Chris Uggen's Blog: March 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

(still) under the bridge

two years after the amazing cnn report below, the washington post reports that 52 sex offenders are living under a miami bridge.

"In Miami-Dade County, such people must live at least 2,500 feet from places children gather, making only a handful of areas _ generally out of an offender's price range _ possible homes. ... Many offenders have family or friends who would house them but can't because they live too close to a school or playground or bus stop. ... The state says offenders found the bridge because it was among the few covered places in compliance with the local ordinances. Officials say probation officers haven't suggested it outright, though some residents dispute that."

Friday, March 27, 2009

the rise and fall of home equity borrowing

via steve perry at minnpost:here's an image from calculated risk showing the rise and fall of american borrowing against our home mortgages.

dang -- i had no idea the practice blew up and blew apart so quickly. as the value of our homes rose, we used them like ATM machines, taking out cheap loans against their putatively rock-solid value. as the housing market cooled and then froze solid, so did borrowing -- and, hence, consumption. no wonder HD started tanking in mid-2007...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

reflecting the world we meant to exclude

"are we scientists or poets?" my teacher's teacher asked of his students. i figured it for a false dichotomy, but chose science nonetheless.

still, something about this gregory orr poem strikes a familiar nerve. we too rely on the cool symmetries of shapes -- or concepts, from anomie to verstehen -- to reflect a world of chaos and grief.

Some Part of the Lyric

Some part of the lyric wants to exclude
the world with all its chaos and grief
and so conceives shapes (a tear, a globe of dew)

whose cool symmetries create a mood
of security. Which is something all need
and so, the lyric's urge to exclude

what hurts us isn't simply a crude
defense, but an embracing of a few
essential shapes: a tear, a globe of dew.

But to what end? Are there clues
in these forms to deeper mysteries
that no good poem should exclude?

What can a stripped art reveal? Is a nude
more naked than the eye can see?
Can a tear freed of salt be a globe of dew?

And most of all—is it something we can use?
Yes, but only as long as its beauty,
like that of a tear or a globe of dew,
reflects the world it meant to exclude.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

newspapers not dead yet

via david brauer at braublog:

the chart at left shows how local newspaper readership has drooped the past few years, particularly on the star-tribune's print side. nevertheless, the larger scarborough research report from which these data are taken puts such declines in perspective: the papers aren't dead just yet. in fact, about 77 percent of adults in the twin cities still read a newspaper in print or online at least once each week.

scarborough points out that the spate of stories about dying newspapers may be overstated a bit, as they are actually being read by three-fourths of the adult population. the press release ranks the "integrated newspaper audience" -- online and print -- for designated market areas. i'm a bit puzzled by the rankings, but figure readership must have something to do with education levels, demographic forces such as age structure, mobility, and recent immigration, and, of course, the quality of the local paper and its marketing efforts. i dunno about rochester's papers, but you gotta love the plain-dealer.

Rochester, NY 87%
Cleveland/Akron, OH 86%
Buffalo, NY 86%
Pittsburgh, PA 85%
Syracuse, NY 85%
Boston, MA 85%
Hartford/New Haven, CT 85%
Albany/Schenectady/Troy, NY 85%
New York, NY 84%
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, PA 84%
Harrisburg/Lancaster/Lebanon/York, PA 84%
Providence/New Bedford, RI 83%
Milwaukee, WI 83%
Tampa/St.Petersburg, FL 83%
Toledo, OH 83%
West Palm Beach/Fort Pierce, FL 83%
Honolulu, HI 82%
Green Bay/Appleton, WI 82%
Philadelphia, PA 82%
Dayton, OH 81%
Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo/Battle Creek, MI 80%
Des Moines/Ames, IA 80%
Flint/Saginaw/Bay City, MI 80%
Indianapolis, IN 80%
Washington, D.C. 80%
New Orleans, LA 79%
Chicago, IL 79%
Orlando/Daytona Beach/Melbourne, FL 78%
Baltimore, MD 77%
Columbus, OH 77%
Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN 77%
Portland, OR 77%
Fort Myers/Naples, FL 77%
Norfolk/Portsmouth/Newport News, VA 77%
San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, CA 76%
Mobile/Pensacola, FL 76%
Seattle/Tacoma, WA 76%
El Paso, TX 76%
Birmingham, AL 75%
Wichita/Hutchinson, KS 75%
Cincinnati, OH 75%
Colorado Springs/Pueblo, CO 75%
Louisville, KY 75%
Little Rock/Pine Bluff, AR 74%
Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem, NC 74%
Roanoke/Lynchburg, VA 74%
Sacramento/Stockton/Modesto, CA 74%
Richmond/Petersburg, VA 73%
Detroit, MI 73%
Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville/Anderson, SC 73%
St. Louis, MO 72%
Charlotte, NC 72%
Oklahoma City, OK 71%
Jacksonville, FL 71%
Raleigh/Durham, NC 71%
Knoxville, TN 71%
Kansas City, MO 70%
Miami/Ft.Lauderdale, FL 70%
Tucson, AZ 70%
Albuquerque/Santa Fe, NM 70%
Chattanooga, TN 70%
Charleston/Huntington, WV 70%
San Antonio, TX 70%
Denver, CO 69%
Spokane, WA 69%
Tulsa, OK 69%
Dallas/Fort Worth, TX 68%
Austin, TX 67%
Phoenix, AZ 67%
San Diego, CA 67%
Lexington, KY 67%
Salt Lake City, UT 67%
Atlanta, GA 66%
Los Angeles, CA 66%
Memphis, TN 66%
Nashville, TN 66%
Fresno/Visalia, CA 66%
Houston, TX 64%
Harlingen/Weslaco/Brownsville/McAllen, TX 63%
Bakersfield, CA 59%
Las Vegas, NV 59%

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

streetcar wisdom from the como-harriet line

streetcar wisdom, via stuffaboutminneapolis:

This was printed on the back of a 1944 Como-Harriet streetcar line ticket.

Six Mistakes Of Man

“There are six mistakes of life that many of us make,” said a famous writer. They are so well-founded that we are sharing them with you:

1. The delusion that individual advancement is made by crushing others.
2. The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.
3. Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it.
4. Refusing to set aside trivial preferences.
5. Neglecting development and refinement of the mind and not acquiring the habit of reading and study.
6. Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.

the twin cities no longer has a great streetcar system, but you can still get mulligan stew at mickey's dining car and a $2 ticket on the como-harriet line.

Monday, March 23, 2009

the least corrupt u.s. senator?

in harvard's applied statistics workshop, gabriel lenz will be presenting a clever paper (with kevin lim) on corruption and wealth accumulation in congress. according to the abstract, u.s. representatives do not appear to get significantly richer than other citizens -- at least not during their terms in office. their wealth indeed grows faster than that of other citizens, but the differences wash out when a statistical matching strategy (some sort of propensity-score method, i assume) is applied.

the authors interpret the results as providing evidence against aggregate-level corruption in the u.s. house. the paper calls to mind the case of minnesota's (former?) u.s. senator norm coleman, whose financial difficulties have been well-documented. if senators leave office poorer than when they entered, should this be taken as evidence against their (individual-level) corruption?

while senator coleman has earned a good living in office, his $180k annual salary apparently hasn't provided the financial wherewithal to sustain his washington and st. paul lifestyle. i was initially surprised to learn that the senator had refinanced his house 14 times in 12 years, that he had been living in a friend and donor's washington basement, and that even his clothes were sometimes purchased by donors.

but now i see this difficulties as virtues. senator coleman is the main (if not sole) breadwinner in his family, he's got a couple kids near college age, and, in terms of relative deprivation, he surely ranks among the least-wealthy senators in congress. my guess is that the senator has probably lived above his means -- those donated suits apparently came from nieman-marcus rather than men's wearhouse -- but in some ways his financial problems simply mirror those of other americans.

though i've disagreed with senator coleman on many issues over the years, i'd have to grant that there's no evidence he has accumulated great personal wealth by cashing in on his position. the aggregate-level argument by professors lenz and lim, equating wealth and corruption, would seem to imply some sort of corollary about poverty and virtue. by this logic i can almost talk myself into believing that a penny-ante misdeed, such as failing to pay one's utility bill, is evidence that one is successfully resisting the temptations to sell out on a major scale.

while i'm definitely intrigued by the study, i'd ask a few more questions about the basic relationship before i went that far: (1) how well is wealth measured (or hidden) among the representatives and in the comparison sample? (2) shouldn't we really expect about a five-year lagged effect, in which government service leads to greater wealth accumulation after one leaves office? and, more personally, (3) would the authors extend their argument to equate personal wealth with corruption for academic department chairs?

half and half

given my slooooow recovery, i'm realizing i'll be in no shape to run madison's beautiful marathon this may. fortunately, there are two new local races, each with a half-marathon option: may 24 in stillwater and may 31 in minneapolis. any takers? it might be a nice way to blow off a li'l end-of-the-school-year steam...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

dad swap

kieran reports that the producers of wife swap are seeking a family of philosophers. for those unfamiliar with the show, here is abc's official description:

Each week from across the country, two families with very different values are chosen to take part in a two-week long challenge. The wives from these two families exchange husbands, children and lives (but not bedrooms) to discover just what it's like to live another woman's life. It's a mind-blowing experiment that often ends up changing their lives forever.

while the families differ from one another in some respects, they don't exactly represent the full diversity of family forms in the contemporary u.s. after poking around on the website a bit, it seems that breadwinner moms, stay-at-home dads, and same-sex couples are rarely featured. but the fact that wives are swapped rather than husbands probably also says something about the enduring centrality of moms in u.s. households. there are many exceptions, of course, but i'm guessing that moms are far more frequently the real household managers, rule creators, and rule enforcers. a dad swap show would thus be boring (if the dads adapt to their new surroundings without a whimper), or dangerous (if they try to take charge in an unfamiliar setting).*

the show's premise involves setting up contrasts that lead the moms, dads, and kids to question their taken-for-granted assumptions about household functioning. i watched a bit of the show last night, in which the new york family above was paired with a lederhosen-wearing new hampshire family running a german-themed bed and breakfast. it felt creepy and voyeuristic at times, but it was also intriguing to see the moms' alternative visions. there were also a few moments that looked like real discovery, in which the kids figured out that certain aspects of their home life were really messed up and didn't, necessarily, have to be that way.

i know this is just a cheesy reality show, but i started speculating about a longitudinal analysis of potential treatment effects. would the families immediately slide back into their old roles after such an experience? would they have a new appreciation for one another? or, might the "radical shock" lead to real changes and/or family dissolution?

again, i know this is just a cheesy reality show, but i could also see some therapeutic value in learning how another home operates for a week. of course, i wouldn't want anybody filming my household interactions, though i could probably learn a lot from the experience. my family never sought any family counseling (not that we didn't need it), but i could imagine us signing up for this sort of procedure if it was pitched by a counselor rather than a tv producer:

In the first week of the swap, the wives move in with their new family and adopt their very different lifestyle. They agree to follow a manual written by the departing wife that sets out the rules of their new household -- how they parent, shop, do the house work, manage their budgets and their social life. But then, in the second week, everything changes. The new wives take charge. They introduce their own set of rules and get to run the new household their way. It's a radical shock to both families... At the end of the show, the two couples meet for the first time. In a highly-charged exchange of views, both couples make a frank assessment of each other and talk about what they've learned from the experience.

though i'm personally happy to leave this as a thought experiment, i bet i'd discover at least one dumb and counter-productive parental practice that i could correct, just as a semester in another department might reveal at least one dumb and counter-productive management practice in my department. i'd also be fascinated to see how other moms or dads would deal with tor and esperanza -- and how i might deal with mortal children. i have no doubt that my kids would emerge from the experience with their expectations confirmed: some of our household rules and practices are, indeed, a bit on the weird side. that said, we might also gain a bit more appreciation for one another.

* older baseball fans may remember an infamous dad swap in 1973, involving yankee pitchers fritz peterson and mike kekich, who swapped wives, kids, cars, houses, and dogs. this sort of thing was inconceivable to a young twins fan, but seemed perfectly appropriate for ball four-era pinstripers. wikipedia also mentions a pilot for a husband swap show and a lawsuit involving a same-sex swap.

Friday, March 20, 2009

if we get caught it's all your fault...

while most folks pick out the day's wardrobe based on the anticipated formality of the day's meetings, some of us also consider the evening's mug shot potential. most days, i dress as the middle-aged suburban dork that i am, which fits nicely should i ever be popped for small-time embezzlement. on weekends, however, i tend toward scuffed boots, skinny (well, relatively skinny) jeans, snap-button shirts from nashville, and seriously distressed seventies-era leather. a mug shot in that garb portrays a desperate man, capable of most anything.

inspired by a domestic abuser with an i heart my marriage shirt, the smoking gun recently ran a series of mug shots with ill-timed t-shirt messages. trust me, you don't want to be busted in a shirt that says trouble finds me, i'm an alcoholic, not a drunk, or out on bail -- and you definitely don't want to go down wearing an if we get caught it's all your fault t-shirt. where does one even buy an if we get caught it's all your fault shirt? personally, i'd prefer to be arrested like a disgraced senator -- in a dark blue suit, crisp white shirt, and small-patterned red tie.

so, which item in your closet would make the most regrettable mug shot? i've tossed most of my really incriminating wardrobe over the years. in the bowels of my dresser, however, there still lurks a "killing myself to live" shirt from adolescence, some metal concert t's -- slayer probably sends the wrong message, eh? -- and a goofy "i'm with stupid" shirt that must date to the mid-70s. i'd like to think i'll never be arrested again, but i'll be prepared for the occasion should it ever come to pass.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

there, but for the grace of the u.s. constitution, go i

i rarely sign petitions, but had no difficulty lending my name to this one. as near as i can tell, liu xiaobo is locked up for offering the same basic pro-democracy, free expression, and human rights statements that many of us give regularly. this serves as another reminder, i suppose, of the importance of social context.

via arien mack, editor of social research:

I am writing to inform you that Liu Xiaobo, who wrote for our Spring 2006 issue on the struggle for human rights in China, has been arrested by the Chinese authorities. Liu is a dissident writer and intellectual based in Beijing, and a former president of Chinese PEN. He was arrested in December on suspicion of inciting subversion of state power after co-authoring Charter 08, a declaration that calls for greater human rights and democracy in China. If convicted he faces up to three years in prison. We urge you to sign our petition in defense of Liu by clicking on this link: and entering your name and affiliation in the appropriate boxes. Time is very much of the essence, so please add your name as soon as possible. Also, we would be grateful if you would forward this e-mail to your friends who you think might be willing to join us in this effort.

ms. olson/soliah was released today

sara jane olson (a/k/a kathleen ann soliah) was released today, having served about half of a 14-year sentence in california. despite protests from minnesota's governor and the local police federation, she'll complete her parole here. in my view, ms. olson's case is helpful in understanding the nature of community supervision, as well as some of the cohort-specific class privileges claimed by the boomer generation.

the timeline for ms. olson is both unusual and all-too-typical. the unusual part is that she was a fugitive for 24 years. after her politically-oriented crimes in the 1970s, she lived a couple uneventful decades as a progressive minnesota housewife, before returning to do seven years hard time in california. the typical part is that she did her crimes in her teens and twenties and is now a relatively harmless sixtysomething who wants to leave all that behind and rejoin her family.

ms. olson's convictions involved placing pipe bombs under police cars and participating in a deadly bank robbery in 1975. she's hardly a risk for such crimes at this point, but i can certainly understand why the police aren't eager to stand by as she resumes a comfy upper-middle-class lifestyle in st. paul. personally, i'm sympathetic to parolees swimming upstream against the odds. nevertheless, this statement by lawyer stephen cooper was especially tough for this life-course criminologist to swallow:

"For many people, what happened in the '60s was not representative of where their lives went afterwards and they feel you shouldn't be held accountable by the same standards as you would in the '90s," Cooper said.

oh, i get it -- different standards for different times, especially for those who really meant well and happened to marry doctors. leaving aside the fact that none of ms. olson's crimes actually occurred in the sixties, nobody's crimes in their teens and twenties are "representative of where their lives went" in their forties and fifties -- that's just the age-crime curve and class privilege, folks. and don't even try to tell me that hopelessly misguided politically-motivated robberies and destruction of the priviliged should be treated more leniently than the hopelessly misguided garden variety robberies and destruction of the poor.

that said, ms. olson is now a parolee and (potential) taxpayer and i truly wish her all the best. here's hoping she accepts this status and no longer distances herself from the thousands of other parolees and (potential) taxpayers in minnesota. few of them have taken another human life and few of them will ever enjoy a nice house in a fine neighborhood. by carving out a boomer-specific culpability exemption, ms. olson's attorneys are simply demonizing those who lack the advantages that she had: she's one of us and they remain the other.

i suspect it won't be long before i see ms. olson at a social function. and i'll certainly wish her well -- just as i would for any other parolee or probationer trying to make it in my community. if i'm ever tried for conspiracy to commit murder, however, i'll instruct my friends and attorneys to dispense with that whole "can't be held accountable to the standards of our times" defense.

Monday, March 16, 2009

congratulations to the tar heels

inside higher ed's annual academic performance tournament breaks down the ncaa men’s basketball bracket, determining winners on the basis of the ncaa's academic progress rate.* i'm sour the minnversity was one-and-done, but texas is a tough draw on the court and in the classroom. *To select the winners, we used the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate -- a nationally comparable score that gives points to teams whose athletes stay in good standing academically and stay enrolled from semester to semester. (Last year, the NCAA began using the scores to impose penalties on teams that underperform academically.) In instances where matched-up teams had the same Academic Progress Rate, we broke ties using the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate -- which, unlike the federal graduation rate, considers transfers and subtracts athletes who leave college prior to graduation “as long as they would have been academically eligible to compete had they remained.”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

i don't mind stealing mug shots, but i can't feed on the powerless

jim walsh at minnpost reports on a new exhibit of mary gibney's mug shot paintings. the paintings work as art -- clearly conveying the emotional weight and human drama of the moment. that said, an element of the project just as clearly exploits some vulnerable subjects. most notably, said subjects gave no consent (and got no cash) for the use and sale of their images in such a vulnerable moment. the artist's description:

Inspired by vintage mugshots. Intimate color portraits of the harshly-lit faces of criminals and unfortunates from the 1920s through the 1960s painted with a sympathetic rendering of human emotion.They allow us a voyeuristic view of people caught on camera, guilty and innocent.

of course, artistic license extends far beyond social-scientific license -- and artists need no stamp of approval from human subjects committees or internal review boards. while i agree that most of the paintings are rendered with sensitivity, portrait titles like "psycho" and "porn dealer" don't sound so sympathetic. also, this quote gave me pause:

"A friend of mine who works at the police department downtown said they’re purging their files, throwing stuff away, and she brought me this huge envelope with all these mug shots from the ’80s," she said. "I was like, 'This is gold!' She said, 'I’ll get you more.' They’re all public record, so. ..."

the images may be "public record" but the subjects are not public figures -- and, of course, the project's legality doesn't grant ethical carte blanche. don't get me wrong, i think ms. gibney is doing good work for good reasons and she's not profiting (not much, at least) from the human misery she's portraying. i'd just feel a whole lot better if a taste of the proceeds were going to inmates or their families.

my job does not include shushing

utne reader librarian danielle maestretti reads, archives, and consecrates 1,300 magazines a month. seriously, friends, it's like she reads every word. for some this would be torture. for folks like us, of course, it is the coolest job in the world. well, she's now sharing her favorite pieces from the mostly-alternative press in shelf life, a weekly four-minute video and regular column in the print publication. from ms. maestretti's manifesto:

In the independent press, there is no room for reporting that favors scandal over truth, for petty partisan differences, for celebrity-stalking or false optimism. Writing is not always elegant. Photos are often black and white. The May issue might not be published until September. But I think most Americans, regardless of political affiliation or personal beliefs, would prefer these small imperfections to the more polished fluffy stuff that's becoming difficult to avoid.

Monday, March 09, 2009

a cute meibomianitis

slow blogging lately, as i've had a li'l eye problem that limits screen time. nevertheless, my left eye has brought about some natural breaching experiments. five observations from the field:

1. i'm suddenly prone to involuntary winking, which dramatically alters social interactions.

(a) absolute worst time to wink: i learned friday that it is definitely not cool to wink when asking a prospective graduate student, "how long will you be in town?" ewwww...

(b) second worst time to wink: i learned today that it is inadvisable to wink in a senate committee hearing -- especially when said elected officials are challenging one's data or interpretations.

(c) third worst time to wink: when running a meeting in a position of authority, a few rapid-fire winks can call one's leadership skills into question -- it doesn't exactly convey a reassuring everything's gonna be all right message.

2. friday was my first doctor's visit in a few years, so i learned all about co-pays. my clinic wanted their ten bucks up front. why ten bucks? is that considered "nominal" and somehow less regressive than, say, fifty? i can't imagine that the revenue associated with a $10 co-pay exceeds the costs of processing a $10 co-pay, so its primary goal is likely deterrence -- as in, do you really need to see that doctor? dr. annie gave me some wicked eyedrops and antibiotics, but told me they'll start to cuttin' if it doesn't clear up this week. i appreciated how she explained the problem, offered a realistic appraisal of her prescribed treatment, and then gave me a course of action in the event it didn't work. well worth the ten bucks.

3. the phriendly pharmacist confided that it might be a little difficult to take these particular antibiotics on an empty stomach as prescribed, so she said it was probably okay to have a little food first. then she winked.

4. it turns out that said pharmacist was right re: the gut-wrenching qualities of the antibiotics, so i got some fancy yogurt to balance things off. as steven wright might say, "i'm taking antibiotics and probiotics. i put them in the same belly and let them fight it out."

5. i wanted to ask for a "badass eye-patch" but quickly realized that only an insensitive clod would ask for something like a white cane or a patch in that setting. as a general rule, those with (presumably) temporary medical problems should never joke about items needed by people with more serious or chronic medical conditions.

though i still can't see much below the big E on the eye chart, at least the winking is subsiding.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

control and spending in pew's "1-in-31" report

the new pew foundation report, one in 31, the long reach of corrections, assembles some fascinating state-level data. below, i've graphed the "adult correctional control rates" for the 50 states. i've shaded some of the midwestern states red for easy comparability. notice how minnesota has a very high rate of correctional control? about 4% of the adult population is under supervision -- mostly being supervised in the community while serving probation sentences.

the next figure is based on the spending information in the pew report, taking corrections spending as a percentage of state general fund expenditures. although our correctional control rate is high, minnesota pays relatively little on corrections because probation is cheap relative to prisons (pew reports that about 82 percent of total corrections spending goes to prisons). i can't vouch for the expenditure data here, since i haven't used it or vetted it, but the correctional control figures look right to me. michigan is clearly an outlier, but i think this is due to data comparability problems (education spending is excluded from the gdp denominator).

finally, i made a little scatterplot showing the correlation between spending as a percentage of state gdp and overall correctional control. i dropped michigan from the figure, but ran the correlation with and without it.

i didn't label every state, but you can get a sense for the overall patterns. minnesota (and alabama?) spend little, but have moderate to high control rates. georgia supervises a surprising 8 percent of the adult population, but spends a percentage of gdp comparable to low-control states like iowa or illinois. florida, arizona, and oregon all spend a great deal relative to their rates of correctional control. new hampshire and maine have few people under control, but still spend a fair percentage of state resources on them.

i should repeat the caveat that i haven't vetted these data, so i'm not sure whether we've really got reliable and valid information on all variables, or whether the information is consistently reported across states. nevertheless, i very much appreciate the sorts of questions that the pew report is raising. at minimum, it should spur some productive discussions about policy choices.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

blue laws

as the recession deepens, i've heard more about rolling back those "blue laws" that ban sunday shopping for automobiles, alcohol, and other commodities. because blue laws have ancient roots, researchers focus on accounting for their (putatively anachronistic) persistence as well as their passage.

i learned via time and reusse that economics professor david laband has published a monograph on blue laws, tying their demise to a long-term rise in female labor force participation and, more immediately, to economic contraction:

"[Sunday sales legislation] always comes bubbling up when the economy goes south," says David Laband, an Auburn University economics professor who authored Blue Laws: The History, Economics, and Politics of Sunday-Closing Laws. Blue laws, which restrict shopping of any kind on Sunday, date back to the colonial era, Laband says. However, those laws gradually died off as economic forces made some states realize that they could stand to gain by having stores open on Sunday. For example, the entry of women into the workforce in World War II made weekend shopping a necessity.

"Slowly and systematically we've seen these laws lifted in past century, even more so when there has been an economic downturn," Laband says. "States realize that consumers will migrate to a place where they can buy what they want. And whatever their reasons are for not wanting to sell on Sunday, these states realize they're paying a price for it in foregone tax revenues. So once the economy goes bad, then the cost of their policies are apparent to them."

i like the labor force and economic strain argument, though i suspect that many sociologists would also point to urbanization and shifts in religiosity to account for the demise of blue laws.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

tss sol

i'll sorely miss the soc shrine, though i'm certain the principals therein are bound for glory. as an exceptionally blind reviewer, i won't even conjecture about their identities or whereabouts. but if the author of that li'l apache string ever taps me on the shoulder at ASA, s/he's got free drinks for the evening. just like the fuzzmaster general, the soc shriners will resurface with purpose. talent will out.

Monday, March 02, 2009

fed gazette piece on recession and crime

i've been doing a lot of interviews lately on crime and unemployment, most recently with mara gottfried and ruben rosario in the pioneer press. my research and reading of the literature suggests that there is a link, but the relationship is generally small in magnitude, crime-specific, and with a tricky lag structure. certainly few people will immediately "turn to crime" when they lose their jobs. nevertheless, a small change in the unemployment rate has big effects for people leaving jail or prison -- they are always last in line for jobs, but during recessions there are a whole bunch more people in front of them.

the charts below come from a recent interview with doug clement of the minneapolis fed's fed gazette. the first one shows property crime rates for the district's five states during recession and non-recession periods. there appears to be a blip upward during the (blue-shaded) recession months, but one can find recessions during both high-crime and low-crime periods.
after briefly reviewing the economics and crime literature, mr. clement and fed colleagues estimated a county-level fixed effects model of unemployment and crime in the ninth district. though the study was not peer-reviewed and the authors list some standard caveats, their conclusions are generally consistent with the literature:

Unemployment rates are positively related to crime, but they don’t seem to have much explanatory power. Numbers of police per capita had no apparent association, but clearance rates did. More crime was likely in counties with higher fractions of young people. Spending on education was negatively linked with crime, indicating that schooling may reduce the relative appeal of crime.

i've been struck lately by the divergence between minnesota and wisconsin in incarceration rates, so the chart below caught my eye. while every state in the district is well below u.s. averages, minnesota and north dakota have the lowest incarceration rates in the nation.
even among five "low-incarceration" states, two patterns emerge quite distinctly: minnesota and north dakota track closely, on the one hand, versus montana, wisconsin, and south dakota on the other. i'm curious about the legal, political, and institutional reasons for the differences, but won't offer any hypotheses until they're at least half-baked.