Posts tagged with: economy

Obama hopes to revive spirits in suffering Indiana community

You think unemployment is high where you live? The odds are good that it’s even worse in Elkhart, Ind.

That’s because the unemployment rate in this Indiana community is nearing 17 percent. That’s a rather frightening figure.

Pres. Barack Obama stopped at Elkhart yesterday to give a speech about the economy and his hopes that things are turning around. He took the bold step of tying his own fate into the fate of this Midwest community, saying that he expects to look back at the end of his first term in office to see that Elkhart has come back from the brink, according to a story reported by ABC News.

It’s a pretty risky move. You can bet Obama’s political opponents will be happy to throw this prediction back in the president’s face in 2012 should the unemployment rate in Elkhart – or the rest of the country — still be sky-high.

Personally, I think it’s a nice gesture by Obama. It’s nice to have a president who actually seems like he gives a damn about folks who aren’t wealthy. Will Obama’s policies work? Will they reduce unemployment and get the U.S. economy back on track? Who knows? But at least Obama’s trying. It didn’t seem like our last president even did that much.

Waiting for unemployment to drop? Don’t hold your breath

The economy won’t truly recover from this recession until unemployment finally begins to fall. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time soon.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner last week said that unemployment in the United States may not peak until the second half of 2010.

For those of you looking for jobs, that means that the competition for available positions will continue to be extremely tough for the foreseeable future.

There are some good signs about the economy right now: Housing sales are slowly, but steadily, increasing again. The stock market has been solid. New housing starts are up. The economy is no longer shrinking as rapidly as it was earlier this year.

Still, until the nation’s unemployment rate begins shrinking any economic recovery won’t feel much like one. It’s hard to feel good about the economy when you’re out of work, or if you fear that you’ll be out of work at any moment.

And that’s the kind of economy we have now.

A mandatory insurance benefits meeting. Not looking forward to this

Everyone at the publishing company at which I works is required to attend a mandatory insurance benefits meeting today. I’m a pessimist, I suppose. Maybe that’s why I have the unsettling feeling that we workers are going to be paying more for our insurance.

I can already hear the pitch: Times are tough. We’re all cutting back. We need everyone to pitch in. We all still have jobs, for that we can be thankful.

It’s all bull, of course. These days, workers are constantly being asked to do more while giving up more. It’s not a workable situation.

I understand that the economy is making life difficult for corporations and small business owners. I do. But I’m getting tired of bearing the brunt of this suffering. I’m sure other workers are, too.

Here’s what I’m dreaming of: the day the economy recovers and companies start hiring again. Then we’ll all get to see companies madly try to keep their employees or attract new ones. It’ll be time for the workers to get a bit of revenge in the form of higher salaries, better benefits and more perks.

The only problem is surviving until we get to that magical time.

Do job retraining programs work?

Whenever we talk about a new economy or creating new high-tech jobs, we tend to focus on job retraining programs. Often funded by the government, these programs take people laid off from shrinking industries — say, auto workers — and retrain them for new careers, often in computer or technology-related fields.

It seems like a good idea. The problem is, no one’s sure if these job retraining programs actually work. No one knows if the people trained at them actually find new careers.

The New York Times ran a story yesterday that looked at the failures of job retraining programs. This is a serious issue, especially considering that Pres. Barack Obama’s stimulus plan sends $1.4 billion more toward these programs.

A study by the Labor Department, cited in the New York Times story, says that the biggest government-sponsored job retraining programs brought either no or little benefit to laid-off workers. The study showed little difference in salaries and the chance to be hired for new jobs between those who had taken retraining and those who had not.

Yes, that is pretty depressing. Imagine all the people who eagerly sign up for these retraining sessions only to discover that they’re little or no help when they’re trying to find a new job. It’s discouraging because we’re supposed to be proactive when we’re fired or laid off. We’re supposed to do everything in our power to find a new job.

And then we discover, unfortunately, that there is actually very little we can do to increase our chances when the economy is this bad. The sad truth is, when the economy tanks, the best way to land a new job is by knowing someone or getting lucky. We don’t like to believe this, but I challenge anyone to tell me that it’s not true.

And what am I doing during the downturn?

I’ve written a lot about how other folks are holding onto their careers — or not — during the economic downturn. But I’ve not shared a whole lot about how the economy is hitting me, and what I’m doing about it.

So here’s a little bit: Before the recession, I specialized in writing about residential real estate. I wrote for several newspapers and trade magazines about this topic. It was great during the housing boom. I never lacked for markets for my stories. But now that the housing industry is in the toilet? All those markets have disappeared.

So, I’m branching out. I’m doing more ghost blogging, writing for blogging networks, Web site writing and content writing. It’s a lot of work, and it doesn’t pay nearly as well, but it is keeping me afloat. It allows me to pay my bills without having to get a side job working the night shift at the local 7-11.

I won’t lie, though. I’d love a time machine. I’d love to hope back to 2004 and do things differently. If I had had more foresight, I would have already been branching out from my real estate niche back then. I mean, everyone knew that housing prices were going to fall eventually, right?

But you know what they say about hindsight …

Today I’m working harder for less money. But I do console myself with the fact that I’m working, at least.

How about you out there? How has the economy impacted your career?

The need to adapt

Work has become a drag for me. I’ve always loved the fact that I support my family, and pay a home mortgage, simply by writing.

There aren’t many people out there who love their work.

Problem is, I’m not loving the freelance-writing life quite as much these days. It’s the economy, of course, and the fact that it’s killing off my print-magazine clients at a dizzying pace.

These are terrible times for publishers. This means, of course, that it’s a terrible time to be a freelance writer, too.

Last week was a particularly tough one. My strongest print-magazine client, my highest-paying one, too, informed me that they’d be assigning me significantly fewer stories throughout the rest of the year. This was tough to take, and it was partially my fault: I committed one of the top sins of freelance writing. I became too dependant on one particular publisher.

I will survive, though. Yes, this is the toughest writing market I’ve ever faced. But I will get through it.

I’m trying to adapt. I’m writing more online stuff than I’ve ever done before. Most of it doesn’t pay well, but, I have to admit, it sure is easier to write for a blog or a content mill than it is to spend weeks researching, conducting interviews and planning site visits for a story in the Washington Post or Phoenix Magazine.

Adapting is key to today’s working world, and not just for freelance writers. We all have to adapt.

Yes, it’s awful. Yes, it’s not any fun. But … it is necessary.

The amazing shrinking economy

It’s official: We are suffering through the worst recession in at least 50 years.

Feel better? I don’t.

According to this story by Bloomberg, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product fell at a 6.1 percent annual rate in the first quarter. That was even worse than originally forecast, and it follows a 6.3 drop in the final three months of 2008.

To make things even gloomier, the Bloomberg story quotes Richard Berner, the chief economist at Morgan Stanley in New York City, as saying that the country will rebound from the recession very slowly, and that the recovery will be a weak one. Way to cheer everyone up, Berner!

Of course, most people don’t need the Commerce Department to tell them that this is one bad recession. They only have to look at their dwindling paychecks, their soon-to-end unemployment benefits or the bills they’re struggling to pay.

More proof that the economy’s in the toilet: Selling hot dogs considered a viable career path

Do you like hot dogs? Are you out of work? Then you may be in luck.

A story in the Wall Street Journal says that a growing number of the unemployed are running their own hot dog carts to make up for their lost incomes.

The operator of a hot-dog-cart business says that sales of all his models are on the upswing. Hot dog carts retail for about $2,000 and up, according to the Wall Street Journal story. This businessman says he’s sold about 25 hot dog carts a week since January. That, he says, is about 15 more a week than usual.

Next time someone tells you that every business is struggling during this recession, point them to the hot-dog-cart industry. I can see it now: a thriving hot dog cart on every block.

I like hot dogs as much as the next guy — maybe even more than the next guy. But this story strikes me as particularly depressing. It’s bad enough that we’re relying on Walgreens now for more of our health-care needs. Now we have to trade in relish, ketchup and mustard to bring in extra income? As if U.S. residents aren’t fat enough already.

Economic woes causing us to lose our minds

There are certain studies that seem really unnecessary. A recent Gallup-Healthways poll showing that U.S. residents have become more stressed as the economy worsens fits into this category.

I mean, of course we’re more stressed now. Of course our mental health is on the fritz. We’re all worried about losing our stupid jobs!

The USA Today, the paper that you read when it shows up outside your hotel room door, ran a story on the survey, saying that stress levels shot up throughout 2008. According to the story, the 10 saddest days of the year all came in the final quarter, as the economic news worsened.

It doesn’t say which days actually were the least-happiest. For me, though, it was the three when I trudged outside my Chicago home in below-zero weather to find that my car wouldn’t start. Twice this happened after I’d already scraped a coat of ice off my car’s windows. Those days, I suppose, would rank as extra-sad.

I don’t doubt the health survey’s results. But I’m not sure we need a survey to tell us that U.S. residents are worried about the economy and their emlpoyment options. Unemployment levels are soaring. Salaries are not. And 401(k) totals are disappearing.

What’s not to be stressed about?