Jobs, houses, and savings…these are the three most important things that take a hit in a recession.
Homeowners know all too well that the value of their major investment is crippled, and in many parts of the country the drop is deepening. Have you heard the term negative equity? That’s what happens when you end up owing more than the house is worth. This is the situation in which many homeowners found themselves after the ‘housing bubble’ burst in 2005-06, and this is a (or possibly, the) major cause of the larger economic problems.
Savings are taking a similarly severe hit, whether it’s a pension plan, retirement account, or any other sort of savings investment. While a few influential individuals are doing quite well due to the stimulus package and TARP funds, the vast majority of us are seeing a leak in the container that holds what little money we’ve managed to put aside. It doesn’t help matters that the majority of investments are handled in one way or another by the selfsame banks allied to the savings and loan industry. Not matter if you are a white collar, blue collar, or freelancer, times are financially tight.
I saw an article online about a manufacturing company who in order to save money moved from ordering their janitorial supplies from a local company to ordering online. Their procurement officer said he would search online for the best prices on janitorial supplies each month before placing an order. Once he found a e commerce site called CleanItSupplies, who really did offer the best deals on everything from trash cans, floor cleaning products, trash bags, paper towels and toilet paper, sanitary napkin disposal dispensers, to even office supplies, he no longer had to scramble each month. That was a positive recession story. However, for every story of people successfully handling the recession, there are hundreds of depressing ones.
A recent news article about a sale of handmade humidors, no less, by a artisan cabinet maker drew my attention. You can buy cigar humidor boxes at both online and land based stores. But this guy crafted beautiful humidors from walnut burl, Texas Mesquite, and other exotic woods for wealthy cigar aficionados who need to maintain the freshness of their expensive cigars. All the humidors were lined with Spanish cedar which absorbs and re-emits moisture in a way that helps the tobaccos that are blended into a fine cigar to age and mature. This was pretty esoteric craftsmanship for a niche market. But apparently even the wealthy were feeling the pinch, since some of his commissioned cigar humidors were being sold when the original purchasers couldn’t or decided not to pay the final balances due! I felt bad for this Texas artist, screwed by the wealthy.
Likewise small towns and their inhabitants are struggling. There is no doubt about that. I saw a recent news article in a mid-western paper about the parents of the local elementary school who held a raffle and silent auction to raise money for school supplies for their kids. They created a number of gift baskets with donations as well as gift certificates from the local stores. Since they were a farming town they also added fresh vegetable and fruit from their own gardens to a number of the gift baskets. Then a group of the parents drove to a large Saturday craft market where they set up their gift basket raffle and silent auction. Visitors to the craft market flocked to their booth since the gift baskets were really impressive looking. Their largest gift basket they raffled off while the other gift baskets were included in the silent auction. At 1:00 in the afternoon the winners of the gift basket silent auction were announced. And shortly there after the raffle winner was announced. These enterprising parents were very successful and raised enough money so the school as able to supply all the necessary school supplies and books for the year. The parents were planning a second gift basket fundraising event in the late spring to ensure there would be additional monies for the following school year. It is this type of small initiatives that will help some people weather this recession.
The third factor that must be considered is jobs. Fewer people are working, and the number also keeps getting higher. So that’s fewer people able to pay into their increasingly worthless homes and savings. Every so often we hear about ‘indications’ that the trend is slowing down or reversing, but pretty much everyone agrees that this will only happen when we’ve hit bottom. Which means, of course, that we can look forward to things being either worse, as bad as they can get, or (in the best case) only as bad as they’ve been.
Luckily, even the repo companies and local governments are falling on hard times, so there just isn’t enough people to force the newly poor out of their homes…and into prisons, shelters, or the grave (all three of which are, of course, bad economic positions…).