April 21, 2009

National Poverty News Roundup for 21 April

The news roundup is back after a slight absence. Top of the list for this week, even though the report is a couple of weeks old by now, is the national March unemployment report, which puts the national unemployment rate at 8.5%. Although that's up 3.4% in the last twelve months, this is the kicker sentence in the report's summary: "Half of the increase in both the number of unemployed and the unemployment rate occurred in the last 4 months." Half. There may be isolated bright spots in the national economic picture, but overall, it looks like we're continuing to see the effects of earlier financial and housing collapses rippling through various sectors. Hawai'i can't build planned homeless shelters, and Minnesota's plans to end long-term homelessness are also threatened by budget cuts. Although the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development continues to award grants, it remains unclear whether these grants will be sufficient to replace the funds that localities and regions have lost in the current economic climate.

Layoffs continue to spread into new industries and sectors, affecting people who never thought they'd lose their jobs. One food bank manager reports that the demand for food is up 40% in his region; other food banks are turning to grow-your-own policies in an effort to supplement the other food that they distribute. Tax day, always a stressful time, was worse this year for many people unable to pay their bills; some tax preparers report a large increase in the number of people paying taxes with credit-cards. And mortgage lenders continue to resist the Obama administration's foreclosure-reduction plans that give bankruptcy judges the authority to change loan terms; that might signal even more foreclosures to come, now that the voluntary moratorium on foreclosures enacted by many of those lenders seems to have come to a close.

Stalemate? Amid the negative, some positive signs, not of economic recovery, but of ways that people are managing. Students and sports stars continue to engage in fundraising efforts. The Obama administration is in the process of unveiling a number of major policy initiatives, such as this plan for a national high-speed rail network; will this kind of infrastructure spending get the economy moving again? In the meantime, look for green jobs and maybe even the return of the barter economy, at least on a small scale. In the end, perhaps many of the solutions we seek can be best formulated and implemented regionally.

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