Halfway through the year and month after month of gray numbers — stubborn high unemployment, rising foreclosures and sinking home values, rising budget deficits and shrinking trade deficits — it’s time for a new statistical measure.
So, for the first time (and probably the last) your sidewalk economist introduces the take-a-break, pyrotechnic MinnPost Fourth of July Index (MP4JI), which indicates that Minnesotans — and the nation as a whole — are ready to celebrate the holiday in grand old style.
Holiday food and drink
According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, over the Fourth of July weekend — the biggest dog-downing weekend of the year — we’ll collectively consume more than 155 million hot dogs, enough to stretch from D.C. to L.A. more than five times. A total of 7 billion dogs will be eaten between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Council estimates.
By the way, an estimated 21 million of them will be sold at Major League ballparks this season. Locally, the biggest hot dog news, of course, has been the exit of the Dome Dog, replaced at Target Field by the Original Twins Dog from Cargill-owned Schwiegert Meats.
More than a few Minnesotans wash down those dogs with beer. Last year, the state ranked 32nd in the nation with Minnesotan adults consuming more than 29 gallons of beer per capita, slightly behind the national average of 29.5 gallons and well behind our beer-loving neighbors in North Dakota (No. 3, 42.3 gallons) and Wisconsin (No. 6, 37.6 gallons).
All three states have moderated their beer consumption slightly in recent years, as has the nation as a whole, according to The Beer Institute.
While on food indicators, let’s look at strawberries: The Fourth of July is prime season, and 90 Minnesota farms grow and sell strawberries, many of them allowing consumers to “pick your own,” according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Although strawberries remain the favorite, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries are all showing double-digit growth nationwide this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Strawberry Commission.
Hitting the road
Tourism is an $11 billion industry for Minnesota, split about half and half between visitors from within the state and outside tourists, according to Joan Hummel, spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Tourism. The industry employs about 238,000 Minnesotans, down about 4 percent from May 2009.
The larger segment in the industry — food and accommodations — employs more than 204,000, down about 2.4 percent from a year ago. The smaller segment — arts, recreation and gaming — employs 34,000, but it has suffered a nearly 13 percent decline in employment, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
AAA projects that 34.9 million people nationwide will travel 50 miles or more over the holiday, a 17.1 percent increase over last year. The Upper Midwest region (Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota) is expected to see an even greater increase, 19.3 percent, according to Jennifer Brownlee of AAA Minneapolis.
More Minnesotans, however are acting more on the spur of the moment and not staying as long as in the past, according to Gretchen Ennis, tourism director for the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. She noted that several resorts are reporting vacancies for this weekend, which tends to be the busiest of the year.
In years past, many families would stay a week and then make a reservation for the next year at the end of their stay. Now, she said, it’s not uncommon for people to drop in to the visitors center on a Friday afternoon to see what’s availed in the area and then just stay for a few days.
Of course, if you’re looking for a patriotic-themed road trip this Fourth of July, you might check out any of these: Norwood Young America in Carver County, Freedom Township in Waseca County, Liberty Township in Beltrami County or Independence in Hennepin County.
Of course, there are lots of fireworks displays across the state (find one here), although some communities have dropped their traditional celebrations here and across the nation because of tight budgets.
Minnesotans can enjoy backyard fireworks within guidelines (PDF) outlined by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Fireworks sales nationwide have continued to grow slowly to $945 million last year, though overall consumption is down to about 213 million pounds. The American Pyrotechnic Association is quick to note that injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks used are also down in recent years, although about 7,000 injuries were reported in 2008.