The Economy Today: Recession Sickness

Headlines from California, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Iowa

National news is all about the GM bankruptcy filing. The New York Times offers a particularly necessary bit of consumer-minded service journalism, with a Q&A about what the bankruptcy actually means for readers. Yes, the warranties will be honored, but whether the local dealership will be around is a different matter. What’s more, the government will allow car owners to write down the value lost on their vehicles. Meanwhile, the Washington Post chimes in with another story gauging the barometric pressure of the economic atmosphere, with the headline “Confidence in U.S. Economy Builds Even as Recovery Still Seems Distant.” But the story is stuffed to the gills with weak economic indicators, so the optimistic headline seems unwarranted, and the theme is the same: things aren’t getting worse as quickly as they once did. So that’s good, right?

Speaking of making lemonade out of lemons, a Maryland pharmaceutical company will benefit handsomely from the swine-flu panic. MedImmune has received a $90 million government contract to develop a vaccine.

In local headlines, Pennsylvania’s healthcare may suffer during the recession because adverse financial conditions may worsen the nursing shortage. In California, the financial crisis may be affecting mental health.

While lean times may have been a surprise for many in this country, the Kennebec Journal reports that Maine’s arts groups are used to working on small budgets, and are making the best of it for summer festivals. A drop in sponsorships has forced theaters to step up their fundraising. But everyone is hopeful and plucky. The shows will go on!

The Los Angeles Times offers its own entry in the how-the-rich-will-weather-the-recession saga. Fancy boutiques are seeing huge drops in sales as “even big spenders have found themselves embracing a new frugality that requires forgoing that new pair of $500 stilettos or $250 jeans.” But, on the plus side, there are bargains all around: “By contrast, Dori Weisberg — who helped launch the Television Food Network and whose husband, Robert, co-founded HBO — could have afforded to pay the full $185 price for a Shabby Chic sheet but was pleased to snag it for $45.”

The San Francisco Chronicle doesn’t do much better with a piece about the recession’s effects on mental health. Stress over hard times and job loss is contributing to increased anxiety, depression, and suicidality. This is dangerous ground, since most experts agree the purported connection between suicide and recessions is largely a media invention.

The nursing shortage is real, says an op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer. As hospitals lay off workers and nursing programs become more and more competitive, the recession creates the illusion that the field is saturated. In fact, “[a] large portion of the nursing workforce is nearing retirement, and older nurses who stay on the job for a few extra years or return to work after retirement will soon leave the profession as well.”

Also in Pennsylvania, The Patriot-News from the central part of the state, reports the Salvation Army brought out its bell ringers early this year, collecting coins in May. More than sixty volunteers rang bells in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to raise $12,700. The Salvation Army is trying to help local soup kitchens meet increased demand as the recession pushes more people to the economic brink.

Two cities in Iowa seem to be largely skirting the financial crisis, the Associated Press reports. Ames and Iowa City are seeing much lower unemployment numbers than other parts of the state and the country. Part of the reason is that universities and state and city governments are big employers in both towns. But despite the statistics, merchants say that they’re seeing fewer customers come through the doors. Plus, economists say that jobless numbers are a “lagging indicator,” so it’s too early to tell exactly how those two places will be affected in the long term.

The Louisville Courier-Journal combines three wire stories about stock prices to see signs of hope in the recession. The three market indices had small growth spurts, all in the 2 to 3 percent range, which, the paper says, is good news for Kentuckians.

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.