Physical Activity During the Recession: More Voluntary Exercise, Less Exertion

Last month, we wrote about data pulled from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), examining how Americans spend their lost work hours during the recession. While 32% of foregone work hours were spent watching TV and sleeping (not great, though sleeping is helpful), 15% of that time went to “other leisure,” among which, there is "listening to music" and "being on the computer," as well as "exercise and recreation."

Two new studies (both coauthored by Dhaval M. Dave of Bentley University) drill further into that ATUS data to paint a more complete picture of our exercise and physical activity habits, and ultimately, what impact they have on our health. The first finds that during the recession, we engage in more voluntary exercise, but have less exertion. Part of this has to do with the difference between exercise and physical activity -- the latter is seen as the healthier of the two. (Better to walk to work everyday than do sit-ups twice a week.) With the loss of work, comes a loss of physical activity -- particularly with the types of jobs we've lost.

Recession Time Survey: 30% of Foregone Work Hours Spent on Sleep, Watching TV

Even after a decent jobs report earlier this month, unemployment is still over 9%. The underemployment rate? That's 16%, and includes part-time workers who'd rather be full-time, plus people who've simply stopped looking for a job. So what are we doing with all that extra free time?

A new study by economists from Princeton and the University of Chicago breaks it down. The bulk of foregone market work time during the recent recession, they say, is spent on leisure.

Here's the abstract:

The End is Nigh: Let's All Move to Barter Village!

Let's face it: things aren't great right now. The economy is on its back. Our political system is a mess. The South is stuck in a record-breaking drought. And Tiger Woods has apparently forgotten how to play golf. Clearly, the apocalypse is upon us.

Where to turn in such dark times? How about Barter Village. Located in a tiny castle (yes, castle) in northeast Arkansas, Barter Village is an "experimental educational project" where people who've been particularly hurt by the down economy can go to learn survival skills such as organic farming, sewing and, yes, bowhunting. Villagers hunt, fish and learn to dress their own game.

After providing for their own needs, Barter Village residents take their excess produce, meats, and handmade goods to the nearby castle market. Items sold there generate a meager income to help cover the costs of their stay at Barter Village. Any excess is divided evenly among the villagers to help fund their own survival community.

Odds of a Double Dip: A Sampling of Opinions. Plus, Wolfers on Twitter

So by now you're hopefully aware that the stock market completely bombed today. As I type, the Dow is down more than 500 points, its worst day since December 2008. (Official day's tally is -512.76) And just like that it seems, the recovery is over. Well it was fun while it lasted; kind of.

Our resident macro economic guru Justin Wolfers has come up for air from his Twitter experiment (follow him @justinwolfers) and sent over this interesting sample of recent opinions from a handful of economically savvy folks, all giving their odds of the economy entering another recession:

Larry Summers: “at least a 1-in-3 chance.”
Marty Feldstein: “now a 50 percent chance.”
Ryan Avent: “more likely than not.”
Justin Wolfers: “40% chance and peak was 4 months ago” and “The guacamole has spoken.”
Don Kohn, Vincent Reinhart, Brian Madigan: “between 20% and 40%.”
Matt Yglesias: “precisely 31.22%.”
Brad DeLong: “the odds now are 50-50.”
Christy Romer: “The risks have gone up…compared to where we were six months ago.”
Bob Hall: “We certainly are in a more vulnerable situation now.”
Jeff Frankel: “not necessarily enough to push the probability over one half.”
Jay Carney: “we do not believe that there is a threat there of a double-dip recession.”

Justin has had a busy today on Twitter. Clearly, he flipped heads this morning. Here's a sampling of what he's been tweeting about:

A New Indication of a Double-Dip

We all have our favorite business cycle indicators. I have a new one. Last week I was at the (superb!) NBER Summer Institute. And for the first time in 15 years of attending this conference, there was no guacamole on Taco Day. The bad GDP data had come out a mere three hours earlier. Coincidence, or coincident indicator?

No need to convene the Business Cycle Dating Committee: The guacamole has spoken. It’s the first casualty of a double-dip.

Freakonomics Quorum: Why, During a Bad Economy, Does Crime Continue to Fall?

The FBI recently announced that the number of violent crimes fell 5.5 percent in 2010, with property crimes falling 2.8 percent. This extends the dramatic reduction in crime that began in the 1990s. The Times declared that criminologists were baffled by the news, and Levitt was baffled by their bafflement:

Apparently, everyone expected crime to rise because of the weak economy, which I find strange, because there is zero evidence of any relationship between violent crime and the economy, and a relatively weak one between property crime and the economy. Plus, relative to 2009, the economy in 2010 was substantially improved.

We spent an entire chapter in Freakonomics exploring the factors that do and do not seem to have brought down the rate of violent crime in the U.S. In short, factors that matter include: number of police; number of prisoners; changes in drug markets; and the availability of abortion. And those that don't seem to much matter: the economy; innovative policing strategies; most gun laws; capital punishment; and demographics.

There is of course no reason for anyone to have complete confidence in the arguments we presented, even if they were more empirical than most arguments about crime. Still, as Levitt said in the excerpt above, it is surprising that so many people seem wedded to the view that the economy drives violent crime even when the evidence supports the contrary.

So, given the amount of bafflement on the issue, it seemed like a good time to convene a Freakonomics Quorum.

Experts Continue to Express Amazement at Declining Crime

It was like the 1990s all over again when the FBI released the latest crime statistics last week. Violent crime fell by five percent; property crime fell three percent. Those are the sorts of crime declines that were commonplace in the 1990s.

But what was really reminiscent of the 1990s was the way the media covered it. The New York Times is a perfect example. For starters, the set of criminologists who give quotes in the story are the exact same criminologists who were called upon by the Times each year in the 1990s to assess the latest numbers: James Alan Fox, Alfred Blumstein, and Franklin Zimring. (You may remember James Alan Fox as the portent of doom in the abortion and crime chapter of Freakonomics.)

And these experts are just as puzzled by the recent crime drop as they were 20 years ago. “Remarkable,” says James Alan Fox. “Striking,” says Blumstein.

The New GDP Data Is Bad. The Hidden Data Behind It Is Worse

This morning the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released its latest estimates of GDP. And there’s bad news, hidden in the details. Most analysts are focused on the fact that GDP growth in the first quarter of this year was unrevised, remaining at 1.8%. But they’re focused on the wrong number.

National accounting aficionados know that hidden beneath the headline number is an alternative estimate of GDP. This alternative is often called GDP(I), because it is based on income data, rather than spending data. And GDP(I) is actually a more reliable estimate. Unfortunately, this more accurate indicator tells us that GDP grew by only 1.2%. That’s bad news.

Music of the Great Recession

What happens when you match two guitar-playing economics students and a deep recession? Recession Sessions, an entire album of economics-themed songs by Ryan Stotland and Kyle Thompson-Westra, a.k.a. The Bull and the Bear. The two met at Tufts and now make music in the "financial folk" genre, with songs including "Central Banker's Dilemma" and "Main Street Venting Blues." Here are a few lines from "Dear Fiscal, Love Monetary":

We’ll always be the heads of our nation
Can’t you see the way we killed stagflation
I never ever thought that I’d have this much fun
As when I watched you bring the rate down to one

Because the Consumption of Green Cleaning Supplies Isn't Very Conspicuous

Sales of eco-friendly household cleaning products have tanked thanks to the recession. Turns out our green conspicuous consumption habits only reach so far.