Tricky Choices

Data can help us make the best possible choices.

July 16, 2012

The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost, came to mind today as I considered making a choice.

Interestingly, Frost himself acknowledged, “You have to be careful of that one; it’s a tricky poem—very tricky.”

At first glance, the poem seems to say that when our narrator encounters a fork in the road, careful analysis of turf, opportunity, and curiosity prompts a decision to take the road less traveled—a nod to American innovation and free thought.  This drives choice.

But further analysis reveals that the idea is not to boldly choose the untrodden path for its sake only but rather that choices we make at any given time will have ramifications unrealized until a later date, whether the chosen road is “less taken” or not.  Each option presents a different experience and outcome.

What to do?  We might ruminate, worry, and wonder—wasting time, energy, money, and opportunity in the process.

Lora Kloth is a research librarian at CUNA.
Lora Bray is research librarian at CUNA.

Or, we can collect and analyze data, and make the best possible choice at the time, believing positive events will result.

Perhaps this week’s data will prompt you to make good choices through thoughtful analysis.

Economic realities

Connections between our economic reality and various segments of society are interesting.  See “Urban America: US Cities in the Global Economy” by the McKinsey Global Institute for a glimpse at the economic role large cities play.  “Large U.S. cities… generated almost 85 percent of the country’s GDP in 2010…In the next 15 years, the 259 large U.S. cities are expected to generate more than 10 percent of global GDP growth.”

Challenges cities will face as economic engines include persistent unemployment, management of our aging population, and policy issues.  “Business and government leaders need to find ways through these difficulties if cities are to play their part in the U.S. economy’s growth and renewal.”

Indeed, economic considerations presented by the aging are important, as validated by the Census Bureau.  “The percentage of population 65 and older will more than double, from 8 percent today to nearly 17 percent in 2050, carrying with it well-established changes in…health care burden, pension systems, the composition and character of the labor force, and other economic variables, such as savings and consumption patterns.”

AARP also treads this busy path with news about “How Insights on 50+ Adults Can be Useful to Local Businesses.”  It reveals, “Unemployment rates are slightly lower for older adults; however, older adults remain unemployed for longer periods of time than their younger counterparts.  Older adults are experiencing higher out of pocket health care costs…”

Further, “issues and activities around health, financial security and spending time with family and friends are the most important in their lives.”

What can your credit union do to walk alongside your aging members to help them and our economy?

“New growth theory argues that, in advanced economies, economic growth stems less from the acquisition of additional capital and more from innovation and new ideas,” says the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  The Brookings Institution and NEA report here “cities play a major role in facilitating economic growth”, echoing previous McKinsey findings on the importance of cities. 

Many avenues are explored on the concept of relationships between the arts and economic well-being as NEA examines “new growth theory as a tool for assessing the impact of art and culture on the U.S. economy.” 

Employment pays; crime doesn’t

Crime doesn’t pay as reported in “In Search of a Job: Criminal Records as Barriers to Employment,”  by the National Institute of Justice.  Almost one-third of American adults have an arrest record by age 23 which prevents employment, despite rehabilitation and job qualifications.

Success requires employment.  Those who cannot find it often return to jail.  Economic consequences:  “High rates of recidivism mean…more pressure on federal, state, and municipal budgets.  In the past 20 years, state spending on corrections has grown at a faster rate than nearly any other state budget item.  The United States now spends more than $74 billion annually on federal, state and local corrections.”

Can your credit union help illuminate the path to economic achievement for this segment of the population?

Further connections between crime and the economy are indicated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in “Monitoring the Impact of Economic Crisis on Crime.”  

“The report finds that, whether in times of economic crisis or non-crisis, economic factors play an important role in the evolution of crime trends.”

Interestingly, “It should be noted that the relationship between crime and economy is not necessarily unidirectional.  Whilst there are theoretical arguments for why changes in economic conditions may affect crime, it could also be the case that crime itself impacts upon economic and developmental outcomes, such as when very high violent crime levels dissuade investment.”

Finally, see “EconSouth Examines How Trucks Move the Economy,” from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.  Trucks transport in excess of two-thirds of America’s goods, and trucking is quite linked to the state of our economy.   Going into the recession, trucking carriers were forced to lower rates and many companies failed.

Now, trucking companies are challenged by shortage of capacity and aging vehicles in addition to elevated energy prices and stringent regulations.   “Unemployment and housing have been very slow to recover, as has construction.  And the health of all these sectors is integral to the health of the trucking industry.”

This report provides a compelling analysis of how trucking moves our economy down the road.

Forks in the road provide alternatives and opportunities.  It is not always obvious which path to take and we cannot predict outcomes with absolute accuracy.  Writes Frost:

“And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black. 

Oh, I marked the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.”

We don’t often get another chance, so make your best choice with the best data at your disposal.

It will make “all the difference.”

LORA BRAY is a research librarian in CUNA's business-to-business publishing department.