Friday, February 06, 2009


Just an Observation

Every once in a while, I drop by a nearby mall on my lunch break just for a change of scene, and sometimes to play with the cool stuff at the Apple store. No good can come of playing with cool stuff at the Apple store, but like a moth to a flame...

Yesterday was particularly demanding, so I made a break for it at lunch.

The mall was by far the quietest I've ever seen. Plenty of parking, nearly empty corridors, ample open seating. I noticed employees draped, bored, over counters, openly complaining of having nothing to do.

I've never seen that before.

The always-crowded eateries had no lines, and plenty of open tables. Even the overpriced-coffee place was almost vacant, which simply doesn't happen. Now it does, apparently. On the way out, I saw panhandlers. I've never seen panhandlers there before, and it was a flippin' cold day.

I've done recessions before. I've done 'economic decline' before, having grown up in Northern Town. I've done 'poor as a church mouse' before, having been a grad student on the East Coast. This is different.

It's faster. And instead of leveling off, it seems to be getting faster as it goes. Every few weeks, it's visibly worse on the ground. It's like they're striking the set.

Statistics are useful, and I swim in them. But there's something about 'crowds and lines' being replaced by 'parking and panhandlers' that's a little unsettling.

I must admit, this has not been my experience. Last time I went into a Starbucks on a weekday, the line literally stretched to the door, and every table was full. I was also just in a mall yesterday (not one with an Apple store, sadly) and while it wasn't "packed" - it was Thursday at noon, after all, most people were working - it was buzzing along surprisingly well. Whenever I go to a mall lately, I find myself thinking, "what recession?"

I've got a toddler and it's cold outside. I spend a lot of time mall walking.

But I live in the greater D.C. area, and people here seem to think they're immune from the recession now that we've elected a Democrat. I hate this line of thinking, and not just because it contributes to the inflation of real estate prices beyond all reason. (Sure, we'll pay half a million dollars for a shack that "needs TLC!" Our jobs are secure!) It's never a good idea to float around in some delusional bubble. We have been lucky here, relatively speaking, but these kinds of economic crises impact *everyone.* And I don't care how solid your job is, driving overly expensive cars and living in overly expensive houses and spending all your free time shopping (and so many people here really, really do) is not a good recession plan. These people are not going to have any idea what to do with themselves when reality does land on their doorsteps.

It's intriguing, if sad, to watch the different reactions people have in troubled times.
It seems true the the DC area is not being hit nearly as hard as most of the country.

Next to that, most of the country will have to go up in flames before it even catches up with the way the Rust Belt was before this mess started.

I don't have a sense that DC folk feel secure because our guy is in the White House though. It's just that the amount of money flowing around here is massive and astonishing. Also, there are a whole bunch of us who can't wait for home prices to drop out of the stratosphere, so we may be able to buy one some day.

I also thank my lucky stars that I went out of work before the rest of the country. Yay for academia getting hit first, I guess... I started a new job in January. And, I feel exactly like I did when I had a reverse commute.
I live in Michigan, so I've been seeing "parking and panhandlers" for quite some time at our local mall. Also, some of our biggest mall stores have gone out of business and left. I work full-time at a CC, and I found out yesterday that my job is safe and sound, thank goodness (I was worried and asked). The other good news is that it is a great time to get good deals. We are having a local guy install some new windows and we're saving about 50% on what it would've cost a couple of years ago.
Interesting how much of this is behavioral/psychological based on perceptions and expectations.

With the exception of repeat jobless claims going up (you extended the length of the benefits . . . duh), most of the economic effects "on the ground" here in Texas are the result of people being told that times are bad.

You know, the whole "Yes I have a job but I'm worried about my neighbor so I have to stop spending money" thang.

So true, so true. We really needed a new vacuuum to replace a 1972 Eureka (!), so we drove to a mall near us in Northern California. The parking lot was empty, Sears was deserted,and finding someone to help us involved a long, long wait--apparently, they've let many employees go. Scary. On an upscale shopping street in Berkeley, there are four empty storefronts in one block. Apparently, even here, no one wants to pay $50 to dress a toddler.
You know, the argument that "most of the economic effects "on the ground"...are the result of people being told that times are bad" (yeah, I know, the comment included "here in
Texas") strikes me as blinkered.

Our economy has lost over 3 million jobs in 13 months, half of that in the last 3 months. Employment in the auto industry is down by 22% in the past year. Even in petroleum refining, employment is down 2.5% in the past month. 4 million more people were reported as unemployed in January 2009 than in January 2008. The percentage of the population with jobs is down to 60.5%, from 62.9% a year ago. The unemployment rate was up to 7.6% in January 2009 (4.9% in January 2008).

Yep, it's all in our minds.
Is there some kind of pro-mindbogglingly-stupid program you have to go through to be a conservative, or has everyone with at least a ganglion fled the philosophy?

Well, we'll be able to check on February 11th if Texas unemployment statistics are better, worse, or neither. Certainly Texas was pretty much in the middle back in December.
Well, the reason for this is that we are probably in a depression. I buried my thoughts about this deep in an article about another topic. It fits the characteristics of the events that were called a "depression" in the late 19th century. The reason no one wants to use the term is that most people were too poorly educated to know the difference between a run-of-the-mill depression (very bad) and the Great Depression (really really bad). If it only lasts another year or two, "The Stim" will have been a magnificent triumph.

Right now we are in a normally "dead" post-holiday sales period, but it is worse than it ever was in past major recessions. It is the height of irresponsibility for Republicans to be opposing something that even Jack Welch (of GE "fame") says is needed to get people back on a payroll.
Maybe all the baby boomers will die off without money for Starbucks.
I dunno, I live in the DC area as well and the few times we've eaten out recently I thought the restaurants had fewer people than normal. Haven't been to a Mall in ages so I've no idea if Tysons is less crowded. The Circuit City near Bailey's Crossroads was mobbed a couple weekends ago with people taking advantage of their going-out-of-business sale.
Nicely written post!
Charles Krauthammer says it best, in his column today:
In the past five years where I live there has been a construction rush to build malls. I am happy that there seems to be a moratorium on that; we are already saturated enough. On top of that the new malls are not doing as great at the politicians, who went against voters, said they would.

Depression, I think it is the beginning of one. When much of the employment in this country are service jobs and people are not spending it seems to breed a depression.

I came across a blog that posted images from a mall in the midwest where half the stores were shut down. It is sad to see and I feel sorry for the few people still working there.
Is there any possibility whatsoever that Krauthammer would have written that article if McCain were President and backing a much lousier stimulus bill made up of tax cuts?

Sorry, rhetorical question. You may now continue your near-thinking.*

*You know, near-beer. It tastes kind of like thinking, but somehow doesn't produce the same effects.
That is because of the slow economy that all of us are experiencing. Less people are frequenting the malls. It is something unusual for establishments that are known to be crowd-drawers. Well, let's just hope the economy improves in the coming years.
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