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Dropout Nation

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
I call the current state of America "Dropout Nation" because of mass abandonment from the jobs market (not being unemployed but not looking for a job at all), homeownership, marriage, and having children. Perhaps, hand in hand with this trend is the spike in suicides in this country. While there are many reasons for people to take their own lives, including depression, there is no doubt current economic conditions have added to the tally (in Greece suicides increased 24% from 2007 to 2009, Italy says suicides from economic problems skyrocketed 52%, and in England it's called an epidemic).

It's more than disheartening. It's emblematic of a nation that's giving up, that's dropping out, with those that choose life living in the moment. In Japan, suicides came in at 23.8 people for every 100,000, a level that has been sustained for fourteen consecutive years coinciding with the two lost decades in the land of the (fading) sun. Now, in America, suicides out number people killed in automobile accidents. It's the third leading cause of death for those 15-24, holding steady after sprinting to a 21.3/100,000 ratio in 1997, from 6.3/100,000 in 1955, since then the number has drifted lower, but it has recently turned higher.

The current suicide crisis is most evident in men in what normally would be prime earning years (source CDC 2010).

The economic toll is huge, with one estimate at $1,182,000 per death: $1,178,684 in lost productive, and the rest medical costs.

Dodd Frank Dagger

Massive cost increases will destroy the quality of healthcare and level millions with higher taxes from government-run healthcare moves and regulatory threats in the financial area; this is already beginning to take a toll.
I find it interesting that people that believe in the big bang theory and evolution don't understand that markets also evolve, and when the "free" part of free markets is tampered with, the unintended consequences can be more devastating than the would-be problem that social engineers sought to fix.

Banks are for-profit entities, not part of the public domain. The more regulators seek to control profits and manipulate behavior, the worse the ultimate outcome becomes. I'm not talking about sensible parameters like erasing small print on contracts or lowering arsenic in food, but the administration's attempt to control and punish.

The avalanche of new rules coupled with nonstop browbeating of the reckless banking industry has created a banking industry with less risk, fewer employees, and higher fees. Moreover, convenience fades and Main Street opportunities are lost.

Last week, Bank of America announced it would lay off another 16,000 employees through fewer branches and smaller mortgage operations. This brings the bank's head count to its lowest level since 2008. In other words, for a lot of regular people, the bailout of banks didn't work because they are unemployed. Plus, taxpayers have gotten a lot less from Bank of America, as I pointed out last week.

Domestic Credit

2009: $756.1 billion
2010: $685.3 billion
2011: $557.3 billion

As for consumers ... the one word that comes to mind is "ouch."

There isn't a way to target the rich for economic punishment without punishing everyone, and if pushed too far, this would result in the kind of economic death widely seen in Europe today. There is a very real human face to our current economic circumstance. The numbers, always glossed over by a sycophantic media, are horrific and dangerous.

The Market

There is a saying about not fighting the Fed, and the last couple of weeks illustrate why it's one of the oldest and most accurate of Wall Street axioms. Each day brings disappointing economic news from all points of the nation (Empire State, Philly Fed and Dallas Fed reports all disasters), initial jobless claims are nearing 400,000 and some big names have offered big earnings warnings, but the market holds. And now, there's word from San Francisco Fed President John Williams that the Fed might go beyond its typical asset-purchase program and may buy more treasuries or agency securities.

The Case Shiller home price index showed more steady improvement, rising by 0.4% seasonally adjusted in July. Yes, it's from all the way back in July but it does help to confirm further home price stabilization, despite the precarious economic conditions at the time. Considering we're going through the normal selling season in housing, it's not entirely surprising that we're seeing some good readings. Some economists will be looking for these gains to hold as the market cycles through the slow winter months.

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