Thursday, March 29, 2018

Census Sensibility

How many illegal immigrants are in the United States?

I am not sure anyone really knows.

It seems that for years and years I keep hearing the same number...11 million.

I checked to see what I could find in the way of official estimates.

Here is what the U.S. Census Bureau says about it on their website.

Do the data on the foreign born collected by the Census Bureau include unauthorized immigrants?

Yes. The U.S. Census Bureau collects data from all foreign born who participate in its censuses and surveys, regardless of legal status. Thus, unauthorized migrants are implicitly included in Census Bureau estimates of the total foreign-born population, although it is not possible to tabulate separate estimates of unauthorized migrants.

In other words, our federal government has no idea of how many illegal immigrants are in the country.

Where does the 11 million number come from?

I found this report from USA Today from last year that cites data from the Pew Research Center that the population of illegal immigrants in the United States has been steady for the last eight years---at 11 million.

These numbers suggest that the number of illegal immigrants today in the United States is lower than it was in 2008 before Barack Obama became President.

Does anyone believe those numbers are correct?

It seems like I am not the only one that is a little skeptical.

This CNN poll from 2015 asked voters whether they thought illegal immigration to the United States had increased or decreased in the last few years. By a 69%-25% margin the respondents believed it had increased. By the way, 61% of Democrats believed that as well.

This Mother Jones article that cites this poll tries to make the case that this is a perfect example of how woefully misinformed the voters (particularly Republicans) are about the issue of illegal immigration.

That article went on to suggest that immigration would not be a big issue in the 2016 primaries or the general election.

I guess that just shows what Mother Jones knows. Does anyone think that Donald Trump would have been elected President but for his position on illegal immigration?

Could it be that the American people have a better understanding about the numbers of illegal immigrants in the country from their everyday experiences at the grocery store, at the mall, at the their children's school and at work than the Pew Research Center or anyone else does?

As I stated above, I don't believe that anyone has a good estimate on the number of illegal immigrants in the United States.

For example, the Migration Institute estimates that there are 3.6 million illegal immigrants alone that came into the United States before their 18th birthday. Compare that to the 800,000 illegals who were granted protection from deportation by President Obama via an executive order through the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ) program in 2012 and which President Trump has offered to expand to twice that number in a legislative fix.

Doesn't common sense suggest that if you have nearly 4 million illegals alone who came before their 18th birthday the total number of illegal immigrants must be larger than 11 million?

Considering all of the estimates and uncertainty it seems that we need a number we can trust on the numbers of illegal immigrants who are in the country. How can we establish policy and seek a solution to the immigration issue until we have numbers we can rely one?

That is why I was pleased to see that the Commerce Department announced this week that it will reinstate a question about immigration status to the next census. That question was last a part of the census in 1950 and is still asked as part of the annual Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Predictably, California has already sued the federal government stating that the question is illegal.

Why was it not illegal in 1950 and before and why is it being used on the American Community Survey without being illegal?

California is clearly concerned that asking such this question might cause some illegal immigrants to not respond to the census. As a result, California's population might be understated thereby reducing its representation in Congress and the federal money coming to the state that is allocated based on population.

I understand the concern of California but how else is it proposed that we get the best possible information on the numbers in question? California and all other states have a right to see that every resident is counted in the census. However, the United States of America also has a right to know how many people are within its borders as citizens, legal residents or illegal immigrants. That is especially true at a time when the question of immigration in all its forms is being so hotly debated.

In addition, every illegal immigrant who should not be here and is counted in the census effectively dilutes the power of those who are lawful citizens in other states and congressional districts.

I have no doubt that California will find some left-wing judges to somehow find that a citizenship question on the census form is infringing on someone's rights. However, I cannot see the Trump administration not fighting the issue in the courts. We can expect to see this issue eventually move up through the court system.

We can only hope that the Supreme Court will ultimately conclude that it is reasonable to have the census tell us how many citizens and non-citizens (legal and illegal) make up our population.

It seems sensible that the Census is the right vehicle to do this. Is there a better way I am not aware of? Or are we to keep relying on estimates of the Pew Research Center or the Migration Institute for the next ten years?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Our Brains Lead Us Astray

A simple fact about the human brain is that it is easily swayed by emotion.

There is a lot of brainpower dedicated to assimilating and analyzing facts.

However, emotion often overwhelms those facts. In scientific terms, the limbic system (emotional mind) can easily end up controlling the neocortex (rational mind) portions of our brains and lead us astray.

We are also very susceptible to those things that are vivid, current and easy to recall.

This is particularly troublesome in our high-tech age when we are exposed to so many vivid stories on all forms of media 24/7 and we see and hear so many emotionally charged stories through the media.

School shootings. Package bombs. Deaths by driverless cars.

This causes us to pay more attention and place more importance on those things that are vivid and easily recalled rather on those things that actually might be more significant.

For example, do you know how many American service men and women were killed in combat in 2017?

We have been hearing a lot about the war on terrorism for over a decade in all forms of media. If there is a death, we hear about it.

However, did you realize that there were just 21 American combat deaths in 2017.

Compare that to the number of training deaths by armed forces members last year---over 100. There were 56 training deaths between June and October alone.

Since the war on terror began in 2001, 1,250 Marines have been killed in combat. However, 1,400 have died in training.

Photo by Staff Sgt Kenneth W. Norman

The combat deaths get played up a lot more in our minds but the reality is that if you enter the service you have a greater chance at dying during training than in combat.

The news has recently been focused on the school shootings in Florida and the bombings in Austin, Texas. The news has been horrific involving the deaths of 17 students in Florida and 2 innocent people in Austin.

However, consider that in my home county in Ohio (Hamilton County) it was announced recently that 529 people died from drug overdoses last year. 373 involved opioids alone. We are talking about just one county in the United States.

The Hamilton County coroner stated that if not for the fact that first responders now carry Narcan with them when responding to a drug overdose call, that deaths could easily have been two to three times higher.

To put those 529 drug overdose deaths in perspective, you may recall that I had recently referenced the fact that only 374 homicides were the result of a rifle in 2016 (the most recent year data is available right now) for the entire country.

Think about that for a second. There were more deaths by drug overdoses in Cincinnati, Ohio than all of the homicides by rifles in the entire United States of America. However, there are many who want to make more drugs legal and more guns illegal.

We also had tens of thousands of young people marching in Washington, DC last weekend in a "March For Our Lives" event that was spearheaded by the survivors of the high school shootings in Parkland, Florida to protest gun violence and lobby for more gun control measures. It is great to see the passion and purpose of those students on the issue.

However, it is estimated that over 65,000 Americans died from drug use last year. That is three times the number who died from drug overdoses in 2002.

If you want to put that in further context, consider that there were more deaths from drug overdoses in the United States last year than the total number killed in the Vietnam War. That war also saw a lot of young men and women take to the streets to protest.

You can get a better idea of the dimensions of the drug problem by looking at these visuals from Time that compare the number of overdoses in 2002 and 2014. Keep in mind that the drug overdoses in Hamilton County are up almost 50% since 2014. They were up 31% in the last year alone.

Lethal Drug Overdoses by County-2002

Lethal Drug Overdoses by County-2014

A comparison of gun deaths and drug overdose deaths to contemplate for the most recent years available.

Drug overdose deaths---65,000

Total Gun deaths---38,000 (22,000 suicide, 16,000 homicide or accident)

Where is the similar emotion that would cause students to march in Washington, DC about drug overdose deaths?

Of course, a lot has also been made by the unfortunate pedestrian that was killed by the Uber driverless vehicle in Arizona last week. That story is both vivid and all the more frightening because it involves technology that seems inherently scary to those of us that can't imagine trusting a machine to drive a car.

Uber Self-Driving Car

It probably doesn't even matter now that the police are saying that the accident was probably unavoidable for even the best human driver. The pedestrian simply stepped out of the shadows at night into the path of the car outside of a designated crosswalk.

It is not easy to get that story out of our minds. Never mind, as I also wrote about recently, that there were nearly 6,000 pedestrian deaths last year. That means that there were likely another 15 other poor souls that were hit and killed by a car with a driver on the same day that this unfortunate woman was hit by the driverless Uber car.

As you see and hear stories like these, keep in mind how your brain works and how it can easily lead you astray.

Stop and THINK about the larger context.

Context is everything when assessing anything.

It especially true when it is so easy for our brains to lead us astray.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Centricity Considered

I caught a few of the Ohio high school basketball championship games over the weekend. The Division 3 championship was won by a suburban Cincinnati team, Deer Park, that finished the season undefeated. It was the only high school in Ohio to accomplish that feat this year.

Deer Park (OH) HS celebrates state championship victory

What I found interesting when I tuned into the game was the name of the school that Deer Park played for the championship---AFRICENTRIC. My first two questions were what kind of name is that for a high school and where is that in Ohio?

Thankfully there is Google to turn to in order to answer all our questions.

It turns out that Africentric is part of the Columbus (OH) public school system. Its official name is not Africentric High School but Columbus Africentric Early College. This is the description in Wikipedia.

Columbus Africentric Early College is a public high school located near downtown Columbus, Ohio. It is a part of Columbus City Schools. The school's previous name, Mohawk Middle School, was changed in the late 1990s, to allow the school not only separation from its original status, but also to expand it into a large school.

Logo of the Africentric Early College Basketball Team

I can only assume that the Africentric name and the use of "Early College" rather "High School" were done to build up the self esteem and identity of the students who attend the school and to create an expectation of future success. However, as I wrote in "Self Esteem Is Overrated" , new research suggests that black teenagers actually have self-esteem that surpasses their white counterparts.

In addition, in a society that celebrates and promotes diversity, why would a public high school be named Africentric? Would we even consider an Asiacentric, Latincentric or Eurocentric school?

I understand the wounds and scars that resulted from slavery. I understand the desire to connect with one's ancestry. However, what purpose is really served by having these teenagers attend a school named Africentric? How is this preparing them to succeed in the United States of America?

These young men and women live in Columbus, Ohio. They don't live in Ghana, Senegal or Nigeria. To be successful in life, they will need to integrate and associate with a diverse group of Americans from many cultures. I am not sure that having an Africentric outlook is going to serve them well in the long term.

All of this reminded me of a column written by Dennis Prager recently who asked the question, "Who Are The Luckiest Jews, Black and Latinos?"  I have not doubt this could also be expanded to include the luckiest Asians and Europeans as well.

Prager is Jewish who was taught by his father that Jews in America were the luckiest Jews in Jewish history. This was despite the fact that his father had seen many acts of anti-semitism in his life.

Prager makes the same point regarding African-Americans and cites the words of black journalist Keith Richburg of The Washington Post who had this to say after covering Africa for his newspaper.

"Somewhere, sometime, maybe 400 years ago, an ancestor of mine whose name I'll never know was shackled in leg irons, kept in a dark pit ... and then put with thousands of other Africans into the crowded, filthy cargo hold of a ship for the long and treacherous journey across the Atlantic. Many of them died along the way, of disease, of hunger. But my ancestor survived ... He was ripped away from his country and his family, forced into slavery somewhere in the Caribbean. Then one of his descendants somehow made it up to South Carolina, and one of those descendants, my father, made it to Detroit during the Second World War, and there I was born, 36 years ago. And if that original ancestor hadn't been forced to make that horrific voyage, I would not have been standing there that day on the Rusumo Falls bridge, a journalist -- a mere spectator -- watching the bodies glide past me like river logs. ... And so I thank God my ancestor made that voyage. ... I empathize with Africa's!  pain.
I recoil in horror at the mindless waste of human life, and human potential. I salute the gallantry and dignity and sheer perseverance of the Africans. But most of all, I feel secretly glad that my ancestor made it out -- because, now, I am not one of them.”

It should not be lost on anyone that there are about 2.1 million immigrants who live in the United States today that came here from Africa. They came to the United States of their own free will and volition. They came despite the fact that we hear from many that the United States is racist, oppressive and unfair. Yes, the United States is far from perfect, but for most of the world it is a far sight better than what people are dealing with where they live.

Compare that 2.1 million African immigrants with the fact that the total slave population brought to the United States was less than 500,000 in the period from 1650-1860.

As I have written before, this was also a small fraction of the slave trade that went to other parts of the Western Hemisphere.

Credit: Slavery in America

Only about 4% of the Atlantic Slave Trade went to North America.

About 10 times that number went to both the West Indies and Brazil.

2% ended up in Europe which you almost never hear anything about.

Slavery left a horrible stain on the United States but this context is almost never mentioned in the history books or by the media.

I also doubt that it is being taught at Africentric Early College.

I can only hope that the lessons that are taught at Africentric to those students do not involve telling them they have gotten a raw deal, that the deck is stacked against them and they are not likely to be able to get ahead in America. It would be educational malpractice if they are also being taught to embrace their African heritage more than their future in America.

Let's consider for a minute whether it makes more sense for a black child today to be Africentric or Americentric?

There are 84 million children age 14 and under in Nigeria right now. The GDP per capita in Nigeria is $2,200. Life expectancy is 53 years.

In the United States, there are only 61 million children 14 and under. GDP per capita is over $57,000. Life expectancy is 79 years.

Based on these numbers, is the future brighter for students who have an Africentric or Americentric outlook?

If those numbers are not compelling enough, look at the numbers from the African continent who have applied for "green card" status in the current diversity lottery who wish to immigrate to the United States.

The present day country of Ghana is one the three areas of Africa in which most African Americans can trace their heritage. (The other two current day countries are Nigeria and Cameroon).

Ghana also happens to be the country which has more of its citizens (1.73 million) seeking immigration to the United States than in any other country in the world. Interestingly, Ghana only took over the top spot in 2015 because citizens of Nigeria were ruled no longer eligible for the diversity lottery because of the numbers of Nigerians who had been admitted into the United States in the previous five years.

How is it that so many in Africa want to live in America while we have schools in America that want to be Africentric?

In any event, congratulations to the young men on the Africentric boys basketball team for an outstanding season. Not to be overlooked is the fact the the Africentric girls team also won the Ohio Div 3 championship. That is their sixth state title in the last 12 years!

It seems to me this high school in Columbus ought to consider calling itself Successcentric.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Married or Not?

We have reached a point that I don't think has ever been experienced in this country.

There are almost as many adults in the U.S. population who are single as there are married.

Just slightly more than 50% of U.S. women are married.

Of the remainder, almost 30% have never been married, 10% are divorced and 10% widowed.

A slightly higher number of men are married. However, 35% of men have never been married, 10% divorced and a small percentage are widowed.

A big reason for the drop in the marriage rate is the fact that recent generations have been waiting longer to marry.

For example, 57% of Millennials have never married. At a similar age, 43% of Gen X'ers and 33% of Baby Boomers had not married.

When asked why they have not married , 29% of Millennials say they are not financially prepared to do do (student loan debt or low paying job?), 26% say that they have not found someone with the qualities that they are looking for (unequal education status among women and men?) and 26% say that they are too young to settle down.

Another reason is that many more couples are living together before they marry. In one survey, 75% of women age 30 and younger stated that they had lived with someone outside of marriage at some point in their lives. More couples living together also means fewer marriages.

The trend "reflects the fact that marriage is increasingly becoming optional in adult life now," said Susan Brown, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who was not involved in the new report.
Nowadays, people expect to be financially secure and to have finished education before they enter marriage, Brown said. "For many people, this is a very high hurdle," Brown said. The average age for marriage is 26.5 for women and 28.5 for men — an all time high.

This is just not the case in the United States either. In Australia, 79.5% of couples report that they lived together before they got married. The similar number in 1975---16%.

At one time the conventional wisdom was that these cohabitation arrangements were a good idea. It was smart to do a "test run" and see how the arrangement worked. Some argued that it would result in fewer divorces later on. However, all it seems to have done is delayed more marriages and resulted in more divorces in the long run.

The divorce rate among those who live together first is 50% higher than for those that did not cohabit together first.

I wrote about how the conventional wisdom had been proven wrong six years ago. Seeing this new data suggested to me that it might be a good time to take another look at that post.

It might be worth sharing with anyone that thinks that "shacking up" is the right way to go.

Slip Sliding Away
(originally posted April 16, 2012)

I am always interested in stories that cut against the grain of conventional wisdom.

Take the question of cohabitation before marriage.  You might call it living together.  Or shacking up.

The argument for it seems to be that it is a good test run for marriage.  In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, 62% of men and women in their 20's believed that living together with someone before marriage is a good way to avoid an eventual divorce.  However, that same report stated that there is no evidence to support the view that living together before marriage reduces the odds of divorce.  In fact, there is research to suggest that cohabitation before marriage (particularly before the couples are engaged) results in less fulfilling marriages and more divorces.

Why is this?

Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, has an opinion piece in yesterday's New York Times.  And the answer again seems to revolve around one of my favorite topics-behavioral economics.
Sliding into cohabitation wouldn’t be a problem if sliding out were as easy. But it isn’t. Too often, young adults enter into what they imagine will be low-cost, low-risk living situations only to find themselves unable to get out months, even years, later. It’s like signing up for a credit card with 0 percent interest. At the end of 12 months when the interest goes up to 23 percent you feel stuck because your balance is too high to pay off. In fact, cohabitation can be exactly like that. In behavioral economics, it’s called consumer lock-in.
In effect, each step forward in living together is often incremental and evolutionary.  The decisions leading to marriage are not weighed in the larger context of the real commitment necessary for a successful union.  It becomes more the case of gradually sliding into it rather than really understanding that it is a giant leap.
Lock-in is the decreased likelihood to search for, or change to, another option once an investment in something has been made. The greater the setup costs, the less likely we are to move to another, even better, situation, especially when faced with switching costs, or the time, money and effort it requires to make a change.
Cohabitation is loaded with setup and switching costs.  Living together can be fun and economical, and the setup costs are subtly woven in. After years of living among roommates’ junky old stuff, couples happily split the rent on a nice one-bedroom apartment. They share wireless and pets and enjoy shopping for new furniture together. Later, these setup and switching costs have an impact on how likely they are to leave.

Jay speaks of a recent client, Jennifer, who came to her after having lived with her boyfriend (and eventual husband) for four years.  She was in the process of looking for a divorce lawyer having spent more time planning her wedding than she spent happily married.

As Jennifer and I worked to answer her question, “How did this happen?” we talked about how she and her boyfriend went from dating to cohabiting. Her response was consistent with studies reporting that most couples say it “just happened.” 
“We were sleeping over at each other’s places all the time,” she said. “We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was a quick exit.”
She was talking about what researchers call “sliding, not deciding.” Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.
 Jennifer said she never really felt that her boyfriend was committed to her.  “I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife,” she said. “We had all this furniture. We had our dogs and all the same friends. It just made it really, really difficult to break up. Then it was like we got married because we were living together once we got into our 30s.”

I guess Simon and Garfunkel had it about right.
Slip sliding away, slip sliding away 
 You know the nearer the destination, the more you slip sliding away 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Defend America

Mid-term elections are always challenging for political candidates and consultants.

Unlike Presidential election years that garner a lot of media attention, mid-term elections fly under the radar for most voters.

Many voters are not familiar with the candidates which inevitably means that quite a few voters decide not to vote at all.

Mid-terms have historically also been more challenging for the party in control of The White House for the simple reason that those that are unhappy with the President seem to more motivated to get to the polls than those who support the President.

There is little question that there will be a lot of Democrats who will be eager to get to the polls this November to send a message to Donald Trump. They might not have know a lot about who they are voting for but they will know he or she does not have an (R) after their name. That will be enough.

The most effective mid-term election I ever saw was in 1994 when the Republicans introduced their "Contract with America". To that point, the Republicans had not been in control of both the House and Senate for more than 40 years. The GOP had also just lost the Presidency to Bill Clinton in 1992.

Newt Gingrich talks about the 'Contract with America"
Credit: CBS News

The "Contract with America"detailed the actions the Republicans promised to take if they became the majority party in the United States House of Representatives. As such, it became a great political device to nationalize the election and give voters a reason to turn out and vote. The GOP, led by Newt Gingrich in the House, recognized it was not enough to simply vote "against" Bill Clinton's policies. It was necessary to get people to vote FOR something.

The 1994 mid-term elections resulted in the Republicans gaining 54 House seats and 9 Senate seats and gaining control of both Houses of Congress for the first time since 1954. Bill Clinton served out the remainder of his six years as President with the GOP in control of Congress. That 1994 election put the Republicans on par with the Democrats in a way that had not been seen since the years before FDR.

The Democrats seem to think that they can win the 2018 mid-term elections by getting people to vote "against'' Donald Trump. They will undoubtedly get more of their voters to the polls than would normally be expected in a mid-term election with Trump in the White House. However, will that alone be enough?

And what are the Republicans going to do in response?

I have written previously that the Republicans lost the special elections in the Alabama Senate race and PA-18 House race for the simple reason that their voters did not turn out at the polls while the Democrats did.

What are the Republicans going to do to blunt the Democrat enthusiasm while also giving their voters a reason to turn out to vote?

My advice would be to nationalize the election like the GOP did in 1994. As I suggested in an earlier post, I would suggest that theme be "Defend America".

Trump's voters put him in The White House to "Make America Great Again". Since he took office Trump has been relentlessly attacked by the mainstream media and deep state. Trump voters have to be encouraged to get to the polls in the mid-terms to defend the Trump agenda. Their vote and their values are just as much under attack as is Trump. They need to be encouraged to step up and defend their vote and their beliefs. I believe that can only be done by nationalizing the election and doing it through a simple and straightforward message---DEFEND AMERICA.

Do all those Trump voters want to see their vote of two years ago nullified? I don't think so. Therefore, a message is needed to be conveyed to those Trump voters that they need to defend their previous vote. By doing so, they will also defend America from where the Democrats wants to take her.

What would I make as the cornerstones of "Defend America"?

I think these are the key elements of that theme.

Defend the Constitution

Defend the Rule of Law

Defend the American Economy

Defend American Jobs

Defend American Energy

Defend America's Borders

Defend our Men and Women in Uniform

Defend Your Tax Cut

There are several others that you could add if you wanted to align more completely with Trump's campaign agenda from 2016---"Defend the American Middle Class" and "Defend Social Security and Medicare".

I don't think there is much in here that almost all Trump voters do not agree with--Republican, Independent or Democrat.

It is often said that championships are won with great defense.

If the GOP wants to win the upcoming mid-terms. my suggestion is for them to start talking about how we need to "Defend America". Cohesive and consistent messaging used around this theme will clearly define the election and and once again provide the voters with something to vote FOR.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

I Can Only Imagine

You don't go to many movies these days where one of the big theaters at the cineplex has almost every seat taken.

You also rarely see the audience break into applause at the end of the film.

I saw both this weekend when I went to see "I Can Only Imagine".

It is one of the best movies I have seen in a long, long time.

It tells the story of Bart Millard who is the lead singer of the contemporary Christian band, MercyMe, and the path that led from growing up with an abusive father to writing the song that has become the best selling and most played Christian recording of all time.

I had a real interest in seeing the movie as I have enjoyed the music of MercyMe for a long time and have attended several of their concerts over the years. The song is one of my all-time favorites of any genre.

The film has almost everything you might want. It is a story about passion, perseverance, resilience and redemption. Mix in a little humor and romance along the way with a PG rating and you have a prescription that Hollywood does not put together much anymore.

If you are wary of going to a faith-based film, don't be. There is a strong message of spirit, hope and forgiveness in the movie but it is by no means "preachy".

You don't have to just take my word for it. "I Can Only Imagine" also snagged an A+ CinemaScore rating from opening night audiences. An average of only three movies per year have gotten that score over the last five years from CinemaScore which measures the audience appeal of movies during their opening weekend.

The first weekend box office were also extremely impressive for a movie that was only shown on about half of the screens that bigger name films were shown on.

It is estimated that "I Can Only Imagine" will have grossed $17 million for the weekend. That was the 3rd highest grossing movie for the weekend. It grossed more than Disney's big budget movie, "A Wrinkle In Time" which was in its second week of release. Overall the film grossed more per screen than either of the heavily promoted Black Panther or Tomb Raider movies.

An interesting sidenote..."A Wrinkle In Time" cost $100 million to produce. "I Can Only Imagine" cost only $7 million.

If you are not familiar with the contemporary Christian genre of music, you should check it out. It is one segment of the increasing diversification of music we have seen over the last 60 years.

Several years ago I wrote about this interesting data visualization tool that Google has produced that shows the popularity of different musical genres since 1950. Each stripe on the graph represents a genre and the thickness of the stripe gives you an idea of the popularity of the music released in a given year in that genre.

What is most interesting in looking at where we are today is the broad diversity and variety of music that is popular. No single genre captures more than 20% of the total and there are more music styles than ever before.

Music is much more diverse today than it has ever been. Jazz dominated in the 1940's. Why was that? Perhaps it was because there were just a few AM radio stations and they all played jazz. It is difficult for other music to be popular when nobody ever hears it.

Notice how music genres started to diversify with the advent of television and FM radio in the 1950's and 1960's. There were more outlets for people to hear different kinds of music.

Music started to diversify more in the 1970's and 1980's with even more distribution options like cable tv and shows such as MTV.

It has really opened up in the digital age. It is no accident that music tastes have become more diversified as the distribution of music has become more democratized.

Here is the graph showing the overall trend in Christian/Gospel music.

The late 1950's saw some popularity for what was called Country or Southern gospel music but in the 1990's Contemporary Christian music took hold and carried this genre to a lot of popularity. This is the music segment MercyMe helped to grow with their band starting in the mid-1990's.

One of the unique things about the song, "I Can Only Imagine" is that it was one of the rare Christian songs to ever also become a crossover hit on other charts. It hit #5 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart and got as high as #27 on the Billboard Top 40 chart.

Can the movie end up with similar appeal to a broader audience?

I can only imagine it has a chance based on what I saw this weekend.

For context, there were 728 movies released in 2017. The average box office gross was $15 million. To reach the top 50, a film needed $56 million (that was what the Winston Churchill movie "The Darkest Hour" grossed) in revenues. The Oscar winner for best picture, "The Shape of Water", has grossed $62 million thus far. I would not be surprised if "I Can Only Imagine" does not approach those numbers.

If it were to gross over $50 million that would make it one of the Top 10 Christian movies of all time (and that list includes "The Passion of the Christ and the three Chronicles of Narnia movies that all grossed over $100 million).

Check it out for yourself and see what you think. If for no other reason, do it to send a message to Hollywood to get more aligned with mainstream America.

I don't think you will be disappointed. I give it the BeeLine two thumbs up rating.

If you have never heard "I Can Only Imagine" here is the original music video of the song performed by Bart Millard and MercyMe.

Go here if the embedded video does not work in your browser.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Blue Wave On The Way?

There is a lot of talk this week on what the victory of Democrat Conor Lamb over Republican Rick Saccone means looking to the mid-term elections.

Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone
Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Many are seeing it as a harbinger of a massive blue wave that will sweep Republicans out of office in November's mid-term election.

Others argue that it means little as it was a special election for a district that will be broken up anyway under a court-ordered congressional redistricting plan by November.

As in most things like this, the truth lies somewhere in-between.

Republicans should be concerned that in a district that Trump carried by 19 points the Democrat was able to win even though it was a margin of only 600 votes out of 227,000 votes cast.

How did that happen?

It is the same story as in the Alabama senate race involving Roy Moore.

Democrats were energized and were motivated to go the polls. There is little doubt that a lot of that energy is directed at sending a message to Donald Trump.

When people are on the outside looking in there is a lot more energy expended.

There is little question that Democrats are highly motivated right now. The same could be said about Republicans when Obama was in power. It seems that those at the bottom of any hill tend to be more motivated to fight towards the top than those at the top of the hill are motivated to retain their position.

Look at the numbers.

Trump got 215,000 votes in the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District in 2016.

Clinton got 143,000.

That is 358,000 votes that were cast in 2016.

In this special election only 227,000 votes were cast. 131,000 people who voted in 2016 stayed home

Conor Lamb got 113,800 votes in the special election. That means he effectively got 80% of all Hillary voters.

Saccone got 113,200 votes. He only got 53% of Trump's votes.

The math is pretty simple. Lamb won because a lot of Hillary voters showed up and voted. Saccone lost because an even greater number of Trump voters didn't bother to vote.

It is exactly the same thing that happened in Alabama in the U.S. Senate race involving Roy Moore that I wrote about previously.

Why is that?

A big part has to do with the individual candidates. After all, in the end people are voting for a person, not a party.

Roy Moore was not a great candidate. A lot of voters did not like him for a variety of reasons. It is not enough just to have an -R- after your name, even in Alabama. Hillary Clinton found out the same thing. She had the same -D- after her name that Obama did with quite different results.

Rick Saccone was also a sub-par candidate. He raised little money on his own and he did not excite voters in any way.

On the other hand, Conor Lamb was a young clean cut veteran, who showed a lot of energy and worked hard to separate himself from the typical liberal Democrat. He said he personally opposed abortion, he was for gun rights, he supported the Trump tariffs and he stated he would not vote for Nancy Pelosi to lead the Democrats in the House.

You put it altogether and the Democrat squeaked by.

However, does this tell us anything about the mid-terms in November?

It should tell the GOP that the Democrats can be expected to turn out voters in November in greater numbers than they have historically.

Democrats have traditionally had more difficulty in turning out voters in mid-term elections than Republicans over the last couple of decades.

One reason for this is that Democrats rely more on younger and minority voters who have generally not shown as much interest in voting in mid-term elections compared to Presidential years.

On the other hand, Republican voters, who tend to be composed of more voters who are white and older, are more apt to vote in the mid-terms.

This chart shows the rather significant drop-off in total votes cast in House of Representative races since 2000 between Presidential election years and mid-term election years.

On average, vote totals have dropped by an average of 29% from each Presidential election year compared to the next mid-term election.

However, Democrat votes dropped by an average of 32% while Republican votes dropped by only 25%.

This effect was even more pronounced in the Obama years. Republicans were very motivated to get to the polls to stop the Obama agenda. That energy was rewarded as the GOP took back majority control of the House that it retains today.

In 2010 (compared to 2008), overall votes for House candidates dropped 29%. However, Democrat votes dropped 40% and GOP votes only fell by 14% compared to two years earlier.

In 2014 (compared to 2102) overall votes dropped 36%. Democrat votes dropped by 40% again while GOP votes dropped by 31%.

Those numbers translated into a rising red tide during the Obama years,

Will there be a blue wave in 2018?

It is going to depend on whether the Democrats can reverse the historical voter attrition they have had in the mid-terms.

It is also going to depend on whether GOP voters turn out to defend Donald Trump.

The best hope for the Democrats is to look at what happened in the 2006 mid-terms. Democrats were not happy with George W. Bush and they held their vote losses to only 20% between 2004 and 2006. That is 12 points better than their average.

At the same time, GOP voters had become weary of Bush and not many showed up to defend him in their Congressional votes. Republican votes slid 36% between 2004 and 2006.

That is the formula for a blue wave.

An energized Democrat base who has an "enemy" target.

A lackadaisical GOP who is not eager to defend their candidate.

These elements were in place in Alabama and Pennsylvania.

Will the same be true in November?

I have no doubt that the first part of the formula will be in place. Democrat turnout will be higher in the mid-term election than it was in the Obama years. Having a President Trump is plenty of motivation for Democrats to want to vote.

However, a blue wave cannot occur unless GOP voters stay home.

If the voters who voted for Trump turn out to defend him in the mid-terms there will be no blue wave.

Trump ran on the "Make America Great Again" theme in 2016.

He has already announced he is running in 2020 on the theme "Keep America Great".

It seems to me that he is getting a little ahead of himself.

My advice is that he should start talking about a theme of "Defend America" in 2018. He needs his voters to come out and defend his agenda.

If they don't, he has a much tougher road heading to 2020.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Something Has To Give With Student Loans

Student loan debt promises to be one of the major issues in our economy over the next decade.

Student loan debt is now almost $1.5 trillion owed by some 44 million borrowers.

Let's put that in context. Credit card debt reached its highest level in history at the end of 2017 and it is only $1 trillion. Auto loans are also at record levels but there is more owed on student debt than on autos ($1.2 trillion).

$1 trillion in additional student loan debt has added since 2006!

What is most troubling is that of the 44 million borrowers, only 17 million borrowers are currently paying on their loans right now. Many borrowers are still in school but 4.3 million borrowers are in default, 3.6 million are in deferment, 2.6 million in forbearance and 1.4 million are in a grace period. That works out to about 12 million borrowers who should be paying on their loans but are not doing so for some reason.

A larger question is how will these borrowers meet their student loan obligations while also borrowing to buy a house, a car and also fund (through taxes) the mounting debt of the federal government and the coming tidal wave of unfunded Social Security and Medicare costs from the baby boomer generation?

Something surely has to give somewhere.

I recently came across an interesting article on the subject that was appropriately titled, "Student Loans--A Generational Disaster".

The article makes the point that I have made before in BeeLine.

Compound interest can be your best friend or your worst enemy. That statement is even truer if you are young. Savings put away when you are young can easily make you wealthy if you have the good sense to let the money compound over the years. However, debt taken on while you are young, that is not paid off quickly, is a sure way to put yourself in a financial hole that you will never dig your way out of.

It has always been difficult to get young people to save what they should for the future. Most want to live for today. They think tomorrow will never come. However, in today's world many can't save even if they want to. 75% of college graduates owe on some form of student debt.

It is vastly different today than when most baby boomers graduated. Few boomers had student debt when they got their undergraduate degree. Student debt was more likely to be taken out for a graduate degree if it was at all.

One of the biggest generational differences which causes a disconnect between baby boomers and millennials is student debt. Many baby boomers are confused why college graduates don’t immediately move out of their parents’ house like baby boomers did. The issue is that once a student graduates, they become debtors. It’s a vicious cycle which turns compound returns against borrowers.
For example, say you graduate with $40,000 in debt and you owe a 4% interest rate for 15 years. While the federal government expects the loans to be paid back in 10 years, it takes the average Wisconsin graduate 19.7 years to pay off a loan for a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, it’s a reasonable example. In this mock example, monthly payments would be $295.88 and $53,257.53 in total. If you don’t have student loans at graduation like many baby boomers and you put $295.88 in a diversified portfolio which returns 6% per year, you will have $86,477.68 after 15 years. Therefore, the difference between someone with student loans and without them ends up being $139,735.21. The difference grows exponentially as the student loans grow because the interest paid and the returns on the potential savings increase.

The article calculates that by age 37 there is a $140,000 difference in net worth between someone with $40,000 of debt when they graduate and someone that does not have any debt and is able to save and invest what they would have paid on the debt.

Even if there is no difference in savings patterns between the saver and the borrower over the next 30 years, the person without the student loan debt will have in the range of half a million more at age 67 than the person who had the student debt! That $140,000 difference just keeps growing.

The other interesting factoid in the article was this chart that compared the net worth of various individuals under the age of 40 who had taken out student loans. This chart had come from a data source involving loan applicants from tens of thousands of individuals who were seeking to refinance their student loans. That data was then sliced and diced in various ways and the results were written about in an additional article titled "How Much Money Do People Have?"

This chart shows net worth by degree.

This chart indicates that MBA graduates have the highest net worth with pharmacists in the next best position. Interestingly, young MBA's had over 4 times the net worth as young M.D.'s. That might change over the course of time as the docs get beyond their 30's and pay off their student debt more aggressively.

However, refer to the example above once again.  It is hard to catch up when you start out behind.

Young osteopaths and dentists fare the worst with negative net worths from student debt. They clearly are carrying a lot of debt but apparently are not generating the income to climb out of the hole as fast as others.

The good news is that the average person student with loan debt does slowly build net worth between age 25 and 38 but it falls far short of what is necessary to put that individual on track for a successful retirement.

The average net worth for those with a median age of 38 is only $38,072. I believe that to be on track at that age for a successful retirement that you should generally have an amount equal to 1.5-2.0 times your annual income saved in investable assets.

In other words if you are earning $100,000, you should have $150,000-$200,000 in investable assets set aside for retirement by your late 30's.. On this measure I would have to believe that most of these individuals are well short of that number.

I noticed one more thing in the chart data.

Notice how debt is holding fairly steady until the individuals are in their mid-30's but it takes an upward turn at about age 35? First, you would think that debt would show a more noticeable downward slope in the 10 years after college. This tells me that that any student debt being paid down is being replaced with other debt (car, credit card, etc). It also suggests that age 35 might be the magic time when a lot of these Millennials are buying a house.

Housing assets and mortgage debt were not considered in this data but this might suggest that buying a house triggers more debt (borrowing for furniture, appliances, home improvements) beyond the mortgage. A perfect example of what I call the "spending multiplier effect" when I teach my course on financial planning for college students.

Where does all of this student debt lead us?

Is it a generational disaster?

Will the next generation begin to look more critically at the return on investment on undergraduate or graduate degrees?

How will the Millennial generation pay off this student debt while also becoming increasingly responsible for the federal debt and the Social Security and Medicare benefits for their parents and grandparents?

Will retirement even be something this generation can consider?

Will this generation increasingly demand that this debt be forgiven? If so, who will pay? Does the cost then get spread to all taxpayers?

I don't know the answers.

I do know that something has to give with all of this student debt.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Not Afraid To Be Great

I don't know if Donald Trump will be a great President, average, or terrible when history is written.

How can anyone make such a judgment just over a year into his Presidency?

However, 170 members so-called "experts" from the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section recently judged Trump to be the worst President of all time.

Here are the complete rankings including the change in the rankings since the last survey was done in 2014.

If you want to assess the credibility of the survey consider that the experts increased Obama's ranking by 10 places since the last survey.  Now consider what was it that contributed to that increase in greatness over his second term. The success of Obamacare? The rise of ISIS? The economy? Standing up to Vladimir Putin?

What I do know is that you cannot be great unless you are not afraid to be great.

I also know that Donald Trump is not afraid to be great.

Look at the first three names on this list of the greatest Presidents. One thing they share is that they were not afraid to be great.

George Washington was a man of privilege and prosperity. It would have been easy to forget about leading a revolutionary army against the British. He had it made. He had very little to gain personally by revolting against the British. He could have easily seen his life end on the end of a noose for treason and sedition at the hands of the British.

When Washington led his troops to victory over the British he could have also become an American monarch. At a minimum, he could have been President for rest of his life is Xi Jinping as attempting to do in China. He walked away after two terms.

George Washington was not afraid to be great. He put it all on the line and he expected little in return.

You can say the same thing about Abraham Lincoln. He could have negotiated with the Confederacy after the southern states seceded from the union. He could have decided that it was too controversial to push for the 13th and 14th amendments. He was not afraid to take a stand. Many criticized his actions.

Abraham Lincoln was not afraid to be great. We now appreciate that courage and greatness.

Franklin Roosevelt took office as the U.S. economy was in ruins and as Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire sought to expand their borders and enslave millions of people. Roosevelt responded aggressively to the needs of the American people with his New Deal. At times he went too far as with his attempt to stack the Supreme Court. However, he was not afraid to take action. He also did not hesitate to act when the war was brought to him. He also ignored the Washington precedent on serving two terms when he thought that the country needed continuity in those turbulent times.

FDR is also best remembered for his famous line on not being afraid in his first inaugural address.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Franklin Roosevelt was not afraid to be great.

If you know what Winston Churchill did for Great Britain in World War II you also know he was not afraid to be great despite enormous odds and criticism. All of this was recently portrayed in the movie, "The Darkest Hour".

People can say a lot of things about Donald Trump. However, they cannot say that he is afraid to be great.

Most Presidents never become great because they are typical politicians. They try to play both sides. They are afraid of offending anyone. They don't take strong stands. They are risk averse. They don't put themselves out there to succeed...or fail. In short, they are afraid to be great.

President Trump's recent decision to meet with North Korean President Kim Jong Un is a perfect example. No U.S. President has agreed to meet with a North Korean leader since 1953. The reason---we are still technically at war with North Korea. Hostilities ended in that war with a ceasefire. There was never an official ending to the war.

Why do most political observers, pundits and the press say it is a bad idea to meet with Kim?

Tom Fernholz in Quartz explains why every other President considered it to risky to meet the North Koreans.

In international diplomacy, the leader-to-leader meeting is the highest level of commitment available. No prior White House would send the president into a summit that has not been pre-scripted with guaranteed results. Should there be no agreement, there is no face-saving blame to be put on negotiators, and little room left for diplomacy. And while the White House says this meeting is not a negotiation, that only raises the question of what the president is even doing there.

In effect, it is like a high wire artist performing without a net. Very few aerial performers are willing to do it anymore. Even fewer politicians are these days. They are so afraid to take a risk because they might be criticized they never give themselves a chance to succeed.

This caused CNN host Erin Burnett (certainly no Trump fan) to say this on her show the night of the announcement that Trump was willing to meet Kim.

“Just an extraordinarily evening and of course opening the door to the big question, if President Trump can truly solve this problem, that would be going down as a great president. And there’s no way around that. That is the reality here," 

Of course, great Presidents usually come about by facing great challenges. In many respects, the times make the man. It was certainly true with Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt.

Greatness does not follow when taking the easy road. It only graces those who are not afraid of the challenge on the hard road.

Success is never assured. Trump may fail bigly. However, he is not afraid to be great. That in itself is a rare commodity. Keep that in mind as you listen to those who criticize Trump.

You cannot be great unless you are not afraid to be great.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Higher Cost of Education

We spend over $500 billion per year on higher education in the United States.

44 million Americans now owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt that was borrowed to pay for their college and other post-secondary school education expenses.

As I have written before, Americans owe more in student loan debt that the entire GDP of Russia.

The financial costs of education in the United States are mind-numbing but I am just as concerned about the costs that society must bear for what is being taught in our colleges and universities today.

We used to think of universities as a place where open and free debate, discussion and discourse took place. You respected divergent views and you respectfully dissented where necessary. College was where you went to find out that perhaps you did not know everything about the world that you thought you did when you were 18 years old.

What we see today is far different. It is not uncommon that conservatives and those who do not espouse liberal thought are condemned and shouted down. Instead of protecting free speech, college administrators cop-out and disinvite the speakers because they can't provide the necessary security.

What have our colleges and universities become?

I highlighted some of the insanity that reigns on college campuses during the GOP primaries in 2016 about the students at Emory University (I am an alum of its law school) who complained to the college administration about messages in chalk written on campus sidewalks.

Students at Emory University protested on Monday after finding support messages for Donald Trump written around the Atlanta campus in chalk, according to The Washington Post.
Charging that the drawings, which said things like “Trump for Pres” and “Vote For Trump,” left them feeling attacked, students demanded the university’s administration take action, reported the student newspaper, The Emory Wheel.
The Wheel says that 40 students gathered in an outdoor space on campus holding signs that included messages like “Stop Trump,” and chanted to the administration, “You are not listening! Come speak to us, we are in pain!”

“This wasn’t ordinary campaigning,” Jonathan Peraza, a freshman student and a member of student minority group LatinAction told The Daily Beast of the drawings. “It was deliberate intimidation. Some of us were expecting shootings. We feared walking alone.”

The administration allowed the chalk messages to continue in specified areas. However, when you consider the response given to the aggrieved students you begin to understand why we see these kinds of actions by students.

This is what President James W. Wagner said in response to the protestors' concerns.

He suggested the university would make “immediate refinements to certain policies and procedural deficiencies; regular and structured opportunities for difficult dialogues; a formal process to institutionalize identification, review and addressing of social justice opportunities and issues; and commitment to an annual retreat to renew [their] efforts.”

Leave it to an academician to use so many words and still say nothing about the issue at hand.

I would have thought it would be sufficient to laugh, tell the students to grow up and suggest they get back to class. I might have even given them some chalk to draw a picture of Bernie or Hillary if they so desired.

This week I was dismayed to find my undergraduate alma mater, Miami University, involved in similar craziness. To make matters worse, the university's women's center is funding the foolishness. reports that ""The Women’s Center at Miami University is paying students to organize events that promote “social justice and radical feminism” on campus.

The university is paying students to promote radical feminism?

Can you imagine what would happen if a university was paying students to promote "radical conservatism" or the "right to life" movement?

Seven lucky students get a paid internship to organize events for students such as World Hijab Day and Male Ally Day. By the way, doesn't it seem a little contradictory that radical feminists are promoting National Hijab Day?  

One of the current interns in the program, Elisabeth Dodd, a social justice major, had this to say about her university.

The school is “physically very heteronormative, white, sexist, and very problematic in general and exclusionary. Very hierarchical. Student workers aren't valued as much, and there's not a lot of visibility,” Dodd commented, labeling the architecture of the school’s student center one of the main social justice issues on campus, saying it creates a false perception of diversity.

The architecture of Miami's student center is one of the main social justice issues on campus?

How is that possible? The radical feminist intern explains.
"In our student center, everything is glass. And it kind of felt like students are on display,” she explained. “The actual set-up of the student center...Miami definitely advertises its students, in a way that isn't comfortable for everybody.” 
Miami advertises its students and that is a social justice issue?

What do you then call a student who walks across campus? Are they not displaying themselves? Or what about all of the students who are posting (and advertising) everything about their lives on social media everyday? I was not aware that these were social justice issues.

Here is an exterior image of Miami's Armstrong Center.

Here are a few images of the interiors of Miami's student center.

I dare say that if this student believes that the student center architecture is a big social justice issue I hate to think what she will think when she is working in some cube farm after graduation. I guess that assumes that a social justice major would even be interested in working for someone who had a big, bad and evil profit motive.

All of this makes you wonder where all of these students are getting these incredibly inane ideas.

I can't imagine that there are that many parents, who produce students with enough intelligence to attend schools like Emory and Miami, who are filling their children's heads with these ideas.

That means that our educational system, beginning in kindergarten, is largely responsible.

The cost of education is high.

The resulting costs to society of students who graduate with ideas in their heads like those at Emory and Miami is much higher.