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Martha's big adventure -
Swimming through the middle
of the recession

In hindsight, 2009 will be seen as the middle of the recession. The shock that happened initially has worn off and we're all sitting on the edge of our seats at every release of financial data looking for some sign that it's all over. Happy days with a lot more jobs are finally here again.

That's actually not quite true just yet. The housing sales for March were just released and home sales were off again, falling three percent to an annual rate of 4.57 million units and down from 4.71 million in the previous month, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The drop was worse than expected, especially after CitiGroup and General Electric posted better-than-expected earnings. Both still lost money, GE lost 36 percent, but not as much as Wall Street had predicted. Some saw this as a sign that the bottom was softer than expected. These have got to be the same people who kept swearing we weren't in much of a recession well into September of last year.

There are also still the stress tests being conducted on 19 of the largest financial institutions with the results to be announced on May 4th. However, don't expect a transparent and complete accounting if the news is really bad. At this point, the financial markets would draw back even further if they were to find out that even after the bailouts the financial institutions are mired in trouble.

Unfortunately, that's the likeliest scenario for the short term because, for many of those institutions, the better-than-expected losses were accomplished by moving around the losses. A more straight-forward accounting by the government with stricter guidelines may reveal deeper cracks in the foundation.

Manufacturing is off as well and the number of people on unemployment broke through the six million mark for the first time. And the last wave of credit failure from credit cards still has not been addressed at all, which stands like an iceberg in front of our recovery.

But there are signs of real hope. Starter home buyers, who had resolutely stayed out of the market, are now stepping in and there are areas where housing is doing a little better. A new program that gives first time home buyers an $8,000 tax credit appears to be helping people off the fence and into a home, particularly in some of the hardest hit areas, such as Nevada and California.

And Americans are saving more money than since just after the Great Depression. Both occasions may have started out because of a sense of fear, but the first go-round led to a generation that had their retirement much more firmly in place. There's reason to believe the super-sized Baby Boomers might be finally on track to do the same thing. That bodes well for the next few decades of economic certainty.

Attendance at places of worship is up and there are more anecdotal stories being reported of families spending time together without a TV anywhere in sight. It's possible that without all of our shiny gadgets, we are resetting our values and discovering we actually like being around the people in our community. We like having more money in the bank than we owe to a series of credit card companies and we can finally tell you the name of every one of our kids' teachers.

The economic news is most likely going to continue to be hairy and cause some tough conversations for a lot of us with our families, but as the summer approaches, try and keep the focus on what really matters to you. See if you don't still have a lot of closer connections to others on the asset side of your personal balance sheet.

If there isn't much there, see this as your opportunity to show up at your local place of worship or volunteer at a food bank or as a coach for a local soccer team and start building a different kind of future that a market can never touch. More adventures to follow.

If you'd like to get involved in the 2009 America Challenge to raise funds for community-based charities, e-mail me at Martha@CagleCartoons.com, for more information. Together we're going to build stronger communities and empower ourselves.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.