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5 Ways Americans Are Surviving the Great Recession

Being a resourceful people, Americans are adapting to their new economic situation in a variety of ways.
 
 
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Most of us are familiar with the tragic numbers that tell the tale of this grueling downturn. During the last peak, about 65 percent of Americans held a job; today, that number is below 59 percent. We just saw the largest two-year drop in “labor compensation” – wages and benefits – since the early 1960s, the foreclosure crisis continues unabated, and for the first time, the number of “99ers” – unemployed Americans whose benefits have run out – has pushed past the two million mark.

While Washington remains in the grip of deficit hysteria, these are the real problems the American people face. Being a resourceful people, they're adapting to their new economic situation in a variety of ways. Here are five of them.

1. Waiting to Strike Out on Their own

Getting a new place of your own -- whether moving out of the family home as a young adult, going it alone after living with roomies or getting out of a bad relationship -- costs money. Given the depths of the downturn, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the number of new households being formed has hit its lowest level in 40 years. That's according to economist Scott Sumner, who, citing an analysis of Census data, notes that in 2007 over 1.6 new households were formed, which was more or less in line with the average of 1.5 million over the previous decade. Last year, however, only 357,000 new households emerged, “down 78% from 2007 and down 76% from the prior 10-year average.” This is a major drag on the housing market and the construction industry.

2. Doubling Up

According to the San Francisco Chronicle , “Facing layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs, more people have turned to shared housing to help make ends meet.” Reporter Caroline Said found that listings for shares in the Bay Area on Craigslist are up 60 percent in the past 12 months, and agencies that match landlords looking to rent out a room with tenants eager to find affordable digs are overwhelmed.

Dennis Torres, a professor of real estate at Pepperdine University, told Said that this is probably the beginning of a long-term trend. "People who lost their jobs are renting out rooms in a last-ditch effort to save their property (from foreclosure)," he said. "But once they rent them out, they're not going back. They'll get used to the extra income and that will be the norm, even if they get a new job."

Young college grads, facing dismal job prospects, are also being forced to move back in with their parents in increasing numbers. According to CNN, “a whopping 85% of college seniors planned to move back home with their parents after graduation last May,” a rate that has “steadily risen from 67% in 2006.” Unemployment nationwide is at 9 percent; recent college grads face an unemployment rate of 15 percent.

3. Moonlighting

This week, McClatchy reported that with wages stagnant, more Americans are taking a second job to make ends meet.

According to the report:

  • Twelve percent of workers plan to take a second job this year, according to a survey by CareerBuilder.com.
  • That's up from single digits during the first half of the decade, before the economic downturn, CareerBuilder.com reported.
  • The reason is almost always economic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of U.S. residents who said they had two jobs because of tight financial times was 7.3 million in 2010, up from 4.5 million in 2007, the year the recession began.

4. Running Up the Credit Cards

In June, I noted that, according to a monthly survey of consumer attitudes conducted by First Command Financial Services, "Eight out of 10 respondents said that paying down debt is currently their No. 1 priority.”

 
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