In the Deep Freeze

Icy news still pervades the unemployment front.

May 7, 2012

Cleaning out the freezer isn’t the sort of task that’s “tons-o-fun,” and it becomes even less enthralling under surprise conditions.

Last Saturday I intended to defrost a bagel for breakfast before carrying out my agenda of lawn mowing, laundry, and shopping. As I whipped open bottom freezer drawer, three cups loose yeast flew out of its demolished storage bag, covering the floor, coating the damp freezer contents, and spewing waaay back underneath the refrigerator itself. Yippee!

I “wasted” the morning in clean up. I allowed the incident to spoil my attitude.  

Lora Kloth is a research librarian at CUNA.
Lora Bray is a research librarian at CUNA.

When faced with an interruption, do you let it throw you off kilter? Or do you see merits in resolving surprise problems? I dealt with icky freezer items that needed to go, and efficiently handled a “to do” that was still on my list, just not for that day. Now I feel good about my gleaming freezer.

Be informed, flexible, and prepared for interruptions with this week’s research review!

Frosty employment news

Icy news is still pervasive on the unemployment front, according to the Congressional Research Service’s “Economic Growth and the Unemployment Rate.”

It reports that “a persistently high unemployment rate is of concern to Congress for a variety of reasons, including its negative consequences for the economic well-being of individuals and its impact on the federal budget…What appears to matter for a reduction in the unemployment rate is the size of the output gap, that is, the rate of actual economic growth compared with the rate of potential output growth.”

This study offers an interesting analysis of the relationship between economic growth and unemployment, as well as unemployment projections in upcoming years.

“In 2011, 11.5% of families included an unemployed person, falling from a peak of 12.4% in 2010” according to “Employment Characteristics of Families—2011” by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Of the nation’s 78.4 million families, 79.8% had at least one employed member in 2011.”

See how unemployment is affecting many families and different family types in this summarization.

We are aware that employment brings compensation and benefits, but news from the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) reveals declines of coverage in “Employment-Based Health Benefits: Trends in Access and Coverage, 1997-2010.” That’s because fewer employers are offering such benefits:

“Between 1997 and 2010, the percentage of workers offered health benefits from their employers decreased from 70.1% to 67.5%, and the percentage of workers covered by those plans decreased from 60.3% to 56.5%.”

How is your membership affected by these current economic situations? How much of their income is spent on health care or insurance as a result of their job situations?

Cold consumer finances

Chilling research abounds regarding consumers’ spending and savings habits. “More Americans Entering Poverty as They Age,” EBRI reports. “Poverty rates…were highest for the oldest of the elderly. Almost 15% of those older than age 85 were in poverty in 2009 compared with approximately 10.5% of those older than 65…Additionally, in 2009, 6% of those age 85 older were new entrants in poverty.”

But all is not necessarily lost as we age, Fidelity suggests in “Don’t Take a Lifestyle Cut in Retirement,” which outlines five factors for stable finances:

  •  Age-appropriate allocation of assets;
  •  Bigger contributions to workplace savings plans;
  •  Putting off retirement dates;
  •  Annuitizing part of one’s retirement portfolio; and
  •  Utilization of home equity.

What motivates us to save? In “Under-Savers Anonymous; Evidence on Self-Help Groups and Peer Pressure as a Savings Commitment Device,” we learn that self-help peer groups can be an effective tool to encourage savings.

So, then, where is savings success found through peer groups? Vital components are frequent follow-ups and feedback.

A frozen housing market? “U.S. Homeownership Hits Decade Low,” says Gallup. Still, most Americans believe now would be a good time to buy with existing low interest rates.

However, “Declining homeownership rates suggest some Americans are beginning to doubt that homeownership remains part of the American dream…From an economic perspective, U.S. economic growth needs to be much stronger than it has been in order to achieve the hiring necessary to get unemployment rates to the ‘normal’ levels of the past. This doesn’t seem likely as long as housing activity remains relatively moribund and homeownership rates are declining.”

Does your credit union have services in place to assist with such issues as self-help consumer savings groups, forward-thinking financial planning services, and the resolution of homeownership dilemmas?

Warm thoughts of mom

Let’s not forget that Mother’s Day approaches—and with it comes shopping. Fortunately for mom, the National Retail Federation reports that “Gas Prices No Match When it Comes to Mom.” 

The average person celebrating the holiday is expected to spend $152.52 on gifts, up from $140.73 last year, and total spending is expected to reach $18.6 billion.

What will you spend on mom this year? Could you help her clean out the freezer as an economical yet appreciated token of your sentiments? Can your credit union offer specials to help those wanting to celebrate mom this week?

Interruptions are a part of life. Some need our immediate attention, while others don’t.

Said W. Edwards Deming, “The average American worker has 50 interruptions a day, of which 70% have nothing to do with work.”

Our goal should be the ability to discern the difference and act accordingly: Understanding our goals, priorities, and the information at hand will help in such endeavors.

LORA BRAY is a research librarian in CUNA's business-to-business publishing department.