Recession P(r)oof
By A.D. Freudenheim

25 November 2002

Yesterday, on a sunny, Sunday afternoon, I took a 60-block, round-trip walk of Manhattan's Upper West Side. Up and down the avenues, clusters of people milled around on the sidewalks waiting for a table to eat an over-priced brunch; the coffee places I passed were crowded; there were lots of people roaming the streets shopping; and the movie theaters seemed to be doing well, too, based on the lines.

Likewise, the wedding announcements in Sunday's New York Times were the usual fare, with young lawyers marrying young marketing professionals, and some women announcing their name changes while others noting that they will continue to use their name "professionally," and still more who did not bother to mention the issue at all. Most notably, the blurbs also mentioned two women who seem to have recently left their jobs, and careful readers might wonder if they left their jobs in order to manage their weddings and better "support" their new husbands (which is the implication). Quitting a job in this economy feels like a risky thing to do for all but the most financially secure, not to mention a bizarre statement on the importance of a career to these women.

Meanwhile, New York City is in miserable financial shape, with a conservatively-estimated deficit of some $5 billion. The mayor has floated the idea of a 25% property tax hike - and it looks like the city council will enacted an increase of around 18%; the numbers of employees in basic services like the public school system or the fire department are being carefully reduced, or in some cases simply maintained at lower levels as people leave; public transit systems are likely to increase their fares; and the cost of heating oil and water are both rising, adding further financial strains. To offset these costs, the building in which I live is considering a hike in maintenance fees that will wind up being more than 10%. (If you want to know what that means in real terms: maintenance costs already represent 13% of my non-discretionary spending on a monthly basis.)

This part of New York is not exactly representative of the overall population of the City, and New York is not representative of the rest of America in many ways either … but still, something seems more dramatically out of synch. Many New Yorkers are still partying like it's 1999, even though the move to a new millennium is probably not the most significant difference in the lives of most Americans. The market bounce-back of the last couple of weeks is only one small, positive piece of an overall recession that continues across the country. Is the Upper West Side fiddling while the rest of the country burns?

No, that is President Bush's role these days. I think New Yorkers are just happy with what they have, and frankly, I am happy - encouraged, even - to see so much activity in New York. The consumerism itself has little value (I am not suggesting people should buy things simply for the sake of doing so), but it represents a level of energy that could suggest good things for the rest of the country. Yes, by comparison New Yorkers probably have a bit more money than many Americans, but let us hope that these folks are on the leading edge of the next financial upswing, and not simply latecomers to the bust that many have already experienced.

Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.