Tag Archives: recession

Renting Or Buying: Which Is More Grown Up?

We’re about to move.

We just got notice from our landlord that we have 60 days to vacate our home. And among the many things we’ve had to contemplate on short notice is whether or not we want to continue to rent or go ahead and buy.

I’ll cut to the chase and reveal that it looks like we’re going to be renting our next flat (which – in an act I can only attribute to God or Karma or both – we may have miraculously already found, the very day that we got kicked out!) But for a brief moment over the weekend- 48 hours or so – we thought seriously about buying.

I’ve written before in this space about how I find safety in movement. For me, buying a house falls into a long list of things – jobs…careers…continents – which make me feel trapped, and from which I instinctively flee.

So I was heartened when renowned Yale economist Robert Shiller gave me an out from forcing myself to confront my commitment-phobia in a column that he wrote for the New York Times last week. Shiller points out that the United States government has been subsidizing home ownership for decades. And it has done so largely for cultural reasons:  for many Americans, owning a home is intimately bound up with our notions of citizenship. Home ownership is the very embodiment of individual liberty, whereas renting has been linked (culturally) with the oppression of the landlord.

Shiller wants to suggest that this American attachment to owning a home needs to end. Financial theory tells us that people should diversify their assets, rather than dumping them all in one place (a home). And by encouraging people to take a leveraged position in the real estate market at all costs, mortgage institutions have encouraged this culturally rational – but economically irrational – practice. And we all know where that got us. (Thank you, sub-prime mortgage crisis.) (For an interesting perspective that argues the exact opposite, see this article in Forbes.)

Shiller’s bottom line, then, is that we should re-think the idea of renting because it might make more sense for the majority of Americans. He gives Switzerland as an example of a country that has re-jiggered its housing finance institutions in the direction of rentals without sacrificing national pride.

Shiller isn’t framing it this way, but another way to put what he’s saying is that in the present economic climate, it may actually be more grown-up to rent, rather than to buy. Which is the exact opposite of how we normally think about this issue.

To which I say: Amen. When can I sign the lease?

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Yesterday, I was over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about the never-ending War In Iraq and its ongoing political and cultural legacy.Have a look.

Image: For Rent – Reduced??!! by Kelly Sims via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Is Part-Time Work the Wave of The Future?

Here’s an unorthodox policy move in the midst of a recession: Tell businesses to create more part-time jobs.

The British government has recently unveiled a series of initiatives to bolster part-time work, including urging employers to post full-time jobs as part-time or job-sharing arrangements, as well as creating a national data base of part-time jobs. In a particularly bold move, the British government is also considering extending flexible working laws — which allow employees to ask their current boss if they can reduce their hours — to future employers as well.

Today I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about why this may be smart economics and smart politics…and why it may also make women happier.

Have a look

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I was delighted to have my article about delaying the start of schooling featured on the New York Times Motherlode blog last week. Motherlode is a superb website for parents of children all ages, which combines personal essays, policy analysis and good old-fashioned reporting. If you’re looking to read a parenting blog, go no further.

Image: Registration by Dansays via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

This Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. I thoroughly enjoyed this in-depth description of what it’s *really* like to read something on the Kindle by Nicholson Baker in last week’s New Yorker. Especially loved how he threw in the odd literary reference throughout the piece. Fun writing!

2. Beautifully written piece on The Wilderness of Childhood by Michael Chabon in the New York Times Book Review about a month or so ago that I just discovered. The sentiment isn’t all that original but the writing is.

3. Slate ran a thought-provoking series entitled “The End of America” this week by Josh Levin. Among the things he contemplates:  climate change, totalitarian rule and Mormonism. Pick your pleasure.

4. This was a particularly moving account of the impact of the recession on one family in the Washington Post.

5. My two cents on a new immigration reform proposal here in the UK over at politicsdaily.com.

6. Finally, in the realm of “just because,” here are Ten Things You Didn’t Know About the Penny.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For the Weekend

This Friday I direct you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. NPR’s list of books that helped us grow up. A friend of mine just found a copy of Deenie in her basement-sigh!

2. And speaking of literature, if you’re a David Foster Wallace fan (or wanna-be, like yours truly) you might want to join in the Infinite Summer project, an online book club that’s reading Wallace’s Infinite Jest over the course of this summer (only one third through-there’s still time to join!) While you’re at it, a helpful reader pointed me to this interview with DFW posted on the reader’s blog, Rough Fractals.

3. For those of us looking to jump start our job hunt during the recession, have a look at this video resume. You will not be disappointed. (Hat Tip: Marci Alboher, Working the New Economy).

4. The New York Times’ Judith Warner talks about what it’s like to mourn in middle age.

5. For the visually inclined, take a look at this collection of living pictures formed by thousands of U.S. soldiers. Very cool!

6. Finally, I love the concept of this blog, A Midlife Of Privilege. (Subtitle: A WASP stops to consider.) Love it!

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Freelancing in a Recession: Can you Slash Your Way Out of It?

I got an email from a friend of a friend the other day asking me for advice about how to jump-start a freelance writing career. She’d written some fiction and gotten an MFA along the way, but was now fund-raising for a non-profit and feeling…well, kinda empty.

“There’s not enough time for me to do what I love,” she complained. “I want to dedicate myself to my writing.” But she wanted to know if it was really feasible…i.e. could one really earn a living as a freelance writer? “I like being able to buy myself a new pair of shoes every once in awhile,” she confessed. “I don’t like to stress about money all the time.”

I didn’t know what to tell her. I wanted to give her my usual spiel about how great it is to freelance:  the flexibility to set your own hours, the freedom to do what you love, the ability to wear your pajamas to work.

But I’d also just finished reading Emily Bazelon’s sobering analysis in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about self-employment in today’s economy. According to Bazelon, while the number of self-employed workers increased by 27 % between 1995 and 2005,  the current recession has hit this segment of the labor market particularly hard. There is both greater supply (due to the rise in the number of unemployed people willing to compete for such jobs) and less demand (at least in freelance-friendly service sector jobs like tutoring and personal fitness). Not such a pretty picture.

Of course, if the jobless rate is, in fact, tapering off, then perhaps things will look rosier in the future for those of us in the freelance world. More likely, however, and even if things do improve, freelancers will have to find new ways of blending different careers in order to make ends meet.

I’ve written before about Marci Alboher’s concept of “slash careers” as a way of enabling people with multiple interests to realize all of their professional dreams at once (see her book One Person, Multiple Careers for the full story). But Alboher has also written about slashing by necessity – how to add in the requisite slashes to make it through lean times. For freelance writers, in particular, she advocates a mixture of writing, teaching, speaking and consulting (which is, by the way, exactly what she’s done with her own career).

I don’t know if this is the way forward. But in a sea of otherwise depressing data, it’s at least something to think about.

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In the meantime, if you’re looking for inspiration, have a look at Cards of Change, a website devoted to the business cards of the unemployed seeking re-employment.

Image: 1930 Unemployment Line aka Bread Line by SIR: Poseyal Knight of the DESPOSYNI’s photostream via Flickr under a creative commons license.

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Cycling to Work: The Latest Sign of Maturity

In today’s International Herald Tribune, there’s a story about the new “must have” item of this recession: a glossy, black Dutch bicycle. Apparently, one of the many side effects of the current economic downturn is that people in New York City are embracing cycling like never before (according to the article, commuting by bicycle rose by 35% from 2007-2008 in New York; click here for everything you ever wanted to know about bicycle statistics).

This article caught my attention for several reasons, not the least of which is that I’m married to someone who has cycled to work regularly for the past two and a half years since we moved to London. But what really struck me was the article’s central question:  “Can urban cyclists really grow up and put on a tie?” (italics mine)

It’s certainly true that biking is something we typically associate with childhood. Learning to ride a bike is one of those great rites of passage of early childhood. It’s one of the first big activities you engage in – much like swimming – where you’re no longer entrusted to the immediate physical care of an adult. Rather, you’re on your own, and biking therefore signals freedom, mobility, independence.

But it’s when you transition from bike to car – in America, at least – that’s the definitive rite of passage:  a clear, indelible sign that you’ve become an adult.

Until now. What this article seems to suggest is that to the extent that New York bikers can acquire the gear, habits and attitude of, say, the Dutch, they will have evolved to a more adult way of living.

I can’t tell you how happy I am, for once, to be ahead of the curve on something lifestyle-related. Because here in Europe, so many people cycle to work that I no longer think it at all unusual. In Amsterdam, where we spent Christmas, you could easily forget that there even existed something called a car.

(Nor do I find it strange anymore to see someone – who shall be nameless – spend hours on line investigating the latest developments in fluorescent panniers and ergonomic hand grips. I think I’ll somehow fail to flag to his attention the latest trend in bike wear: the cordaround. Something tells me that if he ever got wind of the “espresso checked seersucker,” I’d never hear the end of it…)

It’s funny how life has a way of coming full circle. Things that once were considered the very essence of youth – like bicycles – are now a sign of maturity. I’m just wondering what’s next. I’m personally hoping that poptarts make a come-back…

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Speaking of recessions, Marci Alboher has a terrific new blog – Working the New Economy – that’s all about finding work in the current economy. Be sure to check out her weekly segment –  Who’s Finding Jobs Now? – for inspiration.

Image: Bicycle by J. Salmoral via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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