Friday, September 24, 2010

Signs that the economy is bad, September 24, 2010 edition

Welcome once more to another edition of the semi-popular (to my three readers), semi-regular (when I feel like doing it or have the time to do it) series "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is where I scour the world in search for those oh so subtle signs that the economy is bad. Sure, the government and economists can tell you the big signs. But what do they know? A bunch of economists just recently decided that the recession ended. Apparently someone forgot to tell the rest of us who are still broke and trying to make ends meet. And they certainly did not tell the people in our stories for this week:

  • In Mexico, senior citizens who had professional careers have to drive taxis to make ends meet. According to the article from The Christian Science Monitor, " in Mexico City, taxis can be a last grasp at economic life for experienced professionals who have fallen victim to rampant age discrimination and recent economic crises." By the way, this is not just seniors however. The article further states that "workers as young as 35 are shut out of interviews by employers seeking younger, cheaper labor, says Ricardo Bucio, president of Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred)." Ageism is alive and well in Mexico. Actually, it is alive and well here in the U.S, but it tends to be more subtle, along the lines of "we found a candidate whose experience matches the job description better" or some other generic line.
  • Children's allowances are just not the same anymore. According to Reuters, "British children's weekly pocket money has fallen to a seven-year low, in a sign parents are still cutting back on non-essential spending. . . ." That's right, giving little Susie some pocket money is not considered essential. I wonder if there is a similar situation here in the U.S. for children's allowances. Stay tuned, I will keep an eye out for any reports.
  • Community college partners with a beauty products company to open a cosmetology program. See story details at Inside Higher Ed. here.  I have made jokes before and pointed to other, more commercial ways for colleges and educators to raise revenue such as advertising for burrito joints, selling advertising space in classes, and other ways. So, is opening a beauty school and getting a beauty products company to pony up for supplies and equipment really that far fetched? I am thinking that the future of higher education may well get more commercialized. Whether that is good or not is a matter of debate. 
  • And if you want to work for the government, whether in government or as a contractor, things may get tougher. It turns out that if you have a foreclosure or debt in your personal history, you may be denied a security clearance. ProPublica cites a study, which says, "Since the collapse of the housing market in 2008, debt resulting from job losses and home foreclosures have had a devastating effect on people holding national security clearances. That, more than any other factor today, is causing the revocation or denial of security clearances, resulting in the loss of good paying jobs, and putting skilled workers further and further behind in their effort to dig out of debt." So it is a classic Catch-22: you may lose a good job because you are in debt, but without that good job you can't get out of debt or make your mortgage.  
  • Many places have in place assistance for low income people who may need help paying their utilities. Here is the link for information in Texas.  These programs are usually designed to help people maintain things like heat in winter or A/C in the summer (especially crucial here in Texas). You know that things are going down shit's creek when the Queen of England not only asks for assistance with her utilities, but she wants the money to come from the same fund used for the poor. Apparently a 15 million pounds stipend to upkeep the palaces is not enough. (Via AFP). 
That's it for this week's edition of "Signs that the economy is bad." Tune in soon for our next installment, because it does matter what some fancy economists say. The economy is still bad and getting worse. The problem is people can't always tell, and that is where I come in. To help educate and show my three readers the real clues that the economy is bad.

        Friday, September 17, 2010

        Signs that the economy is bad, September 17 edition

        Ah, here we go again. Welcome to another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is where we scour the net for those oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, there is rampant unemployment, and the government is fighting itself on giving tax breaks to the rich people who don't need it. But we look for the signs no one else looks for.

        • I was honestly wondering when this was going to happen. I knew that sooner or later Americans would start leaving Starbucks and its overpriced coffee ilk to start brewing at home. However, the truth is not as easy as that. It seems that what is winning, according to Newsweek, is those single cup coffees (the ones you buy packages to brew a single serving). So in a way, Americans still have not learned that you get more coffee for your buck if you buy in bulk rather than individual servings. I guess the snobbery will be around a bit longer, but I am willing to bet if things keep getting worse, even the single serving folk will capitulate. Any thoughts out there? 
        • You know things are bad when there is no money to maintain roads and highways. However, you know things have to be bad when the government just says they are not putting any rest stops or service centers along the way. That is exactly what the Irish are doing, according to Reuters.  According to the article, "the government body in charge of roads has begun erecting signs warning drivers not to expect any rest stops along a network that stretches from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic." So, just don't get thirsty, and please, if you have to pee, you  have to hold it in. 
        • We all know that the airlines are on the skids and looking for any scheme to bleed more money out of the customers they abuse. However, you know things have to be bad when some think that a seat resembling a saddle is a good idea.  The story comes from The Los Angeles Times. And here I thought that the seats they have now resembled medieval torture devices.

          Thursday, September 16, 2010

          Booknote: The Big Squeeze

          This is one of those books that I feel a need to share with people. It needs to be read by more people. I am first including the review as I posted it on my GoodReads profile, then some additional notes.

          The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American WorkerThe Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker by Steven Greenhouse

          My rating: 2 of 5 stars

          I only rated this two stars, but it is not because it is a "bad" book. The rating is because this is an extremely depressing book. If you are a worker, you already know how bad you have it (unless you are one of those jingoistic workers who vote for right wingers even when it is against your interests). Greenhouse does two main things in this book. One, he has put together an extensive collection of stories from workers who have been exploited and screwed by their companies. And I do not mean just being stingy in terms of salaries. From spying on workers to not paying for medical claims for injuries sustained at work to outright sexual harassment, workers have faced it all. Two, Greenhouse gives a pretty good history lesson on how the United States got to the point where employers pretty much can get away with exploiting their workers.

          The book is very prophetic if nothing else. This book was written just as Obama was elected, and a lot of what the author predicts or envisions in the book has come to pass. In some cases, things have in fact gotten worse since the book's publication. I found it particularly foreboding when he asks what would happen if a presidential candidate proposed something like universal health care, which certainly would go a long way to solve many of our issues. Well, we already know what happened: the new president proposed it, then he watered it down to almost nothing in order to appease an opposition party bent on obstruction and which just favors the wealthy. In other words, the guy folded like a cheap suit, to borrow the cliche.

          If you are somewhat informed, you probably have heard many of the stories in this book, like some of the lawsuits Wal-Mart has faced. Greenhouse does not just pick on Wal-Mart (even though the company does get one whole chapter), but he looks at a lot of other miscreants from Big Box companies to small convenience stores and predatory Rent-to-own scheme stores, call centers, so on. The book does include extensive end notes for those who want to verify some of what they are reading.

          This is a book that more people should be reading. It should specially serve as an eye-opener to workers. Sadly, those workers are probably too worried trying to barely make a living to read it. We know employers pretty much won't read it, and if they do, they will probably not give a hoot. Now don't get me wrong. Greenhouse does highlight a few decent employers, but it is clear that those are few and far in between. And to those who may say that I have it for employers, think about this for a moment. Look at the current economic mess that bankers and Wall Street got us into combined with the fact that wages have been not only stagnant but decreasing (a lot of it due also to Wall Street pressures). Now, the economy relies on people spending. They can't spend if they do not have the money, and they won't have the money if you do not pay them for their work. There was an interesting quote in the book (I think I put it in one of the GR updates here) from Wal-Mart's current CEO, who apparently is a big GOP PAC donor, actually complaining that the Republican tax cuts under Bush went to the rich. Just think about that for a moment.

          Overall, this is a necessary expose that needs to be read, even if it is painful and depressing at times.

          Similar books: Off the top of my head, I would recommend Big Box Swindle, which I have read and reviewed here. It may be a bit more easy to read, and it looks at another side of the issues Greenhouse discusses. Another one may be Deer Hunting with Jesus which may help explain why is workers often vote against their interests for people more interested in giving tax breaks to the rich (nothing against the rich. You make your money legally and honestly, cool. You want tax breaks you do not need at the expense of the rest of society, that is wrong).

          View all my reviews

          Additional notes: This is a direct link to the status updates from GoodReads as I was reading. I made some notes and jotted down some quotes that interested me.