Monday, November 16, 2009

I want to live in AMERICA!

It's unreal:

Report: More Americans going hungry
By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 16, 2009 3:14 PM

The number of Americans who lack dependable access to adequate food shot up last year to 49 million, the largest number since the government has been keeping track, according to a federal report released Monday that shows particularly steep increases in food scarcity among families with children.

In 2008, the report found, nearly 17 million children -- more than one in five across the United States -- were living in households in which food at times ran short, up from slightly more than 12 million youngsters the year before. And the number of children who sometimes were outright hungry rose from nearly 700,000 to almost 1.1 million.

Among people of all ages, nearly 15 percent last year did not consistently have adequate food, compared with about 11 percent in 2007, the greatest deterioration in access to food during a single year in the history of the report.

Taken together, the findings provide the latest glimpse into the toll that the weak economy has taken on the well-being of the nation's residents. The findings are from a snapshot of food in America that the U.S. Agriculture Department has issued every year since 1995, based on Census Bureau surveys. It documents both Americans who are scrounging for adequate food -- people living with some amount of "food insecurity" in the lexicon of experts -- and those whose food shortages are so severe that they are hungry.

"These numbers are a wake-up call . . . for us to get very serious about food security and hunger, about nutrition and food safety in this country," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a briefing of reporters.

The report released Monday is the first produced during the tenure of President Obama, who pledged during his campaign for the White House last year to eliminate hunger among children by 2015, a goal that no previous president has set. The administration has not produced a full-fledged plan to meet that objective, but White House and Agriculture officials said in recent interviews that they are developing policies. Among the first is a decision to use $85 million freed up by Congress as part of a recent appropriations bill to experiment with ways to get food to more children during the summer, when subsidized school breakfasts and lunches are unavailable.

Vilsack attributed the marked worsening in Americans' access to food primarily to the rise in unemployment, which now exceeds 10 percent, and in people who are underemployed. "It's no secret. Poverty, unemployment, these are all factors," he said. Vilsack acknowledged that "there could be additional increases" in the 2009 figures, due out a year from now, although he said it is not yet clear how much the problem might be eased by the measures the administration and Congress have taken this year to stimulate the economy.

The report's main author at USDA, Mark Nord, noted that other recent research by the agency has found that most families in which food is scarce contain at least one adult with a full-time job, suggesting that the problem lies at least partly in wages, not just an absence of work.

The government's next significant forum for debating how to improve access to food is likely to come next year, when Congress is scheduled to renew the country's main law covering food and nutrition for children. In the meantime, the White House has been convening frequent meetings with officials from several federal departments -- including Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, in addition to Agriculture -- that deal with youngsters' well-being.

The report suggests that the main federal programs intended to help people struggling to get adequate food are only partly fulfilling their purpose. Just more than half of the people surveyed who reported they had food shortages said that they had, in the previous month, participated in one of the government's largest anti-hunger and nutrition programs: food stamps, subsidized school lunches or WIC, the nutrition program for women with babies or young children.

Last year, people in 4.8 million households used private food pantries, compared with 3.9 million in 2007, while people in about 625,000 households resorted to soup kitchens, nearly 90,000 more than the year before.

Food shortages, the report shows, are particularly pronounced among women raising children alone. Last year, more than one in three single mothers reported that they struggled for food and more than one in seven said someone in their home had been hungry -- far eclipsing the food problem in any other kind of household. The report also found that people who are black or Hispanic were more than twice as likely as whites to report that food in their home was scarce.

Poverty and food shortages are linked but are not the same thing, according to the report. Just half the households in which food is scarce have incomes at or below the official poverty level, the data show, while most of the rest live at less than twice the poverty level.

Around the Washington area, the extent of food shortages varies significantly. In the District, an average of 13.7 percent of households between 2006 and 2008 have had at least some problems getting enough food, although the problem in the District is not as severe as it was from a three-year period a decade earlier, according to the report. In Virginia, the prevalence of food shortages also has fallen in the past year to less than 9 percent. In Maryland, the problem has grown slightly worse, increasing to an average of 9.6 percent the past three years from 8.7 percent a decade before.

Overall, the data show that people who do not consistently have enough food experience the problem repeatedly, but not all the time. On average, households with such scarcity had the problem seven months out of the year, while about one-fourth said the problem occurred almost every month.

In the survey used to measure food shortages, people were considered to have food insecurity if they said that answered "yes" to several of a series of questions. Among the questions were whether, in the past year, their food sometimes ran out before they had money to buy more, whether they could not afford to eat nutritionally balanced meals, and whether adults in the family sometimes cut the size of their meals -- or skipped them -- because they lacked enough money for food. The report defined the degree of their food insecurity by the number of the questions to which they answered yes.

The next time I get the "America is the greatest country in the world" line from somebody I am going to smack them.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Income evaporation

This is a pretty incredible chart. I wonder if there is anything comparable? I wonder who was president over this course of time and what party controlled congress for the bulk of the time? Hmm... I wonder...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stores Go Dark Where Buyers Once Roamed

New article in the NY Times today, "Stores Go Dark Where Buyers Once Roamed". To think when I started this blog (not that I have kept it up like I wanted to) there was still a discussion as to whether there would really be a recession or not. I have heard the word "crisis" used in other countries - but this is the first time I recall seeing it used in the U.S.

"It's a crisis,"

Yeah - you bet. We are in a recession/near depression - yet Goldman Sachs just had a blowout quarter. Funny how that can happen...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Record Credit Card Charge-offs

From the incomparable blog Calculated Risk via Reuters, this story about credit card charge offs:

The U.S. monthly credit card chargeoff rate surpassed 10 percent and hit a sixth straight record high in May, Moody's Investors Services said on Wednesday ...

The chargeoff rate index -- which measures credit card loans the banks do not expect to be repaid -- rose to 10.62 percent in May from 9.97 percent in April.

"We expect the chargeoff rate index to continue to rise in the coming months but at a slower pace, as it peaks at around 12 percent in the second quarter of 2010," Moody's senior vice president William Black said in a statement.

My question is about the psychological extension of this story - when do you start looking around a room with 10 people in it, and say to yourself "one of these people isn't paying their credit card bill, why should I?". I think if things fall too far apart, there is a tipping point where moral hazard (for the individual - the corporate moral hazard is gone) goes by the wayside. The stock market run from March to the last few days doesn't mean anything, nor does any financial news propaganda - things are terrible. And they are getting worse. The unemployment levels are horrific and growing. Their is no end in sight yet.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

General Growth Properties Files for Bankruptcy

This is pretty big news, and the story is across many levels - consumer spending, commercial real estate, mortgages, etc:

General Growth Properties, one of the largest mall operators in the nation, filed for bankruptcy early Thursday morning in one of the biggest commercial real estate collapses in United States history.

Despite bargaining for months with its creditors, General Growth faced increasing pressure to handle its more than $25 billion in debt, largely in the form of short-term mortgages that will come due by next year. The company has been severely wounded by the recession, which has wreaked havoc upon the retailers who inhabit its more than 200 malls in 44 states. Many stores have shuttered, depriving mall operators like General Growth of revenue.

What fascinates me going forward is what is going to happen to all these eventually abandoned properties. There is so much over capacity in America, so many millions (!) of extra square feet of retail space, that realistically there may never be a need for it. Especially as more and more people shop on-line. The closings/bankruptcies of retailers and whole malls will drive even more people to turn to the web (when consumption picks up). There is such a mess to unwind, it may be the story for the next several generations.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Yeah, we are so screwed

This video from Bill Moyers Journal is pretty amazing

The financial industry brought the economy to its knees, but how did they get away with it? With the nation wondering how to hold the bankers accountable, Bill Moyers sits down with William K. Black, the former senior regulator who cracked down on banks during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. Black offers his analysis of what went wrong and his critique of the bailout.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Time to Raze America?

There are some alarming if not perhaps anecdotal trends and memes shaping up on the American landscape - and I think there is one that will have direct effect on the real landscape - and that is worthless housing (to be followed by worthless retail space). America, and the thousand of communities that make up America, needs a real plan for the future in places like Flint, Michigan and other cities where the homes are crumbling, the economy has crumbled, and there is probably not any good solution other than tearing things down. How we as a nation deal with this challenge will be a real test. Perception and reality -of home, work, community, neighborhood - have to change in America. I hope we as a nation can make it through to the other side.

A couple of examples:

  • Banks Starting to Walk Away on Foreclosures - after being foreclosed on, the bank suspends the sheriff's sale, and now this worthless property is the responsibility of the owner again.

  • Off-the-cuff suggestion prompts discussion on what to do with abandoned neighborhoods in Flint:
    Property abandonment is getting so bad in Flint that some in government are talking about an extreme measure that was once unthinkable -- shutting down portions of the city, officially abandoning them and cutting off police and fire service.

    There are no easy answers to these issues. These people are all going to need help - financial and physical (as in moving, etc.). Unfortunately the "right" is going to cry socialism or Marxism at every chance they get, but if tax dollars are not spent on these issues, then what else is there to do? Abandon your citizens? Fuel despair and poverty until there are starving looters running through the streets? I hope somewhere in the federal, state, and local governments people are working on plans for these issues.

  • Tuesday, February 24, 2009

    Ping Pong

    Stereolab sums it up:

    it's alright 'cos the historical pattern has shown
    how the economical cycle tends to revolve
    in a round of decades three stages stand out in a loop
    a slump and war then peel back to square one and back for more

    bigger slump and bigger wars and a smaller recovery
    huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery

    you see the recovery always comes 'round again
    there's nothing to worry for things will look after themselves
    it's alright recovery always comes 'round again
    there's nothing to worry if things can only get better

    there's only millions that lose their jobs and homes and sometimes accents
    there's only millions that die in their bloody wars, it's alright

    it's only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing
    it's only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing

    it's alright 'cos the historical pattern has shown
    how the economical cycle tends to revolve
    in a round of decades three stages stand out in a loop
    a slump and war then peel back to square one and back for more

    bigger slump and bigger wars and a smaller recovery
    huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery

    don't worry be happy things will get better naturally
    don't worry shut up sit down go with it and be happy

    dum, dum, dum, de dum dum, de duh de duh de dum dum dum... ah ah
    dum, dum, dum, de dum dum, de duh de duh de dum dum dum... ah ah

    Sunday, January 18, 2009


    This is definitely going to be a growing trend - and I hope it will have long lasting benefits for American society as a whole - even if the short term affect is negative to some of the people providing these services:

    A few months ago, as her family’s income fell, Laura French Spada, a real estate agent in Glen Rock, N.J., began dyeing her hair at home and washing the family cars herself. Her husband, Mark, started learning how to do electrical repairs.

    Susan Todoroff, a personal trainer in Ann Arbor, Mich., has begun brewing espressos at home and cutting her hair and cleaning her house herself. And Tamar A. Zaidenweber, a health care market researcher in Astoria, Queens, is spending more time walking her dog instead of taking it to day care each week.

    All of these consumers could praise themselves for their newfound frugality in the midst of an economic downturn. But every step they take toward self-reliance — each shrub they prune themselves, each cupcake they bake from scratch — hurts the people and small businesses that have long provided these services professionally.

    Getting back to doing things for yourself, realizing that every "free" moment isn't about shopping, vacationing, gambling, getting drunk and watching TV, while paying someone else to do the little things in life for you that actually make up real life - I think this is an important step for Americans to take and perhaps a longer term silver lining in this economic disaster.