By Walt Hickey
Have a wonderful weekend! Numlock will be off on Monday in observance of Labor Day: paid subscribers get one of my favorite interviews of the year on Sunday, and free subscribers briefly get a few of the best Sunday editions of the summer unlocked for a few days too. Enjoy the holiday!
Where precisely the boundaries of the American “Midwest” lie has plagued both America’s finest and most mediocre minds for years, but a new survey of Midwesterners illuminated easily the most contentious version of the question: are Buffalo or Pittsburgh in the Midwest? We have ample evidence to determine the general sketches of the border: Yeah, everything from Ohio to Iowa and up to North Dakota is the Midwest. A new survey with over 12,000 responses has found that 40 percent of those who have resided in Buffalo, New York consider that city to be in the Midwest, 35 percent of Pittsburgh residents and 30 percent of Oklahoma City residents think their city is in the Midwest. Louisville, Kentucky rides the line: 51 percent believe it to be in the Midwest. If you’re curious, the Midwest meets the South about an hour and a half south of St. Louis, in Cape Girardeau, where they filmed Gone Girl.
Amazon, which revolutionized online shopping, has increasingly been taking control of the actual delivery of their parcels. At the start of 2017, the U.S. Postal Service delivered about 61 percent of Amazon’s parcels, UPS handled 20.8 percent, and Amazon itself handled 12.8 percent. Today, Amazon and its last-mile carriers deliver 48.4 percent of their packages, compared to 30.9 percent for USPS, and a steady 18.1 percent for UPS. I have just come to the devastating realization that an Amazon Prime Studios representative has, in an attempt to secure sequel rights, been banging down the front door of the Castaway producers for three years.
It was abnormally rainy in California this year, which means that lemons grown in the state have become abnormally large. At first glance, great, good for the lemons. But it turns out this is somehow devastating for Big Lemon, as larger lemons are destined for the juicer and not the grocery store. That means they go for cheaper: $18 per carton of big lemons compared to $30 per carton of normal-sized lemon, because by some accident of capitalism the citrus in the sour mix is incongruously worth less than the citrus in the garnish. Limoneria Co., a large producer of lemons, expects an operating loss of $500,000 to $3,000,000 because their lemons got so big.
Chinese tourists spent $277 billion over 150 million international trips in 2018, about $36 million of which went to the United States. For reasons beyond my understanding, the number of visitors to the U.S. from China has recently taken a serious hit, dropping 8 percent since the start of some trade war in 2017. Though the number of China’s students studying abroad in the U.S. has seen declining growth for the better part of a decade, the number of visitors who are here just for fun actually fell year over year 10 percent in 2018 and about 5 percent in 2019 through June. Outbound travel from China remains up, growing 5.5 percent in 2018.
Emotional Support Animals
The emotional support animal has emerged as one of the more controversial lightning rods in our constant war over the social norms of the sky. On one hand, specific services exist to help any person get their pet authorized as an emotional support animal, credentialing the beasts with the ability to remain in the main cabin, which is for people. On the other hand, the exploitation of this loophole has allowed the much abused American flier to finally get one over on the airlines, subverting draconian fees, if overusing the good intent of the protection. We’re in a pickle. The number of passengers who took an emotional support animal on a U.S. airline rose from 561,144 in 2016 to 888,080 passengers in 2017, despite the number of passengers rising just 3.1 percent. That led to tougher documentation requirements, but still boarding for emotional support animals rose another 14.3 percent in 2018.
Sunday I caught up with my former FiveThirtyEight colleague Jody Avirgan for the Numlock weekend edition about the new season of the 30 for 30 podcast the “The Sterling Affairs.” For one weekend only that interview is free to read, and this Saturday free subscribers can expect an email opening up just a few other favorite subscriber-only Sunday editions for the long weekend.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the annual turnover rate in the restaurant sector was at 81.9 percent from 2015 to 2017, but current industry estimates — in light of low unemployment and reticence for major players to hike wages — put it as high as 150 percent, meaning that a restaurant that has 10 employees needs to hire 15 new ones annually to stem the quits. Turnover in the fast food sector has long been considered an incidental cost of business, but today the industry advocacy group the National Restaurant Association says it’s at $2,000 per employee, though some consultants put it higher. If only there was some way to financially incentivize talented employees to remain with a firm longer, perhaps through an increase in wages? No, it must be the millennials.
An estimated 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted annually, a figure projected to rise to 2.1 billion per year. Agriculture is responsible for 6.4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, so that waste is not only unfortunate, it’s also directly antagonistic to global health. North America produces 650 pounds of food waste per capita, industrialized Asia produces 529 pounds, Europe produces 617 pounds and South and Southeast Asia produces 243. Most interestingly, there’s seriously different sources for each of those numbers: in North America, 58 percent of food loss happens at the consumption stage, compared to 6 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s an over-buying problem. Conversely, sub-Saharan Africa produces 36 percent of its food waste during storage and handling, compared to 6 percent at consumption, which is a logistics problem.
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