Laura Rich

Businessman holding a piggy bankLet’s face it. While there are some bright spots in the economy (spam, running shoes, gardening seeds, tanning products), most businesses are focused on just covering costs and keeping their business operational, or at least in a holding pattern until the economy works itself out.

To that end, Beth Schoenfeldt, co-founder and chief encouragement officer of Collective-E, which bills itself as an entrepreneur agency, offers these tips for keeping your business healthy through this bumpy ride. The upshot: use this time to hunker down and refocus:

map-world-globe-150Think your town has it worst? You could be right. But to be sure, there are a plethora of maps, lists and other round-up prognoses attempting to help you determine just how bad it is from city to city. Here are two of the latest.

AP: Economic Stress Map
The Associated Press has rolled out its Economic Stress Index, which uses basic economic indicators like jobs, foreclosures and bankruptcies to find heat maps of good times and bad. You can watch videos of real people who have suffered the downturn. But the map comes with a self-serious accompanying story that makes us ask, Really, is this necessary?…

trafficIf ever there was an upside to this downturn, it just might be the easing of rush hour traffic. But for goodness sakes, we know, we know.

The Washington Post is the latest to discover that there are fewer cars on the road – drivers in the D.C. area drove 600 million fewer miles in November than in the same month a year earlier. If you’ve ever suffered the pain of Beltway traffic (around holiday time, two hours to cover 13 miles, ugh), you’re probably almost thrilled about the recession’s reckless purging of jobs to which people must commute and the gas they can’t afford.

It’s not just in D.C., as you probably well know (there’s already a growing archive of breathless stories). Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that across the nation, 8.6 billion fewer miles were covered in January and February of this year compared to the same time last year. Rush hour traffic in major metropolitan areas fell 29% from 2007 levels…

business-card-reinvent-renew-150For me, it’s a stash of overflowing bags crammed full of papers, pens, Post-It notes, trinkets, cards received, file folders, business cards.

For Sara, one of my co-founders, it’s boxes that contain art that once hung on the walls.

Everyone leaves their office with the bits and pieces that made up their former work life – how do you keep those artifacts from your former life from languishing, merely detritus of the old you?

Sara took her art and worked it into her apartment, combining the before and now. I’ve still got the bags waiting for me to sort through and toss.

Cards of Change has another idea for purging without purging: Use your business card, a symbolic signifier of who you are, to create change in your life.

peter-orszag-150Says who: Peter Orszag, White House budget officer

“The freefall in the economy seems to have stopped,” Mr. Orszag said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The analogy is there are some glimmers of sun shining through the trees, but we’re not out of the woods yet.” (via the Wall Street Journal)

Why it might be crap: Don’t take our word for it. Some in the blogosphere think it’s just more blue-sky spin:

credit card and moneyIt can’t be said enough that debt settlement companies are a poor option if you’re strapped with overwhelming credit card debt. From the New York Times Saturday:

When you sign up, many firms require you to pay a sizable fee upfront. Or they may levy initial set-up and monthly fees, and charge a percentage of the amount they saved you. They typically advise you to stop paying your debts and tell you to put aside money each month in a separate account over a period of two or three years. That sum will eventually be used to negotiate a settlement, usually about 60 percent of what you owe. In the meantime, though, credit card companies continue to charge interest and late fees. The creditor may sue. And the phone will probably continue to ring incessantly. The companies can offer no guarantees — except that your credit score will drop.

A daily review of the employment fallout around the country and the world.screw 150

In Germany, auto parts maker Schaeffler will cut 4,500 jobs. … Nike cuts 1,750 jobs around the world amid slowing demand for its products. … Polish newspaper company Agora, hit by declining circulation, will lay off 400 workers. … Wartsila, a maker of ship engine parts, will lay off 450 people through the end of the year. … Venus Swimwear in Jacksonville, Fla., will reduce its workforce by 240 positions….

Signs of the Recovery?

by Laura Rich on May 12, 2009 in News

question-mark-chart-150Spring is here, the sun is shining – and some days it feels like the dark days of the recession are over. A spate of headlines in the past few days indicated some are ready to call it a day on the recession:

Central Bankers See Turning Point NearWall Street Journal, May 12, 2009
Is the worst of the economic downturn over?, May 11, 2009
Recession ‘could be over by August’ says OECD as housing market perks up
The Daily Mail, May 12, 2009
Has the recession bottomed out?
BBC, May 12, 2009

But what are the economists saying? The bears, as usual, are still being bears. Everyone else is being erratic…

handout 150So, we’re trying to get this straight: If you’re really, really broke, move to South Carolina. If you can control your start date for work, go to Oklahoma. On Sunday, the New York Times laid out a few examples like this to show just how erratic the systems of distributing food stamps and unemployment benefits are.

Here’s the “duh” quote: “You’ve got this kind of jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t really fit together,” said Stuart Butler of the conservative Heritage Foundation. Even so, one in 10 Americans manage to receive food stamps (see our stories on whether yuppies should receive food stamps)…

money-pile-dollars-150Every year, Fidelity Investments polls about 1,000 people who are “millionaires.” This year, almost half of them said they don’t feel very rich at all.

According to Fidelity’s report out today, the millionaires saw an average drop in household income of 19 percent and real estate value fell 28 percent. Still, they reported an average of $3.5 million in investible assets and $306,000 in annual household income.

These people are very nervous about their wealth status…