American Morning

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May 11th, 2009
02:42 PM ET

Romans’ Numeral: 59 and 16

Starting today, “American Morning” is bringing you a clever look at a number driving the day’s news about your money. We’re calling it Romans’ Numerals and we’re hoping you will play along and email, tweet and message us on Facebook about the numbers that matter to your money.

Our inaugural numeral – 16. It has to do with just how weak the jobs market is and just how many people are out of work. The unemployment rate is 8.9 percent, but almost 16 percent of the labor market is UNDEREMPLOYED, estimates economist Peter Morici of the University of Maryland. That includes people out of work, discouraged workers who have stopped looking and people who are working part-time because they cannot find full-time work.

You’ll hear a lot this week about credit card reforms and new rules to stop credit card issuers from jacking up your rates and other unpopular measures. At the same time, the banks are bracing for credit card defaults to skyrocket as the unemployment rate worsens. Millions of Americans are late on their cards, or not paying. Which brings me to our second Romans’ Numeral of the day – 59. 59% of people pay the credit card bill dead last when times are tight, according to creditcards.com.

Got a number that gives an offbeat angle to a money story? Send it our way.

A lot of you are asking about rising gas prices, perhaps still stung by those $4 a gallon gas prices that bled so many commuters dry last year. Yes, they are rising again - up 16 cents in a week, according to AAA. Don’t worry. Most analysts say this recent run-up is no stepping stone to $3 and $4 a gallon gasoline. The Energy Department expects a peak this summer around $2.30. Why are they up? Oil is obviously the starting point for gasoline, and oil prices are up 30% this year. But that’s because of money, not supply and demand. Investors are betting the economy will improve eventually. Gasoline demand has not gone up. For gasoline, demand fell off a cliff late last year as the economy cratered, and is now flat. Could it be that commuters – with $4 gallon prices still in the rear-view mirror – are conserving? Not likely. It’s because the economy is so dreadfully weak. "Demand is down because unemployment is at post-war highs and many people are driving on a 'must go' basis, with a minimum of discretionary use," says the Oil Price Information Service’s Tom Kloza. He says this “mini-bubble” is almost over.

But this weak economy won’t last forever. It’s one reason why gas prices are creeping up. Economist Conrad DeQuadros of RDQ Economics, says “it is probably reasonable to assume that vehicle miles traveled will begin to pick up again as the intensity of the recession diminishes.”


Filed under: Romans' Numeral
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Vince James

    Christine ...Check with your sources. USDollar is down sharply [Oil is priced in USDollar's which makes for an inverse relationship]. A secondary factor is hedge funds moving from paper assets to real assets like commodities. Supply and Damand maybe an issue later but not today in my opinion. VInce

    May 25, 2009 at 12:47 pm |
  2. Raven

    Here's a little known tidbit.

    $4.50

    This is the current market value of the average human body. Given the fluctuating market values of the elements contained in the human body and the ever changing value of human skin, this number can vary according to market changes and of course size, weight, body mass etc. of the individual.

    The breakdown of this number is approx. $3.50 for the skin and $1.00 for the rest of the elements.

    Remember when the price of a gallon of gas was more than we are worth?

    Study is based on the joint efforts of the US and Japan research into the question of: Just how much am I worth?

    May 15, 2009 at 9:59 am |
  3. JJ

    "Today's Planet Money indicator: 59 and 16"

    fixed it for you

    May 12, 2009 at 8:23 am |