Sunday, April 5, 2009

All Aboard

On television, 14 busses per day are reported leaving Winston-Salem, N.C., destination Mexico. They are all full. Busloads of construction workers, dishwashers, landscapers, chicken-pluckers. Maybe this is happening in other parts of the country as well, but something about Winston-Salem will always occupy a special place in my heart and lungs.

Business is bad all over. Gone are the free-spending days. Anybody who has any money holds on to it tightly. Home-grown tomatoes expects a boom. U.S. News and World Report cites research by Atlee Burpee, the world's biggest seed company, that “$50 of seeds and fertilizer can yield $1,250 worth of produce.” Starbucks is leaking profits, down 69 percent in the fourth quarter of last year. Meanwhile, home coffee makers are selling faster than they can be shipped; Mr. Coffee is up five percent from last year. Other stay-at-home pleasures thrive during hard times. Netflix subscribers increased 26 percent. Harlequin publishers sold $3-million more romances, and the Borders book chain says science fiction, fantasy, and humor were up. Rounding out a list of businesses doing well these days were sales of chocolate candy and condoms.

Of course, demand is high for businesses such as employment counseling and resume writing. Nielsen Online reports traffic to job sites increased 20 percent in January 2009 from the year before. The March unemployment rate rose to 8.5 percent, the highest in 25 years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Unemployment increased from February’s 8.1 percent. Some 663,000 additional jobs were cut from payrolls in March, the fifth straight month with job losses of 600,000 or more. Since the recession began in December 2007, a total of 5.1 million jobs have vanished. The last time U.S. unemployment was as high as 8.5 percent was in November 1983 when the economy was recovering from a recession in the early 1980s. Ronald Reagan was President. During that downturn, unemployment rose as high as 10.8 percent in November and December 1982.

U.S. Department of Labor unemployment statistics are based on applications for payment of unemployment benefits. Not included are those who do not apply or are ineligible for benefits, those who have put together two part-time jobs to replace lost full-time income, those who have given up and stopped looking for work, or those who have been out of the work force for a long period of time. President Obama recently fired the head of General Motors. I do not think the failed automobile executive will be counted in the statistics, even if he does not immediately find a new job or try to look for one. I suspect his golden parachute will provide him a plenty soft enough landing.

In America, at least you know you are free to believe anything you want. If you do not have a job, there is only one thing to believe.

Copyright 2009 by William C. Cotter

1 comment:

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