Saturday, March 28, 2009

Supply and Demand in Action, Part I

Click to enlarge.

The 50 Best (Worst?) Pun Store Names

List.

Florida Home Sales Increase for 6th Straight Month

ORLANDO, Fla. – March 23, 2009Florida’s existing home sales rose in February, making it the sixth consecutive month that sales activity showed increases in the year-to-year comparison, according to the latest housing data released by the Florida Association of Realtors (FAR). February’s statewide sales also increased over January’s figures in both the existing home and existing condo markets.

Existing home sales rose 20% last month with a total of 9,858 homes sold statewide compared to 8,181 homes sold in February 2008 (see chart above). February’s statewide existing home sales were 16.7% higher than January’s statewide sales. Florida’s median sales price for existing homes last month was $141,900; a year ago, it was $199,300 for a 29% decrease.

Thirteen of Florida’s metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) reported increased existing-home sales in February while 11 MSAs also showed gains in condo sales. It marks the eighth month in a row that a number of markets have reported increased sales.

MP: Falling home prices, record-low
mortgage rates, and record-high housing affordability are all working together to fuel a real estate recovery in states like Florida and California. Six consecutive months of increased year-to-year sales activity suggests that the Florida real estate market is way past its bottom, and is making a solid recovery and strong comeback. Markets are working.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Markets in Everything: Free, Open Textbooks

Flat World Knowledge publishes college textbooks that are free online and open for editing. Its business model is to offer the option for students and professors to print soft-cover textbooks in whole or part, at a fraction of the cost of a standard hardbound college text.

The company announced this week that it has
raised $8 million from Greenhill SAVP, High Peaks Venture Partners, and Valhalla Partners.

See the catalog here (including 6 economics texts and 3 finance).

Feb Housing Affordability Hits Another Record High

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) released its latest Housing Affordability Index (HAI) today, showing that housing affordability reached an all-time, historic record high of 173.5 in February (see chart above).

A HAI of 173.5 would mean that the typical household earning the median family annual income of $59,726 in February would have 173.5% of the qualifying income to purchase a median-priced existing single-family house ($164,600) with a 20% down payment, which would be the highest level of housing affordability since the NAR started reporting housing affordability in 1971. Since mid-2006, the HAI has risen almost 74 points, from 99.6 in July 2006 to 173.5 last month.

Stated differently, the annual qualifying income required to purchase a median-price house (with a 20% down payment) is only $34,416, with monthly payments based on a 5.12%, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage ($716.58 per month for principal and interest). Given the median family income of about $59,726, the typical family would have 173.5% of the income required to qualify for the mortgage to purchase the $164,600 home.

MP: The record-high housing affordability will play an important role in the real estate market's recovery, and should be considered very positive news. This key real estate market statistic frequently gets overlooked by the media, which often seems more interested in reporting "record high jobless claims/employment losses/______ fill in the blank" when it's negative news, than reporting record high statistics like housing affordability when it's good news.

Salaries of Central Bank Governors

Ben Bernanke's salary in 2008 was $191,300. What do other heads of the central banks around the world make per year, and who is the highest paid central banker in the world? Find out here.

Real Disposable Personal Income Grows by 2.2%

From Table 10 in today's BEA report on Personal Income, real disposable income increased 2.2% in February, compared to February last year (see chart above). This is the 5th consecutive month of positive growth in real personal income compared to the same month in the previous year, following negative growth in August and September of last year. The 2.2% increase in real disposable income is just slightly below the 2.3% average over the last four years.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mortgage Rates Drop to Record Low 4.85%

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rates on 30-year mortgages plunged this week to the lowest level on record after the Federal Reserve launched a new effort to assist the staggering U.S. housing market. Mortgage finance giant Freddie Mac said Thursday that average rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages dropped to 4.85% this week, from 4.98% last week. It was the lowest in the history of Freddie Mac's survey, which dates back to 1971 (see chart above). The previous record low of 4.96% was set in the week of Jan. 15.

MP: It could be a lot worse. It was a lot worse in the 1981-1982 recession when mortgage rates peaked at about 18.5% in October 1981. The difference in monthly payments on a $100,000 mortgage at 18.5% ($1548) and a mortgage at today's 4.85% ($528) is more than $1,000 per month!

Mexico: The New Dental Destination; 70% Savings

CHICAGO TRIBUNE -- Los Algodones, Mexico population 4,000, is home to about 350 dentists geared to foreign patients, including snowbirds from Chicago and elsewhere in the upper Midwest. Their treatment comes at a huge discount—70% or more—from what Americans pay at home.

This kind of commerce has turned a sleepy village on the U.S. border into the latest boomtown of medical tourism, the practice of traveling abroad to get medical care. From face-lifts in Costa Rica to heart surgery in India, medical tourism has become a $60 billion enterprise by one estimate.

Longtime dentists in Los Algodones say that, two decades ago, there were only about a dozen dentists, and the village drew only the occasional visitor looking for cheap trinkets or R-rated pastimes. But as health-care costs in the U.S. rose and Arizona began drawing retirees and snowbirds, more foreign visitors began coming for dental care. The boom began in the late 1990s as dental offices began displacing cheap bars known as cantinas.

A recent survey reported about 350 dentists working in 160 offices. While pharmacies and eye doctors also share the sidewalks with quesadilla stands and souvenir vendors, dental care is the real engine. A Phoenix company, Dayo Dental, organizes van rides to make the three-hour run each way. TLC Dental has even opened a bed-and-breakfast adjacent to its dental office for visitors who want to make an overnight trip of it.

MP: In Los Algodones, one out of every 11 residents is a dentist!

iTunes: Variable Pricing to Replace 99¢ Pricing

LA Times -- The world's largest music store, Apple's iTunes, plans to boost the price of many hit singles and selected classic tracks to $1.29 on April 7, breaking the psychological barrier of 99 cents in what could be the first big test of how much consumers are willing to pay to download individual songs.

The move, part of a new "variable-pricing" strategy that will also lower the price of selected songs, is an attempt by the music industry to wring more revenue from digital downloads in the battle to offset declining CD sales. Label executives contend the new pricing will allow them to offer packaged downloads of songs that might entice consumers to spend more on music.

Apple Inc. set the 99-cent-per-song rate in 2003 when it launched the iTunes Store. The company long resisted pressure from the music industry to allow flexible pricing, arguing that it would inhibit sales. Apple changed its tune in January, however, announcing that it would begin selling music at three prices: 69 cents, 99 cents and $1.29, based on wholesale costs set by the labels.

True to supply-and-demand economics, the price of music downloads will be geared to the artist's popularity. Releases from new artists would receive the lower pricing, while tracks from popular acts would get slapped with the higher rate. Even classics, such as Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," could retail for the higher price. Most of the 10 million songs in the iTunes catalog are expected to remain at 99 cents.

MP: If this works for Apple, maybe movie theaters will be next to implement some kind of "variable-pricing" strategy for movie tickets. If it doesn't make sense to sell all music at a single price, it probably doesn't make sense to price all movies the same.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Markets Are Working: CA Home Sales Increase +83% in February As Home Prices Fall By -41%

LOS ANGELES (March 25) – Home sales increased 83% in February in California compared with the same period a year ago, while the median price of an existing home declined 40.8% percent, the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS (CAR) reported today (see chart above).

Sales of existing, single-family homes in California totaled 620,410 in February at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate, according to information collected by CAR from more than 90 local REALTOR associations statewide. Statewide home resale activity increased 83% from the revised 338,970 sales pace recorded in February 2008.

The median price of an existing, single-family detached home in California during February 2009 was $247,590, a 40.8% decrease from the revised $418,260 median for February 2008, CAR reported. The February 2009 median price fell 2.3% compared with January’s revised $253,330 median price.

CAR’s Unsold Inventory Index for existing, single-family detached homes in February 2009 was 6.5 months, compared with 15.3 months for the same period a year ago. The index indicates the number of months needed to deplete the supply of homes on the market at the current sales rate.

The median number of days it took to sell a single-family home was 51.5 days in February 2009, compared with 69.3 days for the same period a year ago.

MP: Market forces and the Law of Demand are working in the California real estate market. Total real estate sales volume increased by 8.45% from $1.42 billion in February 2008 to $1.54 billion in February 2009, at an annualized rate.

Record Low Mortgage Rates Boost Mortgage Apps; Real Estate Lending Hits Record High in Feb.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 25, 2009)The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) today released its Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending March 20, 2009. The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, was 1159.4, an increase of 32.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis from 876.9 one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, the Index increased 31.4% compared with the previous week and 18% compared with the same week one year earlier.

“Mortgage rates fell sharply to low levels not seen in six decades following the Federal Reserve’s announcement on the Treasury bond and mortgage-backed securities purchase programs. The drop offered a sizable refinance incentive for most homeowners sparking a pickup in refinance activity,” said Orawin Velz, Associate Vice President of Economic Forecasting.

The Refinance Index increased 41.5% to 6363.2 from 4497.6 the previous week and the seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 4.2% to 267.8 from 257.1 one week earlier. The Conventional Purchase Index increased 3.9% while the Government Purchase Index (largely FHA) increased 4.6%. The four week moving average for the seasonally adjusted Market Index is up 13.9%. The four week moving average is up 1.7% for the seasonally adjusted Purchase Index, while this average is up 18.7% for the Refinance Index.

The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 78.5% of total applications from 72.9% the previous week. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 4.63% from 4.89%, with points decreasing to 1.13 from 1.23 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value (LTV) ratio loans. The contract rate is the lowest in the history of the survey, which began in 1990.

MP: The chart above shows Real Estate Loans at All Commercial Banks (data here) from 2002 through February 2009, which reached an all-time record high of $3.824 trillion in February. Apparently, real estate lending is "alive and well," despite reports to the contrary.

Dear A.I.G., I Quit!

The following excerpts are from a letter sent on Tuesday by Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president of the American International Group’s financial products unit, to Edward M. Liddy, the chief executive of A.I.G. It appears in today's NY Times.

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down.

As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house.

Many of the employees have, in the past six months, turned down job offers from more stable employers, based on A.I.G.’s assurances that the contracts would be honored. They are now angry about having been misled by A.I.G.’s promises and are not inclined to return the money as a favor to you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Record 1.7% Home Price Index Increase in January; Has The Real Estate Market Bottomed?

WASHINGTON (AP)A government report says U.S. home prices fell 6.3% in January from the same month last year. The Federal Housing Finance Agency says prices, on a seasonally adjusted basis, rose 1.7% from December to January.

The government index is calculated using mortgage loans bought or guaranteed by federally controlled mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It is down 9.6% from its peak in April 2007.

MP: There's one important and positive factor in the OFHEO report that the AP report completely missed (note the pessimistic tone). The bottom chart above (data here) shows the monthly percent change in the OFHEO House Price Index going back to February of 1991, and the 1.7% January 2009 increase in the home price index is the largest monthly increase in the history of the OFHEO data (almost 20 years)! Further, the record January increase follows ten consecutive monthly declines, and monthly declines in 18 out of the last twenty months.

Update: The top chart above displays the OFHEO Home Price Index back to Jan. 1991, and shows the record monthly increase in January. Perhaps the record monthly January price increase in the index signals that that the real estate market has hit a bottom. We'll see in the months ahead.

10 Surprising Facts About American Health Care

Fact No. 1: Americans have better survival rates than Europeans for common cancers.

Fact No. 2: Americans have lower cancer mortality rates than Canadians.

Fact No. 3: Americans have better access to treatment for chronic diseases than patients in other developed countries.

Fact No. 4: Americans have better access to preventive cancer screening than Canadians.

Fact No. 5: Lower income Americans are in better health than comparable Canadians.

Fact No. 6: Americans spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the U.K.

Fact No. 7: People in countries with more government control of health care are highly dissatisfied and believe reform is needed.

Fact No. 8: Americans are more satisfied with the care they receive than Canadians.

Fact No. 9: Americans have much better access to important new technologies like medical imaging than patients in Canada or the U.K.

Fact No. 10: Americans are responsible for the vast majority of all health care innovations.

Conclusion: Despite serious challenges, such as escalating costs and the uninsured, the U.S. health care system compares favorably to those in other developed countries.

Source: Scott Atlas, M.D.,senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor at the Stanford University Medical Center.

SDRs = Unit of Account for Suez Canal

Wall Street Journal -- China's central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, proposed expanding the role of "Special Drawing Rights," or SDRs. They were created in 1969 by the International Monetary Fund to use as a reserve currency as the dollar tottered.

SDRs are a kind of synthetic currency whose value is determined by a basket of major currencies ($, Yen, Euro and Pound). In the early 1970s, some banks took deposits denominated in SDRs and some companies even issued bonds in the currency. But the market always remained small, and the main use of SDRs today is to account for transactions between the IMF and its member nations.

The SDR is "basically the Esperanto, at best, of international currencies," says Jeffrey Frankel, an economist at Harvard University, referring to the ill-fated attempt to create a common language. "It's not at all used."

MP: There's actually at least one exception. Passage through the Suez Canal is quoted in SDRs, see current transit rates here. I assume that payment is accepted in dollars (approx. $1.50/SDR), euros (1.135 per SDR), or pounds (1.04 per SDR) based on current ex-rates, but the transit rates are quoted in SDRs.

Update: SDRs are also the basis for the international fees of the Universal Postal Union, responsible for the world-wide postal system. Thanks to ExtremeHobo for the tip.

Quote of the Day

Securities based on risky mortgages are what toppled financial institutions but it was the government that made the mortgages risky in the first place, by making home-ownership statistics the holy grail, for which everything else was to be sacrificed, including commonsense standards for making home loans.

Politicians and bureaucrats micro-managing the mortgage sector of the economy is precisely how today's economic disaster began. Why anyone would think that their micro-managing the automobile industry, or executive pay across a wide sweep of other industries, is likely to make things better in the economy is a mystery.

~Thomas Sowell

How Gov't. Caused, Prolonged and Worsened Crisis

Reason.tv: John B. Taylor, professor of economics at Stanford University, challenges the conventional wisdom that it was an excess of deregulation that precipitated our current financial crisis. In fact, he says, the exact opposite is true.


Our Real Immigration Problem: Talent Leaving U.S.

This country's floundering economy has never needed the world's best and brightest immigrants more—but, unfortunately, these immigrants have never been interested in this country less. So this would be a good time to roll out the red carpet and stand garland in hand on America's shores to usher in new talent. Far from taking away American jobs (as restrictionists argue), this talent creates more jobs by growing the economic pie.

Yet Congress last month decided to thumb its nose at immigrants who can fill top jobs in the high-tech sector. It added to the "stimulus" bill a provision that will effectively put foreign workers off limits to financial companies that receive bailout money through the Toxic Asset Recovery Program (TARP). The provision was sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Grassley in particular has been acting like he has a new mission from god to chase away foreign high-tech workers who enter the country on temporary visas. These work permits are called H1-B visas and are specifically designed for "workers in short supply."

Vivek Wadhwa, a researcher at Duke University, notes that even before the current downturn, a steady stream of highly skilled immigrants from India and China—the major donor countries—had been returning home. In fact, Indian and Chinese companies have been reporting a seven to tenfold increase in job applications from their émigrés in the last five years or so. Even a decade or so ago, giving that up to return back to India or China would have seemed pure lunacy. No more. What's changed?

Thanks to economic liberalization, professional opportunities have improved dramatically for these immigrants in their home countries. Over half of the Indian and Chinese polled by Wadhwa said that, relative to cost of living, they were making more money upon returning home compared to what they were earning in the United States. This means it is no longer necessary for high-tech workers to tear up their roots and make an alien land their home for the sake of economic advancement. They can live the American dream in their own country close to family and friends.

Instead of posting "No Entry" signs, Congress should be rolling out the welcome mat. It can begin by scrapping the annual H1-B visa cap. Set at 85,000, this cap is so low that for the last few years it has been getting filled within days after immigration authorities begin accepting applications on April 1, leaving tens of thousands of potential high-tech immigrants in the lurch for the rest of the year.

Beyond that, it should put in place a fast track process that makes these visas available within weeks—not the months and years as is currently the case—of the application. That is what nearly every other industrialized country which is experiencing declining interest by high-tech immigrants is doing. Otherwise, America, the proud nation of immigrants, might well be the big loser in the global race for talent—hardly something to celebrate.

~Excerpts from "Goodbye Chang, So Long Singh," in Reason Magazine, by Shikha Dalmia


Monday, March 23, 2009

Beware:Canada's Universal Healthcare Can Kill You

News and Observer -- Questions are arising over whether a medical helicopter might have been able to save actress Natasha Richardson. The province of Quebec lacks a medical helicopter system, common in the United States and other parts of Canada, to airlift stricken patients to major trauma centers. Montreal's top head trauma doctor said Friday that may have played a role in Richardson's death.

Only Capitalism Can Deliver Wealth and Health

Capitalism has been wounded by the global recession, which unfortunately will get worse before it gets better. As governments continue to determine how many restrictions to place on markets, especially financial markets, the destruction of wealth from the recession should be placed in the context of the enormous creation of wealth and improved well-being during the past three decades. Financial and other reforms must not risk destroying the source of these gains in prosperity.

Consider the following extraordinary statistics about the performance of the world economy since 1980. World real gross domestic product grew by about 145% from 1980 to 2007, or by an average of roughly 3.4% a year (see chart above, data here). The so-called capitalist greed that motivated business people and ambitious workers helped hundreds of millions to climb out of grinding poverty. The role of capitalism in creating wealth is seen in the sharp rise in Chinese and Indian incomes after they introduced market-based reforms (China in the late 1970s and India in 1991). Global health, as measured by life expectancy at different ages, has also risen rapidly, especially in lower-income countries.

The Great Depression induced a massive worldwide retreat from capitalism, and an embrace of socialism and communism that continued into the 1960s. It also fostered a belief that the future lay in government management of the economy, not in freer markets. The result was generally slow growth during those decades in most of the undeveloped world, including China, the Soviet bloc nations, India and Africa.

Partly owing to the collapse of the housing and stock markets, hostility to business people and capitalism has grown sharply again. Yet a world that is mainly capitalistic is the “only game in town” that can deliver further large increases in wealth and health to poor as well as rich nations. We hope our leaders do not deviate far from a market-oriented global economic system. To do so would risk damaging a system that has served us well for 30 years.

~Nobel economist
Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy, both from U Chicago

More Female BA Degrees = Increasing Inequality?


Letter to the Editor in today's WSJ (HT: Don Bourdreaux):

Professional Women Drive More Families Into Top 1%

In regard to the appearance of French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez in President Barack Obama's budget ("The Obama Rosetta Stone," by Daniel Henninger, Wonder Land, March 12): In their use of statistics of the top 1% of income earners, Messrs. Piketty and Saez make the same false assumptions that the Internal Revenue Service does. In 1980 income disparity began to take off in the U.S. leaving the top 1% of income earners with a greater share of the income pie. Like the IRS, these French economists use "household" income as their measure.

But consider that 1980 was about the time when large percentages of college-educated women began to enter the workforce. Many of these professional women would go on to marry other professionals. This in effect created a doubling of "household" income for many families.

At the same time out-of-wedlock birth rates and divorce began to skyrocket creating large percentages of single-parent households. It should be no surprise that a two income household has a much higher income than a single-income household even if all workers make exactly the same income.

Surgeons will always make more than janitors, as anyone who has ever gone "under the knife" will agree with, and their income should not be distorted because they are married to a fellow surgeon.

Steve Walde; Easton, Conn.

MP: The graphs above illustrate Mr. Walde's point. The increasing share of income going to the top 1% of households since 1986 coincides with the increasing share of college degrees going to women. I never made the connection between those two trends before, but I think he makes a great point.

Feb. Home Sales Increase +5.1%, Highest Since '03

The Wall Street Journal reports that "Existing-Home Sales Rebound, But Prices Plunge":

Existing-home sales rebounded in February, climbing above expectations, but prices plunged again. Home resales climbed to a 4.72 million annual rate, a 5.1% increase from January's unrevised 4.49 million annual pace, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said today (data here).

The February resales level of 4.72 million reported Monday by NAR was above Wall Street expectations of a 4.48 million sales rate for previously owned homes. The 5.1% increase was the largest since 5.6% in July 2003.

MP: Alternative headline would be "Existing-Home Sales Rebound, BECAUSE Prices Plunge: The Law of Demand Works."

$2,000 Tata Nano Launches Today

The $2,000 car, Tata's "Nano," launched today in Mumbai:

The $2,000 cowboy boot, available from Lucchese:



See the
$3,200 model here, and the $13,000 model here (equal to 6.5 Nanos).

CA Home Sales Surge by 42.5% in February; Avg. House Payment of $967 is Lowest in 20 Years

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Home sales in California rose 42.5% in February from a year earlier as the median home price fell by 39.9%, driven by sales of foreclosed properties, according to an MDA DataQuick report (see chart above).

February was the eighth straight month that California home sales rose from year-earlier levels and was the first time since May 2007 that the median home price did not decline from the prior month, according to MDA DataQuick.

The typical mortgage payment that (California) home buyers committed themselves to paying last month was $967. That was down from $969 in January, and down from $1,774 for February a year ago. The typical mortgage payment has not been below $1,000 since May 1999. Adjusted for inflation, last month's mortgage payment was the lowest in DataQuick's statistics, which go back to 1988. The payment was 53.4% below the spring 1989 peak of the prior real estate cycle. It was 62.2% below the current cycle's peak in June 2006.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Academic Earth: Free Online Economics Courses

Several months ago, I posted about Academic Earth which then had two free economics courses available: Robert Shiller's Financial Markets course and a course in Game Theory. They now have 4 economics courses and 63 guest lectures, check it out here.

Cartoon of the Day


Link.

The Trillion-Dollar Bank Shakedown That Bodes Ill

The Clinton administration has turned the Community Reinvestment Act, a once-obscure and lightly enforced banking regulation law, into one of the most powerful mandates shaping American cities—and, as Senate Banking Committee chairman Phil Gramm memorably put it, a vast extortion scheme against the nation's banks. Under its provisions, U.S. banks have committed nearly $1 trillion for inner-city and low-income mortgages and real estate development projects, most of it funneled through a nationwide network of left-wing community groups, intent, in some cases, on teaching their low-income clients that the financial system is their enemy and, implicitly, that government, rather than their own striving, is the key to their well-being.

The CRA's premise sounds unassailable: helping the poor buy and keep homes will stabilize and rebuild city neighborhoods. As enforced today, though, the law portends just the opposite, threatening to undermine the efforts of the upwardly mobile poor by saddling them with neighbors more than usually likely to depress property values by not maintaining their homes adequately or by losing them to foreclosure. The CRA's logic also helps to ensure that inner-city neighborhoods stay poor by discouraging the kinds of investment that might make them better off.

~City Journal article in 2000 by Howard Husock

St. Louis Fed's Data-Mapping Tool: GeoFRED

GeoFRED is a data-mapping tool that displays color-coded data on the state, MSA (metro areas) and county levels. For example, GeoFRED can display unemployment, labor force and population for all U.S. counties. Users can select among 19,000 FRED data series and customize these printable maps according to size, scope and detail.

HT: NY Times Economix Blog

MP: Map above (click to enlarge) shows the variation in home ownership rates across the U.S., from three states above 76% (W. Va, Delaware and Michigan) to three states below 64% (Nevada, CA and NY). Sorry about the poor resolution, that's as good as I could get it.