Policy Points

17.12.2009 Policy Points Comments Off on Around the Dial – Dec. 17

Around the Dial – Dec. 17

Economic policy reports, blog postings, and media stories of interest:

17.12.2009 Policy Points Comments Off on Unemployment Claims in NC: Week of 11/28

Unemployment Claims in NC: Week of 11/28

For the benefit week ending on November 28th, 32,368 North Carolinians filed initial claims for unemployment insurance, and 205,541 individuals applied for continuing insurance benefits. Compared to the prior week, there were many more initial and continuing claims;  however, this is partly due to the fact that the previous filing week contained just three workdays owing to the Thanksgiving holiday. These figures come from data released today by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Averaging new and continuing claims over a four-week period — a process that helps adjust for seasonal fluctuations and better illustrates trends — shows that an average of 21,540 initial claims were filed over the last four weeks, along with an average of 187,405 continuing claims. Compared to the previous four-week period, both initial and continuing claims were higher.

One year ago, the four-week average for initial claims stood at 25,462 and the four-week average of continuing claims equaled 141,601.

The graph (right) shows the changes in unemployment insurance claims (as a share of covered employment) in North Carolina since the recession’s start in December 2007.

Although new and continuing claims appear to have peaked for this business cycle, the claims levels remain elevated and point to a labor market that remains extremely weak. Especially troubling is the high level of continuing claims, which suggests that unemployed individuals are finding it extremely difficult to find new positions.

17.12.2009 Policy Points Comments Off on October Personal Spending

October Personal Spending

From the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’ most recent analysis of personal income and spending

Personal income increased $30.1 billion, or 0.2 percent, and disposable personal income (DPI) increased $45.7 billion, or 0.4 percent, in October, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $68.3 billion, or 0.7 percent. In September, personal income increased $20.7 billion, or 0.2 percent, DPI increased $21.3 billion, or 0.2 percent, and PCE decreased $60.3 billion, or 0.6 percent, based on revised estimates.

Real disposable income increased 0.2 percent in October, compared with an increase of 0.1 percent in September. Real PCE increased 0.4 percent, in contrast to a decrease of 0.7 percent.

16.12.2009 Policy Points Comments Off on Around the Dial – Dec. 16

Around the Dial – Dec. 16

Economic policy reports, blog postings, and media stories of interest:

16.12.2009 Policy Points Comments Off on Learning from Agriculture

Learning from Agriculture

In a clever piece in The New Yorker, Atul Gawande argues that America’s current crisis of spiraling health care costs is analogous to the agricultural crisis that roiled the nature at the advent of the last century. And the secret to that success, argues Gawande, was a willingness to experiment continuously with various strategies that eventually grew into a (somewhat) coherent, successful whole. Writes Gawande:

Much like farming, medicine involves hundreds of thousands of local entities across the country—hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, home-health agencies, drug and device suppliers. They provide complex services for the thousands of diseases, conditions, and injuries that afflict us. They want to provide good care, but they also measure their success by the amount of revenue they take in, and, as each pursues its individual interests, the net result has been disastrous. Our fee-for-service system, doling out separate payments for everything and everyone involved in a patient’s care, has all the wrong incentives: it rewards doing more over doing right, it increases paperwork and the duplication of efforts, and it discourages clinicians from working together for the best possible results. Knowledge diffuses too slowly. Our information systems are primitive. The malpractice system is wasteful and counterproductive. And the best way to fix all this is—well, plenty of people have plenty of ideas. It’s just that nobody knows for sure.

The history of American agriculture suggests that you can have transformation without a master plan, without knowing all the answers up front. Government has a crucial role to play here—not running the system but guiding it, by looking for the best strategies and practices and finding ways to get them adopted, county by county. Transforming health care everywhere starts with transforming it somewhere. But how?