An argument for why we should be hearing more about falling home prices

The last several years have seen many stories published and produced about homes and home values. But Dan Froomkin argues that we should be hearing even more about how home values continue to fall:

You might not know it from reading the news, but the nation’s housing prices are in free fall again…

Despite the fact that the nation is officially in a period of economic recovery, the latest data show that home prices are diving. One recent survey pegged the decline at 0.7 percent per month; another found prices down 5.8 percent between August and October.

One analysis found  home values will likely drop more than $1.7 trillion this year, on top of the $1.05 trillion drop in 2009. That would bring the loss in wealth to $9 trillion since the June 2006 market peak, when the housing stock was valued at about $24 trillion…

Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, tells me the story isn’t getting nearly as much coverage as it should — if nothing else because “as you see a drop in home equity, you also see a drop in consumption.”…

What that means is that another trillion-dollar loss in housing wealth — something that could easily happen by next fall — translates to $50 billion to $70 billion less consumption; sort of an anti-stimulus.

This is obviously not good news. I wonder what Froomkin would say the value is in having Americans hear this story more often and with more emphasis: would people be moved to act in certain ways, like making requests of politicians to do something or trying to get out of homeownership?

A link is made in this story between home values, consumption, and jobs. So if this is a vicious cycle that involves these three factors, where do we begin in trying to reverse the trend? With tax cuts – or extensions of tax cuts? It sounds like the one issue that would help out the others is jobs. If more people had good-paying and stable jobs, they would spend more overall and some of these issues of home values wouldn’t be as much of a concern.

h/t Instapundit

Trying to understand China’s economy with a lack of statistics

Megan McArdle writes about the issue of a lack of comprehensive data to understand what is happening with China’s economy:

But central planners badly need good, comprehensive data.  Once you limit the autonomy of local nodes to make decisions, you need some sort of massive data set to overcome information loss as decisions move up the hierarchy.

Libertarians often use this to argue against any sort of central planning, but that’s not the point of this post.  All modern economies engage in some level of planning, whether it is monetary policy or infrastructure construction.  It was in response to the problems of managing production during World War I that economists first conspired to create US economic statistics.

The Chinese government is extremely enthusiastic about managing their economy, and they put a lot of thought into it.  But the lack of good statistics on economic performance makes an already near-impossible challenge even more daunting.

It is remarkable to recognize how much data there is out there these days in the United States. And even with all that data, it is often not always clear what should be done – government officials, investors, journalists, and citizens need to know how to interpret the data and figure out how to respond.

What would it take to get comprehensive data in China?

h/t Instapundit

Job outlook: either high-paying or low-paying, few in between

Perhaps adding to the bleak economic outlook, some economists are suggesting that future jobs will fall into two categories: high-paying or low-paying with few jobs in the middle.

This would have implications for the size of different classes within the United States. To have a high-paying job, employees will generally need higher-education or specialized degrees. Having a service job means struggling to make ends meet. In this scenario, what kinds of industries or sectors might provide more middle-class jobs?

One growing political metaphor: the car

Politico examines President Obama’s usage of the metaphor of driving a car to describe the national political scene and handling of the economy. The metaphor has grown over the months and recently included the first mention of “Slurpee” by a President in a speech.

Politicians commonly use metaphors and symbols in speeches. The car is such a part of American life that people can instantly grab onto the implications. What would be the metaphorical response from Obama’s opponents?

Matching workers to job slots in the American economy

In economic times like the United States is in now, it would seem logical that all open jobs would attract workers. But this is not the case, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Economic changes have “created a glut of people who can’t qualify for highly skilled jobs but have a hard time adjusting to low-pay, unskilled work.”

One way to think of the job market is a process where workers are matched with job slots. If the workers change or the job slots change, the system can get out of whack. From the article:

Matching people with available jobs is always difficult after a recession as the economy remakes itself. But Labor Department data suggest the disconnect is particularly acute this time around. Since the economy bottomed out in mid-2009, the number of job openings has risen more than twice as fast as actual hires, a gap that didn’t appear until much later in the last recovery. The disparity is most notable in manufacturing, which has had among the biggest increases in openings. But it is also appearing in other areas, such as business services, education and health care.

If the job market were working normally—that is, if openings were getting filled as they usually do—the U.S. should have about five million more gainfully employed people than it does, estimates David Altig, research director at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. That would correspond to an unemployment rate of 6.8%, instead of 9.5%.

So it is not as easy turning around the economy by simply creating jobs – there also have to be workers to fill these slots. This is a process that involves workers acquiring particular educations and skills and employers shifting their expectations for employees to take advantage of who may be available to work at that time.