This week, for more than an hour, I experienced a turbulent airplane ride. It was not fun. Normally, the pilots are able to chart a new course and fly through the rough air pretty rapidly, but on Monday, there was just no clear path, so my fellow passengers and I had to endure the bumpy ride. Normally an indifferent flyer, I ended up turning up the airflow and hoping that the bouncing would stop before I had to reach for the bag in the pocket in front of me.
I hoped that the pilot was very experienced -- and was reminded of a conversation that I had had Saturday night with a commercial pilot who used to fly off aircraft carriers for the U.S. Marine Corps.
When I asked if it was hard to land on the narrow, tiny runway bobbing around in the middle of the ocean, he replied that he had practiced so much prior to his initial landing that he remembers looking out at the carrier and thinking it was larger than the target area he had been practicing with.
This airplane ride also reminded me of where we are right now as a country. We are in the middle of turbulent times.
The news of the past few weeks has been overwhelmingly turbulent. Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophic in Japan, war in Libya and continued Middle East unrest provide the backdrop for world activities. On the home front, inflation is up and millions of people are still un- or underemployed.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that the Consumer Price Index increased 0.5 percent in February on a seasonally adjusted basis. This would equate to a 6 percent increase on an annualized basis.
"The 11.0 percent increase in the energy index is the largest since May 2010," noted the BLS press release, "while the 2.3 percent rise in the food index is the largest since May 2009." In addition to hikes in the cost of energy, "the indexes for fresh vegetables and meats contribut(ed) to a 0.8 percent increase in the food at home index, the largest since July 2008."
The bouncing continued: "The index for all items less food and energy rose in February as well. Most of its major components posted increases, including the indexes for shelter, new vehicles, medical care and airline fares." For those who might be more interested in clothes than food and energy, "the apparel index was one of the few to decline."
Earlier this month, the BLS released the unemployment update for February: "The number of unemployed persons (13.7 million) and the unemployment rate (8.9 percent) changed little in February." In addition to the 13.7 million people unemployed, there were 8.3 million part-time workers who would like to be employed full-time. Add to the current 16.4 million unemployed or underemployed people another 2.7 million people who are marginally attached to the labor force, up from 2.5 million a year earlier. "These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work," notes the BLS press release, "and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the four weeks preceding the survey."
Total Americans unemployed, underemployed or discouraged: 19.1 million.
On top of the turbulent world affairs, increasing inflation, and continued un- and underemployment, there is the additional psychological overhang of the current budget battles in Washington and many state capitols. The atmosphere just keeps getting rougher and rougher.
These unsettling facts are reflected in the results released by Gallup last Tuesday. Gallup's Economic Confidence Index "hit -31 in the week ending March 20 -- its worst weekly level of 2011 and matching the comparable week a year ago."
This drop is due to a decline in the number of Americans who believe that the economy is getting better. "Thirty-two percent of Americans said the economy is 'getting better' during the week ending March 20, a slight decline from the 34 percent of the prior two weeks. Fewer Americans currently feel the economy is improving than held that expectation a year ago, when 35 percent said things were getting better."
During these turbulent times, our country is in need of a pilot who is experienced and able to help the nation land safely amid rough times.