After 10 years of telling the unvarnished truth to rising stars and delusional wannabes alike, American Idol judge Simon Cowell last month announced that he was calling it a day. But perhaps the popularity and success he achieved with his call-a-spade-a-spade approach has enticed others to try and do the same. Otherwise, how else to explain the fact that two mainstream media organizations have just printed articles that are so far removed from the Washington-Wall Street "it's all good" snowjob that it's almost as if I'm a guest on a Hollywood unreality show?
"America’s Jobless Picture Is Alarmingly Bleak" (Financial Times)
We are drifting. We take comfort in bits of good news, but we are in dangerous waters; the Great Recession is being starkly revealed as a global crisis with the US, the traditional engine of recovery, sputtering on every cylinder. The US government responded with dramatic financial support by transferring money to the household sector. But outside of these transfers the personal income of Americans is still declining; the residential market remains stagnant at best; consumer growth is nominal. The only real energy in the economy has come from the cessation of inventory liquidation, which is now the main factor in rising industrial output and any modest improvement in the economy.
The mood of US households is despondent. In May only 11.3 per cent believed they would see their income rise in the following six months, while 16.6 per cent thought they would see it decline. This is the first time in over four decades that more people believe they will be worse off than better. Any massive fiscal and monetary stimulus that might reverse the trend is likely to be politically unsustainable given the growing concern over the exploding national deficit.
Wherever you look the scene is bleak. Leading economic indicators fell in April – unusual at such an early stage in the up-cycle. Jobless claims were up by 25,000 to 471,000. And up again above expectations in the first three weeks of May – raising the four-week moving average to a level consistent with 100,000, or more, net job losses. For the past several months, claims have been nowhere near the levels of 400,000 and less that in the past were consistent with sustained job creation. We are not enjoying the normal cycle of economic improvement. If we were, employment would already have reached a new high and made up all of the jobs lost, as it did during the previous postwar recessions. This time we remain short of the old peak of employment, by an astounding 8.4m jobs. One in six Americans is either unemployed or underemployed. This is not a normal cycle when compared with a typical recession, which sees no more than 2m to 3m jobs lost.
"For Many, Recovery Means Lower Expectations" (Associated Press)
PROSPER, Texas — Advised by a Walgreens superior that a promotion was "very highly likely" if he transferred to the drugstore chain's Dallas division, Chris Cummings uprooted his family and bought a spacious house in this hopefully named suburb.
"The sky's the limit," he was told.
But instead of a promotion, the company for which Cummings had been an assistant manager three and a half years cut his hours so drastically that he had to take a second job. In March, he was laid off, and his part-time second job became full-time.
And so that is how a 40-year-old father of four with a master's in business administration from the University of Notre Dame finds himself bagging groceries at Sprouts, a local health-food store.
"I never thought I'd be here with the education that I have and that I'd worked hard on," Cummings said before a recent shift in the checkout lane at the Sprouts in nearby Frisco. "Probably where the frustration comes most is when I get the alumni magazine and I see what my classmates are doing. And that's not a good feeling."
The federal government says the "Great Recession" is over — has been for months now — and that we're well into the recovery. But don't tell that to Cummings, who has seen his income cut by three-quarters and can't afford health insurance for his family.
Or Af Shirinzadeh, who went from a $100-an-hour chiropractic job to part-time work as a docent in an Atlanta museum that features plasticized human cadavers.
Or welder Mark Sepeda, who had to move his family of six from a spacious home in Nevada's lush Carson Valley to a two-bedroom apartment when the Las Vegas building boom came to a screeching halt.
Or Paul Lechner, who, with a mixture of gratitude and dejection, accepted a job stocking shelves at a Super Target after two years and hundreds of applications failed to land him a position in advertising, the field for which he trained.
Yes, the stock markets have largely rebounded. Housing and car sales are back up. And though job creation isn't robust — last week, the Labor Department reported private employers added just 41,000 jobs, down from 218,000 in April and the fewest since January — the economy is growing again.
But, if "recovery" means getting back to where you were before things fell apart, many aren't even close. To people like Lechner, 43, who came to North Carolina's Research Triangle full of hope for a bountiful future, it's meant resigning himself to lower expectations:
That any mental stimulation he gets will come from crossword puzzles, conversations with his wife or the weekly pub trivia nights with the guys — not from his work. That if he ever manages to get another job in advertising, it'll probably be too late for any awards or recognition. And that his 4-year-old son, Jerry, will likely be his only child.
"An optimist sees the glass as half full. A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. I see the glass as twice as big as it needs to be," Lechner says.
The American landscape is littered with huge and half-empty glasses, and men and women like Paul Lechner.