Under the Bus: What 4 Years Means to Nevada
Nevadans and Politics: We don't need to be thrown under the bus!
There are plenty of opinions to go around, but when you're living pretty close to what's considered ground zero of the housing bubble bursting, the fallout is heartbreaking. Politicians continue their speeches and their rounds of the state, the communities, the nation. But for many of us, we are simply tired of the under the bus attitude that seems to come our way. Major candidates take their shots when it's convenient and then turn around and woo us for our affections. One says, "Don't go to Vegas." Another says, "Go ahead and hit the bottom so things can correct." Great. Neither sounds compassionate, and when there is at least one foreclosure sign on every street, or at least when it seems so, there's not a lot of faith in political candidates. My faith isn't grounded in politics anyway, but I'm sure tired of seeing hurting people continue to be slammed.
Since the sound off squid quest is about sparking debate, I enter this realm cautiously. I don't like political debate and I don't like politics. I care about people affected by the sway of tides, though. So here are a few debatable observations.
Image Credit: KB35 at Flickr
Has Your State, City or Town Experienced an "Under the Bus" moment?
The speech date and details escape me. Vegas was up in arms, though. Even those I knew who voted for the President in 2008 were upset. My brother referenced it as the President having thrown Vegas under the bus. Yes, we all recognize what was being communicated, that you don't go spending money on luxuries when you are dealing with a tight budget. He named Vegas. Unfortunately, many of the residents of the Southern Nevada area are service workers in the travel and tourism industry. Many more work in areas directly tied to this. Whether you are dealing with an airport skycap, a hotel valet, a PBX operator, an architect or a construction worker, there is fallout when people stop visiting the city. I happen to have family in these and other professions that were touched by the crazy housing bubble bursting.
The effects aren't restricted to Southern Nevada, though they seem more pronounced because this is our area of experience. Northern Nevada businesses have also experienced serious challenges because of the big bubble. The hurt is in the big hope and change mantra turning so quickly to a 'dis Vegas standpoint. I'm not disillusioned because I didn't put my hope in a candidate. Some people have found that the hope and change has turned into layoffs, early retirements, multiple job searches, foreclosures, crowded classrooms and rundown properties.
The sting of the last four years doesn't dissipate when the only serious alternative bluntly states that things need to bottom out. The last year, particularly, that bottoming out effect has been most pronounced on grocery shopping expeditions the first of the month. Just dare to venture into your favorite grocery store on the first. Food stamps, unemployment, social security...while some people have weekly benefits, others renew at the first of the month. It's never been quite this crazy. There is a desperation in the eyes of the shoppers. There are empty shelves, especially if there was a great deal. Somehow, it seems like circulars target that week with higher prices on staples. The good sales seem to be a week ahead. Maybe I'm imagining it, but really, I've never seen this kind of madness in the grocery stores. People have had nasty words in the aisles, and there's a sense of irritation in the air.
Have you seen an under the bus moment in your area or do you notice desperation in the people? How so?
Foreclosures Are a Serious Issue (Image Credit: Daquella Manera at Flikr)
Construction takes a huge hit when the Vegas economy is slow. Teachers struggle and class sizes fluctuate. Service industries are affected. As belts tighten, it's a domino effect in who will be struggling next.
Examples of Jobs Affected
Construction always takes a hit in Vegas when the economy is slow. The September 2, 2012 issue of the Las Vegas Sun includes a comparison of jobs between 2007 and 2011. Architects in the area changed in number from nearly 1100 to nearly 300. Average salaries changed from nearly $70,000/year to just over $90,000/year. My Dad, one of those early retired members of the profession, summarized it easily...all the architects are laid off and the owners of the firms are still on the job, all competing for the same bus stop.
Middle Class Battles: Taxes and Truth
I'm adding this as the political season proceeds. With election day just a little over two weeks away, I have to say that I'm disgusted with a President insisting that he doesn't want to burden the middle class with taxes. Maybe I'm not in the middle class. I thought I was. I'm not in the upper class, that's for sure. However, I do have to say that the health care reform act is ushering a huge tax increase our way. When our insurance benefits begin to be taxed, I realize that there will be a huge change in our taxable income. It will be huge.
As a union family, we benefit from collective bargaining in that the members have invested significantly in their health care. Construction tradesmen really depend on this benefit in later years of life as the toll of a life of hard labor begins to loom. Those increases could have been otherwise allocated, but members through the years have invested in these benefits. It doesn't take a math major to realize, though that was my college major and my teaching discipline, that this will increase taxes.
So, what about those shovel ready projects?
We heard all about the plans to beef up infrastructure. There are always road projects underway, but the last several months have seen a marked increase. When we lived in another country, Mexico, we learned that this is a typical occurrence close to elections there. All of a sudden, road improvements begin as the parties vie for power and strive to be elected. Sounds familiar as I drive through my small town, wondering which road will be a mess today.
As for the pencil ready projects that the designers reminded the powers that be about in that big push for infrastructure? Just back up to those stats on Vegas architects!
Do you see an unusual increase in infrastructure projects or is it business as usual?
Class Sizes: Under the School Bus
One of the repercussions of a slow economy has been a limiting of funds available for teacher salaries. In some communities, there is a culture of respect while in others, there is so much mistrust between district leaders and teachers/representatives that there seems to be endless bickering and blame-placing. Class sizes are creeping upward. From my own experience, 28 students in a math class is a manageable number. When the roster in a class passes 30, there is a big change in focus and dynamics. If behavior problems enter the mix, there are further challenges and teaching is tough.
While there is some attrition as students and their families leave the state, the reality is that funds are leaving more quickly than students. Some teacher attrition is inevitable due to financial conditions. For others, the stress of current conditions isn't worth it. There are some creative young political candidates with unique solutions, but will they be heard, and if so, will they be taken seriously?
Can politicians improve the state of public education for both students and teachers?
Of course, the ongoing controversy that never seems to die is the issue of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository. Some believe it will never happen, others believe that there is too much invested. Some feel that it could give a boost to the Nevada economy, others fear the potential for hazardous incidents.
A couple of debate observations: Do principles apply selectively, or can principles be considered to be valid in varied setting
Debate #1: President Obama discussed the fact that health care facilities should be rewarded for excelling. I'm not sure if it was a financial reward, or just an attaboy, but it was briefly mentioned. If I'm understanding correctly, it sounds like incentive pay: rewards for excellence. So, does this apply in the realm of education, or is it too hot of a topic to touch because educators tend to oppose incentive pay. Reward excellence in one area of society but not in another?
Debate #2: Vice President Biden discussed the fact that if you continue to do it for the nationals (foreign policy), then they will allow you to continue to be the ones who invest your own resources. I surmise that the idea is that it is seen as necessary to pull out in order to prompt action and investment by nationals. Transfer this principle to unemployment issues at home. While it is legitimately difficult in some areas to find a job that will support a family, the reality is that there are those who will avoid actively seeking a position if it might interfere with their benefits. It may not be a prevailing sentiment, but it is a real one for some...I've heard these stories from those encountering such in Vegas work settings whether as coworkers or leaders.
Are you better off?
I've seen at least 4 personal friends go through foreclosure based on the slowing of various job areas and situations in the Silver State. They are weathering the storm, but it hasn't been easy. Every supposed help for the housing situation misses more of the mark than it hits. When you see foreclosure signs on every street, you realize that things are still tough. When you cut your errands in order to stretch out the gasoline and you still spend more each week on getting from point A to point B, you have to question the wisdom and effort of the powers in charge of things. I don't place my hope in these powers, but I do observe the challenges that have continued to mount. If national candidates actually lived in and amongst those they supposedly serve for a period of time, I wonder if their perspectives would change.
I also stand in amazement at some of the organizations that continue to endorse candidates while sending out newsletters talking about the declining state of health and welfare funds because of the impact of health care legislation. These same entities will, no doubt, make the same endorsements in the coming election.
Is your home underwater? Are your health care benefits diluted? Are you finding employment opportunities?
Image Credit: Studio Mohawk at Flickr
What's your perspective?
My focus isn't so much on politicians...
This is a story I started working on during the early stages of the housing crash. Actually, at the time the construction and housing elements of the Nevada economy were still booming, but as my friend and I spurred each other in writing, the crash began. That following spring, 2007, the first of my four friends fell behind in house payments. The following October, their home was taken and they were moving on to another state to look for construction work.
The effects haven't ebbed. Skilled tradesmen still struggle for work. Kids worry about whether they will have a home to live in. The answers may lie in something more noble than petty politics and feel good speeches. My characters are on the verge of having to live out the reality of foreclosure in this pre-cursor story. I haven't written the next in the series yet, but it's in my brain. Just have to make time to pen it.
Zeke MuÃ±oz and his friends discover that money isn't the only thing worth considering during their summer break. Coach encourages them to think about noble pursuits. How will this play out among the group of friends?
For a taste of the sequel...
- Signs of the Times
A short chapter from the sequel to The Stinky Sock Club
Creative Budgeting and Politics
I wonder if we wouldn't gain valuable insight into how our politicians would address our economic challenges by issuing a simpler challenge, one that many of us face on a weekly basis. When your food budget is severely restricted, how do you make it from paycheck to paycheck? If you only have a limited amount of money, there aren't many choices. I think that challenging our politicians to deal with limited resources for feeding their own families might actually provide some interesting perspective.
How would the President feed his family if he was restricted to $10 per person for the coming week? How would his main contender do so? If that amount were doubled, what luxuries would return to the menu? Can you live out a "McDonald's is bad" mindset when your budget is tight? Is fast food a solution to tight budget blues? Can you provide a healthy menu when your costs are so severely restricted? Can you manage on $10/person this week? Would it simply be a novel investigation, or would such a challenge provide useful information in deciding on the right candidate for an office?
Food Budget Challenge...