Tag Archives: unemployment

ALDI BAROMETER IS A GOOD READ ON US ECONOMY

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The US government has just released its latest employment figure.  148,000 jobs were created last month, far fewer than hoped and far less than needed.  The numbers did, however, reduce the unemployment percentage down to 7.2%, a drop of 0.1%.

Even this is misleading.

What’s happening is that many people have given up looking for a job altogether.  These include many who formerly earned good salaries but can now only find low-paid jobs.

That 148,000 figure also hides the fact that many of the jobs are part-time jobs that offer no benefits.  Why would employers take on full-time staff right now when that means they have to provide medical care under the new Affordable Care Act?

In short, it’s very difficult trying to figure the economy out when government statistics are so deceptive and do not even attempt to give the full picture.  With 148,000 jobs supposedly created last month, Administration spokesmen will no doubt boast of a great accomplishment and those employed by government (on average, receiving double the remuneration of people in the private sector) will continue to think the economy is improving and that everything is ok.

They should all go check out the “Aldi Barometer!”

I’ve mentioned Aldi before.  It’s one of the fastest growing grocery chains in the US and around the world.  We have two of them here in the Lansing area and there are two in my hometown in the UK.  They claim they can reduce your grocery bill by 40%.

Aldi is a no-frills grocery store.  Your groceries will not get bagged, you don’t even get a free shopping cart (trolley) – you have to put a quarter in a gadget attached to the cart, then you can use it, receiving your quarter back at the end when you return the cart.  This saves money on hiring somebody to retrieve the carts as other stores do.

Aldi does not sell brand names but they claim that all their no-brands are just as good.  I would agree, except for their tea!

So, what exactly is the Aldi Barometer?  It’s purely a figment of my own imagination but I still think it’s reliable.

It comes down to this – the busier Aldi is, the worse the economy is!

People shop at Aldi when money is tight, when every penny has to count.

A poll in the Wall Street Journal recently found that, for the first time since they started polling, people are concerned about having enough money to buy groceries.  After healthcare and retirement, groceries were the third biggest concern.

The latest Consumer Sentiment survey showed that 71% of people think the economy is bad and getting worse.  Clearly, there’s something very wrong.

We have an Aldi close to us.  On Sunday, we drove by twice.  Each time I was planning on going in to buy a couple of items but I finally decided to wait until Monday morning.  The first time I went into the store the lines were so long I decided to wait; the second time I couldn’t even find a parking space.

I’ve also noticed that more and more affluent-looking people are shopping there, driving up in newish SUV’s and wearing expensive clothes.  I’ve even overheard people confiding to friends that they never thought they would go to an Aldi but they are there –openly admitting they have financial problems.

Although they do take EBT cards (food stamps), most of the customers I’ve seen either pay cash or use debit cards (no checks or credit cards).

Sunday seems to be their busiest day, suggesting that most of their customers have full-time jobs Monday through Friday.  I’m told Saturday is also a very busy day at the store.

Aldi isn’t the only barometer of the country’s economy.

Food banks report increased demand on their services.

The ever-increasing number of thrift shops selling second hand clothes and other used items is another good indicator.

As is the declining number of good restaurants and the obvious lack of business in those that survive.

I don’t expect our local movie theater to last much longer, either – their parking lot is usually empty (perhaps they can rent spaces to Aldi customers across the street?).  Who can afford a movie and popcorn nowadays?

I realize things may be different in other parts of the country.  There must be some areas doing well.  Actually, Michigan’s economy has been improving – Governor Rick Snyder has made some good pro-business decisions following years of bad ones under his predecessor, who is now advising President Obama on economic development issues!  But we still have a long way to go.  It’s not Michigan that’s the problem so much – it’s Washington.

Before next month’s employment stats are published by the federal government, perhaps some of their employees could pay a visit to Aldi, assuming they even know how to find one.  On their much-better-than-average salaries, they have never had a need to go!

(I will keep checking the Aldi Barometer and share the information with you.)

FROM THE WORLD’S PRESS . . .

Daily Telegraph

“The mind goes numb. Spanish unemployment jumped by yet another 237,000 people in the first quarter to 6.2 million, or 27.2pc.

“This is equivalent to roughly 8.3 million in Britain, or 39 million in the United States. The country is losing 3,581 jobs a day. There are 1.9m households where no member of the family has a job.”

“The national rate of unemployed youth is 57.2pc, rising to 70pc in the Canaries.

“This is in spite of mass emigration by Spanish youth. El Pais reports that 260,000 young people aged between 16 and 30 left the country last year.”

(“The great Spanish nation can end its crucifixion at will by leaving EMU”, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Daily Telegraph (UK) 25th April)

US ECONOMY – GETTING IN DEEPER

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America needs a Margaret Thatcher!

Today is the day of her funeral.  It wasn’t broadcast on any of the main channels but I was able to watch it on the Wall Street Journal’s webpage, which I really appreciate.

If you are thinking that the US economy is improving, you should subscribe to the WSJ for the full picture.  It’s not a good one.

Mortimer Zuckerman, editor of US News and World Report and a wealthy real estate investor, wrote the following for the Journal recently:

“The present phase of our Great Recession might be called the Grand Illusion because all the happy talk and statistics that go with it, especially on the key indicator of jobs, give a rosier picture than the facts justify.  We are not really advancing.  We are, by comparison with earlier recessions, going backward.  We have a $1.3 trillion budget deficit.  And despite the most stimulative fiscal policy in our history and the most stimulative monetary policy, with a trillion-dollar expansion to our money supply, our economy over the last three years has been declining or stagnant.  From growth in annual GDP of 2.4 percent in 2010, we bumped down to only 1.8 percent in 2011 and were still down at 2.2 percent in 2012.  The cumulative growth for the last 12 quarters was just 6.2 percent, less than half the 15.2 percent average after previous recessions over a similar period of time.  It is the slowest growth rate of all the 11 post-World War II recessions.”  (“The Grand Illusion”, WSJ, 4/4/13).

What about jobs?  Isn’t the decline in the official unemployment figure a reflection of how much better things are?  Mr. Zuckerman continues:

“Still, can’t we take comfort in headlines celebrating the decline in unemployment to 7.7 percent?  Not really.  If you add in all the unique categories of people not included in that number, such as “discouraged workers” no longer looking for a job, involuntary part-time workers, and others who are “marginally attached” to the labor force, the real unemployment rate is somewhere between 14 and 15 percent.  No wonder it has been harder to find work during this recession than in previous downturns.

“Though last month we theoretically added 236,000 jobs, these numbers are misleading, too, because so many of the jobs are in the part-time, low-wage category.  So the backdrop to the most recent job numbers is the fact that multiple job-holders are up by 340,000 to 7.26 million.  In essence then, all of the “new” positions are going to people who already are working, mostly part time.  It is clearly more important to create jobs for people who aren’t.  Other aspects of the jobs picture deteriorated, too.  The pool of people unemployed for six months or longer went up by 89,000 to a total of 4.8 million, and the average duration of unemployment rose to 36.9 weeks, up from 35.3 weeks.

“Moreover, the decline in the unemployment rate to 7.7 percent is shaky.  It reflects the departure from the workforce of some 130,000 individuals.  A change in the denominator makes the unemployment numbers look better than they are.  The labor force participation rate, which measures the number of people in the workforce, also dropped to around 63.5 percent, the lowest in more than 30 years.  The workweek remains short at 34.5 hours.  Quite simply, employers are shortening the workweek or asking employees to take unpaid leave in unprecedented numbers, and these people are not included in the unemployment numbers.”

So, where is the US headed?

“State and local governments owe $7.3 trillion in promises they’ve made that were never approved by taxpayers”, wrote Steven Malanga in the WSJ, March 29th.  The title of the article was “The debt bomb that taxpayers won’t see coming.”  As Mr. Malanga points out, taxpayers “will ultimately bear the burden of the officials’ misdeeds.”  Most of the problem is unfunded commitments to state employees in pensions and healthcare.

Further signs of a deteriorating economy are reflected in another WSJ headline:  “Use of food stamps swells even as economy improves” (March 27th; article by Damian Paletta and Caroline Porter).  Enrollment in the free food program has soared 70% since the 2008 recession began.  Now, 47.8 million people are food stamp recipients.  Waiting in line at supermarket check-outs, the government issued light orange EBT credit card is now as common as other cards.  Another noticeable trend at the check-out line is the increasing number of people using cash, afraid of over spending on credit cards when they may lose their job next week or take a big pay cut.

Still another sign is the continuing housing crisis.  In our own county, Michigan’s Eaton County, foreclosures are at an all time high, meaning the economy is definitely not improving where we are.  “Eaton County sees record high foreclosures” ran the headline on the WLNS, channel 6 website April 10th.  This figure also disguises the fact that many more people are underwater, where they owe far more on their home than the house is worth.

The above are good reasons for needing a Margaret Thatcher, somebody willing to take unpopular measures to reduce government spending, lower taxes and boost the economy.  Instead, the United States is headed in the opposite direction.

BELOW THE LINE – a regular column for those living below the poverty line or on a drastically reduced budget

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One of the biggest challenges of unemployment is not having medical coverage.  This can be quite a challenge when you have health problems – I have Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.  Both had worsened during my period of unemployment, requiring an additional two medications.

Aware that our insurance would expire at the end of February, I started looking at medical expenses much more carefully.

I worked out an arrangement with my primary doctor whereby he will charge me $57 a visit.   I was also told I could get my quarterly A1C check for only $14.    My podiatrist said he would charge $80 per visit.

In an emergency, ER cannot turn you away, even if you have no money, so we’re covered there.

When it came to prescriptions, I called three pharmacies to get a price for each of the five prescriptions I have been on.   Without insurance, they would cost me about $350 a month.

Believe it or not, I have managed to get that figure down to $13.33!!!

One drug for diabetes is priced at $283.75 for a month’s supply.   In consultation with my doctor about our changed insurance situation, he said I could switch to a less powerful drug called Metformin, which is free at Meijer’s.

Meijer offers a second one free.  Both are loss leaders.  The idea of offering them free is to get you to purchase all your prescriptions there, which would then give them a nice profit as drugs can be very expensive (and very profitable).  But you don’t have to get all your prescriptions at one place.   We often shop at Meijer anyway so these two loss leaders still bring us into the store to buy food and other things.

Target is cheaper for two of the other prescriptions.  I can get a three-month supply of Glimepride (a drug for diabetics) for $20; and a three-month supply of Metoprolol (for high blood pressure) for $10.  By buying them quarterly I saved an extra $6 on the two.

Both are generics.  Always choose generics when they are available.

Wal-Mart is the cheapest place for Lisinopril, a drug for high blood pressure I did not even need before unemployment.    It will also cost me $10 for three months.

So my total expenditure on prescriptions comes to $13.33 each month; with four visits a year to each doctor my total medical costs over twelve months should work out at $764.    If we had chosen private insurance we would have been paying more than that each month with a high deductible.

It clearly pays to shop around.   There’s always a cheaper option.