The Economy Today: Slider Shots

News from Tennessee, Georgia, North Dakota, and elsewhere

Nationally, The New York Times reports that, “with about 2,000 Chrysler and General Motors dealers losing their franchises as the companies retrench,” auto dealers have congregated in Washington to ask lawmakers for help. They’re casting it as an unfair process lacking transparency that forces profitable dealerships to close without explanation. The Times queries, “Even as they talk tough about the mismanagement of car companies, can members of Congress withstand political pressure and allow Chrysler and G.M. to make tough economic decisions that might hurt their own constituents?”

Long-term interest rates are rising, reports The Washington Post, making it more costly for homebuyers and corporations to borrow money. The thirty-year fixed-rate mortgage has increased from an interest rate of 4.9 percent up to 5.6 percent. Calling that low rate a “key stimulant” for the economy, the Post wonders if rising rates will choke recovery, and examines some of the causes behind the rise, both encouraging and not. highlights the fact that big companies like AT&T and Tyson Foods are cashing in on federal stimulus money: “Some $4.3 billion of federal money is already funding more than 1,500 projects,” it states. “Of that total, 85%, or $3.6 billion worth, has been funneled to big business.”

USA Today takes a look at how tough things are for those who are still employed. Using employment data (documentation of furloughs, pay cuts, and reduced hours), the article concludes that “the magnitude of job losses…has overshadowed the groundbreaking nature of the nation’s employment troubles, especially the financial decline of those still working.” In May, the employed worked an average of 33.1 hours per week, a lower average than at any point since 1964, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping track.

Here are a few smaller examples of federal dollar usage today. In Georgia, the Newnan Times-Herald reports that a proposed new park-and-ride lot in Coweta County will receive $158,600 in federal stimulus money. But, according to the Times-Herald, “it won’t be for the land, which is already purchased, or the asphalt or the benches or the shelters.” It’ll go instead for IT equipment for the lot, which will be a stop for the XPress Bus system, including security cameras and “changeable message signs” that will display when the next bus is scheduled to arrive.

More than 300 summer jobs have been created for “eligible youth” in North Dakota as a result of stimulus funds, reports the Bismarck Tribune. In the area surrounding Bismarck, more than 150 jobs were funded by $500,000 (of $2.9 million statewide that is to be used to place economically disadvantaged youth, aged fourteen to twenty-four, in work experience). An example: Extension agent Sue Isbell, in Sioux County, was able to create two positions in her office, “hiring a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old. One is working on their Farmer’s Market, the other is sewing affordable or rentable regalia for the traditional American Indian dances.”

And, a school tour, of sorts. The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle in Tennessee takes a look at how the $18 million in federal stimulus dollars Austin Peay State University will receive over three years (starting in 2008-09) will affect its budget, and how the university will use it. “You can’t use ARRA money for new construction, athletics, or for religious purposes,” says one school official. The priority will instead be to generate recurring expense reductions, by “mak[ing] replacements to steam lines on campus, lighting fixtures, HVAC in some buildings, windows, water retro fits,” among other things, with the hope of earning back an average of $1.4 million in energy savings every year.

In California, meanwhile, state parks are in danger, with the San Francisco Chronicle reporting that “more than 70 state park units in the Bay Area and Monterey and Santa Cruz counties scheduled to be closed if Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget is approved.” The revised budget would cut general fund money for state parks, and if implemented, the parks would close in the fall. Among those facing the ax: Mount Tamalpais State Park, which boasts a famed 2,571-foot summit lookout.

Also in California, the Bizarre Food Hall of Fame, unofficially housed at the San Diego County Fair, which begins its run today, is focusing on value pricing, the San Diego Union-Tribune tells us. This year, alongside “pricey but munch-worthy marvels such as deep-fried Twinkies, pork chops on sticks, and the chicken-mozzarella-and-fries Fat Darrell sandwich” are Zucchini Weenies, $4.95, Slider Shots, $2 apiece, and the Mac and Cheese Pasta Pocket, $6.75, among other recessionary creations.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.