Common Cents & Marriage on December 6, 2019

December 6, 2019, by John Norris

Getting divorced just because you don’t love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do.

Zsa Zsa Gabor

 

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced the US economy created 266K net new payroll jobs and the official Unemployment Rate fell to 3.5% during November 2019. While anyone can find dark clouds in silver linings given enough time and data, this was a pretty good report. It was better than expected, and much better than feared after a somewhat disappointing ADP National Employment Report earlier in the week.

Of course, not all of the jobs created were of the ‘dream’ variety. There were plenty of lower paying, lower skilled additions. Perhaps because of this, average weekly and hourly earnings aren’t growing as rapidly as many would like, despite the miserly Unemployment Rate. However, they ARE growing and the average US household appears to be doing better than it was this time last year. I would have, and actually might have, written the same thing last year.

This continued economic growth and job creation is kind of amazing, and has to be confounding for the opposition party. While next November is still 11 months out and anything can happen in the interim, a fully employed workforce doesn’t ordinarily translate into an angry electorate. However, as the events of the last several years have shown, anything is possible in love and war, and politics is war.

But what in the [world] does this have to do with Zsa Zsa Gabor?

Long years ago, in the waning years of the 20th Century, I asked an Indian friend of mine at the time why arranged marriages were still prevalent, if not the norm, in his culture. Time has dulled my recollection of his exact words, but it was something along the lines of: “John, we have always known marriage is far too important to be left to love.” This makes perfect economic sense.

On page 22 of 40 in today’s Employment Situation report for last month, the BLS estimates the Unemployment Rate for all ‘married men, spouse present’ (all ages) was 2.0% in November 2019. It was 2.3% for ‘married women, spouse present.’ Obviously, this is much lower than the 3.5% Unemployment Rate for the economy as a whole.

Then there is this information which I took from Table A-29 from the data for last month:

Further, perhaps not surprisingly, the official poverty rate for ‘married-couple families’ is significantly less than that for households with ‘no spouse present.’ According to the POV04 table from the Census Bureau’s most recent Current Population Survey for 2018, 4.7% of ‘married-couple families’ fell below the official poverty rate in 2018. For ‘Families with a male householder, no spouse present,’ the rate was a significantly higher 12.7%. However, this was much better than 24.9% of ‘Families with a female householder, no spouse present’ which lived in poverty last year.

If that weren’t compelling, consider data from table POV06 in the same report: the poverty rate for married-couple families with ‘Two or more full-time year-round workers’ was 0.3% last year. It was 3.3% for married-couple families with ‘One full-time year-round worker.’ Compare that to 9.7% of ALL families, regardless of structure, who lived below the poverty threshold in 2018.

While I am just scratching the surface with this information, it would seem marriage is a pretty good way to stay out of poverty. It also seems marriage is a strong incentive to participate in the workforce because other people are depending on ‘you’ to help provide for the, you guessed it, family. As a result, it would seem marriage is an economic arrangement between two people. Love? Of course, but first things first (as my dad reminded us over and over in my youth): 1) food on the table; 2) clothes on the back; 3) roof over the head.

Ah, I am such a romantic!

Veering wildly off course, have you ever seen the musical or film “Fiddler on the Roof”? If you have, you might remember what I consider to be one of the better songs, ‘Do You Love Me?’ Of course, the story is a fictional account of a Jewish milkman and his family in Tsarist Russia, but the lyrics of this song describe what marriage has been for most throughout history and across cultures. Here are that last few verses:

 

Tevye: The first time I met you was on our wedding day. I was scared.

Golde: I was shy.

Tevye: I was nervous.

Golde: So was I.

Tevye: But my father and my father said we’d learn to love each other.

So, now I’m asking, Golde…

Tevye: Do you love me?

Golde: I’m your wife!

Tevye: I know. But do you love me?

 

Golde: Do I love him?

For twenty-five years, I’ve lived with him,

Fought with him, starved with him.

For twenty-five years, my bed is his.

If that’s not love, what is?

 

Tevye: Then you love me?

Golde: I suppose I do.

Tevye: And I suppose I love you, too.

Together: It doesn’t change a thing, but even so,

After twenty-five years, it’s nice to know

 

With this mind, I would encourage everyone reading this to ‘play around’ with the poverty and employment tables/data at census.gov and bls.gov. It is all there, in government collected black & white data points, and it all pretty much supports what Mani told me back in the day: “marriage is far too important to be left to love.”

Obviously, this newsletter hasn’t been your normal examination of the Employment Situation report. However, when I was reading it this morning, the employment/unemployment numbers based on marital status where so interesting and compelling to me I felt obliged to acknowledge them. You rarely see or hear this discussed in the broader media, as I guess others don’t want to offend, appear insensitive, or come across as cold-hearted in an age when emotions/feelings often seem to trump (no pun intended) the economic realities of, well, life. Go to school as best you can, find a job of some sort, get married (or live with someone you can tolerate, ha!), and mitigate your economic downside. Admittedly, this is easier said than done for many people, but that doesn’t mean the steps don’t have merit.

Perhaps we will hear more about this topic during next year’s run-up to the election. However, I suspect we probably won’t.

 

Have a great weekend.

 

John Norris

 

Obviously, the opinions I express in this post are mine and mine alone. They are not necessarily the views or opinions of Oakworth Capital Bank, its associates, directors, or shareholders. This newsletter reflects my views as of the day published, and are subject to change without notice. Further, nothing expressed herein should be considered an offer to buy or sell investment services.