The Economy Today: Songs of Recession

Headlines from California, Tennessee, Florida, and elsewhere

Grilled chicken and lasagna are the latest signs of the recession, USA Today reports. Chain restaurants such as KFC and Pizza Hut are expanding their offerings and upping the marketing ante, so that families more frequently consider these low-cost dining options. For examples, “innovations beyond a chain’s usual fare can build sales by helping to quash the ‘veto vote,’ the person in a group who can stop or divert a fast-food run because they don’t want a burger or chicken or pizza. If all three items and more are on the same menu, it can thwart the trip-killer.” On the other side of the high-low culture divide, Reuters finds that Broadway theaters “defied the recession to post record ticket sales” last season. “A need for escapism” is one reason for the big profits.

Meanwhile, young professionals who hoped that loan-forgiveness programs would help them find their footing in low-paying careers such as teaching won’t be able to escape their student loans, The New York Times reports. In Kentucky, Iowa, and other states, “loan forgiveness programs are on the chopping block.” In those states, programs were funded by nonprofits that are now scrounging for cash, but in New Mexico, New York, and New Jersey, the states pay for those programs directly, so for now they’re intact.

In regional news, papers are telling stories of how the recession is impacting their cities and counties. Florida’s dive shops are seeing a tourist slump, while Wisconsin’s truck stops are doing less business.

The Los Angeles Times sees an upside in the recession for inventors who now have more “time to fine-tune their ideas.” Membership in the United Inventors Association has grown by 20 percent in the last six months, and new inventor clubs are popping up in Michigan and New York—all signs that this trend is real. What sorts of inventions will come out of this? “Joe Sale is convinced that his invention is going to change the way people wear neckties, “one tie at a time.” The iTie holds iPods, business cards and credit cards in a pocket on the back, and it’s fitted with elastic bands that keep the tie from falling in the wearer’s soup.”

The Associated Press has a brief out of Wisconsin, showing that business owners who run restaurants and services at truck stops are seeing their profits decline. The owner of the Iron Skillet restaurant in Sturtevant says that “truckers have cut back on their meals” and a hair salon operator says she’s seeing more shaggy drivers.

Florida’s scuba operators are feeling the pinch, and it isn’t from some friendly crab. Dive shops and tour operators are seeing their sales decline as weary consumers save money on vacation extras. Some shops have already closed, and others have seen drastic drops in their revenue.

It sounds like Oregonians won’t be heading down to Florida to help out the diving industry. The Daily Astorian reports that Northwest vacationers plan to take trips more close to home this year. Which is bad for Florida, but good for the North Coast, which itself has been hit by tough times. Local businesses, such as Clementine’s Bed and Breakfast, are working hard to entice residents to spend their holiday money close to home. Vigorous marketing from the state’s tourism board hopes to encourage travelers to choose Oregon destinations.

In Tennessee, two private schools have closed because of decreased funding, The Tennessean reports. St. Vincent’s and Bridges Academy are two predominantly black faith-based schools that have closed their doors because residents and organizations could no longer support the schools.

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.