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Media should be more upbeat about economy

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Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2007 1:27 am

So I woke up early on Labor Day, and wandered outside my house to grab the morning paper. And I’ve been thinking about that moment ever since.

On the front page of my Tribune was a headline that read “An Uncertain Labor Day For U.S. Workers.” My immediate reaction was to say to myself “yes, things are always uncertain, especially for those of us who are ‘workers.’ This headline is accurate, so far as it goes …”

However. it occurred to me that in the minds of some, experiencing an “uncertain Labor Day” may be a new phenomenon, as though previous Labor Days entailed no uncertainty at all.

But when was it that “workers“ experienced no uncertainty on Labor Day? Did the future look perfectly bright and rosy on Labor Day 2006 or in 2005? Was the economy in perfect condition on Labor Day 2001, days prior to the fateful terrorist attacks (the answer to this last question is clearly “no”)?

The headline in my Tribune further read, “Median household income up,” which is obviously a significant part of the economic picture, and good news by any account.

But after reading my local paper, I logged on to see the day’s news from other local and national outlets around the country. And what I found was an interesting, if confusing, collection of headlines and statements about the condition of the nation’s economy on Labor Day 2007.

A report from AFP, a French news agency, provided the headline “U.S. Economy Grew At Solid 4.0 Percent Ahead Of Turmoil.” The synopsis? The U.S. economy was very healthy in the second quarter of this year, prior to the recent problems of the past few weeks in the housing and lending markets.

And there was this headline from the Associated Press: “Economic Data Reflect Slower Growth.” Below this it was reported that the Institute for Supply Management (the ISM), a Tempe-based organization of corporate purchasing executives, said its index of business activity in the manufacturing sector registered 52.9 in August, down from 53.8 in July.

According to the ISM, readings above 50 suggest economic expansion is on the horizon, whereas a reading below 50 is said to indicate economic contraction. So it would seem that we’re still in “positive territory,” so to speak.

But as I read these details from AP, it occurred to me that instead of “Economic Data Reflect Slower Growth,” the headline could have easily been “Economic Growth Continues Despite Weakness In Some Sectors.” My headline would have been just as accurate, just as “true” as the AP’s.

However, the difference between the two is significant. One places emphasis on the slight economic decline, while the other emphasizes that the economy is still growing.

And it is this kind of subjectivity in headlines that influences people’s emotions. And people’s emotions influence their economic decision making — which influences the overall economy.

I began asking people around the East Valley about this “emotional component” to our economy, especially as it pertains to the local real estate market.

“The emotional factor is huge,” says Barbara Buckingham, a realtor in the Ocotillo area of south Chandler. “Unfortunately there’s a lot of negative emotion out there, because the news media usually emphasizes the decline in home prices or the slowing in economic growth.”

And what sorts of good news is being ignored? According to Buckingham, there’s plenty.

“My own hometown has plenty of good news” she claims. “Chandler has been selected by the Rockefeller Group as the site of a huge, new, high-end business park. This is the same company that developed the famous Rockefeller Center in New York City. And when they decided to expand in to the American Southwest, they chose our own East Valley. This is great news, and it affirms what many of us already believe — that long term, the future here is bright. But very few people even know about it.”

Buckingham also points out that several regions of the East Valley are still growing in population, and while she does not believe that real estate prices have bottomed out yet, home values today are still greater than they were four or five years ago, so today’s sellers can still turn a profit.

She also tells me that she collects every bit of positive hard-copy news she can gather about the local economy and real estate markets, and redistributes it to friends and clients. “We all need to see the good things that are going on” she claims, “instead of merely being bombarded with fear and worry.”

So here’s hoping that you see the good things going on, too. Because the economy is still growing, the East Valley is still a great place for long term investment — and your feelings influence my economy.

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