Good News on the Economy

Seriously, I’m coming up on 9 years of writing here, and this is the first time I’ve been able to write those words without meaning it sarcastically.

First, unemployment is down to 8.1% (locally, down to 12.4%). That’s still too high, and it still doesn’t account for people who have given up on finding a job and people who have settled for part time work. And the economy still isn’t quite up to making enough jobs for people new to the workforce, and new grads are still going to have a crappy time out there. However, not that long ago we were looking at almost 10%.

Second, there are signs of life in American manufacturing. Auto plants are working at capacity, and may have to actually hire an additional shift of workers — which is much less expensive than building a new plant and then having it sit idle 16 hours a day. Some industries that decided it was cheaper to make it overseas and ship it here are thinking twice. Senior executives are cautiously optimistic, and 40% report moving operations to the United States.

Finally, home prices are starting to inch up. Granted, this is at least in part because of reduced supply (and at least in part because prices got stupid-low on a per-square-foot basis in some places).

So there you have it. People are getting jobs and buying stuff. Some manufacturers are running out of the ability to make more stuff — so they may have to build places and hire people to make even more stuff. Maybe soon the Fed can raise interest rates from the supposedly “stimulating” levels they are today, and in turn banks will be able to make a reasonable profit lending money without making up fees or outright committing fraud.

In Closing: Who could have guessed that Citizens United could open the door to ordinary people taking over elections?; never forget Romney’s dog; Tokyo Sky Tree now open; too useful to be real; cheap and free ebooks; yet one more reason I’m against school vouchers; FISA; $27,000??; and the Vatican gets outraged when nuns actually act on What Would Jesus Do.


Oh, Oh, It’s Magic

On my most recent trip, I had a unique book to read while lounging by a beach of white sand and impossibly blue water. That book was The Magic Room by Jeffrey Zaslow. No, not a fantasy novel for young adults, but a book about women — oddly bereft of feminism. It’s a book about brides and a very special bridal shop in a small Michigan town. You’ll want to keep some tissues close by while you read it. You can get a little taste of it right here.

How did he end up in a bridal shop? When Mr. Zaslow set out to write “a nonfiction book about the love we all wish for our daughters,” he went looking for “a place with great emotion.” His wife suggested a bridal shop. And it’s not just any bridal shop, not one of those big chains or the boutique tucked in an obscure corner of a big department store. Becker’s Bridal has a long history: 4 generations of women in one remarkable family have worked here, in an old “small town” bank building, creating “magic.”

In addition to reading about the strong women of the Becker family and their business, we also follow a number of brides on their journey through the process. This does cause a bit of a muddle towards the last third of the book as the reader jumps from bride to bride, finishing out what happened between their trip to Becker’s and the wedding itself: is Courtney the one who decided not to kiss anyone until she got married? The kindergarten teacher who was in a car wreck? The widow who is getting remarried even though her kids are unhappy with the arrangement? The independent woman who is finally getting married for the first time in her 40s? Or is she the one with rheumatic heart disease? With many brides comes some confusion for anyone without a photographic memory.

As I consider the idea of my second wedding, I found the idea of a “bridal industry” somewhat creepy. No mistake, I understand and respect that there are people who make a living making sure I have a dress that makes me “princess for a day,” seeing to invitations, attiring my entire wedding party, putting together memorable services and receptions. I can’t imagine spending “between $19,907 and $33,178” as most American couples do. Even the cheapest sale dresses at Becker’s are more than I can justify spending on a gown I will — hopefully — only wear once.

Like the “funeral industry,” it doesn’t quite sound right to have an “industry” grow up around profoundly personal moments in somebody’s life. What’s next? Calling religious institutions part of the “faith industry”?

This being said, Mr. Zaslow comes up with some very interesting observations, presented in a rather dry, tangential, New York Times sort of way: brides used to be “smaller,” oh no not because of obesity, but because they “didn’t work out” and “didn’t lift weights” and “didn’t eat the way Americans eat today”; roughly 15% of mothers of the bride want dresses that are “too revealing and sexy,” and 35% have to be reminded that they aren’t the grandmother of the bride; sometimes the boss has to “be a bitch”; and oddly enough, “advances in box-making helped fuel the computer revolution.”

In this world of Brides Behaving Badly, it’s refreshing to see that getting married doesn’t have to be a three ring circus. On the other hand, there’s something odd about a man writing a tear-jerker book about the bridal industry, and saying it’s about “the love we all wish for our daughters.”

Want to discuss this book more? Go check out the conversation already flowing over at the Blogher Book Club.

Disclosure statement: I read this book for the Blogher Book Club. In return for my participation I was given a copy of the book (e-book in this case) and I will receive $20. Nevertheless, the opinions expressed here are my own.

Ok then, who wants a heaping helping of In Closing?: made up words; moron; Anonymous does good; if school was a job, students would get more break time by law; it’s never too early to eat right and move your body; cult; and security theatre.