March 2, 2014

Evan Soltas asks, "Is the labor market getting tight?"

He claims that the rising rate of workers quitting their jobs could show that the labor market is getting tighter. Workers quitting their jobs at a higher rate is taken as an expression of confidence. As Joe Weisenthal argues, "When the economy is bad, workers don't quit their jobs." The quit rate shows that the relationship between unemployment rate and quit-rates has remained steady, suggesting that it's the headline unemployment rate — which has now fallen to 6.6 percent — that best captures the state of the workforce.

Of course, what the rate of quits tells us is the rate of quits. People quit their jobs for all sorts of reasons, and even though the rate of quits is tightly correlated against unemployment, reading the rate of quits as a proxy for the tightness of the labor market is a risky extrapolation, and overlooks the bigger picture.

To assess the tightness of the labor market, we need a concept of the natural rate of unemployment. There is lots of argument over what we should mean by the "natural rate of unemployment," but the most popular definition is from Milton Friedman and Edmund Phelps, who defined it as the rate of unemployment consistent with output being at the "long-run" level. And what's very clear is that output is still in a big slump after 2008, way below its long-run trend:

[Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis]

So even if we assume that the headline unemployment rate is the best measurement of tightness in the labor market, 6.6 percent (which translates to millions of people who want a job but can't find one) is still very slack because the economy is way below potential.

Isn't it grand?
8:15am ET
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Notching her sixth Australian Open victory and 19th Grand Slam title, Serena Williams powered through a nagging cough to defeat Maria Sharapova 6-3, 7-6 (5) on Saturday, The Associated Press reports.

"Growing up, I wasn't the richest, but I had a rich family in spirit and support," Williams said after her victory. "Standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen. I went on the courts with just a ball, a racket, and a hope...Never give up. You never know what's going to happen."

The top-ranked tennis star's victory makes her the oldest winner of the Australian Open women's title, at 33 years old. The win also moves Williams into second place for most major wins; she is now just three major titles away from tying Steffi Graf's Open Era record of 22.

Pot politics
January 30, 2015
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In a new Boston Globe article, Michael Kranish dives into Jeb Bush's four years at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, during which he "smoked a notable amount of pot," according to his classmates. Bush's classmates also told the Globe that he "sometimes bullied smaller students."

Bush's classmates also told the Globe that he wasn't particularly interested in politics at the time. Bush apparently "refused to join the Progressive Andover Republicans club and often declined even to participate in informal bull sessions with classmates."

"I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover," Bush admitted to the Globe. "It was pretty common." Peter Tibbetts, one of Bush's early friends, told the Globe that the first time he "got really stoned" was when he smoked hash with Bush, who reportedly played Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" to mark the occasion.  As for the reports of bullying, Bush told the Globe that "it was 44 years ago, and it is not possible for me to remember."

For those who have everything
January 30, 2015

"Using a selfie stick is a little like eating an oyster for the first time. Don't knock it until you try it," said Joanna Stern at The Wall Street Journal. If you're going to take a picture of yourself in a particular setting, the photo might as well be good, and putting your camera phone at the end of a pole really helps. You can buy a version online for $5, but don't. The Quik Pod Extreme ($62) from Digipower is one of a handful of higher-quality options. It's our favorite because it's light, telescopes down to a manageable size, and has a confidence-inducing grip.

This just in
January 30, 2015
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Arizona health officials are monitoring 1,000 people, including nearly 200 children, who may have been exposed to measles.

CBS 10 reports that officials are worried about transmission of the disease at the Super Bowl, because there is a 90 percent transmission rate for anyone who comes into contact with infected people.

Hundreds of people may have been exposed to the virus after a second measles case, which stemmed from the outbreak at Disneyland, was diagnosed. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the recent outbreak is due, at least in part, to parents not vaccinating their children, because the measles vaccine is 99 percent effective. Experts have suggested unvaccinated people who have been exposed to measles stay at home for three weeks.

"A lot of people don't realize measles is the most contagious infectious viruses that we know of," CBS News medical contributor Dr. Holly Phillips said on CBS This Morning on Friday. "Not only can people cough and sneeze it on you, it lingers in air for up to two hours, it lives on surfaces for up to two hours, so you can be exposed and not even realize it."

This just in
January 30, 2015
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Rita Jeptoo, a Kenyan runner who has won the Boston and Chicago marathons, has been banned from competition for two years after failing a drug test, Athletics Kenya announced Friday.

Jeptoo was provisionally suspended after her A sample tested positive, and she asked for a B sample check, which also "tested positive for a banned substance," Reuters reports. Last year, Jeptoo told reporters that the allegations about her using drugs were "lies."

Innovation of the Week
January 30, 2015

"Storage is not sexy," said Raymond Wong at Mashable. But Samsung's new Portable SSD T1 drive offers both security and speed "in high style without going overboard." It packs an incredible terabyte of data storage in a drive the size of a business card, weighing less than an ounce. The drive is so small that "Samsung says you can slide it into a wallet." The compact drive will help security-minded users feel at ease, too, with some "real NSA-level protection." And unlike traditional hard drives, which have moving mechanical parts, the T1 is solid state, which means "it can be thrown around like a hot potato and the stored data will be safe." It's also fast — with the right equipment, you can transfer a 3GB file in eight seconds. But this high-capacity, high-speed drive also comes at a high-price: $599 for a whole terabyte, $299 for 500GB, and $179 for 250 GB.

This just in
January 30, 2015
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Prosecutors have dropped an assault case against George Zimmerman after his ex-girlfriend, Brittany Brunelle, recanted her story.

State Attorney Phil Archer told The Associated Press he wouldn't file a formal charge against Zimmerman, because there were no other eyewitnesses from the alleged event. According to Brunelle's original statement, Zimmerman allegedly threw a wine bottle at her and destroyed her cellphone.

"While it is clear that the officers had probable cause to arrest Mr. Zimmerman... the subsequent recantation by the victim of her initial statement.. precludes my office from proceeding further," Archer said in a statement.

Zimmerman was arrested three weeks ago. Three days later, Brunelle asked in a statement that prosecutors not file charges against Zimmerman. She said that she "was under no pressure and had been offered no money" to make that statement, AP reports. The statement was released Friday by the State Attorney's Office.

January 30, 2015
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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that the league has had a tough year at a news conference Friday, The Boston Globe reports. "It's been a year of humility and learning," he said.

This season has seen domestic abuse controversies involving Ray Rice hitting his now-wife, Janae Rice, and Adrian Peterson hitting his child. There's been considerable talk about the Washington Redskins' name, which many consider a racial slur. Medical concerns over players withstanding multiple concussions and, later in life, brain trauma, have grown. And most recently, the New England Patriots are under investigation for cheating for allegedly deflating footballs to gain an advantage to get into the Super Bowl.

On Deflategate, Goodell has no answers yet, though he did indicate the balls were tested at halftime of the AFC Championship matchup versus the Indianapolis Colts. "We will not compromise the investigation by engaging in speculation."

The commissioner also announced he's installing a chief medical officer in the league.

January 30, 2015

If you've got good digestive health, you could be making an easy $13,000 a year.

People infected with the bacteria C. difficile need fecal transplants to help their gut. Without constant antibiotics, sufferers may undergo "extreme gastrointestinal distress" and may even become housebound, The Washington Post reports. To help these patients, a company called OpenBiome delivers frozen stool transplants to those in need.

The healthy fecal transplants can be transferred to those with the C. difficile bacteria through endoscopy, nasal tubes, or swallowed capsules. According to the Post, OpenBiome has already shipped roughly 2,000 treatments to 185 hospitals nationwide. And it pays: Donors get $40 per sample, with an extra $50 for those who come in five days a week. So for a year's worth of donations, you could be looking at $13,000.

Don't get too excited, though: The donations have to be made on-site in Medford, Massachusetts, and only about four percent of prospective donors pass the "extensive medical questioning and stool testing," the Post notes. But if you make the cut, you'll be helping others in addition to making some fast cash.

"Everyone thinks it's great that they're making money doing such an easy thing," OpenBiome co-founder Carolyn Edelstein told the Post. "But they also love to hear us say, 'Look, your poop just helped this lady who's been sick for nine years go to her daughter's graduation.'"

January 30, 2015

Turn off Friends and step away from your laptop. A new University of Texas study says binge-watching shouldn't be considered a "harmless addiction."

People who experience depression and loneliness are more likely to binge-watch TV than others. Predictably, the same goes for people with low levels of self-control.

"When binge-watching becomes rampant, viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others," said researcher Yoon Hi Sung. "Even though people know they should not, they have difficulty resisting the desire to watch episodes continuously."

In other words, if you want a healthy social life, you might just have to stop trying to keep up with the Kardashians.

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