Dispatches from the economic front lines

One’s ability not to get depressed was sorely tested by Tuesday’s first hour of MPR’s Midmorning, which focused on the unemployment picture. Three economists didn’t just tell us what we already know — things are bad — but they told us what we’d rather not hear — they’re going to be bad for a good long time.

Just a few minutes before the show began, the Labor Department reported the job hiring rate in May was the lowest since it started tracking the rate in 2000. There was an uptick in hiring in retail, but that was offset by little hiring in state government and “accommodation and food services.”

“What struck me is how bad it’s been for sectors like health care… (it’s) always been recession proof,” Josh Bivins at the Economic Policy Institute told Kerri Miller. He figures the auto industry may start to rebound as people realize it’s cheaper to get a new car than pour money into the old one, but he says that could be three years away.

The show, however, offered an opportunity to check in with callers who gave us an update on how things are in their little piece of the economy. Here’s the anecdotal tales of woe from the front lines, which confirm that there are few safe havens at the moment.

High-end dining

“I became a statistic last week. The restaurant that I worked for for almost 12 years closed its doors for good. We eliminated our lunch shift at the beginning of the year. My management position was eliminated and I stayed on in an hourly role.”

Wind energy development

“I’ve been in it for 6 or 7 years. I lost my job last December. I’ve looked all over the country and nobody’s hiring. Everyone’s waiting for investment capital.”

Architecture

“My firm has gone from 93 employees to 32. Everyone left has gone to 80% pay.”

Consumer bankruptcy attorney

“It’s busy times. Most of us set our own hours. A lot of attorneys left the practice because of the changes in bankruptcy law. Now that we’re in recession, a lot are jumping back in.”

Wedding photographer

“We were prepared to raise our prices this year and we’re not anymore. We’re ‘the splurge’ now compared to when we were part of a package. We’re seeing more videographers and wedding planners not doing very well right now.”

Information technology

“I work for a major I.T. corporation. The jobs that are being lost are being lost overseas and it’s strictly a matter of low pay rates. Companies are using the recession as an excuse. These jobs aren’t coming back.”

When will the good times come again? Guest Sophia Koropeckyj, a labor economist at Moody’s Economy.com, suggested that for many, they won’t.

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Koropeckyj says many of the jobs being lost are being lost permanently, unlike most other recessions.

Looking for a glimmer of hope? Few economists saw this nightmare coming. Perhaps they’re still inept at seeing the future.

Otherwise, the economic news was mixed. Consumer loan delinquencies have risen to record levels, and Wall Street has realized the economic stimulus plan hasn’t worked yet. But there are at least two green shoots today: Some autoworkers are going back to work, and an airplane parts company in Duluth is cranking up production again.

  • Paul

    I have a hard time trusting an economist who thinks it cheaper to buy a new car. If you buy a good car it’s not cheaper to buy a new one every three years. I buy Honda’s every ten years or so, I’ve never had one fail in any major way. For seven years we make no car payments, our insurance premiums drops, the maintenance is minimal. The practice of building cars that fall apart after three or four years is what is putting US car manufacturers out of business today.