Black Coffee: Dogs, Cats, Wolves, Lambs & the Economic Rabbit Hole

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 CashThat $75,000 Thing Is a Crock of Garbage

Escaping DodgeReflection: 13 Thoughts on 2013

Yes, I Am CheapEntrepreneurship Is Not About the Money

Getting a Rich LifeWhy Do You Choose Material Items Over Your Loved Ones?

Figuring Money OutHow 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)

Whether you happen to enjoy what you’re reading (like my friends in our 49th state) — or not (ahem, Mississippi) — please don’t forget to:

1. Click on that “Like” button in the sidebar to your right and become a fan of Len Penzo dot Com on Facebook!

2. Make sure you follow me on Twitter!

And last, but not least…

3. Don’t forget to subscribe to my RSS feed too! Thank you. :-)

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:

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.


  1. 2


    Your data in jobs is especially telling and absolutely true. When employers aren’t asking for overqualified employees at a significantly reduced pay, they are hiring people part-time or as temps or interns for jobs that should be full-time. The Great Recession shifted the balance of power completely over to employers and it’s killing our economy.

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      Re: Part time jobs. Obamacare is encouraging employers to limit their employees to 29.9 hour work weeks to avoid raising their cost of doing business.

      The Great Recession has since morphed into a second Great Depression. The only reason more people don’t recognize this is EBT cards, unemployment benefits and disability benefits are masking the trouble.

  2. 6

    Karen Kinnane says

    “They made specious claims amounting to more than $400 million over a 26-year period. How does this happen?” Answer: With the collusion of management and other workers. My uncle used to be a motorman on the subway in Manhattan. The year before he retired (that’s the crucial year) He CLOCKED IN for over 80 hours a week, but he worked only 40 or so, the other motormen covered for him while he slept in an empty office, collecting massive overtime UPON WHICH HIS PENSION WAS THEN PREDICATED. The other men didn’t mind covering for him because when their turn came, the newer men covered for them. It was a vas scam which ran for decades, is most likely still being used today to fleece the taxpayers. When this current police disability scam is investigated it is said that they will arrest and jail over a thousand of these cheats. I hope the taxpayers can get clawbacks.

    • 7

      Len Penzo says

      Wow. Just wow. Thanks for sharing that, Karen.

      After many years of the government debt, economic mismanagement, graft and financial corruption, the goose that lays the golden eggs is just about dead.

      As such, the gravy train — including those absurd, ill-gotten pensions — will be coming to an end, sooner rather than later.

  3. 8

    Michael in SoCal says

    I answered the poll question with ‘I don’t know’ because we have a landline (cable is cheaper with a landline than without), I just don’t know where the phone that hooks into it is. It is in the house, in case it’s needed in an emergency, but I’d have to find it.

    And why aren’t pension payments based on scheduled hours only for the year prior to retiring? If it was all of this OT and bogus hours wouldn’t amount to anything, as far as the pension goes.

    • 9

      Len Penzo says

      “Why aren’t pension payments based on scheduled hours only for the year prior to retiring?”

      Because that would make the system harder to game, Michael. (wink, wink)

  4. 10


    Man, half my household doesn’t pay taxes!!

    Of course, they are my children, who are 7 years and 18 months.

    What percentage of the 92 million are over 18 I wonder? Probably still a fair number.

    • 11

      Len Penzo says

      Those 92 million people are people of working age, 16 or older. If we count children under 16, the number would be even higher, Marcia!

  5. 12

    Daryl Bowling says

    Government fraud in words again, to bad we do not have a law requiring the truth every time instead of butt covering. The usual stupidity. I have ended up being one of those part timers as qa result of Obama policy…Mr “i see nothing i hear nothing, i know nothing” man in DC

  6. 13

    Kyron says

    Ok, I see a lot of unhealthy government bashing here. Aren’t we the proponents of taking personal responsibility?

    Who are these unemployed? Taken from BLS 2012 educational attainment:
    2.5% for PhD/professional degrees
    4.5% for Bachelor’s
    8.1% for High School
    12.4% for less than High School

    What? Did the government prevent anybody in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s from getting a high school degree or a college degree or a professional degree?

    No it didn’t. We (as in America) made the choice to limit our educational attainment for what we thought was an easy life with plentiful manufacturing or service jobs.

    Yeah sure! if you are a plumber, etc, you can make a lot of money even without a high school degree. Nobody is downplaying the role of the plumber or the role of productive people with no high school degree. They are already part of the 87.6% of people gainfully employed even without a high school degree.

    People who argue college is overrated or that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg didn’t have a college degree don’t realize that they are lone outlier data points.

    Statistics matter and they speak for themselves. And no, it is not a matter of correlation. Try getting a circuit design engineer or a oncologist job with no degrees.

    Stop blaming the government and get an education, apprenticeship, build your skills and get on with your life.

    • 14

      Len Penzo says


      The trouble with a college education today is that unless you get a so-called STEM degree (science, technology, engineering, or math) then the return on investment is pitiful:

      Over the past 30 years, the price of a college education has risen 1000%. Why do think that is? It’s because of … wait for it … the government! They’ve been providing and, later on, backstopping student loans. As a result, that has allowed universities and colleges to increase their prices to an irrational level.

      • 15

        Kyron says

        Hi Len,
        STEM degree argument is over rated. Yes, there is no Q you get higher pay with STEM degrees that makes it a better return on tuition investment. But a non-STEM degree is not the end of the world. Nor does it explain the statistics.

        30% of all bachelors degrees in US are STEM degrees and 70% of them are non-STEM degrees. Even if you assume all the STEM graduates have 100% employment (highly questionable assumption as 2.5% of PhDs and 2.1% of professionals are unemployed), that only works out to 6.5% unemployment for non-STEM bachelor’s degrees. … 2% points above high school degree and 6% points above no high school degree. And by the way, there are a lot of non-STEM PhDs.

        Colleges charge high tuitions because they know this simple fact. That those degrees matter in the work place. Even if true life saving skills are not imparted, getting through college is a positive correlation to learning new information, solving problems, collaborating with others, discipline, efficiency, hardwork, intelligence. Even if government teats supplied endless money/loans, you wouldn’t take a loan (that is not dischargeable in a bankruptcy) and plop 200K on a useless thing, would you?

        The problem again is not government. The problem is people not thinking, planning, studying ahead. And/or deciding where to put their money. It is not like the government is putting a gun to your head and asking you to get a non-STEM degree. It is our choice to get a non-STEM degree. …. Perhaps some may do it because it is easier to get through college …. And I may even say that it will be those kinds of non-STEM graduates who will find themselves in the unemployed category …. Not because of their non-STEM degree … but because it is reflective of their own inherent capabilities.

        Yes, I however agree with you that government loans (that cannot be bankruptcied away) do contribute to high tuition costs as it removes paying power from the equation. Government loans should go. And no-bankruptcy-discharge clause should go.

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