Ten Signs of a Still-Troubled Economy

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Falling birth rates! Record numbers enrolled in anti-poverty programs! A spike in murder-suicides! Homeowners taking on remodeling projects! (OK, that last exclamation point wasn’t justified, but I was on a roll.) And more.

Here, ten indicators of how the economy, U.S. cities, and everyday citizens are faring lately:

1. Fewer people have life insurance. A lot fewer: 70% of American households have life insurance, which is the lowest percentage in half a century, according to a LIMRA study that’s the basis of a WSJ story. In 2004, by contrast, 78% of U.S. households had some form of life insurance, and more than 80% of households had some coverage in the 1960s. There seem to be two main reasons for the drop in life insurance coverage rates, and indicate the struggles of the economy and average Americans: People are less likely to have jobs that include some life insurance, and they’re less likely to have the cash to pay for policies on their own.

2. A spike in murder-suicides in Sin City. According to an AP story, authorities in Las Vegas are blaming the economy for a recent spate of local murder-suicides: In less than two weeks, 10 people were killed in five separate incidents. Many of the people involved had been hammered by sharp drops in the local real estate market.

3. Both demand and costs of cable TV are on the rise. You’d think that with consumers cutting back on unnecessary expenses, competition would rise to attract TV customers and the price of cable bills would drop. But that hasn’t really been the case. Even though there’s indication that consumers are sick of escalating pay TV bills, relatively few customers have actually taken steps to cut the cord. Instead, as Bloomberg News reports, cable bills continue to rise, and many customers view in-home entertainment as a cheap alternative to being entertained outside the home, i.e. dining out or going to the movies.

4. Seattle’s libraries are closed this week. Now through Labor Day, the doors are locked at all public libraries in Seattle, per SeattlePI.com. Local officials say the closures (and corresponding salary reductions for library employees) were necessary to cut costs in the budget.

5. Firehouses are closing everywhere. To address their own budget woes, cities around the country are shuttering firehouses, per NY Times. Some blame the closures for the death of a two-year-old child in San Diego.

6. Public hospitals are turning into private hospitals. Rises in uninsured patients, the need for expensive equipment, and overall health-care costs are leading many municipalities to sell publicly-owned hospitals to private for-profit enterprises, reports the WSJ.

7. More homeowners taking on remodeling projects. In today’s real estate market, it’s hard to sell a home, and, while it may seem like a buyer’s market, there’s a lot of uncertainty keeping would-be buyers from making a move. And so, if you’re staying put, you might as well make your current home as comfortable as possible and increase its value at the same time. A USA Today story cites data noting a rise in homeowners planning on remodeling in the next 12 months. (Here, btw, are a bunch of tips for taking on DIY home improvement projects.)

8. MBA applications are down. After years of steady increases, for the fall 2010 semester the number of full-time MBA student applications fell 2%, and the number of part-timers fell by 7%, per stats gathered in a WSJ story. Does this mean people don’t believe in the business world as they once did? Or that they don’t believe in the power of an MBA as they once did?

9. U.S. birth rate fell to lowest rate in over a century. The struggling, uncertain nature of the economy is what has kept many from having kids, or from having more kids, per analysis in an AP piece.

10. Record numbers of Americans are enrolled in anti-poverty programs. According to a USA Today story, one in six Americans now get assistance from Medicaid, unemployment insurance, food stamps, and/or welfare payments, and enrollment in the former three have risen sharply since the recession began.

Read more:
Top 10 Signs of a Troubled Economy and/or The Apocalypse