Thursday, October 9, 2008

Depression, Times Two?

The stock market continues to slide, straining the ability of overworked financiers to come up with appropriate metaphors and causing wild rumors of an all-out metaphor shortage:
"The story is getting to be like that movie Groundhog Day," said Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. He pointed to the still-frozen credit markets, and Libor, the bank-to-bank lending rate that remains stubbornly high despite the Fed's recent rate cut.

"Until that starts coming down, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone getting excited about stocks," Hogan said. "Everything we're seeing his historic. The problem is historic, the solutions are historic, and unfortunately, the sell-off is historic. It's not the kind of history you want to be making." [...]

"We're stuck in a morass and I think it's going to take quite some time to come out of it," said Stephen Carl, principal and head of equity trading at The Williams Capital Group. [...]

"I think the market's way oversold. But I can't stand in the way of this falling knife - I'd get sliced open," said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors. "Investors are just saying, get me out at any price."

It's hard to believe that all of those images come from a single AP article; if they're not more careful during these desperate times, outraged English professors all across America may descend on Wall Street with completely blank protest signs to convey their anger at so random and wasteful a deployment of strained metaphors, which are already overworked and exhausted as they are every campaign season.

I joke about this because we don't yet know just how serious it all will become. I tend to avoid talk of hoarding food and planning to head for the hills, because there seems to be an element among conservatives (and they have a liberal counterpart, too) that seems to delight in the prospect, and have spent more time on this earth in hill-heading strategic planning than in actually living their lives. But there's no doubt that it's unsettling to hear people who remember the Great Depression start to talk about how this could end up being just as bad for the average American family, when the Dow finishes its current rate of decent and the dust clears enough for us to assess the damage properly.

There's no way to know, yet. But I take comfort in one thing: as a one-income homeschooling family we're already living a pretty sustainable lifestyle compared to many of our counterparts.

Think of it. When the Great Depression hit, most people had only one source of income. As more and more men lost their jobs families faced grinding poverty.

But now, most people rely on two separate incomes just to live in their homes and pay their bills. Let's face it: most people rely on two separate incomes to qualify for enough credit to live in their homes, and they're already living on borrowed money. How many people do you know who owe ten, twenty, even thirty thousand dollars or more in credit card debt alone? How many people do you know who would default on their mortgages if only one spouse were out of work?

If massive layoffs follow this current drop in the markets as some suspect they will, one-income families won't be immune at all to the devastating effects of that. But a one-income family has the possibility of having two people replace that one income--if times were desperate enough. The two-income family, though, usually needs to replace both incomes to stay in their homes and continue to live a life even remotely similar to the one they lived before.

One income-families, especially homeschooling families, have some other advantages as well:

-The mother usually cooks most of the family's food from scratch, and can do so economically;

-A second car, while nice to have, is not essential and can be given up in hard times;

-Educational costs can be reduced to almost nothing, and extracurriculars that cost too much can be given up for the duration;

-The family is usually already striving to live a life apart from some elements of popular culture, reducing the children's exposure to various cultural elements which tend to be expensive; the deliberate cultivation of anti-materialist attitudes forms a part of many homeschoolers' lives.

I'm sure there are more advantages in hard times than these, too. But these are some of the immediate ways homeschooling moms can have a positive effect on her family's financial state should such efforts become necessary.


eulogos said...

During a couple of previous stock market corrections I was in a similar position to yours...only I think the one income we were living on was less. I had no investments, and no debt except a few medical bills, because my income was too low to qualify for any credit.

But, alas, now we are a two income couple, with significant credit card debt and two kids in college. The colleges say we can come up with $26,000 a year to pay for them. The only way of doing it was either to take out Parent Plus loans or to borrow against the money we have in the market from the sale of my parent's house. Well, now it isn't clear if banks will be making these Parent Plus loans. And the money in the market has close to halved itself in a couple of weeks. We are now in a position where we actually may have to tell our kids they can't go to college next year. I am feeling pretty sick today.
Susan Peterson

Daddio said...

Interesting comment, Susan. I'm going to write on this topic on our blog.

Daddio said...

To your point, Red, I think that's a nice way to look at things. Worst case scenario, we send our kids to public school and my wife goes and gets a job until things improve. Or even a part time job, for me or her, in the evenings. As you said, we could sell one of the cars. We'd find a way. It wouldn't be fun, but we won't lose our house. We used to wish it was bigger, and considered trying to sell. Still wouldn't mind a little extra space, but mostly today I praise God that we bought this cute little place when we did. Good interest rate, low energy bills. I'd be scared if we had stretched to get a bigger house and were living on the edge today.

My wife's maternal grandparents talk about how they didn't even know there was a Great Depression when it was going on. They were poor long before it happened, and stayed poor long after it ended. A bunch of happy Catholic cajuns hangin' on the bayou. Many of them didn't even have social security numbers, or speak much English. They recall very fondly of the very modest lifestyles of their youth. Not to be overly romantic, but it kept families close to each other and dependent on the Lord.

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic. Do employers facing lay-off's have a moral obligation to cut the married women first? (So that married men and single people are still able to pay their bills?) I'm afraid to elaborate too much on that one for fear of sounding sexist as I think out loud.

Anonymous said...

What if the married woman was working to support her family because her husband did not have a job? Or was working to pay medical bills for her sick child? What if the single person had enough money saved up to liveoff of for a year?

I understand alittle of what you are saying but there is no way this could be done fairly. We can't assume a married woman is working just so her family can have luxuries.

Red Cardigan said...

Anonymous, I'm not at all saying that women work for luxuries. It's just that once women started working, people got used to having two salaries--and everything, including homes, transportation, and the like--got more expensive.

Many women work only because they have to. But my point is that two income families that lose one income may lose everything, while families that only have one income and who have been living on that income may be able to replace that one income, should a Depression hit, with two smaller incomes that total about the same as what they were making before.