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9.05.2012

BETTER THEN, OR BETTER NOW?



The newspaper article, on the heels of the Democratic National Convention, asked, "Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?"   Political camps aside, whether you are for or against the Ass Party or the Dumbo Group, that is a great question to digest.  Some political die hards might not be able to separate that question from their political leanings.  I want you to try.

I thought about that question all day, laying that lens next to all areas for comparative values. The first thing I noticed and remembered is where we were 4 years ago financially as a nation. The stock market had taken a huge dip, one of the record book's historic losses. Banks lending regulations were too loose creating an uncollectable high risk debt table in the mortgage industry. The real estate market had began a cliff nose dive with no parachute. It wasn't stellar 4 years ago by any stretch of the imagination.

But those crisis' came as a result of greed, over inflated values and too much unsecured high risk debt. It had been hurtling toward us, bull horning the message that procrastination and not being offensive would create a much needed correction that would force and crash and devastate all in its path - our economy, our states, our personal worlds. We didn't face issues head on through several administrations, both republicans and democrats.  Instead we created a false sense of wealth by margining ourselves in a corner.  Now we faced a cost to unrestricted debt, spending and speculating by borrowing believing growth would continue. If our nation had a risk tolerance it appeared to be in the highly aggressive category.

In the same newspaper today that asked was I better off today than four years ago, was a whole 6 page section announcing properties to be sold at tax sale. Six pages, 250 properties per page, totalling 1500 properties. The population of my entire county is 198,000.  That is a bit staggering and hits home.

In regards to housing, I could not say things were better than four years ago, even taking the category of foreclosures out of the picture. My own property value has decreased every year for the past 3 years. On the one block stretch of street I live on there are two empty properties. When I run through my neighborhood I see vacant and tagged properties regularly and in increasing numbers. Foreclosure is far more common today than it was 4 years ago. 

In the world of health care insurance, things are not better than 4 years ago. I pay more dollars toward the employee portion of my health insurance plan than each preceding year.  That is manifested even further with much higher deductibles, more max out of pocket dollars, and less coverage payable amounts on prescriptions and procedures.  There are more hoops to jump through to get the care needed.   Two years running I spent, out of my own pocket, over $8,000 in medical costs - the cost of a used vehicle!  I had no surgeries, and no hospitalizations. 

Food has increased by a stat of I believe 4.6% from a year ago.  If you go to the grocery every couple of weeks you can clearly see the continual rise in costs.  There are all sorts of consumer price indexes and stats which break out each category; food, energy, vehicles, apparel, medical care, gasoline.  All of which have had an increase in cost to consumers over the past year.  The problem is that even though statistics show a very slight increase in wage percentage growth, it is being eaten up by consumables increases.

In the stats I researched, I found some conflicting reports or differing percentages of growth or stagnation.  The one statistic I looked for was violent crime.  Believe it or not, in the face of what appears to be an onslaught of violent crime, that category has actually seen a decrease.  I wondered if our skewed view of the level of violent crimes came from the proximity of media coverage in our every day life.  There is more AP new wires in 2012 than in 1970.  There are more avenues for presenting news, reporting crime than 20 years ago.  It is always before us in coverage but not necessarily in incidence increases. 

There are some early indicators that personal consumer debt is decreasing.  That is a good thing.  It may be a result of a conscious response from the population to cut corners, live on less during financially turbulent times.  That result is a positive from a negative situation.

No political party is totally responsible for the spot we are in.  No political party will be able to affect change purely by a belief system or political methods.  To make anything different takes caring more about the solution than the methods.  That means caring more about finding change agents than about a economic philosophy or method that defines your political party.   It is time to quit blabbing, quoting, twisting stats, blaming and make the corrections and courses of action to make it better than four years ago. 

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