Maggie’s Tale

     “Really busy today,” said Carole, who works in the research and marketing mini-arm of our news service. She said it early last week.
      There had been lots of inquiries about subscriptions, the kind of thing that, if you were fishing, you would call bites. Not hook-ups. But lots of bites.
     I told her the story of a friend whose family had the same postman for decades. Long before the housing and stock markets plummeted more than two years ago, the postman told her with sadness that he had never in his career as a mailman delivered so many unemployment checks.
     “You take those stories to the bank,” I told Carole. Because a big economic turn is preceded by signs. You just have to be able to read them.
     The little sign that we at Courthouse News got last week suggesting the economy was starting to heat up was followed swiftly by a very big sign – the announcement Friday that the economy was at last adding jobs.
     The U.S. Bureau of Labor said 162,000 people were hired for new jobs in March, the biggest one-month gain in three years.
     The question that remains very much open is how strong the recovery will be.
     A few things – signs and portents – point in the right direction.
     Wars are, among other characteristics, expensive. I read today that many of the Iraqi politicians who gained strength in the last round of elections promptly made trips to Iran, for meetings and consultation.
     But it was the accompanying bit of the story that was interesting. It said the U.S. was making no effort to interfere with such meetings. The reason is that everybody believes, Iraqi and American alike, that the American troops are leaving more or less on schedule.
     That will reduce one of the great drains on the U.S. economy.
     On a highly related front, the fact that Russia, the U.S., EU and the UN are working as a team to control Israel and its incessant settlement of occupied land is a good sign.
     The fact that the same group, with the hopeful addition of China, appears willing to help control Iran in its obvious quest for a nuclear weapon is also a good sign. Even if I think the mullahs have already traveled far down the road to the bomb.
     The emerging cooperation by the big sources of power on the planet, in controlling those who could otherwise destabilize it, helps economic activity by advancing stability and security on the international political front.
     But back down at the street level of economic activity, another story suggests the difficulty of getting our stricken economy back on its feet.
     I was talking last night with my friend Maggie from my salsa class. She told me her daughter had asked her, “Mom, why don’t you get a job.” I told Maggie that I agreed with her daughter.
     The daughter, still in high school, has herself been able to find work helping coach a girl’s team.
     The mother is trained as a book keeper. She had a job that paid well over $20 an hour but that job was one of the hundreds of thousands lost during the recession.
     She says the jobs that are now being offered pay only $10 an hour, not much above minimum wage, and less than half of what she used to earn.
     She texted me this morning, “I just want to tell you that my daughter makes $20 an hour and you want me to go and work for $10 an hour!”
     And there’s the rub.
     The job market took an enormous hit not only in the number of jobs but also in what the jobs are worth. So it remains very much to be seen if the economy can generate not just the number of jobs that will reduce unemployment significantly but also the levels of pay that will allow people to spend some cash.

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