Monday, April 07, 2008

Recession: New Jersey

So I took a long drive Sunday from central to south Jersey, covering about 50-odd miles of primarily back roads and side streets each way.

And what I saw - and didn't see - was more than a bit disturbing.

Starting in my own bucolic middle-class neighborhood, I saw the usual amount of "for-sale" signs swinging in the breeze - albiet ones that had been posted for a while. But for the first time, I saw houses that were literally priceless two years back now sitting empty, abandoned, with big realtor's locks securing the front doors. Forced out by foreclosure? Or just moved away, with no buyers for their homes? The crisis has broken through the gates, and like the plague, is picking off my neighbors one by one.

Driving south, I passed a mini-mall under contruction, that just one month ago bragged "Only one retail space left!", now sporting a sign advising there were three different sized units still available. A second mall, further west, containing perhaps ten units, had only one operating business. The remaining nine stood empty.

And what didn't I see? Any new housing under construction - this in a state that was tearing down trees and putting up homes in every available space just over a year ago. I spotted some new home sites, but the lack of earthmovers and the weeds growing around the foundations lead me to believe they had been sitting unworked for quite some time. Nor did I see any new business sites coming up, again in a state that had been clearing out farmland by the thousand-acre for office and retail space.

And not once did I spot a new vehicle in over 100 miles of travel - new in the sense of carrying that paper "license plate" in the rear window that suffices for legality for the first few weeks of ownership. Lots of older cars, though. In a middle-class state like Jersey, where most folks flip their vehicles after a three-year lease, the absence of shiny new street metal was striking.

Perhaps it was just the route I had chosen, and the dark overcast sky that never broke during my trip, that set the mood. I drove over pothole-ridden streets, long in disrepair, and twice had to swerve to avoid wandering chickens. At a lonely red light, I looked into the trees, only to see a pair of turkey vultures - large, black, and greasy - staring ominously back at me. I rode past older homes with a single light buring thru old curtains, and past residences boarded up and left to crumble within their setbacks, wild weeds overcoming their driveways. Empty service stations - littered with clunkers - abounded; $3.00+ gas and no takers....

But it is not atmosphere. Having seen a number of my old friends over the past few evenings - most self-employed within the state - I heard many variations on a similar story: clients dropping like flies, budget cutbacks, new business opportunites canceled before start. They too spoke of delaying projects and investments for a while; I thought to myself of the ripple effect that would have upon people counting on their business. One of my good friends was just laid off a job he held for over ten years; another is counting the days she has left, knowing they are numbered.

I sat down for brunch in a half-empty restaurant ; when I asked the owner how business was, he looked down and shook his head. Smaller crowd every week, the waitress whispered in my ear.

I drove home, and as I turned back into my neighborhood a cold rain began to fall, and windswept leaves gathered on the lawns of darkened houses with no occupants....

I think we have a problem here. Maybe this is the bottom; but maybe it is not, and the fall has just begun. But I think the pundits and politicians on both sides are a little bit removed - Larry Kudlow tells us that recessions are therapeutic, while the folks at Powerline try historical perspective:

...the unemployment rate in November 1996, when Clinton rode a soaring economy to victory, was 5.4%. That's right--three tenths of a percent higher than the "grim picture" of a "pink slip nation" painted by this month's unemployment report.

But how many people does the 5.1 % of today represent, as opposed to the 5.4% of a dozen years past? For that, we get no answer.

But while the right may be equivilating and insensitive, the left is worse - Hillary demands a "poverty czar" (to keep people in?), while Obama uses the recession to make political hay - now that's audacity ! Nevertheless, his recipe of tax hikes and protectionism is abominable, and will surely be the death of us all.

Perhaps it is best for the goverment to just wait it out, as one might argue that federal interference can likely hurt way more than it can help. Still, it is little solace to those chasing chickens down godforsaken routes on wooded lanes.

I realize that due to the corrupt and corrosive policies of the Democrats, New Jersey may be in a bit of a worse "state" than others. But if my little driving tour was any indication, things in my little piece of the Union are worse then I have ever seen them in my lifetime. And I have zero faith in billionaire Jon Corzine or his flunkys to do anything to improve the situation. Although perhaps their cluelessness is a hidden blessing....

I am generally an optimistic person (as befits a conservative?). But right now, I sit worried, greatly concerned that we may be heading into quite a bit of a downspin, with no local or national leadership to help guide us through.

God has always looked over America, and has provided us with the right people at the right time. Let us hope we still find favor in His eyes...


Anonymous said...

Good post, although I think you are a bit downbeat. You're painting Jersey as a "Dust Bowl", when it is really just a "People's State" on the edge of collapse.

Anonymous said...

In my 61 years of living in NJ, I've seen much worse. Try the 70's with Jimah Cahtuh as president with a 13% inflation rate. The huge building and "risk taking" bubble is bursting and a re-adjustment is in order. As an ex business owner myself (gave it up in 1988 to re-enter the television broadcast field) I can attest to the fact that "you ain't seen nothin' yet". Just live a little longer. ;-)


Nick said...

Good post. If you take a walk through your neighborhood in a few weeks and see people growing their own food in their lawns, then it'll be even clearer things are going downhill.

My own state of Indiana resembles yours in that I've seen a lot more For Sale signs, fewer brand new cars, and more vacancies at strip malls I drive by. The rate of expansion is slowing down, as well, in commercial areas.

Better get that "poverty czar" working on it right away, to keep us from ever recovering! That way, we won't expect progress if we're all in consistent poverty...

Yes, the government probably should stay mostly out of the way. Especially misguided big government policies.

Anonymous said...

Like my previous anonymous dopplegangers, I'll start off by saying "Good Post!"

While I agree that Jersey is likely worse off than many other parts of the country, you are kind of painting a picture of America as regressing to a hunter-gather society (your aforementioned chickens), where mankind is retreating to caves (abandoned homes) and perhaps horesback (no new cars).

I don't think it is that bad. I guess you are seeing more of a Depression than a recession, and that may be more regional than national. Also likely because your area seems to have "bubbled" more than a bit; I guess you suffer the burst even harder.

Well, at least, I HOPE you are just being pessemistic, and that your vision yesterday is not a harbinger of thinks to come!