NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Thanksgiving is, at its most pure, a time to give thanks. But with high unemployment, low home values and the looming threat of a double-dip recession, it may seem like there’s more to grumble about at the table this year than to praise. The current state of our economy isn’t all bad news, though, with some economic statistics showing glimmers of hope amid the gloom.
Besides just researching facts and figures, MainStreet also spoke with ordinary Americans to find out what they’re thankful for this year. It wasn’t possessions or big sales they spoke of, but rather the more basic necessities in life. Read on to hear their stories, and feel free to tell us what you’re most thankful for in the comments section below!
Tracy Bagatelle-Black, 44, an account manager from Santa Clarita, Calif., didn’t mince words when asked what she’s grateful for this year. “I’m most thankful that I have a full-time job,” she says. “I have so many friends that are out of work, and a few that can’t find enough work. Two of my friends don’t even have cars this holiday season.”
Bagatelle-Black’s story isn’t uncommon as many families continue to struggle, but despite the still-dismal jobs situation in America, there have been modest improvements in job growth recently. The October jobs report showed that unemployment is down to 9% from 9.1%, the first drop in the rate since July. The Labor Department also reported that the economy added 80,000 new jobs in October, and an average of 130,000 jobs per month in the third quarter, up from 97,000 in the second quarter.
While employers will need to significantly step up hiring for the unemployment rate to continue to fall, the October numbers are at least a step in the right direction – and that’s definitely something to be thankful for.
Although many of our country’s unemployed and underemployed live without health insurance, according to a recent Gallup poll, the majority of Americans (82.3%) do have coverage. The poll also found that most Americans have a personal doctor (78.3%) and have visited a dentist in the past 12 months (64%), though all three of these categories did decline a few percentage points since 2008.
Some of our readers who are fortunate enough to have health insurance told us it was one of the things they’re especially thankful for this year, including Laura Johnson, 30, a project manager from Belleville, N.J. “When I had my son last year I only had to pay about $75 total for ultrasound and the co-pay for my doctor visits,” she says. “My hospitalization was covered completely and most of the extra tests that they do were all covered. We have friends who had a baby a month before we did and they had thousands in medical bills to pay.”
They say if you have your health you have everything, so it’s not surprising that many MainStreet readers also shared their stories of triumph over some serious ailments. Of course, without adequate health care, getting the proper medication and treatment can put many families deep in the red, so it’s our hope that the government initiates some sort of health care reform in the near future.
A Housing Market That’s Finally Clearing Up
It may sound cliché, but Dana Rankin is most thankful to have a roof over her head this Thanksgiving. “After four years of homelessness, my four children and I have been blessed with a beautiful new home this year,” says Rankin. The 45-year-old entrepreneur from Kansas City, Mo., was able to afford a three-bedroom house in a foreclosure sale after saving up enough income from her home-based business.
On a national level, the housing crisis certainly isn’t over, but there are some signs things are getting better. As MainStreet has reported, U.S. quarterly home price gains through October saw a weak but positive 0.6% growth, and most U.S. regions did report modest quarterly gains. And new data from Lender Processing Services say that the rate of mortgage delinquencies is starting to slow down: The number of unpaid home mortgages was 6.87 million at the start of 2011, compared to 8.12 million in January 2010. And in LPS’s “first look” at September’s mortgage landscape, unpaid home loans were an even lower 6.37 million. The financial blog Economistsoutlook.com, produced by Realtor.org, pegged the current mortgage delinquency rate at 3.5%, down from the 4.7% recorded in 2010 and 5.1% in 2009.
When will we see a full housing rebound? Some experts say it could take years, but if the mortgage delinquency rate is any indicator, we’re on the road to recovery.
Jeremy Gregg, executive director of The PLAN Fund, a nonprofit microlender serving north Texas, says he’s thankful for the donors who still managed to give to his nonprofit organization and others across the country this year.
“My organization provides loans to credit-challenged entrepreneurs and small businesses, so we have seen a great surge in need over the past few years,” says Gregg, 33. “Our loan program has served nearly twice as many people this year as it did in 2010 – despite the fact that donations have fallen over 40%. We have restructured our operations to maximize our efficiency and impact.”
According to the AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy, total giving to charitable organizations in the U.S. was $290.89 billion in 2010, an increase of 3.8% from 2009, when giving was $280.3 billion. This suggests that despite these hard times, Americans are still willing to give to those in need, and in greater amounts.
If you’re looking for a worthy charity to donate to this holiday season, you can get some ideas in MainStreet’s look at eight charities that feed the hungry and 10 charities that need holiday help.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit
While most of us can rattle off a list of businesses we know of that have closed because of the economic downturn, many establishments have been able to remain afloat, and some of these business owners told us they’re grateful for their success this year.
“As a new small business owner in my first year of business, I'm thankful for the outpouring of support from family and friends, especially those who some would say are my competitors,” says Shannon Mouton, 43, of Washington, D.C., who owns a marketing consulting company. “I've gotten and given business, shared contacts and made and received introductions.”
Of course, it’s often the hard work of a business’s staff that helps it thrive – a lesson Karla Dennis, 45, of Cypress, Calif., learned this year. “I am most thankful for my 14 employees who make my life as a business owner, mother of four, wife and daughter to two elderly parents a lot more peaceful,” she says. “This year my parents have had a lot of health issues that have pulled me out of my accounting practice very frequently and often unpredictably. Never have my employees once complained about having to switch around the office schedule, work late or pick up an extra load because of my absence. They are truly a blessing.”