Saturday, October 24, 2009

Intrade Odds: 2009 Governor Races Split 1-1

Based on futures contracts trading on Intrade ("The Prediction Market"), Republican candidate Bob McDonnell will easily win the Virginia's governor's race (94.9% probability), and the Democratic candidate Jon Corzine will likely win in New Jersey (63% probability in recent trading, more than double the 30% odds on October 1) in a 3-way race including an independent candidate, although recent polling shows the two leading candidates in a statistical dead heat.

Driving A La-Z-Boy While Intoxicated (DALWI)

STAR TRIBUNE -- The operator of a La-Z-Boy chair converted into a motorized vehicle -- complete with a stereo and cup holders (pictured above) -- has admitted that he crashed the piece of furniture after leaving a bar in Proctor, Minn., extremely drunk.

Dennis LeRoy Anderson, 61, of Proctor, pleaded guilty Monday to hopping on the chair on the night of Aug. 31, 2008, after visiting the Keyboard Lounge, then crashing into a more traditional vehicle in the parking lot. Anderson's blood-alcohol content was 0.29 percent, more than three times the legal limit for driving in Minnesota.

HT: J. Howe

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rx: The Interstate Insurance Competition Cure

Click to enlarge.
Rhetoric about monopoly notwithstanding, Congress's reform proposals are not designed to increase competition in private health insurance. The House bill proposes a government-run insurer. The Senate Finance Committee proposes creation of quasi-public cooperatives. Both bills (and the Senate HELP bill) include restrictions on health insurance underwriting, pricing, profitability and policy design that would essentially turn private health insurers into regulated public utilities.

If the goal were to promote robust competition in private health insurance, Congress would focus on reducing impediments to competition. It could do so by allowing consumers to buy insurance across state lines at terms that do not require them to subsidize other buyers or to buy coverage for state-mandated benefits they are unwilling to pay for. Congress could also eliminate tax and regulatory rules that favor employment-based coverage over individual coverage.

~Scott Harrington in the
Wall Street Journal

All of this talk of health reform in Washington has created the illusion that we have a single health care system in America with prices that are roughly similar once adjusted for local costs of living. But in fact we have 50 different health care systems. Our states, through their insurance commissioners and legislatures, exercise enormous influence over the shape of health insurance by mandating to residents and businesses what kind of coverage they must have, and to insurance companies what kind of illnesses and therapies they must cover. The result is sharply different rates across the country.

~Steve Malanga in
Real Clear Markets

MP: The chart above shows the wide variation in average annual insurance premiums among selected states, according to a recent study from America's Health Insurance Plans. The average annual premium for individual coverage was $2,985, but ranged from a low of $2,606 in Iowa to $6,630 in New York. Family coverage ranges from $5,120 in North Carolina to $13,296 in New York.

In other words, allowing interstate competition for health insurance would allow families in New York to save more than $8,000 by buying insurance from a provider in North Carolina. That seems like an attractive option for New York residents, even if they have to accept a lower level of medical coverage for the $8,000 savings.

Instead of new massive government interventions in the U.S. health care system, maybe the best cure is to simply allow interstate competition for health insurance.

Health Insurance Companies Rank #86 By Industry Profit Margin, Earning $98 on Average Per Policy

Click to enlarge.

During his weekly radio address last Saturday, President Obama attacked health insurers for allegedly making excessive profits and paying excessive bonuses, for spreading "bogus" misinformation about the impact of Democrats' reform agenda on the cost of health insurance, and for "figuring out how to avoid covering people." He opined that health insurers are "earning these profits and bonuses while enjoying a privileged exemption from our antitrust laws, a matter that Congress is rightfully reviewing."

Mr. Obama's comments followed hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. In an unusual move, Majority Leader Harry Reid testified as a witness, alleging that "exempting health insurance companies [from antitrust] has had a negative effect on the American people" and that "there is no reason why insurance companies should be allowed to form monopolies and dictate health choices."

~Scott Harrington's article "
Competition and Health Insurance" in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal

MP: As I reported several months ago the industry "Health Care Plans" (includes Humana, Aetna, WellPoint, Magellan, etc.) ranks #86 by profit margin at only 3.3% (see table above, data here for the most recent quarter), not exactly strong evidence of "excessive profits" or monopoly power. Four health insurance companies (Molina, Health Net, Coventry, and Universal American) have profit margins below 1% for the most recent quarter, and another four (Humana, Magellan, WellCare and Centene) have profit margins between 1 and 2 percent (data here).

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry's trade association representing 1,300 members (how could that be a monopoly?), recently reported that annual health insurance premiums averaged $2,985 for individual coverage and $6,328 for family plans in 2009. Using the industry average profit margin of 3.3% means that insurance companies make less than $100 per policy in profits for individual coverage, and a little more than $200 in profits for each family policy. Doesn't seem too "excessive" or an indication of monopoly power, does it?

Alternatively, even if we could strip away 100% of the health insurance profits, it would only result in about $100-200 of annual savings for consumers of health insurance. Is that what we could expect then from a government-sponsored "public option" that wasn't "profit-driven" - annual savings of only $100-200?

Home Sales (Inventory) Highest (Lowest) In 2+ Yrs.

Highlights from today's report on existing home sales:

1. Existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – jumped 9.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million units in September from a level of 5.10 million in August, and are 9.2% higher than the 5.10 million-unit pace in September 2008. Sales activity is at the highest level in over two years, since it hit 5.73 million in July 2007 (see top chart above).

2. The inventory of existing homes for sale in September fell to 3.63 million homes, the lowest level since January, and 642,000 units below last September's inventory of 4.272 million homes. At the current sales pace, there is now a 7.8 months supply of existing homes, which is the lowest level since March 2007, two and a half years ago (see top chart above). Compared to the peak of 11.3 months supply of inventory in April, September's 7.8 months supply represents a reduction of 3.5 months.

3. The median home price in September was $174,900, which was up by 6% from the January low of $164,800, but 8.5% below last September's $191,200 price, and $2,400 below the August level of $177,300.

Bottom Line: The national real estate market is gradually recovering, and the worst is definitely behind us.

Markets In Everything: Anti-Michael Moore Movies

Cottage Industry of Filmmakers Targets The Combative Director.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Drug Decriminalization: Latin America Leads Way

Latin American frustration with the “war on drugs” is growing. Harsh anti-drug laws have failed to stem apparently rising drug use, and incarceration rates are climbing—up 40% on average in Mexico and South America over the last decade—with more drug users and low-level dealers behind bars. But high-level drug traffickers carry on with impunity.

Increasingly, many countries are leaning toward decriminalization as an alternative approach, hoping that it will be effective both in reducing consumption and dealing with associated health problems. This approach treats drug abuse as a public health and social policy issue rather than as a criminal justice problem. The goal is to encourage addicts to seek help, reduce prison overcrowding and free law enforcement to focus on dismantling drug-trafficking organizations.

Read more here about how Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador have all taken steps towards various forms of drug decriminalization.

Here's a related Washington Post front page article "U.S. eases stance on medical marijuana."

Volatility Index Falls Below 21 to New 13-Mo. Low

The CBOE Volatility Index (^VIX) fell to a fresh 13-month low today of 20.69, closing at the lowest level since August 28, 2008. From the high of 80.86 on November 20 of last year, the VIX has fallen by more than 60 points, and is back to the pre-financial crisis level. Just another indication that the worst is behind us.

Commodities, Copper, Even Baltic Index Suggest That Global Economic Activity is Coming Back

The Dow Jones-AIG Commodity Index (^DJC) is a highly liquid and diversified benchmark for the commodity futures market. The Index is composed of futures contracts on 19 physical commodities (e.g. natural gas, live cattle, wheat, copper, silver, cotton, etc., see the full list and current weights here and see the chart above) and was launched on July 14th, 1998.

Blogging maven and fellow chartaholic Scott Grannis has been regularly graphing and reporting on commodity prices
over the last six months, particularly copper, because he says that "Commodity prices are an excellent way of keeping tabs in real time on the progress of the global economy."

Here's a chart below of the Dow-Jones AIG Commodity Index back to 2007 (in semi-log format a la Scott), showing that the commodity price index reached a one-year high yesterday, closing at the highest level since October 14, 2008.

The one-year high for the commodity price index indicates that global commerce and economic activity are rebounding from the early 2009 lows, and that a global economic recovery is well under way, especially considering the other recent positive reports on global economic activity picking up (here and here). Even the Baltic Dry Index is showing some signs of life again, closing above 3,000 today for the first time since early August.

Haven't We Learned Anything From the Meltdown?

From the article "Yes, The CRA Is Toxic: So Why is Congress Thinking About Expanding It?" by Edward Pinto, who was the chief credit officer at Fannie Mae in the 1980s.

There is no question that as the government pursued affordable-housing goals—with the Community Reinvestment Act providing approximately half of Fannie’s and Freddie’s affordable-housing purchases—trillions of dollars in high-risk lending flooded the real-estate market, with disastrous consequences. Over the last 20 years, the percentage of conventional home-purchase mortgages made with the borrower putting 5% or less down more than tripled, from 8% in 1990 to 29% in 2007 (see chart above). Adding to the default risk: of these loans with 5% or less down, the average down payment declined from 5% to 3% of the loan’s value.

As for Fannie and Freddie, most of the loans with 5% or less down that they had acquired by 2005 had down payments of 3% or even no down payment at all. From 1992 to 2007, the two entities acquired over $3.1 trillion in low-down-payment or credit-impaired loans and private securities backed by credit-impaired loans—and these are performing horribly: the delinquency rate on Fannie’s and Freddie’s remaining $1.1 trillion in such high-risk loans is 15.5% as of this past June 30, about 6.5 times the rate on the entities’ traditionally underwritten loans. All this risky lending, of course, drove the nation’s homeownership rate up and inflated a housing-price bubble.

Incredibly, the House Financial Services Committee is considering legislation that would broaden the scope of the CRA. Before it takes any action on HR 1479—which would expand the CRA’s mandates from banks to bank subsidiaries, mortgage bankers, credit unions, insurance companies, and other nonbank financial institutions.

If that's not enough to make you wonder what's going on, then check out this story "20 Year Old Buys Home With $183,000 FHA Loan And Just 3.5% Down":

Denise Tejada bought a house last month at the age of 20, thanks in large part to a loan guaranteed by the Federal Housing Authority. This story offers a dramatic demonstration that, despite the housing bubble causing the worst economic downturn in generations, the ideology of home ownership is alive and well in the United States and still being supported by the government.

Without question, Tejada's loan is toxic--to her and to the taxpayers who are backing the loan. Her house cost $155,000. Tejada's loan was apparently made on a micro-down payment of just 3.5%, the minimum down payment to qualify for an FHA loan. On top of this, however, she got an additional government backed loan to make improvements. Her total loans amount to $183,0000. In short, she was immediately underwater on her new house.

The monthly payments on her debt amount to $1,328. Her income is $2,470, leaving her with just $285 a week to live on. She's paying 54% of her income to make the mortgage payments. She earns that income by holding down one full time and two part time jobs. Obviously, this woman has a strong work ethic. But it also means her income is precarious. With unemployment still rising, she obviously should be worried about losing one of her three jobs. A loss of one of them would likely leave her unable to make the debt payments.

Thanks to Gettingrational for the second story.

6th Straight Monthly Increase in Leading Indicators; Largest 6-Month Gain Since 1983; Recession's Over

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A gauge of the U.S. economy's prospects rose for a sixth-straight month in September to a two-year high (see chart above), a private research group said on Thursday, suggesting the U.S. recovery was building steam.

The Conference Board said its index of leading economic indicators rose 1% to 103.5, the highest level since October 2007. It said the sixth month growth rate for the index was at its highest pace since 1983. "These numbers strongly suggest that a recovery is developing," Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein said in a statement. "However, the intensity of that recovery will depend on how much, and how soon, demand picks up.

MP: The chart below displays the monthly change in the Leading Economic Index back to 2004, showing that the last time there were six consecutive monthly increases was in mid-2004, more than 5 years ago. On a percentage basis, the 5.72% March-September increase is the largest half-year gain since August of 1983, more than 26 years ago. Further, the unadjusted 5.6 point gain from 97.9 in March to 103.5 in September is the largest six-month gain in Conference Board history going back to 1959.

The Great "Teen-Cession" Thanks to the Min. Wage

It’s been well-documented here and elsewhere that the recent recession has been especially hard on men, to the point that it’s frequently been referred to as a “man-cession.”

But there’s another group that’s been hit equally hard by the recession, but without as much attention – teenagers. Although the national jobless rate of 9.8% in September is still a full percentage point below the record 10.8% set in 1982, the teenage jobless rate soared to a record-setting 25.5% in August, and then raised again in September to yet another post-war high of 25.9%. The current teenage jobless rate is now almost two full percentage points above the previous record of 24.1% in December 1982 (see chart above), and will probably continue to climb even higher in the coming months.

Who or what can teenagers blame for the worst job market in history for their age group, the "Teen-Cession of 2008-2009"?

They can certainly blame the recession, one of the worst since the early 1980s. But they also might want to blame Congress for raising the federal minimum wage from $5.15 per hour in 2006 to $7.25 per hour by July 2009, a 41% increase over the last three years and the largest inflation-adjusted minimum wage increase over a 3-year period in more than fifty years.

Unfortunately, Congress priced teenagers right out of the labor market by hiking the minimum wage more than $2 per hour at the same time the pool of unemployed, skilled workers was increasing from the recession. The 41% increase in the minimum wage along with increased competition from more skilled workers for the jobs teenagers typically fill, worked together to send teenage unemployment soaring to record levels.

The chart above of the teenage jobless rate and minimum wage over the last four recessions helps to illustrate how the 2008-2009 recession by itself would have been bad enough for teenage employment, but coupled together with the 41% minimum wage increase it created the worst teenage job market in history.

Teenage unemployment rates have always risen during recessions, and there were several minimum wage increases that happened around the time of recessions, which likely pushed the teenage jobless rate up even higher. There was an 8.1% increase in the minimum wage close to the 1981-1982 recession, and a 27% increase in the minimum wage around the time of the 1990-1991 recession, but those increases were nothing compared to the 41% increase in the minimum wage that took place in three steps starting in 2007 just preceding the recession, followed by increases in 2008 and 2009 in the midst of the recession. The chart clearly illustrates the fact that the minimum wage increased by 41% at the same time that the teenage jobless rate spiked to record-highs, and it’s likely that the positive relationship is no coincidence.

Raising the minimum wage in the United States by 41% during the last three years has denied job opportunities and training to those who need those experiences the most – unskilled teenage workers. If the goal was to destroy job opportunities for hundreds of thousands of teenage workers and drive teenage unemployment into record territory, raising the minimum wage by more than $2 per hour over the last three years certainly accomplished that goal. But if maximizing job opportunities for teenagers during both economic recessions and expansions is the goal, the correct minimum wage should be $0.00 per hour.

Markets In Everything: $500,000 Twitter Ad?

Microblogging site Twitter has been offered half a million dollars to feature a single banner advertisement on its pages for just one day.

Americans Get Their Driving Mojo Back Over the Summer; Largest 3-Month Increase Since 2004

The chart above shows the percent change in U.S. traffic volume through August (from the same month in the previous year), in a report released today by the Federal Highway Administration (data and report here). After falling for 17 consecutive months starting in November 2007, traffic volume has increased in 4 out of the last 5 months. The 0.7% August increase follows increases of 2.2% in July and 1.9% in June, and is the first time since late 2006 of 3 consecutive monthly increases in traffic volume, and the largest 3-month increase since early 2004 (see shaded areas in chart above).

The chart below displays traffic volume as a moving 12-month total, showing a similar pattern to the percentage monthly increase above. After falling for 16 straight months going back to December 2007, the moving 12-month total has now increased 3 months in a row, and in 4 out of the last 5 months, and marks the largest 3-month increase in traffic volume (12-month total) since the spring of 2006, more than three years ago.

MP: The rebound in traffic volume over the summer of 2009 is another sign that the recession probably ended in June.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Government's Obsession With Home Ownership and Its Role in Predatory Lending

Since the early 1990s, the government has been attempting to expand home ownership in full disregard of the prudent lending principles that had previously governed the U.S. mortgage market (see chart above showing the huge 5% government policy-induced spike in home ownership from 64% in 1994 to 69% by 2004, following a decade of stable homeownership at 64%). Now the motives of the GSEs fall into place. Fannie and Freddie were subject to "affordable housing" regulations, issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which required them to buy mortgages made to home buyers who were at or below the median income. This quota began at 30% of all purchases in the early 1990s, and was gradually ratcheted up until it called for 55% of all mortgage purchases to be "affordable" in 2007, including 25% that had to be made to low-income home buyers.

It was not easy to find candidates for traditional mortgages—loans to people with good credit records or the resources for a substantial downpayment—among home buyers who qualified under HUD's guidelines. To meet their affordable housing requirements, therefore, Fannie and Freddie reduced their lending standards and reached into the FHA's turf. The FHA, although it lost market share, continued to guarantee what it could, adding to the demand that the unregulated mortgage brokers filled. If they were engaged in predatory lending, it was ultimately driven by the government's own requirements. The mortgages that resulted are now problem loans for the GSEs, the FHA and the big banks that were required to make them in order to burnish their CRA credentials.

Thus, almost two-thirds of all the bad mortgages in our financial system, many of which are now defaulting at unprecedented rates, were bought by government agencies or required by government regulations.

~AEI's Peter Wallison writing in last week's Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The No Insurance Club: Innovative Prepaid Medical Plans That Restore the Doctor-Patient Relationship

The No Insurance Club on FOX:

What's the No Insurance Club?

For an annual fee of just $480 for singles ($580 for couples and $680 for families) The No Insurance Club offers affordable pre-paid health care plans that cover basic medical services from a participating board-certified physician, with no deductibles, no additional premiums, and no co-payments. Services vary slightly depending on your location, but a $480 individual plan with this Atlanta physician covers 12-16 annual office visits, flu shot, pregnancy testing, EKG, an annual checkup, one sports physical, vision test, among other services, see full list here.

The No Insurance Club creates an entrepreneurial Internet marketplace where patients and doctors can enter directly into a patient-doctor relationship, without going through a third-party. Prices for basic medical care are completely transparent, and patients receive most basic health services cheaply. They can still get catastrophic health care coverage separately at competitive, reasonable rates to cover major medical expenses.

Meanwhile, the doctors in this direct arrangement with patients can unshackle themselves from the bureaucracy of insurance companies or the government (Medicare and Medicaid), and they no longer need to have basic procedures approved by an insurance or government bureaucrat. Physicians are no longer burdened with having to send in mountains of bills to insurance companies and Medicare, and carry a collections department to make sure the bills are paid. So it's a real win-win outcome for both the patients who receive affordable health care with transparent prices, and the doctors who are now in a direct medical and financial relationship with patients instead of with insurance companies or the government.

So while Congress debates a government takeover of the entire U.S. health care system, entrepreneurial businesses like The No Insurance Club are providing health care to Americans for about the same monthly cost as a cell phone. Oh, and do you have any pre-existing conditions? With The No Insurance Club, that's not a problem.

Increasing Income Inequality: Lessons from the NFL

Click to enlarge.
An analysis of the USA Today Salaries Database for the National Football League (NFL) reveals that the share of total team payrolls in 2008 going to the highest-paid 20% of players ranged from a high of 69.8% for the Indianapolis Colts to a low of 49.2% for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and averaged 59.5% for all NFL teams (see chart above). That compares to an NFL average of 56.3% in 2000 for the share of team payrolls going to the highest-paid 20% of players.

For the entire U.S. population, the top 20 percent of American households earned a 50% share of total income in 2008
according to the Census Bureau, slightly higher than the 49.8% share of income for the top fifth of households in 2000.

In other words, there is significantly greater income inequality in the NFL than in the general U.S. population, both in terms of the share of income going to the top 20% in 2000 (56.3% for the NFL vs. 49.8% for the entire U.S.) and 2008 (59.5% vs. 50%), and also in terms of the increase over time for the top quintile’s share of total income (56.3% to 59.5% for the NFL between 2000 and 2008 vs. 49.8% to 50% for the general population).

What can we learn from the significant income inequality in the NFL? Find out here at
The Enterprise Blog.

Natural Gas Changes the Energy Map; New Data Show 90 Years Supply at Current Consumption

Experts now believe that the country has far more natural gas at its disposal than anyone thought three or four years ago. The revised estimates are largely due to advanced drilling techniques that make it economically feasible to extract the fuel from shale. And while the Marcellus is the most recently discovered and possibly the largest shale-gas deposit (covers PA, NY, VA and OH), others are scattered throughout the country.

The U.S. consumes about 23 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas a year, according to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Agency (EIA). The Potential Gas Committee (PGC), an organization headquartered at the Colorado School of Mines, put the country's potential natural-gas resources at 1,836 TCF in a biennial assessment released in June. That's 39% higher than its estimate of two years earlier. Add to that the 238 TCF that the EIA has calculated in "proved reserves" (the gas that can be produced given existing economic conditions) and the PGC pegs the future supply at 2,074 TCF.

In other words, there is enough natural gas to supply the country for 90 years at current consumption rates. Even if we used natural gas to totally replace coal in generating electricity, domestic supplies would last for 50 years.

Natural gas offers advantages over other fossil fuels. It burns cleaner than coal, producing much less carbon dioxide. Since coal-fired power generation is responsible for a third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, replacing at least some of that coal with gas could significantly reduce such pollution. And using natural gas to replace gasoline and diesel fuel in vehicles could reduce the country's reliance on foreign oil.

"It doesn't matter what the exact number is," says Mark Zoback, a professor of geophysics at Stanford University. "The numbers are all so big it means we have an extremely large domestic resource that is going to play a significant role in the country's energy future."

The availability of vast natural-gas resources in the Marcellus shale and similar sediments around the United States has changed energy calculations in a fundamental way. The discovery of this large and seemingly economical new source of fossil fuel has surprised even geologists who have spent their careers studying the shale. Little wonder, then, that policy makers and politicians are just beginning to try to figure out what the discoveries mean.

MIT Technology Review via Paul Kedrosky

Watch a video here that illustrates how advanced horizontal drilling allows gas producers to follow a shale deposit for up to a mile, greatly increasing the productivity of the well.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Random Roundup (And Some Fun With the Titles)

1. "Golf Cart Stimulus" (or "You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up?") - We thought cash for clunkers was the ultimate waste of taxpayer money, but as usual we were too optimistic. Thanks to the federal tax credit to buy high-mileage cars that was part of President Obama's stimulus plan, Uncle Sam is now paying Americans to buy that great necessity of modern life, the golf cart.

2. "
What Happened to Global Warming?" (or "Global Cooling Returns?") This headline may come as a bit of a surprise, so too might that fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not in 2008 or 2007, but in 1998. But it is true. For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.

3. "
New Tax Cramps Real Estate Market" (or "If You Tax Something, You Get Less of It?") -- A new capital gains tax effective late last month has hit the Ho Chi Minh City property market hard, with many realtors reporting sharp declines in transactions. The number of transactions this month has dropped by 80% from a month ago, a real estate broker said, blaming the business slowdown on the new capital gains tax.

4. "
Commercial Real Estate Bounces Back" (or "There's Always a Bull Market Somewhere?") -- Canada's commercial real estate market is on the mend, as an 18-month slump in Toronto has ended. After almost two years of flat or declining activity, industry tracker RealNet Canada said investments in commercial property in the Greater Toronto Area increased by 46% in the third quarter over the second quarter, to $1.31 billion, while the number of transactions increased by 20%.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gender Employment Equality Still a Few Yrs. Away

USA Today (September 3, 2009)-- Women are on the verge of outnumbering men in the workforce for the first time, a historic reversal caused by long-term changes in women's roles and massive job losses for men during this recession. Women held 49.83% of the nation's 132 million jobs in June and they're gaining the vast majority of jobs in the few sectors of the economy that are growing, according to the most recent numbers available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That's a record high for a measure that's been growing steadily for decades and accelerating during the recession. At the current pace, women will become a majority of workers in October or November.

Center for American Progress -- Women are now half of workers on U.S. payrolls, according to USA Today. This is an important new trend in the U.S. economy and a stunning transformation from a generation ago. In 1970, women made up 43.8% of workers, while in July 2009 (the latest data available), women held 49.9% of all jobs.

Although women are now half of all workers, they are not half of workers in all kinds of jobs. Thus, while the news that women are half the workers is a marker on the long path toward equality, it is also a testimony about the current economic malaise.

MP: Actually the reports about women being a majority of workers, or even half of American workers is not quite accurate. It's partly true - if you look only at payroll employment (nonfarm wage and salary jobs), currently about 131 million workers, and ignore about 8 million workers who are included in the more comprehensive household employment data of about 139 million workers (current
BLS data here, historical data here), which includes self-employed and agricultural workers.

According to the more comprehensive measure of employment from household data, there is still a 5.4% difference between male employment (52.7%) and female employment (47.3%). And although women's share of total jobs has increased, it's been fairly constant and gradual, increasing by only 1% over the 15-year period from 1995 (46.3% of total jobs) to 2009 (47.3% of total jobs).

I'm not sure this is really monumental in its significance, but is probably somewhat important in pointing out the difference between payroll employment and household data employment. If complete gender employment equality is somehow significant or important, it won't happen for a few more years at least, according to household survey employment measures.

Markets In Everything: Foot Tanner

If you always feel like people are gawking at your white feet and the unsightly tan lines around your ankles when you wear sandals or pumps, then you need the Solafeet foot tanner. Those tan lines can be gone in 5 to 10 days with just fifteen minutes a day. Then you can go from the golf course to the clubhouse in confidence. The Solafeet is ideal for flip-flop wearers, tennis players and joggers. Only $229.99.