Unemployment Trends in the U.S., 1967 to 2009

July 7, 2009

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has some new numbers out issued in early July, 2009. Here are some graphs of them. The sources for these numbers were the Department of Labor and the Bureau of Census.

Median Weeks Unemployed
This first graph shows the median weeks of unemployment from 1967 to 2009.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, via Dept. of Labor

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, via Dept. of Labour

Main peaks during the period July, 1967 through June, 2009 were as follows:
NOTE:  These were peaks that exceeded 1.5 standard deviations above the average through the period.

Nov 1982 through Aug 1983 – Average, 10.68 weeks
Oct 1994 – Average, 10.0 weeks
Jun 2002 – Average, 11.0 weeks
Apr 2003 through Jun 2004 – Average, 10.31 weeks
Jun 2008 through Jun 2009 – Average, 11.42 weeks
Greatest peak, Jun 2009 – 17.90 weeks

Job Loss Claims
The next graph shows the weekly job loss claims for the same period.

Source: Federal Reserve, St Louis via Bureau of Labor Statistics

Source: Federal Researve, St Louis via Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job loss claims exceeded 1.5 standard deviations above the 42-year average during these periods:
Dec 1974 to Jun 1975 – Average, 524,458 (~six months)
Apr 1980 to Sep 1980 – Average, 565,228 (~five months)
Oct 1981 to Mar 1983 – Average, 562,912 (~17 months)
Mar 1991 to Apr 1991 – Average, 496,813 (~ two months)
Oct 2001 to Oct 2001 – Average, 489,250 (~one month)
Nov 2008 to Jun 2009 – Average, 593,934 (~ 7 months and counting)
Maximum: 674,250 on Oct 09, 1982
Minimum: 179, 000 on May 17, 1969

Income Distribution in the U.S., 1967 to 2007

January 3, 2009

Everyone in every sector of this society has beat this horse to death, so I may as well take a stab at it too.

Seriously, though, any complete inventory of the basic elements in any society has to include some indicator of how resources are distributed.  And since we push around symbols instead of actual, you know, goods, that is our measure of well-being.  In my opinion, it’s not the best measure, but it is a measure.

What follows is a set of graphs, one comparing the beginning and ending points of a series that runs from 1967 to 2007, and then six others showing the trend in the time-frame.

Conventionally, comparisons are made between segments of the population divided into quintiles, and then the proportion of aggregate income in each of these quintiles is computed.

The idea is this:  Suppose that 20% of the population is considered and they make 20% of the income.  If you were to compute the percent of the population in each “bucket” and develop a cumulative distribution, then if the income were totally equally distributed you would see 40% of the population getting 40% of the income, 60% of the population getting 60% of the income and so on, until 100% of the population had 100% of the income.

Under this condition, if you were to plot the percent of the population against the percent of the income, you would see a straight line.  Of course, income is never equally distributed in any society that we know of, so the real curve sags from this straight line.  The curve under the straight line is called a Lorenz curve, after the guy who developed it, Max O. Lorenz.  Here is a Wikipedia article on it

There is a very rich body of work on this subject, so I won’t go into it here.  I’ll just show the pictures and give some links at the end if you want to explore.

OK, so here is the first picture.  It shows the percent of aggregate income in each quintile of the population for the two end-points of the time series, 1967 and 2007.


Income Quintiles, 1967 and 2007

Notice how all quintiles have lost shares in aggregate income while the top quintile has gained in the period.  This is the reason there is so much debate over income inequality these days.

So, with that overview, let’s take a tour of each quintile and see what the trend has been for each of them over these last forty years.

Here is the trend for the lowest quintile.  What else is there to say; they started out with little and ended up with less.  Here is the graph.

Lowest fifth

Lowest fifth

Next, we have the second quintile.  Like the lowest, they have been on a consistent decline.

Second fifth

Second fifth

Next is the third quintile.  This group has been known in the past as blue collar workers, but of late it is fashionable to call them middle class.

Third fifth

Third fifth

Next we have the fourth quintile.  Traditionally these have been called the middle class, and they are the group that grew the fastest after World War II.  Notice the steep decline that began about 1982.


Fourth Fifth

Next, we have the top fifth quintile.  This group has been labeled the upper middle class in past decades.

Highest fifth

Highest fifth

Ah, Hah!  They are the ones who have been getting all the dough at the expense of all the other quintiles.

But wait, there’s one more.  These are the people we have thought of as the upper class in past decades.  They are the top five percent of the income group.  In other words, five percent of the population are getting the most dough.


Top Five Percent

An interesting little blip at the 2007 end of the trend line shows a decline in their share of aggregate income.  Since all of this adds to 100%, then if their share goes down, someone else’ must be going up.  Who are they?

Looking back at the graphs, it is the third and fourth quintiles who have gained at the expense of the top-tier groups.  Why is this so?  If I were an economist, I could probably answer that, but I’m not.  And besides, I never trust a blip unless it persists for more than three successive data points.

In summary, I have spent very little time on this subject because it is covered so well by so many people that you can find good analysis all over the place.

A good place to start is the U.S. Bureau of Census American Community Survey.  Here is a link to several tables and graphs that can get you started.   Bureau of Census Income Statistics Page

The Staff of Life: Wheat Trends in the U.S.

November 10, 2008

UPDATE:  November 09, 2009

I’ve just updated the wheat production data recently published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  See the new graphs below.



Whenever I look at a nation-state or a geographic cultural cluster, the first thing I think is, “How do they take care of their basic needs?”  You could do a thought experiment that included a question like, “If this unit of analysis suddenly found itself cut off from the rest of the world, would they be able to survive on their own natural resources?”

Let’s examine the “unit of analysis” thing a little.  In this particular piece, the unit of analysis is the United States as a whole.  But sometimes, the nation-state is not the best one.  Borders are always changing all over the world.  Cultures, on the other hand, tend to persist over longer time periods.  The up-side of nation-states is that they keep lots of detailed statistics.  Cultural groups, however — even though they persist longer than nation-states, often have boundaries that cross national borders, and to get any kind of useful data, you have to send an anthropologist out into the field every time you want a datapoint.  Not practical.  So, you go with what you got.

The other day, I was trying to get trend data on wheat production in the former USSR countries, and fortunately the Russian Republic archived some of the old records from each of the newly (relatively) formed nations.  The data are pretty spotty, though, and I don’t have a Russian specialist ready at hand who knows where all the dusty records are kept.  I still haven’t found the dusty old records at Statistics Canada, but I probably have a better shot at getting trend data from them than anybody other than the U.S.

So, that leaves me with a very nice dataset from the U.S. Bureau of the Census and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Most of what follows runs from 1866 to 2008 (the 2008 data points are estimates made by the respective agencies).  There is one series that starts in 1919 and runs to 2008, and that is on the acres planted.  For some reason, this element was either not collected or not reported until 1919.  I don’t know why, because you would think that it would be important to know how much was planted and then how much was actually harvested.  From that you could infer possible causes, like hail storms or dust storms wiping out a planting before it could be harvested.  You will see a stark example of the dust bowl in the first graph.

OK, so here we go…

This first graph runs from 1919 to 2009, and it is the acres harvested as a percent of the acres planted.  It’s quite dramatic to see the results of crops wiped out and never harvested because they were literally buried in dust before they came to maturity.

Wheat harvested as pct of acres planted

This next graph shows the yield per acre of all types of wheat for the period 1866 through 2009

Wheat yield bushels per acre

Beginning in about 1936, the trend line starts to go exponential (at least in the short term).  You might surmise that the sharp jump just after that was the beginning of World War II, and you would probably be right.  You might also surmise that it was the result of farm subsidies from the New Deal, the introduction of large sowing and reaping machines, the introduction of fertilizers and pesticides, cheap fuel, etc., and you might very well be right on all counts.

Now, let’s ask the fundamental question:  For each person in the U.S., how many acres were harvested during this same time period.  So, the two graphs that follow control for the population by putting them on a per capita basis.

First, the number of acres harvested per capita:

Wheat acres harvested percapita

Oh, oh, something is strange here, no?  The yield goes up for every acre but the acres per person goes down.  Let’s see what happens when we ask the next obvious question:  If the apparent efficiency is so high, then the yield per person must go up, no?

Here’s what happened:

Wheat yield bushels percapita

The curve looks for all the world like a very nice sine wave, except for that nasty dip during the depression and dust bowl.  The straight line that runs through the series is the overall average through the entire series.

Keep in mind that none of this takes into account imports and exports.  If I were to attempt to do that, I would very much like to have an economist explain the subtleties, because as a mere sociologist, I haven’t a clue about the mysteries of balance of trade dynamics.

I almost put a regression line through these series, but then thought better of it.  This is the pure raw data and some simple ratios for per-unit production (by unit acre, and per capita).

UPDATE:  November 09, 2009.  Well I finally did succumb to the temptation and put regression lines through them.

Please leave comments in the comments section (just click on “comments” and it will take you to the input page).  I really would like to have your opinion of these trends.

Employees by Class Size, U.S., Part 1, the Basics

October 29, 2008

It is often said that most jobs are created by small business.  I usually take this as propaganda by the latest political candidate, but I decided to look into, you know, actual statistics.  First, I found data from the U.S. Statistical Abstract, and it wasn’t detailed enough for me, so I went ‘ahunting at the County Business Patterns reports, one of the auxiliary report series the BOC puts out in coordination with many other federal agencies.

NOTE:  You can get a larger, more readable view of these graphs by double-clicking on them.

This is the first in a short series, because the detail would be just too much for one post.  So, here are two graphs: one showing the number of employees in each of five size classes the reports present, and the second showing a trend line comparing the different class sizes.

Notice that most of the employees in the U.S. work in small businesses.  In fact, between 71% and 74% of all employees in the U.S. work in establishments smaller than 500 persons.

The next question was, how has this ranking changed over time?  The answer is, well, not much.  Looking at the graph below, you can see that the greatest number of employees have worked in establishments of between 20 and 99 persons in the period from 1980 to 2004.

Coming soon, some other graphs I did on the percentage distribution of these statistics, and a comparison of the percentage of persons with the percentage of payrolls in each size class.  It will probably surprise you as it did me. And it raised more questions that it provided answers.

More to follow…

Roofus Goes to Paris

October 28, 2008

My brother went to Paris a few years ago for his birthday, and he found Roofus sitting atop a statue.  So this is where he goes when he isn’t sitting on the roof of the old Victorian building next door.

According to my brother, this was taken on a clear November day:

I took the picture in Paris, not too far from the Louvre.  It’s in a city park that used to be the site of the Guillotine that beheaded so many people during the French Revolution.  I don’t remember who this guy is, but he definitly has some pent up angst.  Anyway, I was thinking that it would make a great Rufus shot for your blog.  Maybe you could start a contest to see what countries Rufus has been visiting?

He must be at least trilingual, because I have heard rumors that he sometimes winters in Baja.

Farm Cooperatives in the U.S.: A Snapshot Through Time

October 24, 2008

Just recently there was a lively discussion of cooperatives on one of the discussion groups I subscribe to, so I thought I would trace at least one of them:  Farm Cooperatives.  I had to narrow it down because, much to my surprise, there is a wealth of information out there.  In this particular case I went to the USDA web site and they have an entire section on cooperatives.  Furthermore, they have statistics with long term trends, some beginning with 1913.

The next task was to narrow down the data from “Farm Cooperatives” in general to just one out of all the kinds of farm cooperatives they have data for.  In this very narrow category, I assembled data for Farm Cooperatives specializing in marketing, farm supplies and services, a very narrow category indeed, since there are ones for rice and corn and machinery and everything else imaginable in the world of farms.

So, here is a graph of the number of these particular cooperatives from nearly the beginning of the 20th century until 2002.

So, the next question was, if there was such a precipituous decline in the number of coops in this category, what was happening to the membership during this period.  Not surprisingly, it was in decline as well, but with a different envelope.  Here is that graph.

Finally, one might ask, what was the average membership for each of these coop organizations?  One would think that it, too, might be declining, but noo, it was going the other way around.  Here is the graph for that.

So, we might conclude that there was a consolidation and concentration going on.  But that is only part of the story.  Stay tuned for the tangled web, and perhaps a few hints that the coop movement may be on the move again.

Interlude 2: More Old Building Designs

October 19, 2008

So, I am a Project Gutenberg addict. There is a goldmine of lost practices and designs for structures in there. This one is called Wordward’s Graperies and Horticultural Buildings and has some beautiful building designs of “Graperies” that would make fine Little House designs in their own right.

Here are a few pictures from the ebook:

This one is a front view of what, in the book, is a quite long structure intended to grow grapes indoors in the Hudson river valley, where they were not successful at growing European grapes because of mildew problems.

The one below is an open-ended structure that appears to be a kind of promenade with fountains.

This one looks to be a full-scale greenhouse.  I like the idea of the long windows along the side walls.

This one appears to be built on a foundation that barely reaches above grade, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t make a livable structure. With the gutters at the edge, they could act as part of a rainwater collection system, in my estimation.

Finally, there is this one, with the greenhouse/gazebo structure built right onto the house.

I hope you enjoy these pictures as much as I do.  If you feel so inclined, go read the book.  This sometimes feels like rediscovering the wheel instead of reinventing it.

Interlude: Houses from the past

October 17, 2008

So, I was browsing around at Project Gutenberg for books on how people thought of houses in the past, and ran across this ebook. Rural Architecture. which has the extended title, “Being a complete description of Farm Houses, Cottages and Outbuildings.”  The book is about 380 pages long with another 12 or so pages advertising a series of publications by this publishing house.

I was particularly taken by some of the line drawings, some of which follow.  In between each segment on a particular type of house there are rather detailed plans and notations, and I was reminded of Yogi Berra’s comment that “you can see a lot by just observing.”

This is one example of an old cottage from the book. A couple more of them are below.
Old Two-Story Cottage line drawing
Above is a two-story cottage.  Notice the extension on the back.  This seemed to be a popular design in the mid 1800’s.

Here is another:

another example of a cottage design around 1850
It seems to me that there is a striking resemblance to modern “Little Houses.” So what is old becomes new again.

First Principles: The Founders, Part 1

January 24, 2008

First, I want to say that I am not an Historian. But I have been a history buff for many years. So, if you want to think of this as a bit of history buffery, so be it. With that out of the way, let’s proceed.

Second, some observations about what seems to me a total disconnect between current political philosophy among the electorate, and that of the founders of the United States. There are surely serious scholars of current political philosophy out there, but they aren’t very visible to ordinary citizens.

The Founders were concerned with First Principles, while in the din of everyday current life, these first principles are rarely if ever mentioned. Here are some writers from just before, during and after the American Revolution:

Thomas Paine: Agrarian Justice

To preserve the benefits of what is called civilized life, and to remedy at the same time the evil which it has produced, ought to [be] considered as one of the first objects of reformed legislation.

Whether that state that is proudly, perhaps erroneously, called civilization, has most promoted or most injured the general happiness of man is a question that may be strongly contested. On one side, the spectator is dazzled by splendid appearances; on the other, he is shocked by extremes of wretchedness; both of which it has erected. The most affluent and the most miserable of the human race are to be found in the countries that are called civilized.

In this treatise, Paine asserts some rather startling ideas. Here is what he says about property ownership:

It is a position not to be controverted that the earth, in its natural, cultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race. In that state every man would have been born to property. He would have been a joint life proprietor with rest in the property of the soil, and in all its natural productions,vegetable and animal.

But the earth in its natural state, as before said, is capable of supporting but a small number of inhabitants compared with what it is capable of doing in a cultivated state. And as it is impossible to separate the improvement made by cultivation from the earth itself, upon which that improvement is made, the idea of landed property arose from that parable connection; but it is nevertheless true, that it is the value of the improvement, only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property.

Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated lands, owes to the community ground-rent (for I know of no better term to express the idea) for the land which he holds; and it is from this ground-rent that the fund prod[sic] in this plan is to issue.

Paine continues to develop his idea that no one can ever own property, only the improvements on it, and this is how he proposes righting what he sees as a wrong against the natural order of things:

Having thus in a few words, opened the merits of the case, I shall now proceed to the plan I have to propose, which is,

To create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person,when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property:

And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.

In other words, at the age of 21, everyone is paid a lump sum from a fund generated by a “land rent” (so they can get started in life), and then an annual stipend beginning at age fifty for the rest of their life.

Notice the theme running through this piece about happiness. The same thread runs through the writings of nearly all of the Founders. Some were more explicit than others, but the underlying assumption is that the only purpose of society, and government in particular, is to create the maximum happiness for the greatest number of persons.

Here is John Adams on the subject: Thoughts on Government

We ought to consider, what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all Divines and moral Philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow, that the form of government, which communicates ease, comfort, security, or in one word happiness to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.

Again, the theme is repeated by Thomas Jefferson: Inalienable Rights

“The only orthodox object of the institution of government is to secure the greatest degree of happiness possible to the general mass of those associated under it.” –Thomas Jefferson to M. van der Kemp, 1812. ME 13:135

How very different it seems today.

The Enlightenment wasn’t the only influence on the Founders when they looked for models of First Principles. Both Jefferson and Franklin admired governing practices of Indian tribes they came in contact with. Here is an ethnographic sketch by Franklin (archaic language cleaned up by the author) where he describes a tribal council meeting: Franklin on Native Americans

The Indian men, when young, are hunters and warriors, when old, counsellors; for all their government is by the counsel or advice of the sages. There is no force, there are no prisons, no officers to compel obedience or inflict punishment. Hence they generally study oratory, the best speaker having the most influence.

The Indian women till the ground, dress the food, nurse and bring up the children, and preserve and hand down to posterity the memory of public transactions ….

Having frequent occasions to hold public councils, they have acquired great order and decency in conducting them. The old men sit in the foremost rank, the warriors in the next, and the women and children the hindmost. The business of the women is to take exact notice of what passes, imprint it on their memories—for they have no writing—and communicate it to their children. They are the records of the council, and they preserve tradition of the stipulations in treaties a hundred years back, which when we compare with our writings we always find exact.

He that would speak, rises. The rest observe a profound silence. When he has finished and sits down, they leave him five or six minutes to recollect, that if he has omitted anything he intended to say or has anything to add, he may rise again and deliver it. To interrupt another, even in common conversation, is reckoned highly indecent.

How different it is from the conduct of a polite British House of Commons, where scarce a day passes without some confusion that makes the Speaker hoarse in calling to order; and how different from the mode of conversation in many polite companies of Europe, where if you do not deliver your sentence with great rapidity, you are cut off in the middle of it by the impatient loquacity of those you converse with and never allowed to finish it.

Statements alluding to Indian governing practices and admiration of their way of life are sprinkled through many of Franklin’s letters. Within fifty years, however, much of this devotion to First Principles, and to an admiration of the folkways of Indians was to change radically. The question is, why and how did this change happen? In part 2 of this sketch, I will attempt to outline these changes and speculate about the causes.

Why I hate Government Web Sites These Days

August 14, 2007

This is a rant, pure and simple. OK, so here’s the deal. Lately, I have been following a trail on renewable energy, and I am finding it damn hard to get the data.

It used to be, you could go to almost any U.S. Government web site, and you could find a link that led to some really geeky data sources. If you felt so inclined, you could download pure raw data, and you could download all the documentation that went with it. There was even an email address for the technical staffer responsible for assembling the data, and other email addresses for the geeks in the field who collected the raw data. Almost always, if you had a question, you could write them and they would respond with either a direct answer or point you to someone who could.

Now, it’s all different. You go to almost any government web site, what do you get? You get the name of the administrator and all their minions. If you click on their name, you get served up a resume of all the wonderful things the administrator has done and all the bland talk of how wonderful the future of this department will be. Blah, Blah, Blah. Do you get an email address? No. Do you get direct links to data? No. You have to run around in circles with the successive links leading you back to where you started. The data? Dumbed down graphics that tell you almost nothing. Raw data? Forgettaboutit. You know it exists, because they had to make the nice pretty graphics from it. Or, maybe they just made shit up and put it up on the page to make it look like they are doing important stuff.

OK, I’m done now.