2.9 million college kids unsure of career plans

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Across the country, college classes are starting. In each of these classrooms, students are struggling with calculus, trudging through Candide, and wondering just what the hell they're going to do with their degrees upon graduation. The last of these is characteristic of every college student, especially those of us, with the foresight fortitude recklessness zeal to major in liberal arts fields (in my case, Philosophy).

The anxiety is a bit higher this year, given a high rate of unemployment, the likelihood of a "jobless recovery" and the fact that it could take years for destroyed value to be recovered.

Continue reading 2.9 million college kids unsure of career plans

2.9 million college kids unsure of career plans originally appeared on BloggingStocks on Mon, 31 Aug 2009 14:20:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Chinese sell-off spooks oil traders

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chinese sell off spooks oil investorsOil traders have been selling off the precious crude Monday, as a steep sell-off of China's benchmark index raised concerns over the current state of both the Chinese and U.S. economies.

The Chinese Shanghai Composite Index took a beating to start off the week, trading down 6.74%, and raised fresh concerns over a global economic rebound. Today's sell off in the Chinese market was its biggest decline since June of 2008. The sell-off comes on the heels of a near 3% drop in the index last Friday.

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Chinese sell-off spooks oil traders originally appeared on BloggingStocks on Mon, 31 Aug 2009 15:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Tough Times For 58-Year Old Divorced, Jobless Man

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Even as business-sections of newspapers start to sound more optimistic, the negativity surrounding the economy continues to seep into other sections, like the Style section of the NYT.

The paper ran a story this weekend about Michael Blattman of New Rochelle, who was once a high-paid executive in the student loan industry. But then he got a divorce. And then he lost his job. And it's a horrible time to be a 58-year old unemployed former executive in the student loan industry.

Being single, he wants to be in New York City, but lives in a studio apartment in this middle-class suburb, because rents are cheaper. He let his online dating membership lapse because, he says, once women figured out he was unemployed, it killed things. He can walk to shopping, but often drives his secondhand S.U.V. to a grocery store two towns away just to have someplace to go. “If I walk to the store, I’m back in 10 minutes, and then what?” Last Monday, asked what he had planned for the week, he said, “As of now, I have zero planned, not a thing.”

He has enough to live on for two to three years and knows he’s luckier than many. Still, he wakes in the night, scared. “If I don’t find work by then,” he says, “I don’t know what I’ll do.”

In the meantime, he's written one novel, and has plans to write a second.

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Great News: Workplace Deaths Declined 10% Last Year

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Workplace deaths declined 10% last year, hitting the lowest overall level since 1992. And not all of this decline was due to high unemployment—the fatality rate also fell from 4.0 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers to 3.6 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.

We were doing less work last year but we were also doing less dangerous work. An obvious source of the decline is a drop in dangerous work. Construction, for example, was way down and it has been the largest death-producing sector over the past six years.

But all of this might be just a statistical illusion, warns the Economix Blog at the New York Times. You see, the recession “may have slowed government record-keeping of workplace injuries, as the government agencies that keep track of such information were probably shorter-staffed last year. In other words, these preliminary totals may change as government workers catch up on processing 2008 cases,” Economix writes.

Lots more on the demographics of workplace death—driving is dangerous, and so is being a man—over at Economix.

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Spending Collapses In All Generation Groups

It's no secret that boomers fearing an underfunded retirement have sharply cut spending. However, it's not just boomers cutting back. Consumer attitudes toward debt have changed across all age groups.

A recent Gallup Poll shows just how dramatic a spending shift has taken place. Please consider Boomers? Spending, Like Other Generations?, Down Sharply.
Baby boomers' self-reported average daily spending of $64 in 2009 is down sharply from an average of $98 in 2008. But baby boomers -- the largest generational group of Americans -- are not alone in pulling back on their consumption, as all generations show significant declines from last year. Generation X has reported the greatest spending on average in both years, and is averaging $71 per day so far in 2009, down from $110 in 2008.
Self-Reported Spending

Population Share By Age Group

The chart shows Boomers and Generation X are the two demographic largest groups. Spending is down by 34.7% among boomers and 35.4% in Generation X. Spending is down by 33.7% in generation Y, the third largest demographic group. That is a remarkably consistent decline in spending.

Spending by the "Greatest Generation" is down a whopping 44% but that group only constitutes 5% of the population.

Here are some more interesting charts from the article.

Annual Incomes - Boomers vs. Generation X

Surprisingly, annual incomes are nearly identical for boomers and generation X. However, Generation Y income is dramatically less as the following chart shows.

Annual Incomes -
Boomers vs. Generation Y

Bottom Line
Baby boomers have pulled back considerably on their spending this year, but they are not alone in doing so. Gallup finds significant declines among all generations in average reported daily spending in 2009 compared to 2008. Given that consumer spending is the primary engine of the U.S. economy, it's not clear how much the economy can grow unless spending increases from its current low levels. But spending may not necessarily be the best course of action for baby boomers as they approach retirement age and prepare to rely on Social Security and their retirement savings as primary sources of income. Indeed, the two generations consisting largely of retirement-age Americans consistently show the lowest levels of reported spending.
I can add to those thoughts. Boomers and Generation X are loaded to the gills with debt. Boomers in particular are downsizing and income growth is stagnating across the board.

Moreover, boomers headed into retirement are scared half to death about insufficient funds. Those boomers are not about to go on a spending spree.

Please consider the Incredible Shrinking Boomer Economy.

Boomer Statistics

  • $400 Billion: Amount that will come out of annual U.S. consumption as thrifty boomers push savings rate from 1% to nearly 5%.

  • 47%: Boomers share of national disposable income in 2005 before the bubble burst. Boomers contributed only 7% to national savings.

  • 2.4%: Forecasted GDP growth over the next three decades as boomers ratchet back. GDP has grown 3.2% a year since 1965.

  • 69%: Portion of boomers aged 54 to 63 who are financially unprepared for retirement.

  • 78%: Boomers' share of GDP growth during the bubble years of 1995 to 2005

Those stats are from a McKinsey study, and there is nothing remotely inflationary about boomer demographics.

Nor is there anything inflationary about Generation X demographics. Generation X's have seen boomers blow it. By sharply curtailing spending, generation X at least has chance to right the ship before retirement. It's too late for most boomers. Time ran out.

Now consider generation Y with 19% of the population. Think the income levels of generation Y are going to catch boomers or generation X?


Finally, think about tightening lending standards and attitudes about debt in general. Because of lower incomes and tighter lending standards, it is unlikely that Generation Y will be either able or willing to carry debt burdens to sustain a strong recovery.

Distortionary vs. Inflationary

Bernanke can flood the world with "reserves" and indeed he has. However, he cannot force banks to lend or consumers to borrow.

Here is a simple analogy that everyone should be able to understand: You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. And if the horse does not want to drink, it was a waste of time and energy to lead the horse to the water.

Yet every day someone comes up with another convoluted theory about how inflationary this all is. It is certainly "distortionary" in that it creates problems down the road and prolongs a real recovery by keeping zombie banks alive (as happened in Japan). However, it is not (in aggregate) going to cause massive inflation because it is not spurring the creation of new debt.

Consumers and banks both are suffering from a massive hangover. Their willingness and ability to drink is gone. No matter how many pints of whiskey Bernanke sets in front of someone passed out on the floor, liquor sales will not rise.

In a debt-based economy, it is extremely difficult to produce inflation if consumers will not participate. And as noted above, demographics and attitudes strongly suggest consumers have had enough of debt and spending sprees.

Those pointing to flawed measures of money supply as proof of inflation just don't get it, and likely never will.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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High Cost of Living Leaves Some States Uncompetitive

Late this spring, when voters in California emphatically rejected tax increases to close the state budget gap, they sent a clear message to state policymakers. They were tired of California?s high taxes, which according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation, consumed 10.5 percent of state per capita income last year. This compared with a national average of 9.7 percent, making California the sixth most heavily taxed state in the nation.

But if Californians were tired of paying an additional 0.8 percent of their income in state and local taxes, what would they make of research by economists at the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis that estimated that the cost of living in California, based on 2006 data, was a whopping 29.1 percent above the national average? Obviously, from an economic point of view, the state?s high cost of living has a much greater impact on the average person?s standard of living than taxes do.

Cost of living is not an issue that we typically think about, when it comes to voting and politics. That needs to change. Cost of living estimates provide a valuable tool for making accurate comparisons of economic performance. Moreover, they provide the best available, if indirect, measure of the costs imposed by regulation. And with Congress debating potentially dramatic changes in how we regulate energy and health care, costs of this kind clearly deserve close scrutiny.

Let?s begin with economic performance, starting with California. According to 2006 census estimates from the American Community Survey, the median household income in California was $56,645. In terms of ranking, that made California the sixth most prosperous state in the nation. But how did California fare, once the cost of living was taken into account? The answer is not very well. The economists who published the 2006 data, Bettina Aten and Roger D?Souza, did not deflate income data by the full 29.1 percent when calculating the real effect of cost of living. Rather, they exempted certain components of income, such as government transfer payments. Using this attenuated calculation, real median household income in California in 2006 was $47,988. In terms of ranking, that dropped California down to 31st place. (Were the data deflated by the full 29.1 percent, the state would have fallen all the way to 48th place.)

California is not the only state afflicted with an exorbitant cost of living. Bluer than blue New York State, according to the Aten and D?Souza data, had an even higher cost of living, estimated at 31.8 percent above the national average. And not surprisingly, it fared particularly badly, once the cost of living was taken into account. Again using an attenuated calculation, the median household income in New York dropped from $51,384 in nominal dollars down to $42,744 in cost of living adjusted dollars. In terms of rankings, this dropped New York from 17th place down to 49th place. (Were the data deflated by the full 31.8 percent, the state would have fallen to last place, almost 10 percent lower than the next poorest state, Mississippi.)

What cost of living estimates taketh away from some, however, they also giveth to others. Consider, for example, Utah and Minnesota. In the case of Utah, median household income in 2006 stood at $51,309 in nominal terms. But according to the Aten and D?Souza estimates, the cost of living in Utah was 13.5 percent below the national average. Using the attenuated calculation, cost of living adjusted income in Utah was $57,147, the second highest in the nation.

In the case of Minnesota, median household income in 2006 stood at $54,023 in nominal terms. But according to the Aten and D?Souza estimates, the cost of living was 7.4 percent below the national average. The attenuated calculation put the Minnesota a cost of living adjusted income at $57,140, third highest in the nation.

As a general rule, the states with the lowest cost of living are states in the South and to a lesser degree the Mountain West. Among the states of the Old South, only Virginia had a cost of living above the national average. Dynamic states like North Carolina had a cost of living 13.1 percent below the national average. In Georgia, the figure was 12.1 percent. In the Mountain West, Idaho had a cost of living 17.3 percent below the national average. In New Mexico, the figure was 16.5 percent.

Besides affecting the true measure of economic performance, cost of living differentials have other, important implications as well. Federal taxes are one example. Consider New York. For years, it has been recognized that New York State sends more in taxes to Washington, D.C. than it receives back in the form of federal outlays. Recently, there has been some disagreement about the size of this deficit, but in the past it was generally agreed that it amounted to approximately two percent of Gross State Product. If New Yorkers were truly rich, this would not be a great burden. But as shown already, that is not the case. By failing to control its cost of living, New York ends up subsidizing other states that in real terms are doing much better.

Another implication of cost of living differentials has to do with population. All things being equal, people will live where they can maximize their standard of living. Not surprisingly, states that have seen the largest population growth in recent decades tend to be those with a low cost of living, notably in the South and in the Mountain West. On the other hand, states with a high cost of living have typically seen population growth lag. This is particularly true among certain Northeastern states that should have boomed, if nominal income were the best guide of how well a state is doing. Examples include Massachusetts, Connecticut and to a lesser degree, New Jersey, which has the second highest median household income in the nation.

In sum, the cost of living says a great deal about a state, its politics and its future.

Eamon Moynihan is the Director of the Cost of Living Project in New York. The purpose of the project is make New York City and State more competitive, with a particular focus on the costs imposed by regulation. A former government official at both the City and State level, he most recently served as Deputy Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Policy Development. An interactive website for the project can be accessed at

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