It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a little joe…
Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance.
Let’s get right to it this week.
Credits and Debits
Credit: It looks like the US economy is finally firing on all cylinders now as the unemployment rate in December fell to 6.7%. Hooray! In case you’re wondering, the current jobless rate hasn’t been this low since October 2008.
Debit: I’m sure a lot of folks who heard that figure being spouted on the evening news now believe the economy is really on the upswing; but there’s a few problems with that. After all, there were actually fewer new jobs created in 2013 than in 2012.
Debit: The “booming economy” meme certainly doesn’t jibe with whats happening in Hagerstown, Maryland: Last week 1600 people lined up for just 36 jobs at a Good Humor ice cream plant. Then again, maybe they were offering sprinkles as a sign-up bonus.
Debit: Seriously, though — it’s not just Maryland. On Friday, 1500 people lined up in New York City to apply for a union job as an apprentice bridge painter. The starting hourly wage: $17.20. If the economy was truly booming, employers would be struggling to fill positions. At least in the real world.
Debit: What’s happening in New York and Maryland belies the “all-is-well” claims and is a symptom of the underlying data. A mere 74,000 new jobs were created last month — that was the lowest figure in three years. And more than half of those jobs were temporary.
Debit: You know we’re living in Alice’s Wonderland when a paltry 74,000 new jobs are created, 347,000 exasperated people stop looking for work entirely — and yet the official unemployment rate falls from 7.0% to 6.7%.
Debit: At least one glimmer of reality can still be seen in the so-called “U-6” unemployment rate that tracks unemployed, under-employed and discouraged workers; it’s still stubbornly high at 13.1%. For now. I’m sure they’ll figure out a way to game that number eventually too.
Debit: Here’s another troubling statistic: in all, 535,000 people dropped out of the US labor force last month. As a result, 37.2% of all Americans — 92 million people — aren’t working for a living. That means they aren’t paying income taxes either.
Debit: On the other hand, as I mentioned last week, with a record 10,988,269 people collecting government disability checks, who needs to work for a living? (Aside from the increasingly smaller pool of taxpayers who are required to cover the cost of those disability benefits.)
Credit: Actually, make that 10,988,089 people. It turns out about 180 people, including 80 firefighters and policemen, were arrested this week for disability fraud. Yep. They made specious claims amounting to more than $400 million over a 26-year period. How does this happen?
Debit: And here’s another question: Why do so many Americans feel like Congress is out of touch with the people they’re supposed to represent? It probably doesn’t help that more than half of all their congressional representatives are, for the first time, worth at least $1 million.
Credit: In my native state of California, Governor Jerry Brown is taking credit for wiping out a $26 billion deficit and turning it into a $4 billion surplus. Never mind that he had to beg voters to pass a “temporary” tax hike — the largest in state history — to close the gap.
Debit: On second thought, since it’s been estimated that between 50% and 55% of California citizens aren’t paying any income taxes anyway, I guess it doesn’t take much to persuade a majority of voters to approve such a massive tax hike on the minority.
Credit: The situation in California is precisely what Ben Franklin was talking about when he warned, “When people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”
Debit: Of course, only fools believe in “temporary” taxes. If they were truly intended to be temporary, Governor Brown wouldn’t be increasing government spending by another 8% this year — but he is. Brown says he’s being “prudent.” I say he needs a new dictionary.
Debit: Unfortunately, as voters continue to vote themselves more money, our state and federal governments continue to metastasize. Meanwhile, our liberty continues to be diminished in direct proportion to government growth. Too bad the majority — drunk on dubious government services and support — no longer cares.
Credit: Hey … That reminds me of another saying — commonly misattributed to Franklin — about the dangers of democratic rule: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what they’re going to eat for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” Let’s hear it for the lambs.
(The Best of) By the Numbers
I suspect if Ben Franklin had to choose, he’d live in Texas rather than California. Go ahead and amaze your family at the dinner table tonight with these fun facts about the Lone Star state:
26 million People living in Texas as of 2013.
2 State rank by population and geographic area.
1 Natural lakes in Texas. (Caddo Lake)
6 Flags that have flown over Texas. (United States, France, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and the Confederate States of America.) That’s the largest number of national flags to fly over any US state.
825,000 Total acres of the King Ranch in Texas– that’s bigger than Rhode Island!
2 US Presidents born in Texas. (Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson. In case you’re wondering, George W. Bush was born in Connecticut.)
Contributing Source: QSL
The Question of the Week
Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
Last Week’s Poll Result
How many dogs and/or cats do you currently own?
- 0 (35%)
- 1 (28%)
- 2 (20%)
- 4 or more (11%)
- 3 (6%)
More than 300 people weighed-in on this one last week, and it turns out that almost 2 in 3 Len Penzo dot Com readers own at least one dog or cat — at least among the ones who chose to respond to the survey. And more than 1 in 10 actually own four or more dogs and/or cats! Wow. As for me, I have my hands full with two big dogs, Major and Jack, who weigh in at more than 100 pounds each.
The Way-Back Machine: Past Posts Of Mine You May Have Missed
From January 2009:
I’m Just Askin’: Why Waste Money at Starbucks? — Yes, I occasionally give away gift cards for Starbucks here. Do as I say. Not as I do.
And Here’s Some Other Posts You Might Enjoy …
Control Your Cash – That $75,000 Thing Is a Crock of Garbage
Escaping Dodge – Reflection: 13 Thoughts on 2013
Yes, I Am Cheap – Entrepreneurship Is Not About the Money
Getting a Rich Life – Why Do You Choose Material Items Over Your Loved Ones?
Figuring Money Out – How to Save Money on Groceries and Save Your Budget
Other Useless News
Here are the top — and bottom — five states in terms of he average number of pages viewed per visit here at Len Penzo dot Com over the past 30 days:
1. Wyoming (1.85 pages/visit)
2. Arkansas (1.81)
3. Idaho (1.78)
4. Iowa (1.76)
5. New Hampshire (1.75)
46. Connecticut (1.44)
47. Delaware (1.39)
48. Mississippi (1.38)
49. Nevada (1.37)
50. Alaska (1.35)
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Letters, I Get Letters
Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not! You can reach out to me at: Len@LenPenzo.com
Last week I found this note from Carroll in my spam folder:
“Thanks for the advice! I think your blog deserves more attention than it’s getting. I’ll probably be back again to read more.”
Aw, thank you. Hey … Wait a minute. What do you mean, “probably”?
I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.