The Economy Today: Better Bad News on the Way?

A roundup of national and regional economic headlines

The Wall Street Journal today takes an advance look at economic data slated to be released Friday and finds some relatively good news. The numbers are likely to show that the economy declined at a 1.5 percent annual rate for the second quarter. That would be the fourth consecutive decline, but a notably smaller drop than in the two prior quarters. The Journal gives its top quote to an economist who says government officials “seem to have collectively succeeded,” and that the economy will avoid a depression.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, reports the findings of a recent Pew study that examined why middle-class African-Americans experience sharper downward mobility than whites of similar economic backgrounds. The answer seems to be that black children are much more likely to grow up in poor neighborhoods. “[T]he Pew research found that no other factor… was as important as neighborhood poverty in explaining why black children were so much more likely than whites to lose income as adults,” the Post reports.

All the major papers report on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s town hall meeting in Kansas City yesterday. The New York Times and the Post focus on how unusual it is for the Fed chairman to speak directly to the masses, while the Los Angeles Times highlights the content of Bernanke’s remarks. (He said the Fed had acted too slowly to stem bad lending, but defended the bailout as necessary.)

The LAT also examines the real estate crash in San Diego, where twice as many downtown condos were built during the boom as in much-larger Los Angeles, and where “[s]ome units downtown are now selling for less than half what earlier buyers had paid during the market peak.” The story will have a familiar feel to anyone who’s been reading the news over the past year, but it offers some details—out-of-town investment, local policies, a misplaced faith in the urban-renewal powers of a new baseball stadium—to explain why the situation in San Diego is especially troubled.

Elsewhere in California, The Sacramento Bee takes a look at the combined effect of the federal stimulus package and the Golden State’s budget cuts. In one case, the value of federal funds to renovate an old railyard in Sacramento may be undermined by the slashing of state aid that was to support a housing project at the site. The conclusion? “Economists say the likely result will be prolonged pain and a weaker recovery despite the $85 billion coming to California from the stimulus program over the next two years or so.”

Across the country, though, The Tennessean reports that stimulus funds have helped put teens to work this summer. Nearly $25 million in stimulus funds have created an estimated 12,000 teen jobs in Tennessee this summer, but the state’s teen unemployment rate still rests at 30 percent, the second-highest in the country.

Finally, the Detroit Free Press prints a long AP story demonstrating that Michigan’s economy really is terrible. The number of unemployed Michigan workers in June was the highest since record-keeping began in 1976, and bankruptcy filings were up 30 percent in the first quarter of 2009. The only state with a more stressed economy, according to an AP index based on unemployment, foreclosures, and bankruptcies? California.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.