Friday, December 24, 2010

MAROONS IN ACTION: Spring 2011 Researchers

MAROONS IN ACTION: Spring 2011 Researchers: "Several students will participate in undergraduate research experiences with Dr. Alice Louise Kassens covering a wide range of topics during..."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays and New Year from RC Economics

The Economics Program wishes you and your families a happy holiday season and a wonderful new year.  Remember to update us with what is new with you and give us your contact information so that you can get the first issue of Roanomics!  Use the tabs above to give us your information.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New unemployment poll

A new poll was just started on this blog concerning the unemployment numbers to be released January 7, 2011.  The Employment Situation Report was released last Friday showing the unemployment rate for November.  It increased from 9.6% to 9.8%. 

We hosted a non-scientific poll asking respondents their projections for the November number in the weeks leading up to  the December 3 release data.  The question, possible answers, and results were as follows:

What do you think the unemployment rate will be for November 2010?
9.6% (unchanged)  12 (50%)
greater than 9.6%   5 (20%)
less than 9.6%         7 (30%)

The actual number for November was 9.8%, up from 9.6%.  Many experts believed that the number would actually fall to 9.4-9.5%, and were obviously wrong.  20% of voters in our poll were right, voting for a number greater than 9.6%.

For the next several months this blog will host similar polls (the one for the December number was just opened).  Results of the polls through March will be compared to the actual numbers in the March 2010 issue of Roanomics.

Make sure you enter your vote!  See how well you can predict one of the more popular economic indicators.

Monday, December 6, 2010

And the winner is...

We have selected the winning title for RC Economics Program newsletter.  As many of you know, we held a Newsletter Title Contest (entries could be made on this blog.)  We had over 50 submissions. 

Two young ladies submitted the same winning entry, so we actually gave out two first place prizes. 

Meghan Sacco and Katie d'Esterhazy both submitted "Roanomics" and won $25 gift cards to Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea. 

The runner-up was so close and so good that we also awarded a $10 gift card for it.  Laura Landis submitted "On Demand" for the runner-up prize.

Thanks to all who participated.  Remember that if you would like to receive Roanomics, our electronic newsletter, please go to the "Contact Information" tab and fill in your information.

The Volume 1, Issue 1 will be sent out March 2011.

Friday, December 3, 2010

November unemployment rate

On the first Friday of every month at 8:30 AM labor economists, like me, get very excited.  The BLS's Employment Situation report is released.  Amongst other statistics, the unemployment rate for the previous month is reported. 

This morning it just so happened that I was in the middle of my Block 1 Principles of Microeconomics class teaching about labor markets and unemployment.  The students were kind enough to indulge me with an apparent interest as I pulled up the BLS web page ( to see the new number.  The headline read...

Unemployment rate (9.8%) edges up in November; payroll employment changes little (+39,000)

Not good news.

The unemployment rate was holding steady over the past few months at 9.6%.  Employment must increase by about 150,000  per month just to hold the unemployment rate steady.  Clearly the 39,000 increase was not enough and the unemployment rate increased.

Before major conclusions are drawn, we must dig a little deeper.  An individual is considered unemployed if they are not working for pay AND are actively seeking work.  If someone becomes "discouraged" and stops looking for a job, they move from the ranks of the unemployed to another category: not in the labor force.  As the economy improves and job opportunities appear, theses discouraged workers start looking again.  Once they start looking they move into the labor force and are considered unemployed.  This can cause a temporary uptick in the unemployment numbers.  The broader ranges of unemployment actually suggest that more people are becoming discouraged and not looking than less.  Yikes!

While it is expected that unemployment will rise as discouraged workers reenter the workforce, there were other concerning signs in the report.  Average weekly hours worked remained unchanged between October and November (34.3 hours).  Typically before firms start hiring more people, they work their current workers harder until the employers are comfortable that the downturn is over. Hours worked had been slowly rising until this month. 

How long will it take to recoup all of the lost jobs since the beginning of the 2007 recession?  One report estimated that would 2017 !  That was conditional on several factors, including GDP growing at an average of 2% per year.  If the actual growth rate is lower and/or employment continues add on low numbers like in November, we could be waiting even longer.

This blog hosted an non-scientific poll concerning projections for the November unemployment rate.  20% of participants felt that the unemployment rate would rise for November.  Most felt that it would remain at 9.6%, where it has been for several months (including this labor economist).  A lot of people were wrong, not just poll participants from this blog.  Many experts thought that unemployment would actually fall.

As we move into 2011 there are a lot of unanswered questions, uncertainty, and even fear.  Here's to a more stable and certain economy for the new year.  Hopefully on the first Friday of 2011 the Employment Situation Report is a little bit rosier. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vote for Justin Tuma

Justin Tuma is a Roanoke College senior ECON minor and a tremendous lacrosse player who has received national recognition. He has been nominated for the NCAA DIII Men's Lacrosse Preseason Player of the Year. Please show your support for this great student-athlete (and my advisee) by voting for him.

Show your Maroon Econ support!Vote here!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What's new in the RC Economics Program

Yesterday I sent an email out to all of the alumni for whom I have an email address.  The email encouraged them to drop by this blog and fill out the Contact Information and the new Alumni Survey.  I also asked for them to drop us a line via email with any updates.  Already I have received some great emails.  Some reflected on their memories of the Economics Program.  To that end, I thought that I would share what the Economics Program looks like now.

Currently there are four economics professors: Dr. Garry Fleming, Dr. Alice Louise Kassens (me), Dr. Edward Nik-Khah, and Dr. Sebastian Berger. 

Dr. Fleming was named the Shannon Chair of Economics in 2009 and the Director of Economics in 2010.  We more novice economists appreciate his leadership and sage advice!  Dr. Fleming teaches Principles of Micro and Macroeconomics, Money and Banking, Intermediate Macroeconomics and International Trade and Finance.  Some of the emails I have received from alumni remember taking courses with Dr. Fleming.  How great that he remains a positive memory for you all. 

I (Dr. Alice Louise Kassens) was granted tenure and promoted to Associate Professor of Economics in 2010.  My courses include Principles of Micro and Macroeconomics, Health Economics, Labor Economics, and Econometrics.  I suppose you could call me the math nerd of the group.  I push our seniors through a rigorous econometrics course, but in the end they have a fantastic empirical paper that is worthy of publication and presentation.  So far a few of the seniors, including Tyler Rinko, have submitted their papers for presentation and publication in national organizations.  I am incredibly proud of them all.  I will save more discussion of their paper topics for a later post.  Currently I have several projects underway, including one with Dr. William M. Rodgers III (Rutgers University) on the effects of clinical depression on labor market outcomes.  A list of my publications can be found on our website:

Dr. Edward Nik-Khah was also granted tenure and promoted to Associate Professor of Economics in 2010.  He teaches Principles of Microeconomics, a course in the Honors Program, Economics of the Public Sector and its Finance, Competition, Monopoly and Public Policy, Intermediate Microeconomics, and Economics Seminar (History of Economic Thought).  Dr. Nik-Khah has several published works and is going to present one of his papers at the AEA meeting in Denver this coming January.  You can find Dr. Nik-Khah's vita on our program website (link above.)

Dr. Sebastian Berger began teaching at Roanoke College in 2008.  He teaches Principles of Microeconomics and Macroeconomics, Comparative Economic Systems, and Ecological Economics.

The Economics Program added a minor in 2009, so we now offer both a major and a minor.  Both have grown tremendously.  We currently graduate 10-15 majors each year and have comparable numbers in the minor.

To complete the major, students have to successfully complete 11 courses: Principles of Microeconomics, Principles of Macroeconomics, Money and Banking, Intermediate Microeconomics, Intermediate Macroeconomics, Econometrics, Economic Seminar, and four elective courses at the 200-level.  These electives include Health Economics, International Trade, Comparative Economic Systems, and Labor Economics.  The minor requires the successful completion of 7 courses (5 core courses and two electives.)

Our students have been presenting papers at conferences over the last several years and competing in the Fed Challenge (led by Michelle Alexander).  Additionally, one of our minors (and my advisee), Justin Tuma '11, stared in a video that was shown to all incoming freshmen and their parents this past September.  Justin is a true student-athlete, excelling in all that he does.  Watch the video here: 

While the Economics Program may have many different faces, much remains the same.  We pride ourselves on offering one of the most rigorous, complete in both breadth and depth, and applicable majors at the College.  A prestigious degree is something that will link our current students with our alumni forever.  Thank you for your support and keep us updated.  We enjoy hearing from you!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

McGraw-Hill PowerPoint Slides for Dornbusch, Fischer, and Startz

Usually when you think of publications by economists you think of journal articles or books.  While I have several of these on my vita, I also have several lines under a different heading: Supplemental Materials.  You know those PowerPoint slides that your professor uses in the classroom?  Often he/she did not make those, but got them from the publisher of the book.  These are called supplemental materials.  Publishers, like McGraw-Hill, contract individuals to develop these slides and then make the slides available to those who adopt the text for their course.

As I write this blog entry, I am flipping back and forth between the blog and McGraw-Hill's ftp site.  I just completed the update (I also put together the original several years ago) for the PowerPoint slides for the textbook "Macroeconomics 11e" by Dornbusch, Fischer, and Startz.  I am currently uploading the files to their site.  DFS is one of the leading undergraduate intermediate macroeconomics texts.

Rudiger Dornbusch, among other things, taught economics at MIT for 27 years.  He received his PhD in economics from the University of Chicago in 1971.  While at MIT, he was the advisor for notable economists including Maurice Obstfeld and Paul Krugman.  Dornbusch is perhaps most famous for his "Overshooting Model" which explains why exchange rates have a high variance.  Find out more about Dornbusch at  Dornbusch passed away in 2002.

Stanley Fischer also taught economics at MIT from 1977-1988.  He received his PhD in economics from MIT in 1969.  He was Ben Bernanke's dissertation advisor and authored another well known book with Oliver Blanchard.  Currently he is The Governor of The Bank of Israel.  Find out more about Fischer at

Richard Startz received his PhD from MIT in 1978 and currently is the Castor Professor of Economics at the University of Washington.  Notable publications include "Measuring the NAIRU with Reduced Uncertainty: A Multiple Indicator-Common Component Approach" (with Arabinda Basistha) in the Review of Economics and Statistics and "Some Further Results on the Exact Small Sample Properties of the Instrumental Variable Estimator" (with Charles R. Nelson) in Econometrica.  For more about Startz go to

Needless to say I am honored to be associated with such esteemed economists and am proud that my name along with Roanoke College will forever be on the first few pages of the textbook.  Thank to Alyssa Otterness and McGraw-Hill for asking me to be a part of this project.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Outreach Project

Roanoke College is going through the SACS process, which is a long and at times painful experience! Basically we have to demonstrate that we are doing what we say we do. On the academic side, each major needs to show that they are successfully meeting established/acceptable learning outcomes. Additionally, there are non-learning outcomes, including outreach to students, faculty, and alumni.

While the Economics Program is doing a great job with the learning outcomes, we are lacking on the non-learning outcomes. As the Economics Program Assessment Coordinator I am trying to change this. With the help of my Assessment Assistant (Megan Rhodes) we are kicking off a three pronged project: a blog, using Twitter, and a semi-annual newsletter.

The goal of this project is to showcase our students and faculty, recruit new majors and minors, and reconnect with alumni.

You can find us on Twitter @roanokeecon and follow this blog (  Sign up for our newsletter (coming in March 2011) through the "Contact Information" tab on this blog.  Look on the top toolbar.

Additionally, tell us what you would like to see in the newsletter.  Send us ideas at

Alumni, send us updates on what you have been doing since graduation.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Newsletter Title Contest

The Roanoke College Economics Program is kicking off an outreach program including a newsletter. We want you to name the newsletter! Go to and give us your suggestions. The winner will receive a $25 gift card to Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea. We will start reviewing suggestions December 1, and continue taking them until we find the one we like.