Archive for March, 2011

Wednesday’s housing data showed that the number of single-family homes under construction fell again in February:

Ten years ago, America’s home builders were in the midst of constructing 672,000 single-family homes. Five years ago, they were building 990,000 homes. Last year, they were building 304,000. And now that figure is down to 252,000.

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Dilbert Explores the Limits of Bargaining

P.S. Yes, I will return to posting words, not just comics, in the near future. Unless, of course, someone would like to pay me not to …

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Mathematically Annoying Advertising

My favorite online cartoonist is xkcd, a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language. Today’s entry reveals xkcd’s inner economist:

All of these drive me nuts.

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Do state and local workers get paid more or less than their private sector counterparts?

That old question has taken on renewed life with the budget and labor disputes raging in Wisconsin and other states. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy question to answer.

As Ford Fessenden notes in a nice set of graphics at the New York Times,one reason is that observers disagree on what “paid” and “counterpart” mean.

If you simply compare average pay and benefits, for example, state and local workers come out well ahead:

But the two workforces differ. State and local workers are more educated, on average, than private ones. About 50% of state and local workers have a college degree, for example, while only 29% of private workers do. Controlling for that reduces the compensation differential.

But then you need to consider other factors as well, such as the generally longer hours and lower job security in the private sector.

Fessenden doesn’t reach a firm conclusion. Some data suggest that public employees are indeed paid more. But some narrower (and therefore more precise or less representative) comparisons show parity (hospital workers) or higher private pay (higher education).

Well worth flipping through the charts if you are interested in this issue.

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Nice jobs report on Friday. Let’s hope we get twenty or thirty more.

One good sign is that the broad U-6 measure of underemployment continues to fall. It peaked at 17.4% in October 2009 and was still as high as 17.0% last November.

In February it was down to 15.9%:

(As you may recall, the U-6 measures includes the officially unemployed, marginally attached workers, and those who are working part-time but want full-time work.)

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Feelin’ Lousy

PBS took this video down due to copyright restrictions.

Performed by Merle Hazard, Bretton Wood, and Wolf Jackson; lyrics by the winner of a PBS Newshour contest:

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How long is the long term?

When discussing the U.S. budget, it’s usually something between 5 years and 75 years. At least it used to be.

But the ongoing battle over this year’s funding has begun to warp the language. See, for example, this quote from a recent UPI story about efforts to strike a deal to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year:

 WASHINGTON, March 3 (UPI) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden vowed Thursday the “conversation will continue” after meeting with congressional leaders on a long-term budget deal.

President Barack Obama sent Biden, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew and White House Chief of Staff William Daley to Capitol Hill Thursday to work out a deal for a long-term budget plan, 154 days after the government began operating without one, CNN reported.

Things are now so bad that funding the government through the end of September counts as long-term budgeting. Egads.

I suppose that’s true if your benchmark is this week’s deal funding the government for just two weeks. But calling that deal “short-term” and a deal through September “long-term” seems an insult to the language.

So, readers, any better naming ideas? “Two-week” and “Six-month”? “Really short-term” and “Short-term”?  

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