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Labor Force Participation in ND and US

10 days ago

The radio audience is often interested in labor market matters such as wages and employment. The September “Employment Situation” from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (available here) makes it clear COVID adjustments still impact the data. We need to confront not just sharp breaks in the data series, but actual changes in preferences for work and other structural adjustments. This situation is not likely to fully resolve itself anytime soon.

I find it helpful, usually, to compare the North Dakota data to the broader US picture at these times. The two, while often telling similar stories, are not often telling identical stories.

For each data series I include the actual data and a smoothed series (loess method). The recent data make it clear there is a significant downward

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Debt Limit Discussion, Radio Primer

17 days ago

The debt limit debate is the most significant economic discussion currently and it seemed appropriate to put out a brief bit of information about it for the radio audience. As the discussion at the national level is mind-bogglingly political at this point (read that as trying to blame the other side for all of it) I thought it good to put out some basic information.

The larger aspects of the debate get at political parties and preferred economic policy approaches. Currently Democrats favor spending plans and approaches while Republicans favor tax cuts. The fact that, for the most part, both parties ignore the other side of the fiscal policy toolkit pretty much explains why we are where we are. So let’s briefly look at the situation we have in terms of the fiscal policy space:

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Barter is Evil 2021-09-30 04:36:22

24 days ago


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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Covid Cases Among Young Continue to Rise in ND

24 days ago

It is important to keep track of the COVID data because we are clearly not done with COVID yet and if new variants keep arising it seems likely it will be some time before we are done with it. The total cases are falling into a fairly clear seasonal pattern (seen below) though August and September case numbers are above the levels from the same moths in 2020.

Where there is a more worrying trend is with the younger population, a significant number of whom do not have access to vaccines yet. The under 20 population in September accounted for 30% of the total cases of COVID 19.

Circumstances make this skyrocketing percentage somewhat predictable. There are more students in school this year in the K-12 setting. There are more students on the college campuses as well. The

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Sales Tax Collections in Fargo and Grand Forks

September 16, 2021

Sales tax is always an interesting topic. There is always the political angle of “we pay too much in taxes” and the whole “do we get value for taxes we pay.” These are all reasonable arguments that I love to watch as part of policy debates. When I start to look at data, call it the exploratory phase, I like to run graphs and other data analysis by others as much as I can. (This usually means my wife gets asked to check my work.) Now I caution this is still exploratory, so I am not ready to make big conclusions without significant caveats. Let’s start with a simple look at the collection amounts.

Not a huge surprise the larger city with larger retail sector and larger population has more in sales tax collections. I’ll scale this in a later post and we will see the outcome. Both

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Age 0-9 Cases Above Last Year’s Pace

September 13, 2021

North Dakota COVID case data is not looking good so far this school year. Amid all the discussion about mask policy we are missing the very real situation that this is a group without access to vaccine at all right now. As you might expect, with inconsistent human response to biological fact we see predictable, problematic results.

August 2021 was 389 higher than August 2020. We are only at September 13 (for this data release, and I guess the post) and September 2021 is already 220 ahead of September 2020. That end point for the 2021 line is only going to continue to go up at this point.

Some callers on the radio suggested we are simply seeing natural seasonality in the data to which I respond: 1) True but then we are clearly ahead of pace from last year, and 2) human

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Age Split as a Share of Total Covid Cases

September 9, 2021

I do not want to be writing about COVID anymore than people want to read about it. The fact is the situation continues to evolve and continues to be important. The fact of the matter is that in some places schools are a front line of fights over COVID, which is just a sad, sad state of affairs. For North Dakota I looked at the two younger age groups, ages 0-9, and then add ages 10-19, taking both as a share of total cases.

I include data for September to date and we can see that is not helping matters much. Age 0-9 are making up increasing shares of the total cases out there, now above 10%. The fact is the percentage for this young age group, without vaccine available, was higher this year than for most of 2020. This is to be expected at some level, if those with access to

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COVID Data in ND, 9/1/2021

September 2, 2021

Governor Burgum and various health officials gave a press conference discussing the problematic trajectory for COVID in North Dakota right now. I thought I would post a few charts to try and help make clear the issue. The data here go all the way back to the beginning of COVID in North Dakota. In fact they go back to 2 days prior to the first positive test.

COVID Cases in North DakotaStill well below peak levels the trajectory of cases in North Dakota is problematic. It is clearly moving as if to start a new climb and is essentially at levels now not seen until closer to October in 2020. That is, we are ahead of the pace for last year. The Governor made excellent points about the available resources being tighter now than last year. Hospitals discussed lower staff levels than

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What happened with the American Indian/Alaska Native Population in ND?

September 2, 2021

If you looked at my earlier post you already saw the graphs contained here, though I am actually making some remarks. The point plot shows some significant changes in the percentages of the population American Indian/Alaska Native across the counties in North Dakota. Overall in the state the AIAN alone population declined by 31.7% from 2010 to 2020. The magnitude of the changes can be seen here.

The most notable change is Benson County dropping from around 55% to around 45%. There is also an approximately 10% drop in McKenzie County.

Now clearly this could be an impact of the multiple race allowance, but I think it unlikely. Two or more races did increase in ND by 106% from Census 2010 to Census 2020. There would need to be massive migration, death, or revision in order to

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ND County Race Data from Census 2020

September 2, 2021

There is a significant amount of data available already from Census 2020 and diving into it is kind of my job. The fact of the matter is the race information is a significant change this time around. Census allowed people to fill in more than one category for race for the first time in the history of the Census. This is good and bad, and makes it difficult, at times, to make comparisons with prior data.

There are other issues, as there always are with any census. I can think of two ongoing questions facing North Dakota officials and policy makers as we move forward with Census 2020 data. First, to what extent did the COVID-19 pandemic influence the count? Second, to what extent are there what we consider the standard undercount issues more typical of a census? Obviously these

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ND Population Change by Legislative District, Census 2020 (updated)

August 26, 2021

One of the key uses for the Census 2020 data released so far is redistricting. The data file is actually called the redistricting data. The mapping of legislative districts in the state will look similar to the county maps seen in the prior post. That said, it does reiterate the geography of the changes in population, which do result from changes in economic activity in the state since 2010.

Clearly the scale does not completely allow complete clarity of every district. Some of the biggest changes are in smaller districts in the Fargo and Bismarck metropolitan areas and so are not easy to see here. The fact remains that the western part of the state saw enormous increases in population compared to most of the rest of the state. Here is another representation.

There are some

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ND County Population Change, Census 2020

August 19, 2021

We are getting the Census 2020 data released at more informative levels now. We have the county population data now and that is somewhat helpful. Response rates were not great in some locations, and of course there were issues with pandemic dislocations, but we have the numbers we have for the time being. So in terms of raw numbers we saw North Dakota grow by over 100,000 since 2010, an outlier for the region.

The largest absolute changes occurred in Cass, Burleigh, and Williams counties. These three counties account for about two-thirds of overall population change in the whole state. As a point of reference for the local audience Grand Forks County accounts for just under 6% of the total change in the state population. In terms of percentage changes, there is a slightly

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Is the minimum wage relevant right now?

August 12, 2021

My radio appearances of late discuss inflation and wages with some regularity. There are also discussions about the minimum wage, in particular how it is not keeping up with inflation. This is pretty much a fact right now, but there are other issues to confront as well. Some discuss the original intent of the minimum wage and the role it has currently.

These are not unimportant considerations but there is another factor to consider right now. With the high demand for labor, in some cases the outright fear by business that they lack workers, wages in many places are rising much higher than the minimum wage. It is not univeral, and I am sure we can always find people making the minimum wage. However, it seems less a binding constraint right now. As evidence, I offer up this

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North Dakota Fertility in 2020

August 5, 2021


I decided to take a slightly different look at labor market issues in North Dakota this week. My interest in demography makes looking at fertility a bit of a natural starting point. Think of it this way, a persistent lower fertility rate points to a need to constantly bring in new people through migration to keep your labor supply constant. Fertility is, of course, a lousy policy variable to influence in an effort to change your available labor supply, unless you can afford to wait 16 years or so for impacts on your variables.

Demographic Data

Fertility is a somewhat complicated dynamic relationship influenced by available eligible males and available eligible females. Then there are fertility expectations by participants, income, expected income, and many

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Public and Policy Concerns Around Inflation

July 29, 2021

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

July 22, 2021

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

July 22, 2021

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

July 16, 2021

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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