Americans are frightened — often angry — and trying harder than ever to figure out where they stand after more than two years of economic uncertainty, public radio journalist Tess Vigeland told more than 530 people who attended The Columbian’s 2011 Economic Forecast Breakfast on Friday.
“I do not have a crystal ball; they’ve become far too expensive,” joked Vigeland, host of American Public Media’s “Marketplace Money” program. Even without detailed insight into the future, however, she felt confident predicting that the county’s and nation’s high unemployment rates are unlikely to show much improvement in 2011.
“Marketplace Money,” a consumer finance-oriented show that aims to provide accessible news to people who don’t revel in the nuances of business and economics, has received as many as 400 letters and e-mails from listeners each week since financial markets crashed in late 2008 — up four-fold since before the collapse.
Vigeland has heard from young people who are afraid to invest, educated people with long work histories who are struggling to find work, and a growing number of newly frugal Americans who are saving more because of concerns about the credit economy.
“Unlike some previous episodes of financial collapse, this one really hit a wide swath” of the population, Vigeland said. “People who were responsible, who played by the rules, got hit just like everyone else. That tends to hit our perceptions of fairness.”
High unemployment is compounding that problem, she said. “It seems to be cutting at the very notion that if you work hard enough, it will be OK. For about 10 percent of the population — 13 percent in Clark County — it’s just not fair.”
If people don’t regain faith that economic systems are fair, and that financial and government leaders are trustworthy, Vigeland said, there will be long-term consequences for the U.S.
Among the consequences she warned of: continued heated political rhetoric, diminished compassion among neighbors, and weak consumer spending that could hurt long-term job growth.
Until individuals and businesses begin to feel confident again, cash-rich companies “are going to keep the money on their books, and they’re not going to hire,” Vigeland said.
“It really is chicken and egg,” she said. “People who don’t have jobs aren’t going to buy anything, and companies aren’t going to hire people to make things until people start buying.”
Vigeland, whose radio career started at Oregon Public Broadcasting, traveled from her Los Angeles studio to the Hilton Vancouver Washington to deliver the keynote speech at the annual event.
The 2011 Forecast Breakfast was sponsored by First Independent Bank, MacKay and Sposito Inc., the Columbia River Economic Development Council, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Oregon Public Broadcasting and The Management Group.
Following Vigeland’s presentation, subject-matter experts joined three panel discussions on major economic challenges facing Clark County. Essays from 10 of the panelists will be included in a special 2011 Economic Forecast publication inserted in Sunday’s paper.
Courtney Sherwood: 360-735-4561 or firstname.lastname@example.org.