News That’s Good and Bad for Consumers, the Economy, and the World

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Sometimes, news and notable trends aren’t entirely good or altogether bad. They’re a bit of both. For example, should we be happy that unemployed support groups are flourishing online? I suppose we should—though we’d all be happier if there was no reason for such groups to exist.

Here, 10 good-bad news stories of interest to consumers and monitors of the economy:

Consumer credit card debt continues to decline. A study shows that outstanding credit card debt has been on a steady decline since the fourth quarter of 2008, dipping from $969 billion then down to $807 billion in the second quarter of 2010.
WHY THIS IS GOOD: In light of the economic collapse, it would appear that consumers have learned their lessons and are finally paying off debts and becoming more disciplined spenders.
WHY THIS IS BAD: Because people aren’t really paying off nearly as much credit card debt as we’re led to believe. A lot of the decrease in debt is due to charge-offs—which occurs when card companies write debts off the books and eat the losses. When you tally the charge-offs into the equation, consumers actually accumulated $9.8 billion more credit card debt in the first quarter of 2010 than they did in the corresponding period a year earlier, a 249% accumulation in debt during the peak (low?) of the Great Recession.

Nearly half of Americans live in a household receiving government benefits. According to the WSJ, somewhere between 45% and 50% of the U.S. population lives in a home where someone receives government assistance such as food stamps, unemployment compensation, or subsidized housing. Three decades ago, roughly 30% of Americans lived in households receiving such benefits.
WHY THIS IS GOOD: The government is taking care of people in need.
WHY THIS IS BAD: Somebody has to pay for all of this stuff.

Big rise in enrollment at community colleges. U.S. News reports a 16% increase in enrollment at community colleges across the country, and another double-digit rise is expected this academic year.
WHY THIS IS GOOD: More people getting more education is always good.
WHY THIS IS BAD: It’s a sign of how poorly the economy is doing. If jobs were more plentiful, many of these students would be working or would have the money to go to whatever college they wanted, not just the least expensive community college option.

Daily consumer spending is down. A Gallup poll says that the average American’s daily spending on stores, restaurants, gas stations, and online purchases was $63 a day in August, down $2 from August of 2009.
WHY THIS IS GOOD: You’ve probably got an extra $62 in your pocket (by spending $2 less in each of August’s 31 days).
WHY THIS IS BAD: To get the economy humming along again, we’re all supposed to somehow be spending more, not less.

Sales of American weapons are down. The NY Times reports that the U.S. sold $22.6 billion worth of weapons in 2009, down from $38.1 billion in arms sales a year earlier.
WHY THIS IS GOOD: You’d hope that fewer weapons sold = fewer people killed.
WHY THIS IS BAD: It’s another sign of the impact of the global economic crisis, with spending being scaled back around the world. Oh yeah, and even though less money was being spent on weapons, the Times reports that countries were busy trying to figure out how “to make their armed forces more lethal despite tight budgets.”

Seniors are living longer and longer. In today’s world, if you’re 65 and in good shape, you should expect to live another 30 years.
WHY THIS IS GOOD: Most people consider living preferable to dying.
WHY THIS IS BAD: Um, a lot of people weren’t really figuring on nearly reaching the three-digit age mark, and their retirement savings may run out well before then—especially if their portfolios were hammered over the past couple of years.

Gen Yers aren’t buying or driving cars much. Americans ages 21 to 30 currently account for 14% of miles driven, down from 21% in 1995, according to Kiplinger.
WHY THIS IS GOOD: Less cars on the road, less pollution, and fewer young consumers going into debt due to monster car payments.
WHY THIS IS BAD: Who is going to buy all these cars being manufactured?

Confirmed: No need to change the oil every 3,000 miles. As I’ve written in the past, changing the oil in your car every 3,000 miles is entirely unnecessary for most vehicles today. A NY Times piece recently makes it clear that, for most cars manufactured in the last seven or eight years, changing the oil is smart every 7,500 miles or so.
WHY THIS IS GOOD: Now you know for sure that you can drive your car longer before changing the oil, without hurting the vehicle.
WHY THIS IS BAD: Now you know for sure that you’ve been blowing good money on entirely unnecessary oil changes.

Unemployed support groups flourish. The HuffPost describes the sense of community and support tons of the unemployed get by chatting, networking, reading about job news and unemployment benefits at Facebook pages and other various online hubs.
WHY THIS IS GOOD: They’re places for regular people facing tough times to meet and help other regular people facing tough times.
WHY THIS IS BAD: It’d be better if there was no need at all for these groups.

Super-fast Internet is coming to the U.S. It’s been widely reported that a new network in Chattanooga, Tenn. will provide 1-gigabit-per second Internet service—more than 200 times faster than what most of us are used to today.
WHY THIS IS GOOD: Faster is better.
WHY THIS IS BAD: So far, the service is only in one city, and it costs $350 a month. The rest of us will really enjoy hearing about how awesomely fast all you rich folks in Chattanooga can download HD movies.