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Editorial

Ominous anecdotes

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Just how well do we know our neighbours and supporters to the south and what they are going through?

In some parts of the U.S., according to Sunday’s New York Times, people desperate for money have found a new source of income: tips to Crime Stoppers.

“We have people out there that, realistically, this could be their job,” Sgt. Zachary Self of the Macon, Ga. Police Department told the Times.

“Two or three arrests per week, you could make $700, $750 per week. You could make better than a minimum-wage job.”

Calls to Crime Stoppers are up 25 to 44 per cent over last year in a number cities and counties across the U.S. as people desperate for cash turn in neighbours, grandchildren and former boyfriends. And it’s not just in the most impoverished corners of the United States.

The director of Crime Stoppers in Silicon Valley, Calif. told the Times most of the rewards offered by his program used to go unclaimed, but with large numbers of foreclosures and job losses, “now we’re seeing rewards get picked up right away and our tipsters being frustrated when tips aren’t available as quickly as they need the money.”

Across the U.S., there were 243,353 foreclosure filings in April, nearly three times the total in the same month two years ago, according to RealtyTrac.

On Tuesday, Statistics Canada reported same-day car travel to Canada has fallen 41.4 per cent in two years.

Of course, the United States is a huge country and hardly monolithic. The economy of Macon, Ga. is different than the economy of Portland, Ore. And Whistler’s interest in the U.S. as a visitor market is not uniform across the entire land. The economies of Washington, Oregon and California are of more interest to us than the economies of Kentucky, Iowa and Kansas.

But the snippets of anecdotal information about the U.S. economy may be as telling as the White House denials of a recession. And with approximately 30 per cent of Whistler’s overnight visitors being American, in winter and summer, we need to pay attention to the economic indicators.

So, a few more anecdotal facts and quotes on the state of affairs in the U.S.A that Whistler should be aware of:

According to Ski Area Management magazine, at last month’s Mountain Travel Symposium, Chris Jarnot, the new COO of Vail, told symposium-attendees U.S. consumers are not just hunkering down, “they are in the fetal position.”

Jarnot added that Vail closed April 13 not for lack of snow or visitor interest, but for lack of employees to staff the resort.

Ski Area Management also reported that the latest survey by National Travel Monitor found 16 per cent of American travelers say they will take fewer trips this year. And for the first time, they cited the economy, rather than a lack of free time, as the reason.

The price of oil, which is reaching new highs each week, is obviously having an impact on people’s travel plans. Airlines are facing higher fuel costs and passing those costs on to customers. Fuel surcharges and additional fees for a second bag (including skis or golf clubs) or special “handling charges” for connecting flights are becoming common. Predictions are some airlines may soon charge extra for aisle and window seats.

Closer to home, the American Automobile Association reported Monday that the average price of a gallon of gasoline in Washington state was $3.86, up 24 cents in the last month and 42 cents in the past year. Washington gasoline is seven cents higher than the national average, and the highest prices in the state are in Bellingham.

People may eventually get used to high gasoline prices and budget for them, but when the price rises as quickly as 24 cents in a month the first way to deal with it is to drive less. And that isn’t an encouraging sign for Washington state visits this Memorial Day weekend.

The Seattle Post Intelligencer website has a “layoff tracker” where you can see the number of employees laid off at area technology companies. Sixteen tech companies have laid off 580 employees since the start of the year, with another couple of companies not disclosing how many people they laid off.

Tough times for Americans, some may say. But these anecdotes suggest that Whistler businesses will feel the impact of the slowdown in the U.S. economy in the form of fewer American visitors this summer.

That will be tough for local businesses, some will say. And it may be particularly tough for those businesses that are trying to tackle other problems — like the labour shortage and affordability — by putting up money for the Phoenix housing initiative.

So send a “get well soon” thought to the U.S. economy. Meanwhile, let’s hope we see plenty of Alberta licence plates this summer.

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