Enlisting in the Military Increases Earnings, But Only If You Stick Around

A new RAND research report prepared for the U.S. Army explores the effect of military enlistment on individual earnings and the labor market. The authors used data from applicants to "active-component enlisted service" from 1989 through 2003, and followed them for up to 18 years. From the report:

The authors find that military enlistment increases earnings in both the short and long-term: The percentage increase in earnings attributable to enlistment is about 40 percent in the first few years following application and diminishes to about 11 percent 14–18 years following application. Enlistment significantly delays college education in the short run. In the longer run, enlistment slightly increases the likelihood of attaining a two-year college degree, but it also decreases the likelihood of attaining a four-year college degree, especially among higher-aptitude youth.

What's the Best Way to Measure Poverty: Income or Consumption?

Yesterday we learned that 15.1% of Americans were living in poverty in 2010, the highest level since 1993, and up nearly 1 percentage point from 2009, when it was 14.3%. That data is based on an income measurement which shows that in 2010, 46.2 million Americans were living below the poverty line, defined as $22,314 a year for a family of four.

But income is just one way to measure poverty, and a particularly tricky (and narrow) way at that - so says Notre Dame economist and National Poverty Center research affiliate, James Sullivan, who believes that to measure poverty strictly by income fails to accurately reflect people's true economic circumstances. Income alone ignores the effects of things like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid, food stamps, and housing subsidies. From a Notre Dame press release on Sullivan's recent poverty research:

“Income received from food stamps, for example, grew by more than $14 billion in 2009. By excluding these benefits in measuring poverty, the Census figures fail to recognize that the food stamps program lifts many people out of actual poverty,” Sullivan says. “If these programs are cut back in the future, actual poverty will rise even more.”

Nice Guys Never Win (Neither Do Mean Girls)

For years, we've been hearing from fictional alpha males like Ari Gold and Gordon Gekko that nice guys finish last. Now, according to a collection of studies soon to be released in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, there appears to be some truth to the axiom. While nice guys don't necessarily finish last, they rarely finish first. Researchers Beth A. Livingston of Cornell, Timothy A. Judge of Notre Dame, and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario, show how “agreeableness” negatively affects monetary earnings. Moreover, their research shows that this “agreeable gap” is more pronounced in men than women, who still trail their male counterparts. Here's a full version of the study. And here's the abstract:

Cohabitation in the U.S. has Doubled Since the Mid-1990s

A recent study by the Pew Research Center titled "Living Together: The Economics of Cohabitation," finds that rates of cohabitation in the U.S. have gone up significantly over the last 15 years. Authors Richard Fry and D’Very Cohn use census data from heterosexual couples who (unlike many of their homosexual counterparts) have a choice between getting married, or simply living together unmarried. Fry and Cohn write:

Cohabitation is an increasingly prevalent lifestyle in the United States. The share of 30- to 44-year-olds living as unmarried couples has more than doubled since the mid-1990s. Adults with lower levels of education—without college degrees—are twice as likely to cohabit as those with college degrees.

Perhaps you already guessed that - the pressure to get married isn’t quite the same as it was 50 years ago. What’s more interesting though is that the level of education makes a big difference as to how the median household income of cohabiters measures up against their married counterparts.

Did Women's Lib Movement Increase Income Gap in the U.S.?

Reader Chris Fawcett writes in with an intriguing question: How did the women's liberation movement affect the income gap in the U.S.?

Income inequality has been on the rise in the U.S. since the 1970s, roughly the same time that women began entering the workforce in large numbers. Considering the amount of attention the widening income gap gets these days as a source of our economic woes, it seemed like something worth posting.

Here's how Chris sees the issue:

There are a number of ways I believe this has had a big impact (maybe the biggest impact of any single issue):

1. Women's participation in the workplace has doubled in the past half century.
2. The divorce rate has increased steadily in the past half century.
3. It is more socially acceptable to not have children (through choice or abortion).
4. People are getting married later in life.

In relation to the commonly used CBO "household" income numbers, I think these issues may have had a huge effect on the perception of the widening income gap as follows:

Income Equality in Revolutionary America

A tad late for Independence Day, but interesting nevertheless: a new paper called "American Incomes Before and After the Revolution," by Peter H. Lindert and Jeffrey G. Williamson. Couldn't find an ungated copy; abstract below (emphasis is mine):

Building social tables in the tradition of Gregory King, we quantify the level and inequality of American incomes before and after the Revolutionary War. Our tentative estimates suggest that between 1774 and 1800 American incomes fell in real per capita terms. The colonial South was richer, and then suffered a greater Revolutionary decline, than suggested by previous estimates. Any rapid growth after 1790 seems to have just partially offset part of a very steep wartime decline. We also find that free American colonists had much more equal incomes than did households in England and Wales. Indeed, New England and the Middle Colonies appear to have been more egalitarian than anywhere else in the measurable world. The colonists also had greater purchasing power than their English counterparts over all of the income ranks except in the top few percent.

FREAK-est Links

Using science for art, and art for science. How much does it cost to go to Hogwarts? Stephen Hawking: If we can colonize space within 200 years, humans will survive. World map: 7 billion people and their income. Creating a market for cigarette butts: at $3 a pound, it’s well worth it. Monkeys and fair […]

The Rich vs Poor Debate: Are Kids Normal or Inferior Goods?

Are you likely to have more kids if you are rich or poor? Or to put this in econo-jargon: Are kids normal or inferior goods? (Reminder: When you get rich you buy more of a “normal good,” and less of an “inferior good." And yes, the language of economics can be a bit cold.)

This is a question that’s central to a debate between Betsey Stevenson and Bryan Caplan. Recall, Bryan is the guy who argues that having kids needn’t be as expensive or time-consuming as we make them. Fair enough. But he then makes the leap to arguing that we should all have more kids. In her response, Betsey noted:

Caplan is entirely focused on the substitution effect: having kids becomes cheaper relative to buying TVs. So he says buy more kids, and fewer TVs. But what about the income effect? As people become richer, they tend to "buy" fewer children, not more. So there's an offsetting income effect.

In a follow-up, Bryan runs some regressions that he thinks suggest that Betsey is wrong to say that the rich have fewer kids than the poor. It’s a brave person who debates Betsey on the data. And I think he’s tying himself in regression knots, rather than getting at the issue.

We're Halfway to a Lost Decade

Our current slump began a lot earlier than you think. Which means that we’re halfway to a lost decade.

Many people date the financial crisis as beginning when Lehman collapsed in September 2008. But the economy was already in recession. The NBER reckons the recession began in December 2007. But look closely, and you’ll see that it may have begun a year earlier.

That’s the case I made in my latest Marketplace commentary, which you can listen to here. The point is more easily made with a simple graph. (Click inside the story for a bigger version).

The blue line is the usual measure of GDP, which is obtained by adding up total spending. When you read the newspapers, this is the number they report. But the Fed’s Jeremy Nailewaik has convincingly shown that the red line—which is the sum of all income—is the more reliable measure. In theory the two lines should be identical—one person’s spending is another’s income—but in practice, the measurements differ. I’ve also plotted the peak, trough, and latest reading of each measure.

The Economic Benefits of Trust

On the airport bus in Helsinki, a Finnish woman asked my wife, “What is the biggest difference between Europe and the U.S.?” There are lots of possible answers, but the most striking to me is the tremendous diminution of mutual trust in the U.S. over the past few decades. Why does this matter economically? Because a number of economists have shown recently that income levels and real growth depend upon trust—trust greases the wheels of exchange.