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Public and Policy Concerns Around Inflation

3 days ago

We will get this out of the way at the start: inflation concerns are, at this point, jumping the gun. As discussed on the radio these last several weeks there are multiple components to inflation. There is a pent-up demand component as we came out of lockdowns and COVID related closures, there are supply chain issues raising prices right now, and there are labor shortage issues. All contribute to inflation, to varying degrees depending on the region and the types of goods and services. The addition of a large stimulus can be expected to put further upward pressure on prices. Very little of this is unexpected and while inflation contains seeds of social ills there is likely market response coming to this as well in the form of higher wages and more.

Inflation has been lower than

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Changes in County Taxable Sales and Purchases

10 days ago

There have been a great many adjustments and issues for individuals and governments over the last 16 months, but then there always are. In that regard COVID is the just the latest in a long line of shocks to the economic system. It has unique elements, as they all do, and there appear to be multiple waves of shocks coming from this as we make adjustments and policy changes.

The fact is COVID exerted huge impact on spending patterns for people and for governments at all levels. 2020q1 only includes about two weeks of the pandemic and so is largely immune from those effects. 2021q1 is well after the onset, in fact well after several waves of COVID.

The oil patch counties appears to experience the largest decline in taxable sales and purchases. Williams county was down over

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Median Age for North Dakota Counties

10 days ago

The age structure can be a really important part of the economic vitality of an area. A diverse age mix encourages a mix of good and services offered, and can really do so over time. Also, as North Dakota grapples with attracting population in general, understanding the age profile choosing to remain here can be important information considered by policy authorities.

The counties with median age less than the state median age are, to some extent, scattered across the state. The oil patch, Native American reservation counties, counties with large universities all seem likely counties to have high populations of younger people. It is interesting to see the scattered pattern of the older populations as well.

Overall this is a pretty good situation for the state with one issue.

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Labor and Population in Grand Forks

16 days ago

I love Mel Brooks’ movies and the questions Grand Forks keeps asking seem to recall the scene towards the end of Blazing Saddles when they rebuilt a town but forgot people. A share, and likely a significant share, of the labor market shortages and other issues comes down to the fact that we do not have the population in this town. The annual population estimate from the Census Bureau confirms this:

It is also not as if this is something new really. If you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data you can tease out a similar story, and also the issues we confront now. Grand Forks employment appears to reach a peak around 2017 and then experienced a gradual decline. Even the recovery after the COVID drop only looks to return to the previous trajectory.

A similar story is

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Baseball Consecutive Game Hit Streaks (For Fun)

June 24, 2021

On the radio JT and I typically talk some baseball, because we are both baseball fans, and sometimes you get tired of talking about wage growth, or lack thereof. So for fun I simulated hit streaks in baseball. I assumed a few things, as we must always. I assumed four at bats per game and I simulated 1,000,000 games. I also took as my career batting average Joe DiMaggio’s career average of .325. This will end up being an important cutoff for my conclusions. Each at bat is an independent realization and a player only needs one hit in a game to add to the streak. My premise is that the hit streak for Joe DiMaggio is a monumentally impressive feat, but is not a statistical impossibility. Think more in line with improbability, like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.


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Poverty in Grand Forks

June 24, 2021

Several times in the last month individuals brought up the issue of poverty in Grand Forks. These requests came from different people in different occupations, but they all felt it was an important number not being discussed. Their focus was largely on the city, but I am going to use county data. This really is not that big a deal given the city of Grand Forks makes up such a large share of the population and economy of Grand Forks county.

When dealing with the concept of poverty there is one thing to always keep in mind: poverty is an arbitrary construct. What does this mean? For starters, the poverty level for a household varies based on the the number of people in a household: for a one person household the level is $12,880 while for a four person household the amount is

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Are the concerns around price increases inflated (Yes)

June 17, 2021

If it is not wages it is unemployment. If not unemployment it is job availability. If not job availability it is inflation. It seems the Wheel of Mythology landed on inflation this week. I keep hearing about concerns of future inflation, as if this is a new thing. The fact of the matter is that the inflation outlook has been on a nearly straight line path since the first iterations of the COVID crisis hit the economy.

The graph above shows the five year outlook for the breakeven inflation rate calculated from Treasury security data. The red region represents the Trump presidency, and the blue region the Biden presidency with the blue line representing the average since January 2018. COVID hit in 2020 and we saw early concerns about the economy result in a rapid and large drop

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MSA Wage Gaps In ND (Episode V)

June 10, 2021

Call me a glutton for punishment, or at least a glutton for calls and texts coming in when I am on the radio challenging, you know, the data. Wages in Grand Forks is a big deal. I hear it from people as I walk around my neighborhood. You can tell by the number of stories written about it. Being a big story does not make it an easy explanation though. Wages in Grand Forks lag the other metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in North Dakota across many different categories. The graph below give a look at the mean level for wages across different categories in 2020 for the Bismarck, Fargo, and Grand Forks MSAs. Just a note, some of the observations were close enough I used a jitter to move the data horizontally around the while lines which represent the categories. There was no vertical

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A Tale of Two Capitalisms

June 3, 2021

Capitalism can the best of economic systems, and the worst of economic systems. It seems especially the case when individuals expect something out of capitalism it is not set up to do or that some markets should obey the rules and others should not. I get a great deal of questions and comments on my weekly radio appearances that fall into these types of problem situations. The subtitle of this piece could be: Capitalism for thee, but not for me.

Markets and the firm

The first situation almost nobody finds objectionable and it occurs when a firm makes various different decisions about entering or leaving markets. In North Dakota the expansion and contraction of the oil companies in the Bakken area is a good example. Firms expand, hire, and operate as global oil prices allow

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Inflation Concerns: This is not your father’s hyperinflation

May 20, 2021

To hear the discussion of inflation right now you would think we are staring at 13% inflation soon to be 24.5%. This seems to be true whether it is the local radio audience on the Jarrod Thomas Show, or Bloomberg TV, or your favorite newspaper. There are lots of reasons for general increases in the price level right now, some I would argue are good while others are not. However let’s start by being realistic about what the experience looks like. I looked at the gap between nominal securities and treasury inflation protected securities for three different maturities.

One think that appears consistent across all the maturities is an increases in prices in the last year. Let’s emphasize that: this price increase started in April of 2020. The knee jerk reaction is that this is due

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North Dakota Continuing Claims & Unemployment Benefits

May 13, 2021

I am back to posting after a bout of Crohn’s disease requiring the removal of my appendix. So North Dakota will join a number of other states and stop using the extra federal money added to unemployment benefits. The thought process in general is that the extra benefits deter people from finding work. Now let’s accept from the start that we can surely find people for whom this is true, and people for whom this is not true. We want some broader understanding and that is what I attempt here. In terms of data to examine I look at continuing unemployment claims, that is, people that filed an initial unemployment claim before and now file a continuing claim that they are still out of work. I aggregate claims from the weekly data into a monthly series, simply summing all the claims in a

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What is Grand Forks? (Post #500!)

April 1, 2021

For at least the last 6 or 7 years and maybe as many as 10 years Jarrod Thomas and I asked some pretty important questions about Grand Forks and the immediate vicinity in North Dakota (1310 KNOX AM Grand Forks, Thursdays at 9am central). One of the most important questions remains unanswered (that seems to be the way it usually goes): what is Grand Forks?

This is not just a simple matter of civic pride. Identity in this case is a starting point for policy. It is a recognition of constraints and defining a path forward. This is why JT and I for many, many shows, over many, many years tried to come up with an answer to this question. This is why we pressed for there to be a bigger conversation about this topic. And so far? JT and I, and a few persistent radio stalkers, I mean

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Metro Area Definition Changes and ND

March 19, 2021


Economist and economic historian with an interest in population analysis and demographic methods. Especially interested in natural disasters and disruptions to economic activity and changes in population dynamics, as well as fiscal and monetary policy with forecasting implications. Husband, father, Cubs fan.
View all posts by David

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Radio caller follow ups

March 19, 2021

There were a few callers to the radio show today and just a few points to follow up since there is only an hour. The whole show really centered around the concept of herd immunity.

One caller mentioned the lower mortality for children from COVID and the caller is correct that the mortality from COVID for kids is low. Now it is not zero so there is still risk for contracting and dying. The bigger risk for children however is spreading it to family members who may experience problems as a result. That was not mentioned and is an important part to keep in mind.

Then there was the caller that said the COVID vaccines are not vaccines. I had no response to that one as I could not even fathom how to engage with someone with such a worldview.

One big policy idea I think we

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Pandemic Policy Starting Points

March 18, 2021

The host and the guests on the Jarrod Thomas Show often ask me about the development of an actual policy regime to deal with pandemic so that the next time, and they seem to believe there will be a next time, it is not an ad hoc system of ideas. Maybe the goal should actually be not AS MUCH an ad hoc system but we can debate that point later.

Part of the process to figure out a new policy going forward will be to understand where we were at the start. The COVID situation impacted different areas in distinct fashions so I give the county level median income for all counties in North Dakota.

It is a simple starting point but there are a few takeaways. Prior to pandemic the oil economy still drove up incomes in the western part of the state. Since pandemic impacted oil prices

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Herd Immunity in North Dakota

March 17, 2021

Let’s start with the fact that “herd immunity” is actually not terribly well defined. The definition is pretty clear, enough incidence of infection and vaccination that the spread of disease becomes unlikely. The issue for many is there is not necessarily a precise percentage we can attach here. That is actually fine, I am sure for different diseases the threshold for herd immunity would be different. However in the current situation with COVID-19 we are trying to vaccinate quickly to help get to this level. Depending on the definition this is going to be an interesting policy question.

I provide the ND population pyramid (for 2019) to help make this point. The distribution of the population across the age ranges can make achieving herd immunity difficult. Let’s say the number

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Unpopular Opinion Time: Why act like impacts are permanent?

March 11, 2021

Covid adjustments have been widespread and the impacts are great. However, the impacts are not necessarily permanent even though there are so many complaints that make this seem so. For this post I focus on education, especially elementary education.

There is no doubt there are impacts on learning by children across the country. Whether remote, hybrid, in-school, or any other combinations learning is different this year. The issue I have is the attitude this is inevitably a permanent setback for children. I am not aware of why this would be the case. There of course will be extra work to “catch up” or “make up” for lost time or difficult instruction. That is not a permanent setback.

It is actually a disservice to the children to suggest it will be. The fact is we have many

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Minimum Basic Income, the Legacy Fund, and North Dakota

March 4, 2021

I receive many call on the radio complaining about support payments, stimulus payments, unemployment insurance, and pretty much anything else that is similar. The overarching theme behind the complaints is such systems reduce the incentive to work. I also get many calls about what North Dakota should be doing with the Legacy Fund instead of letting it accrue. So I thought we could combine the two briefly.

The different uses for the Legacy Fund are a political/policy matter and I do not have so much to contribute on that front. Of interest is a combination of the two and for that we can look at the work of Damon Jones (Univ. of Chicago) and Ioana Marinescu (U Penn). They researched employment effects of the Alaska Permanent Fund and found that the payments made to Alaska

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ND Metro Area Employment, 2010-2020

February 18, 2021

Metro area North Dakota accounts for a large share of the population and the economic activity in the state so it is interesting to pay attention to them at times. It is actually really important to look at these three metro areas compared to each other. That is where the most informative comparisons can be made. So what do we make of the employment situation in these metro areas over the last decade.

A big takeaway here is the continued growth of employment in Fargo without much of an increase in Bismarck and Grand Forks. These other two metro areas, in some ways, are falling behind Fargo. Think of the number of initiatives in these two metro areas to create growth that essentially created no noticeable changes in employment over this time frame. All this with low unemployment

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Radio Show Live Blog – 4 February 2021

February 4, 2021

Live blogging the topics from the KNOX radio appearance today. Trying to keep the engagement up.

First topic was GameStop and Robin Hood situation. It is going to be really interesting watching this going forward. The “democratization” of Finance was not well received, though clearly some lost money in these efforts, not just hedge funds. The no/low cost trading platforms seem to be the most at risk coming out of this in terms of new regulation.

9:28 – After the break will be talking about the “stimulus” check / support check situation and the possible move to something like minimum basic income.

9:38 – Checks out to Americans is the topic. Minimum basic income mechanics and how it looks instead of piece meal approach with support checks is the nature of the discussion.

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Upcoming topics

February 4, 2021


Economist and economic historian with an interest in population analysis and demographic methods. Especially interested in natural disasters and disruptions to economic activity and changes in population dynamics, as well as fiscal and monetary policy with forecasting implications. Husband, father, Cubs fan.
View all posts by David

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North Dakota Employment over the Trump Presidency

January 21, 2021

With the Trump Presidency complete we can take an early look at the changes in employment occurring during that time in the state of North Dakota. There were many things going on in North Dakota over this time including a commodity cycle impacting both the oil and agriculture industries. The picture in the state is similar to the picture for the country as a whole, which is really interesting. North Dakota is clearly not as diversified as the entire country and so the fact that a commodity intensive economy and a more diversified national economy display similar attributes is not what you would expect.

The similarities in decline continue into recovery. The picture of a possible further decline in the state is also a concern for future growth at this point. The nonfarm

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The Employment Situation During the Trump Years

January 21, 2021

President Trump’s time in the White House ended yesterday and so it seems an appropriate time to start looking at some of the economic data at the conclusion of this time. I grabbed two data series, US Nonfarm employment and US private employment from January 2017 to December 2020. The two series look pretty much identical in terms of shape, though obviously there is a bit of a scale difference. So let’s look at the pictures.

Let’s deal with the numbers first and then discuss some cause and effect. The fact is that nonfarm employment in December 2020 is slightly more than 3 million lower than when President Trump took over in January 2021. Also the private sector employment is over 2 million less over the same time period. These represent a 2% decline and a 1.7% decline,

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Home Prices and Income

December 17, 2020

A frequent topic on the radio focuses on the difficult to define topic of “affordable housing.” This is really subjective and terribly idiosyncratic to the local level which makes it difficult to discuss. I provide a look at index values at the national level, just to see the course of these over time. I use nominal disposable per capita income and the FHFA price index, with all values indexed to 100 in January of 1991.

There is a remarkable consistency to the track of the two data series over time with the home price data showing the clear signs of the housing boom and eventual bust. In addition the personal income data shows a spike in the monthly income series, and a drastic drop due to COVID. This data only confirms how difficult it is to evaluate the issue of

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Grand Forks Sales Tax Data

November 20, 2020

I took a look sales tax data for Grand Forks this week. 2020 started off well for Grand Forks, well ahead of 2019. After that there were notable drops and changes to the point where it was well below levels from previous years.

In terms of the rolling total for the year we see that 2020 continues to stay ahead of the pace for 2019. There are broader concerns about the sustainability of economic performance as well as the local economic impacts on small businesses of the surge in COVID. That is not necessarily going to show up in a graph of collections. Purchases from online and people shifting to making food at home versus restaurants will not necessarily show up in these figures.

Obviously COVID changed the nature of purchasing by consumers. This graph shows the different

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November 20, 2020

I will get back to the moving average representations and other analysis soon but I wanted to try and think about this from a different visualization. In general I think it is accepted with this, and any disease for that matter, that you get exposure to the disease which shows up with positives, positives lead to hospitalizations, and hospitalizations lead (unfortunately) to deaths. So how are the county positives looking? I look at two different measures, the seven day total positivity rate, and the week-over-week growth in positives.

The color coding represents the 7 day positivity level. Higher levels on each of the scales is a bad thing. We can see there are two outlier counties right off the bat. There is a significant amount of congestion in the 15% level of the

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ND Labor Markets

November 12, 2020

One of the big stories nationally, and rightly so, focuses on the adjustments in labor markets, or really the lack of adjustments in labor markets. We still see national initial claims for unemployment in the hundreds of thousands, and while job creation is good, we have not got back all the jobs lost. In North Dakota it is a somewhat similar story.

We are all aware of the record levels of initial claims in North Dakota this year but what we see here in the map above is the major economic areas for retail, for hospitality, for energy, and other sectors are the source of the highest level of initial claims.

Behind the scenes with all these claims are the changed economic circumstances due to COVID forcing very difficult decisions at businesses and households. We can attempt

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ND County COVID Update, 11 November 2020

November 12, 2020

Positivity rates are climbing, faster in Ward and Williams than elsewhere, but they are still climbing. Burleigh, Cass, Grand Forks, and Morton counties are all increasing and are at or near 15% for positivity rates (for the 15 day MA). It is not really a surprise to see discussions about the capacity of the health system when you see these levels of positivity.

Of course, with such high positivity you do get the increases in hospitalizations and the chance of more deaths. We see that happening for all the counties, though again rates of increase vary.

Grand Forks and Williams remain lower than others while Ward witnessed a shocking increase in deaths to draw close to Burleigh and Cass.
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ND State COVID Update, 11 November 2020

November 12, 2020

The state COVID data system was down yesterday so I was not able to update graphs so we have a bit of a gap but not much really. It would be nice to report a dramatic reversal, but no such luck.

The overall state positivity rate continues to increase up with the 7 day centered MA approaching the 17.5% level, and recent observations make it likely to continue the increase.

ND still leads in testing per capita but that is not helping as the positives continue to increase at an even faster pace than testing. We are now at more than 7.5% of the state testing positive at this point. The concerns about overloading the health capacity of the state is real and comes at a time when the entire country experiences the same means we have little in the way of options right now.

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ND County COVID Update, 09 November 2020

November 10, 2020

The numbers continue to move in the wrong direction. It is pretty much as simple as that.

The big western North Dakota counties positivity rate continues to accelerate past the level in the other counties. Williams looks set to eclipse 20% positivity without a major reversal. The other counties remain at levels flirting with 15%.

The increase in positivity for Ward county clearly coincides with the increase in deaths there unfortunately. Grand Forks and Williams remain lower in total deaths though circumstances are still fluid enough that nobody should be resting easy right now.

These included counties represent such a concentration of population, economic activity, and medical services that the circumstances in them would naturally be expected to transmit around the

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