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A BOOM FOR SOME, A SQUEEZE FOR OTHERS

Published Apr. 26, 2007

So ... whose economy is it?

The Boom Economy. The Dow roared Friday, rising more than 153 points and leaving us tantalizingly close (38.02 points) below 13,000. Corporate earnings are big, investors bullish.

Chalk one up for the stock crowd.

The Squeezed Economy. The five states with the most foreclosure filings in March - California, Florida, Texas, Michigan and Ohio - accounted for 50 percent of the nation's total.

Chalk one up for folks who cannot afford to hold on to their homes.

Lately, I've been getting more e-mails from two very distinct camps. The Haves - or at least those expecting a piece of the pie - are annoyed that I'm too negative, too focused on petty bad news and too pigheaded to celebrate a record stock market, low interest rates, a 3.3 percent state unemployment rate and abundant corporate profits.

The Have-Nots are no less motivated to illuminate me via e-mails or, more often than the Haves, by handwritten letter that I spend too much time writing about CEOs, ignore working Joes and fail to grasp the pain of those struggling to keep their homes with skyrocketing property insurance rates, low wage scales and a credit card bill that just refuses to shrink.

Boom or Squeezed? Whose economy is it?

This is not a new tale of two economies. It's just more stark these days. If you have money to invest in the stock market, chances are you're making money. If you own a home and can absorb the rising expenses of insurance, taxes and gas, then you're probably feeling pretty positive with the economy.

If you're working one or more jobs and pulling in, say, $35,000 or less while trying to cover a mortgage or monthly rent plus family expenses and $2.99 gas, then things don't look so bright.

The state of our economy got about a B-minus today in a survey of 107 economists issued by the National Association of Business Economists. Some revealing snippets:

- The survey asked for the first time whether respondents expected mortgage defaults to affect their business in the next six months. More than a third (38 percent) said they did.

- Economists showed less optimism about job growth in their companies over the next six months than they had in at least two years.

- Employment growth among those surveyed sagged in the first quarter. The percentage of firms that added workers, on balance, was the lowest in three years.

- Some 35 percent of surveyed economists cited a shortage of skilled labor in April, unchanged from January but below the year-earlier reading of 40 percent. Just 6 percent indicated a scarcity of unskilled labor.

This is the same wonky group that this year ranked the greatest short-term problems facing the U.S. economy. No. 1 was the threat of terrorism. No. 2 used to be energy prices but it's since been replaced by excessive household and corporate debt, the effect of a rising deficit on the dollar, and a shortage of skilled labor.

Bottom line?

Neither Haves nor Have-Nots (nor those in between) lack for economic gripes. E-mail me. Tell me if it's Boom or Squeezed.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8405.