Adjusting To A New Normal
by Mark Singleton
It seems like everyone is blaming everybody else for the economic mess we are in. The reality is that all of us are to blame. Somehow we allowed living beyond our means as people and a country to conquer common sense.
Over the years we crept up a mountain of financial chaos with a slippery slop on the other side. A chart of the stock market since the turn of the millennium looks like the Alps. In October of 2002 the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged to a low of 7,286 and then The Bulls took it to over 14,000 in just five years. Then, in less than 18 months, it dropped to a 12-year low of 6,600. Now, less than a year later, the Dow Jones is at 10,600.
What is normal anymore? Do we save, or do we dare spend for a new car or home? If we save, will our efforts be eroded by inflation? If we spend, what happens if things get worse? Will health care now cost less or are we going to be taxed into bankruptcy as a nation?
According to a recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll reported in the Dallas Morning News (3/10/10), the young working class is fearful of what lays ahead. Six in 10 are nervous about meeting their current bills. Almost half of those young adults surveyed question whether they can remain in college. Eight out of 10 foresee difficulty in finding a job. Fewer than half think they will be better off than their parents. That is sad. That is reality.
The reality is that we must adjust to a new normal, one that keeps changing from day-to-day.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s everything was in blossom. We were lulled into believing that higher salaries or a booming stock market would continue to grow. In those days, a 1,200 square foot home in California could be on the market for one million dollars and sell within a couple of days. Life was lavish and there was an inflation of our mindset. And then came September 11, 2001.
Like Black Tuesday in October 1929, Wall Street crumbled, one with the crash of the stock market the other with a crash of planes. The Great Depression drove people to poverty, 9/11 drove the US to war, and in both instances the outcome was a loss of hope in the future and the economy.
The aftershock of 9/11 came in mid-2008 when the economic bubbles began to burst with a bang that finally got our attention. Huge companies declared bankruptcy, unemployment began to spike, lost incomes, lost homes and a domino-effect perpetuated the great fall. Economists predict that the “normal” we once knew may never come back again.
The Millennial generation, part of which are young adults now entering the workforce, are adjusting to a new normal. It is a time when there will be less consumption and more frugality.
But all is not doom and gloom. The readjustment of the economy and attitudes may be a blessing.
Finally, homes may actually be affordable. A more meager lifestyle may curb conspicuous consumption. There is already a notable increase in savings by Americans.
Living within our means may give us a better meaning of life.
We are blessed to be living in Ellis County where rural, grassroots values are part of a lifestyle handed down through generations. The reason there is not 12% unemployment in Ellis County, local banks going bankrupt, or city governments putting us into lifelong debt, is because the great majority of us already lived within our means and held firm to a commitment to church and children and community.
That passion to preserve values that our forefathers have handed down is a heritage that the great majority of people living in rural America won’t abandon.
We all may be heading to a new normal; a lifestyle of more moderation. However, if that is the journey that we are now on, I think the citizens of Ellis County are already far down that road.