The Economy. Jobs. Housing. Help?

This is the final post I wrote at workingmother.com.

Jan. 25, 2012–It’s the day after President Obama’s State of the Union speech. The pundits had their say. The Republicans in Congress and the candidates have had theirs. And today the Federal Reserve chimed in acknowledging that theeconomy is expanding “moderately” and because of that interest rates will remain near zero through 2014. The use of the modifier “moderately” sounded like the most generous word the Fed could come up with. By pushing the date of possibly upping interest rates all the back to 2014 it signals the Fed thinks moderate growth is the best the economy will do for the next two years.

Just a reminder, the current recession began in 2008. (Yes, there’s that word “recession.”  Are we still in one or is this just the long tail of the recession that started with a major downturn which has not exactly ticked back up?)
Somehow, Wall Street was pleased that the interest rates are still low. But, Wall Street may have been just as happy if the Fed said rates were going up because the the economy is expanding grotesquely. Seems Wall Street makes money either way. Instead, the Fed tempered its remarks by reminding the world there is still “slowing in global growth,” the unemployment rate is still high, some household spending has expanded (I guess we can’t hold our breaths forever) but businesses are not spending.  So each little up seems to be tempered by an equal down.
If you are reading this at your desk, in bed or at your kitchen table, you may be rolling your eyes at the mention of the Federal Reserve Bank.  But when the Fed says it will keep interest rates near zero through 2014 be prepared to expect that our economy is not getting better anytime soon.  It just confirms what we already know. You can see it by looking around your neighborhood. How many of your neighbors are still on the job hunt or are under-employed, not doing what they are cut out to do, or not earning what they once earned?  Is your town, county or state laying off again, laying off the people who make your community: teachers and school staffs, uniformed professionals, service workers and others? Does one of them live in your house? Are “For Sale” signs still going up with very few coming down?
Readers on the Working Mother Facebook page were asked what they thought were the nation’s most pressing problems. The answers were: jobs, the economy, housing, along with with two other issues affected by the economy: health care and education. How could their answers be anything else?

Each one of us is trying to be responsible at home with our money but we wonder what the next month or year will bring when we see our incomes shrinking by the lack of raises or job prospects, our savings shriveling, our daily expenses continuing to rise because of higher costs of fuel, food, health care and imports. Everything touches the bottom line. Whether you are a new immigrant or a long-time resident, whether a young urban mom or an older sandwich generation mom or whether you are an executive at the top, you are touched somehow by this, someone you know is struggling as much or more than you are.
While the Fed statement was to offer stability by saying, in effect, “Don’t worry, money will be cheap for a year longer” it instead makes us wonder how we will hang on and keep our families and communities afloat.  And where is the next crisis lurking?

I watched Moyers & Company on PBS with clips from Congressional hearings where Amanda Gruebel, a 32-year-old working mom with a master’s degree, who is the school district family resource director for her town in Iowa testified last summer at a Senate hearing. She told how her family was struggling under the weight of school loans, a mortgage, salary cutbacks and cost of living going up. She also talked about others in her district. Her tale and theirs is all too familiar.

The Senate video clips were part of a larger Moyers’ report focusing on the book Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.
The authors argue this current climate is 30 years in the making by Washington deal-making from the White House through the halls of Congress which has tilted the brass ring in one direction, away from the working middle class.  It was a fascinating discussion between commentator Bill Moyers, a self-described up-by-his-bootstraps journalist, and the two political scientists who wrote the book, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. They painted an ugly picture of a continuous series of Wall Street and government handshakes that changed how our country operates.
So are the cards stacked against us? Will the election of 2012 change our fortunes? Will one setback change how your family lives? What do you think?

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