Monday, October 08, 2012

Get the Lead Out Update

by Bill McBride on 10/08/2012 09:26:00 PM

Tuesday: Nixon goes to China (uh, Merkel goes to Greece). There are no US economic data releases scheduled on Tuesday.

Last year I wrote Labor Force Participation Rate: The Kids are Alright. I linked to some data on the impact of the phase out of lead in gasoline and paint, and how this could be leading to more enrollment in school. Of course higher school enrollment is the mirror image of a falling participation rate for young people (see graph below).

From Brad Plumer at the WaPo: Study: Getting rid of lead does wonders for school performance

Over the past 50 years, after scientists realized that even minute doses of lead can have harmful effects, policymakers have been steadily pushing to eradicate the stuff from the environment. In the United States, no one uses lead-based paint or fills up their cars with leaded gasoline anymore—those were phased out back in the 1970s and 1980s. Lead levels in the air have dropped 92 percent since then.

By most accounts, this was a savvy investment. There’s ample evidence that lead exposure is extremely damaging for young children. Kids with higher lead levels in their blood tend to act more aggressively and perform more poorly in school. Economists have pegged the value of the leaded gasoline phase-out in the billions or even trillions of dollars. Some criminologists have even argued that the crackdown on lead was a major reason why U.S. crime rates plunged so sharply during the 1990s.
School Enrollment 18 to 19 yearsClick on graph for larger image.

This graph uses data from the BLS on participation rate (through September), and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES through 2010) on enrollment rates.

This graph shows the participation and enrollment rates for the 18 to 19 year old age group. These two lines are a "mirror image".

If reducing lead exposure is the reason for the higher enrollment rate - and lower participation rate - that would be a great success! In the long run, more education is a positive for the economy (although I am concerned about the surge in student loans).

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