Some pictures are worth a thousand words. And some words paint an astounding picture. Consider the following article from today’s New York Times:
Who said anything about a recession? Sometime between the government bailout of Bear Stearns and the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that America lost 80,000 jobs in March, Lee Tachman spent roughly $50,000 last month on a four-day jaunt to Miami for himself and three close friends.
The trip was an exercise in luxuriant male bonding. Mr. Tachman, who is 38, and his friends got around by private jet, helicopter, Hummer limousine, Ferraris and Lamborghinis; stayed in V.I.P. rooms at Casa Casuarina, the South Beach hotel that was formerly Gianni Versaceâ€™s mansion; and played â€œextreme adventure paintballâ€? with former agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Mr. Tachman, a manager for a company that executes trades for hedge funds and the owner of â€œa handfulâ€? of buildings in New York, said he has not felt the need to cut back.
â€œI always feel like thereâ€™s a sword of Damocles over my head, like it could all come crashing down at any time,â€? he said. â€œBut thereâ€™s always going to be people who are trading, and thereâ€™s always going to be a demand for real estate in New York.â€?
He is hardly alone in his eagerness to keep spending. Some businesses that cater to the superrich report that clients â€” many of them traders and private equity investors whose work is tied to Wall Street â€” are still splurging on multimillion-dollar Manhattan apartments, custom-built yachts, contemporary art and lavish parties.
Buyers this year have already closed on 71 Manhattan apartments that each cost more than $10 million, compared with 17 apartments in that price range during all of 2007. Last week, a New York art dealer paid a record $1.6 million for an Edward Weston photograph at Sothebyâ€™s. And the GoldBar, a downtown lounge, reports that bankers continue to order $3,000 bottles of RÃ©my Martin Louis XIII Cognac. [full text]
Now contrast the above with a slightly different story from last week’s Philadelphia Inquirer:
Twenty-five dollars. That’s all Sandra Walerski can spend in the Claymont Save-a-Lot today for a week’s worth of groceries.
Walerski, 47, who lives in Trainer, Delaware County, travels over the Pennsylvania line to shop in tax-free Delaware – part of a mighty fight to keep her family of six afloat as the hard-time economy grows wide and deep.
Food and gas prices soar while the dollar weakens and employers shed jobs. People like Walerski are among the worst casualties – a rising number of working poor in the region, generally defined as families with one or more workers making no more than twice the poverty level.
Being working poor is like living in another America, a lesser country where you go to a job, pay bills – do everything right – and still teeter perilously close to the edge.
“Working poor is what I am,” says Walerski, who possesses a broad, smiling face and a fighter’s demeanor. “There are lots of us, and we look like everyone else.
Some weeks, Walerski spends as much as $45. But overall, her precious dollars seem to buy less while her four kids are eating more.
Her carpenter husband works diligently to pay the mortgage on the family’s cramped house, down the street from a refinery. But there isn’t enough.
Meanwhile, a growing tumor in Walerski’s brain, as yet unbiopsied, prevents her from being employed. She used to put in 50 hours a week, juggling a day-care job with telephone-survey work. She prays that the cancer that resulted in surgery to remove her breasts does not return. [full text]
Get the picture?