Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Keys Economy

I have been following the news from Europe quite closely and I see nothing but misery in the future for millions on that side of the Atlantic Ocean. Tightly woven economies are coming unraveled and the promise of peace through economic union is becoming a nightmare embrace from which there is no escape, neither for the poorer countries nor for the richer countries. The economic spiral down seems unstoppable. And at the same time the election year prognosis for the US was an improvement in the economy, a gradual but steady return to good times. As Europeans lose their welfare states built on the rubble of the inhumane misery of World War Two, American corporatists pay vast sums of money to convince us self sufficiency in the face of declining wages, reduced benefits and general insecurity is in our self interest. George Orwell had it right but 1984 could have been titled 2014 for greater accuracy.

Even as I cast my vote for the President to get a second term I didn't believe his propaganda. My only hope was that, as a neighbor of mine put it, the more progressive of the two candidates win and less bad shit may take place politically in the next four years. Affordable Health Care for more people in need, fewer attacks on women's rights, less aggression overseas and at last more acceptance of gay equality. Small stuff in the face of increasing surveillance of poor people combined with no strengthening of banking regulations and a terrible track record of not standing up to Republican political blackmail. Personally I welcome the stupidly name sequestration act known as the fiscal cliff, which will lead to less war spending (mercenaries lose, which is good), and increased taxes might bring a dose of reality to those who argue that the national debt is the top priority. If that's true we have to spend less and pay more taxes, mathematically its simple, politically it's impossible.

House prices in the Keys reflect none of that turmoil, expectations by sellers remain high as do prices and even though prices have fallen, compared to national averages the Florida Keys command absurd prices for largely shoddy housing. Bargains are not what home buyers seek in these small specks of dirt. It used to be, during the credit boom when the Clinton Administration posted net decreases in the national debt incidentally, that getting a realtor's license was the path to prosperity. Realtors moved homes and increased their egos exponentially each passing year. They participated in the land grab and bought and flipped houses on credit. Then the musical chairs of land ownership ran out of credit and the retrenchment began.

I enjoyed the boom years, not by making money but by being mobile. Jobs were available for the asking anywhere one went, and sensible jobs were begging for employees which is how I became a police dispatcher, a job worth it's weight in gold in these times marked by endless layoffs in the private sector. I miss the madness and I remember clearly when people bitched about the crowds and the drunks and the gold rush breathlessness of life in Old Town, and I also remember saying at the time to enjoy the money while it flowed. The flow has slowed and what used to be considered normal income before the boom, is now considered to be low after a decade of wild spending by visitors.

Realtors back then used to covet their jobs and post their pictures on their for sale signs. Not anymore. I thought the practice was embarrassingly egotistical and I wonder why nowadays of all the signs I photographed only one had a picture on it, of a long time hold out in the realty business in the Keys, and her picture you'll notice is pretty small. Perhaps realtor-wannabes come and go these days discovering a license is no longer a permit to print money. I suppose turn over is high enough that the cost of printing a picture on a board is an unjustifiable cost. Perhaps the wrecked housing trade doesn't inspire pride anymore among the real estate agents picking through the remains of the market while smiling brightly and talking about "upswings."

There are lots of these signs out, because turnover is always high in Paradise. People come and people go and many of those people who had jobs before 2008 don't have them here anymore. Unemployment numbers in the Keys are low not because work is available but because people who lose their jobs go "home" Up North.

Through it all I keep seeing well paid jobs cut down, unions vilified (the people who brought you the weekend and over time pay) and corporations undercutting local businesses by a few pennies by sending real jobs to foreign countries. Selling and trading real estate isn't enough, nor should it be enough to sustain a Keys economy. We should be the place where factory workers come on vacation as well as their bosses to spend their hard earned pay. The politicians promise good times ahead but without good jobs here at home I don't see how that's possible. And without good jobs well heeled tourists will be fewer and further between even in a place that has a natural draw for people all over the world. Low house prices in the Keys will be the marker that the economy has reached its nadir. I miss the boom years, yes I do.

My neighbors have been thinking about selling their home for six or seven years. Their efforts have been...desultory at best. Time perhaps to refresh the home made sign or hire a hungry realtor were they serious.


Singing to Jeffrey's Tune said...

I completely concur about the vilification of unions - they raised the standard of living of all employees (union and non). The recent Hostess debacle was management playing the union like a fiddle to get what they wanted - the liquidation of assets in bankruptcy court.

While still an entrepreneur at heart, I have come to the conclusion that you are very correct about Fort Myers (me finding it through the long way around) - it is a very Republican, closed minded Tea-bagger town.

It was evident when I made a comment about IBM and GE's recent chopping of benefits and their under the radar layoff techniques, leading me to hope Obamacare works (b/c without it, most small businesses are doomed).

If you need to delete this comment if you feel it might start an argument, do so, as it is not my intent.

Conchscooter said...

What is becoming clear to many Americans is that affordable health insurance will make it possible for more people to live their own lives. My wife is tired of the school district but with rheumatoid arthritis she can't quit as no one will insure her non fatal tremendously expensive illness. In 2014 that should change.
Republicans want us to be self sufficient but without living wages, affordable health care and regulations on monopolistic corporations self sufficiency is a joke for working families.