12 Signs of Continued Hard Times

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Including more participation in food stamp programs and more people drinking beer at home, along with fewer people investing in stocks, buying videogames, going to the movies, and working at jobs that match their skill sets.
No more strip clubs, booze cruises, or Yankee games to woo top recruits to Wall Street. BusinessWeek reports that Wall Street firms have significantly scaled back “sell nights,” when they traditionally have tried to attract top college grads into joining the company with top-of-the-line steak dinners, visits to adult entertainment emporiums, and even flights to Miami to hang out in bottle-service nightclubs. Nowadays—because of both the economy and the fact that Wall Street firms don’t want to seem extravagant and profligate—candidates are lucky to be treated to burgers, fries, and a couple beers. Oh yeah, and there’s also the possibility of being offered a job with a six-figure salary.

More people are using food stamps. According to data rounded up in the Christian Science Monitor, household participation in the federal food stamp program has risen more than 20% compared to a year ago.

More people are working well into their “retirement” years. In mid-2005, 27.6% of Americans ages 65 to 69 were still in the labor force, compared to 31.3% in June 2010. Certainly the portfolio-busting recession was a reason why some people hadn’t retired, though U.S. News & World Report says that the percentage of elderly workers has steadily been on the rise for decades.

More people are deserting the stock market. Particularly younger investors, even though alternatives to taking on risk such as CDs are paying off next to nothing.

Parking lots are viewed as a sensible investment alternative to the stock market. The WSJ describes a few unusual, potentially lucrative investment opportunities, including the purchase of abandoned railroad beds, student housing, and parking lots.

More people are shying away from credit cards. In a Javelin Strategy report, 46% of consumers say they have decreased their use of credit cards, and more than half of consumers (51%) say they’ve slowed down “discretionary spending” on purchases such as entertainment, cars, and luxury goods. If trends continue, more than half of all consumers won’t use credit cards at all in the near future.

More Brits are getting drunk at home rather than in pubs. With 20% unemployment among young people in England, the once-thriving pub scene, with the number of clubs down 21% since 2006. At the same time, reports BusinessWeek, beer sales at supermarkets are up 4.4%, meaning that young Brits are deciding to have their pints at home and pay five times less than what they’d be charged in a pub.

David Brooks says the U.S. may have “British disease.” This has nothing to do with Americans drinking at home rather than at bars and restaurants (though sales of cheap liquor have been on the rise in the U.S.). It also has nothing to do with having bad teeth. (Joke! Forgive me for having fun with a stereotype.) Instead, the Times’ columnist explores the theory that America is on the decline largely for the same reasons that England’s superpower status began fading long ago: “After decades of affluence, the U.S. has drifted away from the hardheaded practical mentality that built the nation’s wealth in the first place.”

Videogame sales fell to their lowest levels since 2006. The horror! Possibly a sign of the apocalypse?

One-third of U.S. college grads work low-skill, low-paying jobs. So reports the Economist. No wonder videogame sales have tanked!

The number of movie tickets sold this summer was the lowest in 13 years. Videogame sales are down, movie attendance is down. So what are people doing, reading? Playing Scrabble? Now those would really be signs of the apocalypse. The WSJ looks over the summer movie figures, revealing that while higher-ticket prices actually yielded the biggest revenues ever, the overall number of tickets sold was down significantly. Perhaps those high ticket prices, combined with unemployment still hovering around 10%, had something to do with this? Or perhaps moviegoers just weren’t crazy about this summer’s selection of films?

The Fed reports “widespread signs of a deceleration” in the economy. That’s according to the recently released Beige Book. And that’s, well, not a good sign.

Read more:
Ten Signs of a Still-Troubled Economy