US Economy: the incredible shrinking farmer

Standard

The US has lost its dominant position in global agriculture. The Wall Street Journal reports that since 1985, the US share of global sales has shrunk from

  • Soybeans: 77% down to 38%
  • Corn: 56% down to 37%
  • Wheat: 30% down to 15%

Brazil alone farms the same amount of land for soybeans as does the US, and has almost matched the US in annual production.

US farmers are now watching weather and crop reports for Brazil in order to time when to sell crops.

While farming is much less important to the US economy than it was in the 1920s, weakness in the sector was cited as a contributor to the Great Depression. It certainly contributes to balance of payments issues today.


Sources:

  1. Jesse Newman and Jacob Bunge, “U. S. Farmers Fall Behind New Powers,” The Wall Street Journal, 11 April 2017, p.1.

Sources of a No Growth Economy

Standard

ben_franklinYounger people are putting off marriage, children and buying  homes because they lack financial security — unstable jobs and too  much student loan debt.

That’s one of the interpretations of a new report from the Census Bureau on Millenials. (1)

In looking at generational change, the report compares 18 to 34-year-olds in 2016 versus 1975.  In looking at just the older portion of this group, 25 to 34-year-olds, there are striking differences:

  • 1975: 45% lived on their own, were working, had married and had a child.
  • 2016: 24% live on their own, are working, have married and have a child.

From the point of view of the economy, the difference is huge. Buying a home drives spending on furniture and appliances, as well as painters and a range of other services. Having children drives demand for larger cars and clothing. Doing neither reduces spending in all of these categories.

The average income for 25-34-year-olds in 1975 was $30,101. In 2016, it was $43,751. That sounds good until you factor in inflation.

  • A salary of $30,101 in 1975 dollars is worth $134,283 in 2016 dollars.
  • The percent of people with student loans has climbed from 17% in 1975 to 41% today.

More people have gone to college, but they’re paying more for education in order to earn functionally less than their parents.

The report also notes that among the growing percentage who live with their parents, there are issues with health or grandchildren that interfere with employment. There’s also an issue with a cohort of younger white males who lack a college degree and have very limited employment prospects.

As long as politicians ignore these trends, efforts to keep the economy going will run out of steam.  In this context, Andrew Cuomo, the government of New York, seems especially prescient in eliminating college cost as a burden for many New York residents.

 


Sources:

  1. Vespa, Jonathan, “The Changing Economics and Demographics of
    Young Adulthood: 1975–2016,”Current Population Reports,P20-579, U.S. Census Bureau,Washington, DC, 2017.

Politicians Take Care of Themselves

Standard

This is either sad or funny.

24/7WallStreet ranked counties in the US on a combination of three measures:

  • Education (economic status of residents)
  • Poverty rate (how the local economy is doing)
  • Life expectancy (a measure of health and medical services)

The top 5 counties in the US (and 7 of the top 10) on these measures are suburbs of Washington, DC, where Congress lives.

  1. Falls Church (Independent City), VA ————————————- (DC metro)
  2. Arlington County, VA ———————————————————– (DC metro)
  3. Fairfax County, VA ————————————————————— (DC metro)
  4. Loudoun County, VA ————————————————————- (DC metro)
  5. Howard County, MD ————————————————————- (suburb of both DC and Baltimore; location of Columbia, MD)
  6. Douglas County, CO (part of Denver metro area)
  7. Los Alamos, NM (Federal nuclear research center)
  8. Fairfax (Independent City), VA ———————————————- (DC metro)
  9. Marin County, CA
  10. Alexandria (Independent City), VA —————————————- (DC metro)

Surprised?

Conversely, the worst counties in which to live are

  1. McDowell County, WV
  2. East Carroll Parish, LA
  3. Issaquena County, MS
  4. McCreary County, KY
  5. Clay County, KY
  6. Holmes County, MS
  7. Quitman County, MS
  8. Jefferson County, MS
  9. Calhoun County, GA
  10. Stewart County, GA

Given what I’ve posted recently on education and healthcare in the South, this list shouldn’t come as a surprise either.


Sources:

  1. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2017/01/13/the-worst-counties-to-live-in/
  2. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2017/01/24/the-best-counties-to-live-in/?utm_source=AOL&utm_medium=CPC&utm_content=the-best-counties-to-live-in&utm_campaign=AOL

ACA Repeal, Again

Standard

According to Bloomberg, the White House wants Congress to vote on a revised bill next week.  There are some proposed amendments to the bill that failed in March in an effort to try to unify GOP House members to support the bill, but nothing has been finalized.

One item being considered is a proposal by Representative Tom MacArthur (R, NJ):

The amendment, reported earlier by Huffington Post, would allow insurers to charge higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions in states that get a waiver. To obtain the waiver, states would have to provide sick people priced out of commercial insurance access to a so-called high-risk pool run by the federal government, or establish their own, and satisfy other conditions. (1)

A separate commentary on the same issue goes further:

According to a draft of the tentative deal obtained by POLITICO, the latest proposal would allow states to apply for “limited waivers” that would undermine Obamacare’s protections for pre-existing conditions. Under these waivers, states could opt out of Obamacare standards setting minimum benefits that health plans must offer and a requirement — called community rating — forbidding insurers from charging different prices to people based on health status. Both are provisions that the GOP’s ultraconservatives have pushed to eliminate as part of the repeal effort, contending that these coverage mandates drive up the cost of insurance.

What this means in practice is a two-tiered health system based on where people live. People in places like Mississippi and Kentucky that have relatively poor healthcare now, will have less access to healthcare and higher costs in the future. Conversely, states that offer better healthcare will maintain existing benefits. That’s a compromise that could pass, or could just make everyone unhappy.

Overall, this attempt keeps the negatives associated with the bill, and adds one more. Historically, risk pools haven’t worked. They’ve been budget-breakers when they’ve been tried for auto and health insurance in several states. If anything, more people will lose health coverage and costs will escalate as predicted by the CBO.


Sources:

  1. Billy House, Jennifer Jacobs, “White House, GOP leaders at odds over plans for Obamacare vote,” BenefitsPro, 20 April 2017. http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/04/20/white-house-gop-leaders-at-odds-over-plans-for-oba?kw=White%20House%2C%20GOP%20leaders%20at%20odds%20over%20plans%20for%20Obamacare%20vote&et=editorial&bu=BenefitsPRO&cn=20170420&src=EMC-Email_editorial&pt=News%20Alert
  2. Adam Cancryn and Josh Dawsey, “White House plans Obamacare showdown next week,” Politico, 20 April 2017. http://www.politico.com/story/2017/04/20/obamacare-repeal-republicans-new-deal-237397

 

Political Polarization

Standard

If you think political dialog is becoming nastier, you’re right. A recent survey by Pew documents that differences between liberals and conservatives regarding the current president are more extreme than at any time in recent US history.

!1

Democrats  disapprove of Trump more than they disapproved of any other Republican president. Further, they disapprove of Trump more than Republicans ever disapproved of either Obama or Clinton, at the comparable point in their term in office. Conversely, the Republican base is still strongly behind Trump.

That’s probably bad news for Trump. While there’s not much more he can do to alienate Democrats, he can lose independents who “lean Republican”, and that would affect the 2018 midterm elections. Percent approval among those who “lean Republican” may never change, but the number of people who “lean Republican” may shrink. Based on the history of other presidents, it probably will.

 

Surgical Safety

Standard

This finding appeared today, and it raises all sorts of questions about the quality of care in some hospitals in the US:

South Carolina saw a 22 percent reduction in post-surgical deaths in hospitals that completed a voluntary, statewide program to implement the World Health Organization Surgical Safety Checklist. (1)

In the South Carolina test, 14 hospitals volunteered to use the checklist, and saw a decline in deaths within the thirty days following surgery. Other hospitals in the state saw a slight increase in deaths during the same period. The trial program was run in these hospitals between 2010 and 2013.

The writers make a point that hospitals need to truly commit to the procedure, not treat it  as “a checkbox.”

There are two items that are shocking about this:

  • That the country with the most expensive healthcare in the world needs to learn this from others, and
  • The checklist has been in existence since 2008. (2)

Has your hospital adopted this checklist? If not, do you want to find one that has?

 


Sources:

  1. Alex B. Haynes, Lizabeth Edmondson, Stuart R. Lipsitz, George Molina, Bridget A. Neville, Sara J. Singer, Aunyika T. Moonan, Ashley Kay Childers, Richard Foster, Lorri R. Gibbons, Atul A. Gawande, William R. Berry. Mortality Trends After a Voluntary Checklist-based Surgical Safety Collaborative. Annals of Surgery, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000002249
  2. Institute for Healthcare Improvement, “World Health Organization (WHO) Surgical Safety Checklist and Getting Started Kit.” http://www.ihi.org/resources/Pages/Tools/WHOSurgicalSafetyChecklistGettingStartedKit.aspx