Saturday, January 31, 2009

Recession-Proof Seattle...No More

So I've been meaning to discuss the economy for awhile. My Dad mentioned to me today that he recently heard a news story about Seattle. The city always considered itself recession-proof. But it no longer can withstand this recession. Seattle has been hit hard. It took a little longer to get here, but once the recession arrived, it came in full force. First, Washington Mutual went belly-up. Not only did that affect the thousands of people working here in WaMu's headquarters, but it also affected downtown Seattle. WaMu has left empty skyscrapers and the city is struggling to find renters. Additionally, if thousands of people suddenly leave downtown Seattle, what happens to those restaurants and businesses who count on those WaMu employees to frequent them during lunch? Since WaMu collapsed, we've seen huge lay-offs in other companies headquartered here including: Boeing, Starbucks, and the giant Microsoft. Microsoft has never had to lay-off people before, so this was huge.

And when you've got thousands upon thousands of people in the area without work, that trickles down to every other company. For example, Robb works at the high-end grocery store Metropolitan Market. It tends to be a bit pricier than your Wal-Mart Supercenter. So as people lose their jobs, they also adjust their spending habits. Met Market is seeing fewer customers, which means that instead of 5 employees serving customers, you only need 2 at a time. This means hours are being cut, so that most employees that were full-time before now only get part-time hours. As a manager, Robb still gets full-time hours; he occasionally cuts one or two hours out a week. But now the job is more stressful because there are less employees to work with and no wiggle room for emergencies.

The other interesting thing is, as people are unemployed and scared to spend money, our state government goes into a tailspin. Here in Washington there is no income tax. Besides a car tax and property tax, the only tax we have is sales tax. At 8.9%, it's pretty steep. But when people curtail their spending, the government loses out on expected revenue. Our deficit is several billion dollars right now. As a state employee, my job has changed significantly in the past few months. I used to travel every couple of months around the state. Now there are strict travel rules and most meetings are held electronically. There are job freezes and employment caps in place. And, quietly, there are some lay-offs happening. I feel fairly secure in my job. There's a significant interest in my unit existing by the federal Department of Justice. Additionally, I've taken on several more quality assurance functions as someone in our office is facing a family emergency. I think I'm considered valuable right now, so I'm not too concerned about losing my job.

With all this being said, I am still grateful to be here and grateful we moved here when we did. We got here in August 2007. We were not employed full time until December 2007. It took a lot longer then we expected and we were extremely stressed. I cannot imagine what would have happened if we waited a year to move here. We never would have found jobs. I doubt we even would have risked moving across the country. So Washington is struggling. And just like everyone else, we're worried about the future. But we're in a beautiful state and gainfully employed for the moment. We feel very lucky.

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