It's supposed to be a holly, jolly time of year - but the economy has dampened the mood. The financial woes that started in the housing and credit markets have pervaded the entire economy, and the consensus is that the nation is facing the worse financial crisis since the Great Depression. Employee layoffs are being announced daily, and consumer confidence and spending has been curtailed. Don't expect to find as many gifts under the tree.
Yet, the New Year holds promise. Barack Obama, who will become the nation's 44th president on January 20th, promises to take swift and bold measures to set the nation back on the road to economic prosperity. Here are some of the plans for action he has sketched out:
• Rebuilding the nation's roads, bridges, and other crumbling infrastructure;
• Investing in wind farms, solar panel facilities, and other alternative energy technologies;
• Developing more full-efficient vehicles;
• Modernizing and revitalizing our nation's schools;
• Increasing broadband access; and
• Utilizing the latest information technology in healthcare.
Through these actions and others, the Obama administration expects to create 2.5 million new jobs over the next two years, and some business groups and policymakers are getting excited by these proposals - especially the first one. Both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) believe government investment in "shovel-ready" projects is a move in the right direction.
"Most important to us is that President-elect Obama is focused on putting money into real projects that are ready to go," says Janet Kavinoky, director of transportation infrastructure at the Chamber. The Chamber feels near-term infrastructure projects are the way to stimulate the economy.
And, in late October, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President John Engler told the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that "public investments that improve and modernize our transportation infrastructure at this time of great uncertainty will help prepare the nation for its rebound by keeping steel mills going, cement trucks rolling, equipment manufacturing lines moving, and Americans employed." He continued to say that "the case is strong for the federal government to commit resources to transportation infrastructure projects that are ready to go and will provide meaningful, long-lasting public benefit to the economy."
In early December, Obama told the editors at TIME that although he didn't "have a crystal ball," he anticipated "that 2009 is going to be a tough year," but with some difficult choices, "we can limit the damage in 2009" and "in 2010 we can start seeing an upward trajectory on the economy." Let's hope the President-elect's predictions for the economy are right as we say goodbye to 2008 and look to the New Year for some positive changes.