If Washington Got Its Act Together …

If you're not frustrated with gridlock in Washington, raise your hand. OK, that didn't generate much arm movement. But how much is the lack of activity in our nation's capital costing Americans? The San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank tries to provide some answers.

It estimates an unemployment rate 1.3% lower at the end of 2012 if federal fiscal, regulatory and health care policies were more clear. That would translate to about two million more people earning a paycheck. The lower unemployment rate (6.1%) would be just slightly higher than the 20-year average before the Great Recession.

In addition, many current part-time positions would likely be full-time jobs. In July 2013, 8.2 million people were employed part time, nearly twice as many as a decade ago.

Immediate prospects don't look much brighter. Spending authority to keep government operating runs out at the end of the month and the legal limit on borrowing will be hit in mid-October. More short-term deals instead of long-term solutions are expected.

The bottom line from Kiplinger: "The economy will suffer until Washington sends much clearer signals. Growth will continue to pick up, but only slowly. And businesses won't invest big in new hires or new plants and equipment until they can see a brighter tomorrow."

Looking for a Lottery Rebound

Personally, I have nothing against the lottery. In fact, I joined co-workers back in the 1990s in one of those infamous "everybody throw a few dollars in and we’ll all retire early when we hit it big" plans, only to never, ever get close in several years of playing. We really only earned enough once in a while to buy more tickets. But then I guess that’s why they call it a game of chance.

The number of lottery games have seemingly multiplied at a rapid pace since then. But with the Great Recession of the last few years, and certainly a few other factors, far fewer lottery players have been taking their chances.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lottery revenues declined in 25 states in fiscal year 2009. In addition, they were flat in 10 states and increased in only seven. Indiana had the dubious distinction of the biggest drop, with revenues going down 18.1%. Puerto Rico, Oregon and Arizona were the only others with double digit drops.

North Carolina, with a relatively new lottery, saw revenues increase 17.4%. Others on the positive side of the ledger: North Dakota, Iowa, Ohio, Kentucky, Louisiana and Minnesota.

Finally, the seven states that have not authorized lotteries: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

At one point, many in Indiana questioned whether the lottery was a good idea. That was before horse racing, riverboats, racinos and the like. The tax dollars generated by the gaming industry have become an essential part of the state budget. That’s the safest bet one can make.