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How $1.3 Trillion In Student Debt Broke The "Birth/Death Adjustment" Model

One of the main reasons why the BLS has been massively overestimating job creation ever since great financial crisis, is due to the well-known birth-death adjustment, aka the CES Net Birth/Death Model, which quantitatively is shown on the chart below, has resulted in the "addition" of some 5.3 million jobs, that don't actually exist, but are merely modeled by the BLS which continues to assume the same new business creation/destruction dynamics that existed before the crisis.

 

The is a big problem with this core assumption, which has follow through effects not only for domestic fiscal policy, but also monetary policy (and explains why despite a 5.1% unemployment, there is zero wage growth, thus keeping the Fed pushing the ZIRP accelerator pedal years later), for the simple reason that as of this moment it is dead wrong.

Here is what Gallup CEO, Jim Clifton, wrote several months ago looking at the trends in new business creation and destruction in the US.

We are behind in starting new firms per capita, and this is our single most serious economic problem. Yet it seems like a secret. You never see it mentioned in the media, nor hear from a politician that, for the first time in 35 years, American business deaths now outnumber business births.

 

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the total number of new business startups and business closures per year -- the birth and death rates of American companies -- have crossed for the first time since the measurement began. I am referring to employer businesses, those with one or more employees, the real engines of economic growth. Four hundred thousand new businesses are being born annually nationwide, while 470,000 per year are dying.

As Clifton adds "you may not have seen this graph before" and for good reason: it destroys the most sacred assumptions held by the BLS' cubicled actuaries and various tenured economists locked up in their ivory towers: namely that the number of US business startups outnumbers the number of failures. This is no longer true!

 

Here is what the above chart shows: until 2008, startups outpaced business failures by about 100,000 per year. But in the past six years, that number suddenly turned upside down. There has been an underground earthquake. As you read this, we are at minus 70,000 in terms of business survival. The data are very slow coming out of the U.S. Department of Census, via the Small Business Administration, so it lags real time by two years.

Gallup adds that business startups outpaced business failures by about 100,000 per year until 2008. But in the past six years, that number suddenly reversed, and the net number of U.S. startups versus closures is minus 70,000.

 

So what is causing this historic shift in US business creation.

The are various answers, the most obvious of which is that the US never actually left the 2007 depression, whose effects continue to be papered over, literally, with some $13 trillion in global central bank liquidity, which have made life for the richest 0.1% better than ever at the expense of the middle class. 

But the biggest culprit is also the one which over the past 7 years has become America's latest credit bubble, last check rising to $1.3 trillion in debt: student loans.

This is what Gallup finds when looking at the future of collapsing U.S. new business formation:

... the country can't look to people coming out of college to reverse this trend because too many of them are strapped by student loan debt. Results of the 2015 Gallup-Purdue Index -- a study of more than 30,000 college graduates in the U.S. -- provide a worrisome picture of the relationship between student loan debt and the likelihood of graduates starting their own businesses.

 

Among those who graduated between 2006 and 2015, 63% left college with some amount of student loan debt. Of those, 19% say they have delayed starting a business because of their loan debt. That percentage rises to 25% for graduates who left with more than $25,000 in student loan debt. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 16.9 million bachelor's degrees were conferred in the U.S. over the past 10 years -- a time frame that mirrors Gallup-Purdue Index analysis of recent graduates between 2006 and 2015.

Putting these sad statistics into numbers, Gallup calculates that over 2 million graduates have said they have delayed starting a business because of their student loan debt. If even a quarter of them had done so, we would quickly recoup our average surplus of 120,000 new businesses annually.

It would also mean that the BLS's Birth/Death model would once again be accurate. However, as a result of record student debt, which is increasing at an accelerating pace of over $100 billion per quarter, not only is the birth/death adjustment wrong, but its "contribution" to the total number of jobs should be inverted.

Which, incidentally, would reflect far more accurately the woeful state of the US labor market.

Finally, we know we are spot on right with our assessment that student debt has become the primary culprit holding back the jobs (and businesses) recovery, because two days ago none other than Ben Bernanke said Bthat "student debt no threat to U.S. financial system."

And that is all you need to know why the biggest threat to the US financial system is none other than student debt (after the Federal Reserve itself, of course).