Doug Short has written a great article on median U.S. household income through time. He shows that the median household income in the U.S., adjusted for inflation, has fallen by 7.2% since 2000 and is 7.9% below the peak reached near the start of 2008, as we entered the last recession. How do we reconcile this with the notion of an economic recovery? Continue reading
With unemployment staying fairly high and steady, despite massive economic stimulus, many are wondering what it will take to create more good jobs in America. One explanation is simply that the fastest growing and most innovative American firms simply don’t need all that many employees. Even industries that have historically needed lots of workers are becoming automated. An excellent book that explores this theme is Race Against the Machine, by two professors at MIT. An article that provides a summary of the book’s thesis is available here. Continue reading
I am now at an age at which many of my friends have kids preparing for, or going to, college. I have a few more years to figure out the details, but this is an issue that I have followed for a long time. My local in-state university, the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU), estimates the all-in cost of attendance at $26,000 per year. This varies a bit, based on which program you choose. Tuition, fees, and books cost about $14,000 per year (though this varies by program) and the estimated cost of room and board is about $12,000 per year. Continue reading
Availability of timely data is at the core of effective financial and economic analysis. The Federal Reserve Economic Database (FRED) provides a vast array of economic time series via an intuitive graphical interface. If you want to get a read on the U.S. economy, FRED is an outstanding resource. The ability to quickly create customized charts makes it quick and easy to examine a wide range of data. In this article, I am going to show a number of these charts, while exploring the overall economic U.S. economic picture. Continue reading
A new article in Knowledge@Wharton highlights a body of research that suggests that the universe of public companies is very different than in the past. There are, for example, 44% fewer publicly-listed companies on U.S. exchanges than there were only fifteen years ago. The Wharton article is a review of a range of work, including both experts who believe that we are seeing a decline in the role and significance of public firms and those who conclude that we are seeing a natural part of the business cycle. In the late 90’s, it seemed as though every small company, with or without a proven product of earnings, was rushing to cash in on IPO fever. Many of these companies subsequently failed. Today, after a decade of weak market performance and with individual investors increasingly skeptical of the stock market, it is not surprising that fewer firms are going public. The Wharton article also cites increased oversight and regulation of public companies as encouraging firms to remain private. Continue reading
Bob Huebscher just published an outstanding article on the sustained high level of unemployment in the United States. The question that he seeks to address is whether we are in the recovery phase of a major recession or we are actually in the midst of a long-term shift in the economy. The article calls these two possible explanations ‘cyclical’ and ‘structural.’ It is worth understanding the key factors that have resulted in the current persistent unemployment levels in order to put the recent modest reduction in unemployment into context. Are we seeing signs of the long-awaited recovery that will bring us back to full employment or is the recent growth in employment simply variability around a long-term shift in the U.S. economy in which unemployment will remain well-above historical levels? Continue reading
Effective Actions in an Uncertain World: Part Five of Our Special Five Part Series
There are a number of factors that we need to predict in order to come up with saving and investing strategies for retirement. The values that we assign to these factors will have a huge impact on whether or not we will be able to meet our goals. First, there is the expected return that investors will make on their retirement savings. Second, there is the common estimate that people will need about 85% of their pre-retirement income to support them once they stop working. Finally, there is the potential impact of behavior on savings rates, investing, and spending. Continue reading
We Are In Trouble: Part One of Our Special Five Part Series
As the presidential election season of 2012 has gotten underway, there is a massive issue that has gotten very little attention: how Americans will sustain themselves in retirement. In 2010, there were 40 million Americans over the age of 65. By 2030, that number is expected to rise to 70 million, which represents 20% of the total population. At the same time, we have moved from a workforce with traditional pensions to one in which each person chooses how much to save and how to invest that money.
Only 42% of American private-sector workers between ages 25 and 64 have any type of retirement plan in their current job. The majority of Americans (67%) who have access to a pension plan have only self-directed accounts such as 401(k)’s and similar accounts (such as 457(b) plans which cover those who work at non-profits or who are employed by the state or local government organizations). A large number of Americans also have IRAs. We refer to these types of retirement plans as Defined Contribution (DC) plans as opposed to Defined Benefit (DB) plans, the traditional pensions that used to be the norm. Continue reading
Social Security is a hot topic in the economic and political landscape these days. Many reports indicate that Social Security’s finances are getting worse as the economy continues to struggle and as the “Baby Boomer” generation begin to retire. To add to the confusion, Texas Governor Rick Perry is standing by his assertion that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme—a fraud being perpetuated on today’s young people by old people. While I’m not sure this is necessarily true, I recently came across a fascinating history of the Social Security program that will help us understand how we got to where we are in the first place.
Guest Blog by Lauren Tivnan, Managing Editor, Portfolioist.com with contributing research by Geoff Considine.
September is here. For many of us, this means summer is over and the kids are back at school. For investors, the arrival of September signals the September swoon—a month where investors typically buckle up and hang on for a bumpy ride.
This year, investors have been buckled in since the start of the summer and are still bracing for impact. And who can blame them? Continue reading