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Take a good look around you, and then savor the moment.
Unemployment in Utah just fell to 3 percent, which is just a little better than the national rate of 3.8 percent. Billboards aimed a business owners are popping up along the Wasatch Front. They offer to help companies hire the right kind of employee in an age when almost no one with qualifications is looking for a job.
Gas prices are up, but it isn’t clear whether people are changing their summer vacation plans. Just whip out the credit cards and go.
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The sun is shining. Birds are singing, and good times are rolling.
Some day, people may refer to this as the “roaring teens.”
The only trouble is, we all know what happened after the last decade that earned a nickname for roaring.
Are we ready for things to change? Or, put a different way, are we heeding the lessons of Pharaoh’s dream in the Bible and laying up in store during good times? The answer is predictable. One reason Pharaoh’s dream and Joseph’s interpretation were so memorable is that laying up in store is generally not a part of human nature.
Recessions are about as easy to predict as earthquakes. The only thing that may be said for sure is that they surely will come. And yet economists and scholars never stop study ways to possibly warn us.
One of the latest insights involves fertility. Researchers at Notre Dame and the University of Kentucky concluded people stop having babies just before a recession begins. Conventional wisdom holds that birthrates go down during recessions, but this study went back nine months and found evidence the trend actually preceded recent recessions.
It happened in 2007, apparently, during a time much like this, when all the best indicators were still pointing skyward.
"While the best of the experts didn't see the Great Recession coming, it seems that families and households were feeling those tremors and responding to it," Kasey Buckles, a co-author of the study, told NPR.
Young couples aren’t clairvoyant, but they can tell when money is getting tight.
The evidence is intriguing, but it may be of doubtful use in a state as fertile as Utah. Add it to the pile of other supposed indicators that are difficult to track and that probably wouldn’t change behaviors even if they were proven true.
It’s much easier to look at how ready people are for bad times. There, the evidence is clear.
The website gobankingrates.com reported recently that 39 percent of Utah residents have zero savings, and 55 percent have less than $1,000, compared to 57 percent nationally.
Utahns carry monthly credit card balances that equate to $2,750 for every adult. Nationally, the sum total of all credit card balances recently topped $1 trillion for the first time.
The good news is that, although delinquency rates are inching up, they remain relatively low. But it might not take much of a nudge to send them soaring. One sobering survey by creditcards.com found more than two-thirds of Americans say they have no idea when or if they would be debt-free.
And a recent rate hike by the Federal Reserve could add another $2.2 billion in interest on those card balances, according to marketwatch.com.
We like to rail on Washington for deficit-spending policies that continually push the national debt higher, but as a whole, Americans aren’t much better in their private lives.
Accountant and author Howard Dvorkin recently added all the indicators together, including outstanding student loan debts, which total almost $1.5 trillion, and the lack of retirement savings among emerging seniors, and predicted gloom.
“If I was forced to predict the cause of the next recession, I'm going with: all of the above,” he wrote for debt.com. “This country is facing such structural debt problems across so many categories, I can easily see any one of them pushing us into a recession — and all the others keeping us there for a long time.”
He was bold enough to predict that the next downturn could be classified as a depression.
You probably can throw that one on the pile of projections, as well. Each one probably is worth the paper, or the computer bytes, it’s written on.
Or maybe not.
It’s no fun to think about such things in the middle of the roaring teens. Then again, what better time is there?