Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The Murder Rate – A Regression with Many Variables

In this post, I want to look at the murder rate, by state. I ran a regression with the state murder rate for 2015 as the dependent variable, and literally threw the kitchen sink at it: demographics, weaponry, income, education, population density, etc. Basically, if its something some reasonable percentage of the population believes matters, and I could find data for it, I threw it into the hopper.

I also included variables relating to immigration status. The latter stems from some from some debate in the comments section to other posts in which I stated my belief that illegal immigrants drive up the crime rate. Several detractors insisted that illegal immigrants have lower, not higher crime rates than the rest of the population, and that I am racist to boot. Before presenting results, I will note – I am not too proud to admit the regression results did not fit with my preconceptions. I am also not too proud to admit the regression results did not fit with the preconceptions of my detractors. Finally, while I am always interested in whatever the data has to say, I suspect my detractors will really, really not the results.

So… without further ado, the output from R:

r output 20170402a

What does this all mean? Simply put, only two variables are statistically significant at the 5% (or even 10%) level: percent of the population made up of non-Hispanic Whites, and population density. The greater the share of the population made up of non-Hispanic Whites, the lower the murder rate. On the other hand, the greater the population density, the higher the murder rate. To those who don’t use statistics very often, remember – this is taking into account all other variables.

Now, there are a few variables that come close to being statistically significant at the 10% level. In other words, it is possible (not necessarily likely, just possible) that under other circumstances – with a better defined model, or more precise variables – these variables would prove to be statistically significant as well. These variables are:

1. Percent of the population made up foreign citizens here legally. That variable would have a negative effect on the murder rate if it were statistically significant.
2. Percent of the population that is Asian. This variable also would have a negative effect on the murder rate if it were statistically significant.
3. Percent of the population age 18 to 64. Obviously, most of the murders are committed by people within a subset of this range – probably around 18 to 30. If I had the data to separate out this cohort, I believe we would find that the more people in this cohort, the greater the murder rate.

So… what doesn’t matter? First, the percentage of the population made up of illegal immigrants. Ditto the percentage of the population made up of naturalized citizens. These did not increase the murder rate nor lower it. If the murder rate parallels the crime rate in general, then the media narrative that illegal immigrants have lower crime rates than the population as a whole is not supported and to some extent contradicted by the data.

Second, race & ethnicity don’t matter, at least once you pull out non-Hispanic Whites and maybe Asians. Holding all other variables (including education and income) constant, it doesn’t appear that the murder rate differs in a statistically significant way from one non-Hispanic White or Asian racial/ethnic group to another.

Median income doesn’t matter. Neither does the percentage of the population with an income under 20K. Or the percentage of the population with an income over 100K. Or education level. The murder rate is not affected by these variables.

Another thing that doesn’t matter is the degree to which the population happens to be armed. And Lord knows, there are all sorts of variables here. These include “destructive devices” (think grenades, rockets, missiles, mines, poison gas, explosives, or incendiary devices – apparently all these and more are registered by the ATF), machine guns, silencers, short barreled rifles, short barreled shotguns, or other. The innocuous sounding other group includes your garden variety revolvers and pistols.

So essentially, in summary – accounting for education, income, nativity. immigration status, the regression suggests that having more non-Hispanic Whites decreases the murder rate, and having a greater population density increases the murder rate. No other variables in this regression are statistically significant.

Anyway, I can babble on about the results. For example, it would be interesting to see immigrants (both legal and illegal) broken up with enough granularity to see if the results of non-Hispanic Whites and Asians apply to immigrants as well.

But enough of my prattling. What are your thoughts?

As always, if you want my spreadsheet, drop me a line. If you contact me within a month of the publication of this post, I will send it to you and possibly make some sort of witty remark. Since I am adorable, I probably will send you my spreadsheet after that date as well, but I reserve the right to have a file crash, lose my computer, acquire dementia, or die if too much has elapsed. My contact info is my first name (mike) and a dot, then my last name (kimel – only one m there) at gmail dot com.

Links and details to the data are in my spreadsheet.  But if you want to replicate it yourself (it was a pain in the butt, but who am I to stop you?) the data are listed below. Where possible (which was the case for only a few exceptions, as noted below), I tried to use 2015 data to match the murder rate.

2014 data on firearms came from Exhibit 8 from this document produced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Population from the Census. 2015 data was used for most purposes. 2014 data was used for firearms per capita data.

Population density from 2010 was obtained from the Census.

2015 median hh income came from the Census.

A number of other variables came from the Census CPS Table Creator. This was used for data on race, income, native v. naturalized citizens v. foreigner, educational attainment, age, and gender.

Pew estimates on illegal immigrants, including Mexican v. non-Mexican, were available for 2014.

Finally, the number of 2015 murders originated with the FBI, but was present in this handy dandy file compiled by the Murder Accountability Project.


Update…  April 2, 2017  4:01 PM

I forgot to mention a couple corrections to the data:

1. The Pew data on % of illegal aliens that come from Mexico included a few NAs, in each case for states with a very low percentage of the population being made up of illegal immigrants.  In those instances, I assigned the national average share (i.e., 52% of the unauthorized aliens are from Mexico).

2.  The CPS table information on race and ethnicity had a few examples where no information was given for a given combination of race & ethnicity.  In each case, it was possible to determine that the number was very small because the sum total of the other race & ethnicity combinations came close to 100%.  In those instances, I simply replaced the NA with a zero.

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Swedish Privatization of Education Fails

This is important. Amazingly, socialist Sweden attempted radical partial privatization of its schools with about one fourth of students now attending publicly financed privately managed schools (roughly charter schools). This daring reform was followed by a dramatic decline in scores on the PISA international standardized test including the largest decline in math scores of all PISA countries.

It is very odd that Sweden tried this. It is important that it failed. I have long argued that even if something works in Nordic countries, it is irrational and nordtopian to believe it will work elsewhere. If charter schools failed in Sweden presumably because of moral hazard and a lack of team spirit, then they can fail anywhere.

Also, as in the case of health insurance and Medicare vs Medicare advantage, these data cast doubt on the widespreadd presumption that the private sector is always more efficient than the public sector.

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Government Rightwing Propagandizing to a Captive Audience, and Calling It … ‘History Class’

The school board proposal that triggered the [student and teacher] walkouts in Jefferson County calls for instructional materials that present positive aspects of the nation and its heritage. It would establish a committee to regularly review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to make sure materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and don’t “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

– Denver area students walk out of school in protest, Colleen Slevin and P. Solomon Banda, Associated Press, today

Yup.  Straight out of the German Nazi, Stalinist and current Chinese government playbooks.  Via Joe McCarthy.  Definitely an instructive history lesson.

On that respect-for-authority thing, I’d love to know how this History curriculum will present the Revolutionary War.  Presumably, the school board majority that is proposing this, and that will enforce it, will ask for input from King George III.  But not from, say, George Washington, who’s spinning in his grave and really, really wants to be consulted but won’t be.

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Innovation, production, and infrastrucutre

Stormy, Movie Guy, and Dan Becker in 2009 have been writing about trade imbalances and consequences since 2006.

An excerpt from one of Dan’s posts:

I have written at AB that my thoughts about when the flash point was for our change to a focus on making money from money was the first Reagan election. I do believe this is the case however, having finished reading Richard J Elkus’ book, Winner Take All, I now have learned of a perspective as to why it flashed and why we are bailing out finance with more money and fewer questions than bailing out the auto industry. I also see just how back ass-ward this bailing out concern is.
You see, the thought that the purpose of business is to make money was not always the winner in the argument. The argument has been back and forth for ages. It is part of the class war. In fact, there was a movie in 1954 with William Holden looking at this issue called Executive Suite.

…McDonald Walling, who oversees the company’s manufacturing plant and is preparing to test a new molding process… process did not go well in his absence. On the way home, he complains to his wife Mary that financial analyst Loren Phineas Shaw focuses on the bottom line at the expense of the company’s creativity…McDonald speaks passionately about the company, condemning Shaw’s short-sighted emphasis on quick profits as “a lack of faith in the future.” After McDonald outlines his vision for restoring the company to its former high standards, the board unanimously elects him president.

We have not always thought that the purpose of business is just to make money.

Mr. Elkus’ (MBA) thesis is that in the 60′s, two laws of economic process were formalized and presented that were the guiding thoughts influencing economic development. Both lines of thinking came from viewing the same show: semiconductors. One is by Mr. Bruce Henderson (engineer and MBA degrees) the other by Mr. Gordon Moore (PhD chemistry). Both addressed the relationship of costs and production. I note the degrees of each just as a curiosity.

Mr. Henderson, watching Texas Instrument, came up with the Experience Curve. In it’s simplest form it states that unit cost goes down over time as experience increases.

But, this was just the bases for a broader concept, a “strategy” for guiding business development: Stars, Cash Cows and Dogs.

As a particular industry matures and its growth slows, all business units become either cash cows or dogs. The natural cycle for most business units is that they start as question marks, then turn into stars. Eventually the market stops growing thus the business unit becomes a cash cow. At the end of the cycle the cash cow turns into a dog.
The overall goal of this ranking was to help corporate analysts decide which of their business units to fund, and how much; and which units to sell.

This was and appears to still be a very big concept. Big as in influential. Via Wiki:

The Economist magazine stated that Henderson did more to change the way business is done in the United States than any other man in American business history. Well known to many now is the famous Growth Share Matrix (‘cash cow’) and the ‘Experience curve’. His books were published in 27 languages.

Huge influence. Taught throughout our business schools according to Mr. Elkus and Wiki. Came about in 1970.
Mr. Moore, being a founder of semiconductor manufacturing businesses, namely Intel, came up with Moore’s Law. In it’s simplest form, it states that there would be “a doubling of computing power per given area of silicon every year at basically the same cost…”

Mr. Elkus’s thesis is that both describe models, ultimately truths regarding making money. Both are used as strategies for basing an economy upon. Only one is truly sustainable and makes all of America’s dreams possible. Japan picked that one.

He comes to this by way of his involvement with Ampex. Ampex owned video recording “…controlling nearly 100 percent of the world’s video recording patents and more than 70 % of the market”. Mr. Elkus literally introduced the first video recorder for home use, September 2, 1970 in NY. In the next few days, Ampex stock climbed 50%. Only one VP attended, no other top/senior management. “It was not a good sign.”His lesson from the event: “The introduction of Instavideo set in motion a long chain of events, resulting not only in the explosion of consumer electronics into nearly every facet of daily life but in a global shift in economic power to Asia.”

In the same year, he saw a presentation of high definition video by Japan’s “primary” broadcasting company, NHK. It is at this point in the story Mr. Elkus relays the concept of convergence of technology. The ability to record video on a consumer level scale represented the ability to store and process massive amounts of data. This ability converging with digital video presentation meant that the entire information economy would be exponentially growing based on Moore’s Law. Mr. Henderson’s potential Star. Moore’s law also meant that as the ability to process ever larger amounts of data on ever smaller media, the cost would be ever greater. Mr. Henderson’s potential Dog. What to do?

Mr. Elkus knew Ampex needed a partner that could take the technology to the consumer. Coming up with the technology, he recognized is only part of the expertise and cost, the other is the ability to manufacture it such that technology, in short, is dummy proof in the hands of the consumer. It is an ability all of it’s own. Mr. Elkus wanted Magnavox or Motorola as partners; keep it in the country. The boss said no, feared competition so went with Toshiba. This gets us to the next part of Mr. Elkus’ thesis: Infrastructure. Which gets to the final cog in the process: investment.

Using his experience with Ampex’s Instavideo, Mr. Elkus presents the counter to Mr. Henderson’s Stars, Cash Cow’s and Dogs: Investment, Convergence and Infrastructure. A relational model that follows the production law of Moore.

What the thesis of Investment, Convergence and Infrastructure means to a nation is presented in the tracing of the loss of our manufacturing base to initially Japan and ultimately to all of Asia. It is the counter to Mr. Henderson’s model which is basically just focusing on the money. It is the movie Executive Suite for real only for us, the story ending is looking different.

The relationship of Investment, Convergence and Infrastructure is presented early in the book via Zenith. There was a fight for control of the board as reported by the AP 11/1988. A couple Wall Streeters wanted Zenith to dump the “money-losing television business”. The dog. The article also noted: “for an outsider, jumping into the TV business would be like trying to hop onto a speeding train…” In the end, Zenith a company that “helped establish the standards for high definition television in the US,… contributing significant technology for the potential development of the industry” was gone by 1996 to LG of Korea “for a fraction of what it now costs to build a single display manufacturing facility”. We lost our infrastructure and thus the advantage of economic growth based on convergence and all the knowledge that is the result there of because of our focus on cash flow as the bases for deciding on where to invest.

Using a simpler example:

In 1964, one year before Gordon Moore wrote his prophetic article, semiconductor sales reached $1 billion. Today sales are in excess of $260 billion, it is projected that in a dozen years the number may reach $1 trillion. And growth in revenue has occurred while prices have dropped at an average compound rate of 29 % annually…But that is really chump change when you realize that $260 billion of silicon makes possible a $2 trillion electronic systems industry today…So it is possible to imagine an electronic systems market approaching $4 trillion to $5 trillion in the next twelve to fifteen years—an amount equal to the current GDP of Japan…

The error of US having followed Henderson, which if I understand Elkus properly, I conclude has lead to NAFTA, outsourcing jobs and ultimately the fight over whether to save our auto industry (which I noted is the last “infrastructure” we have that uses “convergence” via “investment”) verses little questioning to save the banks is summarized thusly:

The common denominator driving the world of information and its communications infrastructure was the need to store, process and distribute extraordinary amounts of digital information. [Store = Ampex. Process = Intel. Distribute = Zenith.] If one understands HDTV as the result of learning how to process massive amounts of digital information, as both a convergence and catalyst in the digital revolution, then it should be easy to see that the need to process that information is not limited to the HDTV display and a pretty picture….

It now costs upward of $10 billion to build just one semiconductor manufacturing plant. $3 billion to build a single display fabrication facility. Zenith was sold for $350 million. Based on Measuring Worth, 1996 to 2008 these money minds following Henderson, sold Zenith for 1/6th the cost required to build just one display panel plant in 2008. This number differential is the total fallacy in Henderson. How do you know? How do you know what really is the next big thing? How can you be sure that nothing else will come of what you have? It is the “The Guitar Player”. But worst of all as shown in the example of selling Zenith, is just how short sighted Henderson’s thinking and thus American business thinking is in general. If I may, Henderson’s thinking is analogous to watching your rear view mirror while driving forward as you decide whether to turn or drive straight. Henderson’s thinking is the point of thought that began the money from money economy. It is the thought that lead us to a purposeless existence of no substance because it leaves unanswered the question of why do we want to earn money or create wealth, for what purpose.

Mr. Elkus gave a talk at The Commonwealth Club in California on 9/3/08. It covers a time line of what he is writes in his book. It is one hour long, but well worth the time, especially the question at the end regarding Apple’s business arrangement regarding it’s Iphone as the questioner brings up “competitive advantage” and money from royalties. You know, that information/service economy model that has gotten us to the point that the biggest service sector (finance) took down the economy and the next largest is unaffordable(health care).
The most profound comment by Mr. Elkus during this lecture is: If you don’t have the infrastructure, then you don’t know what’s possible.

How far reaching is this persepctive of Investment, Convergence and Infrastructure? Mr. Elkus suggests that even our education system is influenced by it.

When a nation’s politics and economics fall out of step with its education system, the cost of reengagement is extraordinarily high.

Therefore any attempt to explain the plight of education in America must look first at the country’s current political and economic attitudes. They are directly linked.

Eventually, because of the exponential acceleration in convergence, infrastructure, and investment, there’s a cascading effect, and the loss of one industry begins to threaten the stability of others.

These events are noticed by the educational community, which must provide a measure of career guidance for its student population and thus looks to political, economic, and business leaders for answers.

We have Intel fortunately, but we don’t have the infrastructure of Zenith which would have been using Intels output to market Ampex’s technology which lead to the Iphone.

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One Nation, Divisible

We are a country not just divided, but fragmented along axes of race, age, religion, economic status and geography.  There are now 15 States where citizens have filed petitions to secede from the Union.  “These include Louisiana (which led the charge), the Republic of Texas, Kentucky, Colorado, New Jersey, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Oregon.”  I don’t know which is number 15, but I’m gong to guess Oklahoma. 

I’m not going to get flip about it.  While these petitions have virtually no chance of achieving anything, it’s important to remember two things:

1)  You never hear anything like this when Republicans win.
2)  All but 4 of these states represent the (since 1965) solid Republican South.

Another geographic dimension is urban vs rural.  When I do get flip, I say Obama won everywhere that people outnumber cattle, deer, goats or alligators.  This comes distressingly close to being the truth.  Look at the electoral map of just about any State.  I like to consider Ohio, since it is my home State and in many ways represents the U.S. in miniature.  But pick a State at random [or Texas in particular] and you’ll probably see the same scenario.   The Ohio electoral map shows that Obama carried 16 of Ohio’s 88 counties.  Half of these are strung along the Lake Erie shore, four more are contiguous in the densely populated north-east corner, and the other four contain Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati and Athens.

I’m not ambitious enough to undertake the study, but I’ll hypothesize that Obama’s vote percentage in each county is directly proportional to the total population – and this in a State where the counties don’t vary much in physical size.  Consider that Lucas Co. [essentially my home town, Toledo] with 198,000 votes cast went for Obama by 64 to 34%, while Mercer Co. along the IN border with 21,000 votes cast went for Romney by 77 to 22%.  You can find these kinds of results all over the country.

Another divide is along education level.  Among the 15 States with the best public school systems, Obama carried 13, while among the 15 States with the worst public school systems, Romney carried 12.  I see this as a big component in the recent Republican war on education.  One thing you develop as a result of good education is a set of critical thinking skills, which then give you the ability to see through nonsense peddlers like Rush, Trump, and the whole Fox roster.

All of this tends to make me pessimistic about our nations future.  But I see rays of hope amidst the great divide.  Even in Georgia, which went 53 to 45% for Romney, you find Obama winning by huge margins in Atlanta, Macon, Augusta, Columbus, Savannah, and Albany.

Plus, another thing is happening that you have to see a country-wide county level electoral map to notice.

There is a blue streak that starts along the Mississippi river valley where Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi converge and runs almost continuously through Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas to join with the blue States along the coast.

I call it the band of sanity running through the South, and it might just represent an opportunity for progressives to build on going forward.

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Ok class, let’s review before the exam (election)

I’m sure you are all feeling kind of blah. You have this final exam for this session and I can tell by your performances on the quizzes that you are still confused. The problem solving portions of the quizzes have been very telling. So lets review.
You’re taxes are not too high. It’s your income that is too low! Remember this and you will be able to solve enough of the problems to obtain a passing grade and graduate. And class, no one running today for president gets this. It is why President Obama looked like such a dufus in the debate. Romney took a step to his left… right into Obama’s policy space. Where does one go to gain more space when they have walled up the door to the left of them as President Obama has?
Let’s get something real clear from the beginning. Unless you are acquiring the majority of your money from money YOU ARE NOT A CAPITALIST 

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Posts I Won’t Write

Buce sends us to Der Spiegel’s description of Barack Obama’s potential 2012 opponents (“You Think This is Bad?”)

John Kay in today’s FT (no link) tells us why letting economists pontificate about finance is a Mug’s Game. The mugging being of people who are stupid enough to believe economists. (If Brad DeLong or Mark Thoma links to this one, I’ll add a link to them.)

This (from Kaplan Daily of all places, but Valerie Strauss is one of the only Bright Lights there) is probably the most important general article about standardized testing and education.

This one tells the truth and shames the devil, as it were. Those fooling themselves that vouchers and charter schools will lead to improvement in anything other than excess rents going into the pockets of the people who are hired to run them (such as Christopher Cerf, President and COO and Christopher Christie, lobbyist) either have forgotten or are ignoring history:

Decades of research have shown that not only do the for-profit, corporate models being forced on school districts from coast to coast not work, they present a separate and unequal solution, and offer huge profits for investors.

Anyone stupid enough to believe the “anti-piracy” crowd has the best interest of Creators in mind needs to mark that belief to market. For another data point (via Dr. Black), see here.

On a more positive note—not to mention having grown up watching Bob Braun as a local, afternoon talk-show host—I want to note Mr. Braun being one of the only reasons to read The Star-Ledger, and especially highlight his series dealing with ICE abusing its power (nu?) and almost preventing a girl from saving her sister’s life.

This one has a happy ending.

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Learning To Owe

A few thoughts from a friend of mine and an introduction from a movie I (run75441) watch each year.

“I don’t need 24 hours. I don’t have to talk to anybody. I know right now, and the answer’s no. No! Doggone it! You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money! Well, it doesn’t, Mr. Potter! In the, in the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider!” George Bailey

Learning To Owe

by The Bell

The Cost of Education Is Crushing the Opportunity We Mean It to Provide

The Occupy Wall Street movement has no formal goals but several consistent memes have emerged among the crowd demonstrations in various cities across the country. Most of these have to do with the concentration of wealth and the collusion/corruption between big business and government. However, a more selfish trend also has surfaced among the demonstrators – many want their college student loans forgiven.

A small, informal survey among New York protestors last week by equity research analyst David Maris found ninety-three percent of them advocated student-loan clemency. This idea actually is neither original to OWS nor unique among its members.


Sign bewailing large student loan debt
from one Occupy Wall Street protestor

New York University Professor Andrew Ross recently proposed a radical solution to student loan debts the he calls “A Pledge of Refusal.” The idea requires those who owe to sign a pledge to stop making payments on their student loans once the pledge garners a million signatures. Meanwhile, an online petition supporting student loan forgiveness has collected over a half million signatures.

President Obama announced a plan last week to provide student loan relief. First, he is reducing the maximum repayment on student loans from fifteen percent of discretionary annual income to ten percent. Second, he will allow borrowers to combine loans from the Family Education Loan Program with direct government loans, with a lower consolidated interest rate. Obama plans to use his Executive authority to bypass Congress for this program.

Democratic Representative Hansen Clarke of Michigan wants to go even further. He has introduced legislation (H.R. 365) that includes creating incentives for banks to negotiate with distressed lenders, providing tax credits for education expenses and student loan debt, and making more private student loans eligible for discharge in bankruptcy proceedings.
Both Obama’s and Clarke’s solutions fall short of general clemency but protestors are unlikely to obtain this remedy. A Rasmussen poll found only twenty-one percent of American adults in favor of blanket forgiveness as contrasted to sixty-six percent opposed. Many feel clemency would be unfair to lenders as well as those borrowers who repaid their student loans. At worst, they write off OWS protestors and other advocates for loan forgiveness as spoiled, lazy slackers who expect a free ride.

Such epithets are unfair, counters conservative columnist Nicholas Kristoff this week in the New York Times. “While alarmists seem to think that the movement is a ‘mob’ trying to overthrow capitalism, one can make a case that, on the contrary, it highlights the need to restore basic capitalist principles like accountability.” Kristoff goes on to deplore how “some financiers have chosen to live in a government-backed featherbed. Their platform seems to be socialism for tycoons and capitalism for the rest of us . . . they can privatize profits while socializing risk.”
Representative Clarke concurs that most protestors “are not asking for [a bailout]. They are simply asking for a system that is not rigged against them.” When big bankers and investment firms can make poor decisions without suffering obvious consequences, then the motivation for individuals requesting similar absolution may not be admirable but it is understandable.
While the current crop of students and recent graduates may be whining about the problem more than past generations, they face an objectively bigger problem. This year, the average borrower graduating from a four-year college left school with roughly $24,000 of student debt, with ten percent facing debt of $40,000 or more, according to the College Board. Total student loan debt will exceed $1 trillion this year and it now exceeds outstanding credit card debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Only seven percent of graduating bachelor’s degree holders come from the bottom quarter of income earners, as compared to twelve percent back in 1970. Intended as relief and opportunity for the distressed poor, student loans have become an unavoidable middle class reality. In addition, a series of laws passed by Congress last decade have increased the difficulty of discharging debt, including student loans, through bankruptcy.
The website College Scholarships reports on several programs that forgive or reduce student loan debt for graduates willing to work in high need/disadvantaged areas. The problem is such programs are limited to highly targeted professions, such as nurses, attorneys, and teachers. What is more, they often require a minimum of five years experience. Traditionally, graduates take such jobs immediately after graduation to acquire experience, when they are most inclined to social activism and less acclimated in their lifestyles to larger salaries.

I attended college for six years, ultimately earning a master’s level degree in 1984. I won several scholarships, based on merit; qualified for several grants, based on need; and I worked. In spite of this, I fell short of the necessary money for tuition and books on a couple of occasions. I took out a couple of federal student loans to make up the difference that I was able to repay within a few years of graduation.

Contrast my experience with that of Robert Applebaum, who graduated from Fordham Law School in 1998 with about $65,000 in debt. After going to work as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, his salary forced him to put his student loans in “forbearance,” which prevents default but allows continued accrual of interest. Applebaum began repaying his loans upon leaving the DA’s office in 2004 but remains $88,000 in debt today.
Tommaso Boggia is an MPA candidate at Presidio Graduate School and an advocate for student loan clemency. He writes at the website Triple Pundit, “Regardless of work ethic, more and more middle class families are slipping into poverty, in part because of the heavy debt burden of house ownership and of pursuing a higher education degree . . . A whole generation is seeing their plans and ambitions shackled by the extra weight of their student loan payments. These young people are unable to buy a home, start a family, or do the socially important but underpaid jobs in the social services sector.”

In the post-World War II era, a college education was the chief means by which children from working poor families could leapfrog into the middle class or even affluence. Increasingly, however, the cost of this requirement is becoming the very thing holding them back from the opportunities promised by the American Dream.

The most cited reason for exploding debt is the ever-increasing cost of college. Average in-state tuition and fees at four-year public colleges rose an additional eight point three percent in 2001 alone, passing $8,000/year ($17,000/year with room and board). In addition, the American Council on Education notes that budget cuts and other austerity measures have reduced state appropriations to higher education by eighteen percent over the last three years.

Richard Vedder, Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and author of the book Going Broke by Degree – Why College Costs Too Much, maintains that we are looking at the problem exactly backwards. Writing in the National Review, he argues that just as an abundance of easily obtainable, low interest mortgages spurred the housing bubble that caused the 2008 financial crisis, “Arguably, federal student financial assistance is creating a second bubble in higher education.”

Vedder also points out that government doles out loans without discrimination to a student’s prospects of success in college, despite the fact that over forty percent of those pursuing a bachelor’s degree fail to receive one within six years, or chances of success after college, regardless of whether a student’s field of study offers poor versus good job/career availability. During a 2011 PBS NewsHour appearance, Vedder argued American society must “open up opportunities for people to consider a variety of different options after high school, one of which is college, but there are many others.”

Most of us may not agree with those advocating total clemency for student loan debt. While this solution may be overly simplistic and impractical, it seems clear that some reforms are necessary – whether the efficiencies proposed by Obama, the incentives proposed by Clarke, or Vedder’s more draconian measures toward higher education in general. It also means we need to give OWS protestors and other loan forgiveness advocates more credit for identifying a real, substantive, and systemic problem beyond their selfish interests.

If we value an education for our children as much as we claim, our society has to find a way to re-engineer it back from the crushing burden it has become to more of the opportunity we aspire it to be. Right now, the main thing we are teaching our kids is learning to owe. This is neither opportunity nor American exceptionalism.

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When I Steal A Blog Post, I Leave A Link

I wanted to look at the WSJ job database, suspecting what I might find, but currently lack the bandwidth in a major way.

Fortunately, Noah took some (more) time from his thesis (“distraction from productive activity”) and did the dirty work. Apparently, being a STEM undergraduate isn’t the path to Nirvana:*

I went through the Wall Street Journal database that Phil cites, and found the following unemployment rates:

  • Genetics: 7.4% unemployed
  • Biochemical Sciences: 7.1% unemployed
  • Neuroscience: 7.2% unemployed
  • Materials Engineering and Materials Science: 7.5% unemployed
  • Computer Engineering: 7.0% unemployed
  • Biomedical Engineering: 5.9% unemployed
  • General Engineering: 5.9% unemployed
  • Engineering Mechanics Physics and Science: 6.5% unemployed
  • Chemistry: 5.1% unemployed
  • Electrical Engineering: 5.0% unemployed
  • Molecular Biology: 5.3% unemployed
  • Mechanical Engineering and Related Technologies: 6.6% unemployed

    Compare these with a 5.0% unemployment rate for all bachelor’s degree holders in 2010.

  • And why do those Astronomy and Astrophysics people** have jobs?

    Earth to [Phil Plait of] Bad Astronomy: your short-list of fully-employed science majors is totally cherry-picked….And all those astronomers who have plenty of jobs? Guess what: they’re employed because they work for the government. Yep, that’s right, the same government whose ability to provide employment Phil laughs at.

    *Raise your hand if you’re surprised by this. Mine is not up.

    **Full disclosure: I speak as someone whose wife’s cousin, with a Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics, currently has a Fellowship in the Astronomy department at DeLongville.

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    Dave Dayen Is Wrong

    And not in a good way, when he says:

    I understand that Republicans are just playing the culture war game here, trying to link Warren and the loony left. I don’t know how that will play in, er, Massachusetts. And the world has moved on from the Hard Hat riots and the 1972 campaign. The hard hats have been brutalized just as much as the rest of us in this economy.

    No, no, no.

    The “hard hats” have been brutalized much more than “the rest of us” in this economy. And the economy before that. And, basically, every one since 1986,* Bruce Bartlett’s protestations notwithstanding.

    Note especially that having all those English Literature and Anthropology majors with degrees hasn’t hurt.

    *The data only breaks down from 1992 onward, so you’ll have to wait for my tribute to the 1986 “tax reform” act.

    cross-posted from Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo

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