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The Obama Economy; Back on Business on the Jersey Shore; Rebuilding After Disaster

Aired May 25, 2013 - 09:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST: Welcome to a four-year-old economic recovery that you may finally be starting to feel.

I'm Christine Romans. This is YOUR MONEY.

For the first time since 2008, more Americans now say the economy is getting better than getting worse. Gallup has tracked America's economic confidence every week since the financial crisis and it now stands at a five-year high

Why? First stocks are at record highs. That's boosting everyone's 401(k)s. Fidelity says the average account is now $80,900, up a whopping 75 percent from a market low in 2009. For employees 55 or older, the average account holds $255,000. That's nearly doubled over the past four years.

Next, home values are rising. We hope that's making you feel a little richer. We learned this week that the median price of a home sold in April jumped 11 percent from a year ago. It's the 14th straight year over year price increase and the fifth in a row in the double digits.

And finally, unemployment 7.5 percent, the lowest since December 2008. Yes, it is still too high, way too high. Millions of Americans are out of work. They are underemployed. But the signs point to an improving labor market.

So, is this recovery four years in now solid enough for most Americans to feel it and not just you know, not just the best earners and what does it mean for President Obama?

CNN's chief political correspondent Candy Crowley is anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION."

Candy, the president has been knocked off message lately. Controversies over Benghazi, the IRS targeting the Tea Party, the administration going after reporter phone records.

Will a positive economic message ultimately drown out those controversies?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Likely not -- to tell you the truth. First of all, we're not at the end of the IRS controversy. So, it's still playing out. Certainly there are elements of Benghazi as well and there is "The A.P.", and this new report they went after another reporter who revealed something about North Korea.

So, these things will be ongoing because Congress keeps them ongoing and as you know, this is a town that's sort of driven, actually a country where great news, the economy, you'll see the president out there kind of talking about it and pushing it. But on the other hand good news is not where headlines go.

The headlines are on the IRS and things like that. It's hard to get this off the table, certainly helps the president, strengthens his hand as he moves forward with legislation. I don't think it erases the headlines.


Stephen Moore, an editorial writer for "The Wall Street Journal", is with us also today.

Stephen, you're seeing signs of a pickup in the economy.


ROMANS: Does the president deserve any credit for it?

MOORE: Well, you've been waiting to ask me that question for a long time.

ROMANS: About three years, actually?

MOORE: There's no question the economy is picking up. I'm feeling pretty bullish about the economy. You did a nice summary of the kind of good news of the economy.

By the way, let's not get carried away. It's still for middle class and lower income people, they are still struggling and we haven't seen wage and salary increases.

ROMANS: Agreed.

MOORE: In fact, if you look at the median wage over the last four years of this recovery it's fallen a little bit, not risen, and unemployment is still too high.

But you talk about the things in the economy and would I point to a couple of things, one is the low interest rates are really providing a boom to the stock market and a boom to the housing market.

ROMANS: And that's not the president. You're going to point out that's not the president's doing?

MOORE: Well, look, I mean, the president gets the credit because he's there when it happened and Reagan gets credit for the boom that happened under his term. Obviously, Bill Clinton got the credit for the boom under his.

But the other thing is one of the reasons the president might not get total credit for what's going on right now is that the biggest boom is the oil and gas industry. There's no question it's been kind of carrying the rest of the economy on its back. And let's face it, Christine, he hasn't been the biggest advocate of oil and gas. In fact, he's -- if anything tried to hold that sector back.

ROMANS: I want to bring in Rana Foroohar. She's the assistant managing editor at "TIME."

And he brings up a very good point, not everyone is feeling this.

And I wanted to show the statistic. Demos, it's a left-leaning policy group, says a third of Americans are paid less than $24,000 a year. A third of American workers earn less than $24,000 a year.

Can you have an American recovery where a third of the people who are working are making so little money?

RANA FOROOHAR, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, TIME: No, I don't think you really can have a robust recovery. I mean, the fact is, we're still in a 2 percent economy.

The private sector is recovering. And if you strip out the government, we'd be in a 3 percent economy, in part because of, as Stephen mentioned, oil and gas, but also housing and some other sectors.

But, ultimately, if you look at the fastest growing job categories in the country, they are low wage jobs. Eight out of 10 of the fastest growing categories make very low wages. And when you have a 70 percent consumer economy, as we do, it's really hard to imagine we'll go back up to historic growth levels unless we can get these middle class jobs going.

ROMANS: And that brings back to Candy, where, you know, our own CNN/ORC polling, not quite as rosy as the Gallup polling I gave earlier.

Two-thirds of Americans still say the economy is in poor shape.

There are a few glimmers of optimism when you dig in these numbers. Here's one: the number of people who say conditions are poor, the worst option offered is at the lowest point in over a year.

So, Candy, what is the administration's strategy on the economy as it's knocked off message here?

CROWLEY: In terms of actual policy they're around the margins. They push jobs for veterans, legislation like that. Much of what the president is going to do or wants to do was put in his budget.

This is still an economy that doesn't have a government with a lot of money to spend. There's still that big old debt, Republicans are still concentrated on that as is some Democrats. So there's not a lot of, hey, let's really prime this some more and throw this money into a stimulus program. There's not that kind of money left.

So there are some things that he's doing and has proposed to increase the job rate among various groups but you're not going to see anything major. I think this is one of those things where you will hear the president continue to talk about this certainly as long as those numbers continue to go up.


ROMANS: Go ahead.

MOORE: You know, what's interesting about that, Candy, is that as I talk to businessmen and women, they are feeling more optimistic, no question about it. And these are people who hire Americans.

One of the things that's interesting is they're not as afraid of President Obama and the policies that are coming out of Washington as they were in the first room. I mean, think about the first room. We had, you know, the stimulus, the huge debt, Obamacare, you know, there was talk about union card check, and cap and trade laws. Those kinds of threats from Washington have really subsided and I think t that's one of the reasons the private sector is starting to take off.

CROWLEY: Sure, absolutely. Businesses, in general, love it when Washington isn't doing anything.

MOORE: That's right. Exactly, bingo.

ROMANS: Except web hen they bring you to the brink of paralysis because of the debt ceiling and all that stuff. I mean, there is the conventional wisdom, Rana, you know, a gridlock in Washington is good for business, but it doesn't feel that way.

FOROOHAR: It certainly doesn't feel that way. I mean, it's going to be interesting to see how the markets react and just how much of the wealth that we've been feeling is down to the Fed and how much of it is down to the real economy.

ROMANS: I know. And the Fed -- oh, I think the Fed and the discussions happening within the Fed and about the Fed are going to be so important in the months going on.

Candy, Stephen and Rana -- thank you so much all of you.

CROWLEY: Thanks.

MOORE: Thank you.

ROMANS: Coming up, banking on the big season. The Jersey Shore gets ready for a rebound as the summer officially begins.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROMANS: All right. So the "Jersey Shore" open for business this Memorial Day weekend, seven months after Hurricane Sandy destroyed homes and businesses all along the coast. Businesses that have been rebuilt are preparing now to start this season -- a very important season because everyone wants to know, will they be able to lure the crowds back?

CNN's business correspondent Zain Asher took a trip down to Asbury Park.

She joins us this morning.


You know, it's not just a big weekend for businesses. It's also a big weekend for the city of Asbury Park itself. You got to remember one-third of the city's revenue actually comes from beach tourism and so, Memorial Day weekend is unbelievably important to that.

Also, you know, these businesses are seasonal and if they don't make enough revenue through Memorial Day, then they will have a tough time through the winter.


MARILYN SCHLOSSBACH, OWNER, LANGOSTA LOUNGE, ASHBURY PARK: You feel like you're walking on the ocean.

ASHER (voice-over): New Jersey restaurant owner Marilyn Schlossbach always worries about the forecast.

SCHLOSSBACH: When we're open for business the first thing I look is at the weather.

ASHER: But it was the weather nearly destroyed her business.

SCHLOSSBACH: The window frames all blew in to the other side so every surge of water that came up after that ended up in here.

ASHER: The rebuilding began almost as soon as the waters receded. She landed a $250,000 loan from the Small Business Administration and was able to reopen here in April. But it's been a challenging year to say the least. Schlossbach survives on one-tenth of her salary and is struggling to make ends meet.

SCHLOSSBACH: Basically, I went from almost no debt to having about $25,000 in credit card bills and my entire savings wiped out.

ASHER: But she's hoping to see a turnaround and so is the rest of Asbury Park. On a gray day ahead of the holiday weekend, there's a sense of anticipation.

TOM GILMOUR, ASHBURY PARK DIRECTOR OF COMMERCE: I think a lot of the people will come to the shore this weekend to sort of check it out, see what it's really doing but we're open, we're ready. We have great music here all the time. We're always partying. This is the place to come.

ASHER: You might say Asbury Park is one of the luckier spots on the Jersey Shore. Its music scene made famous by rock legend Bruce Springsteen who got his start at the Stone Pony across the street has kept Asbury Park in the spotlight in the aftermath of Sandy.

In the lesser known and harder hit town of Normandy Beach, Schlossbach has another restaurant, Labrador Lounge, which has also reopened but she says customers are nowhere to be found.

SCHLOSSBACH: I'm dying down there, I have no customers. Everybody thinks the island is closed. You drive through there and see houses on top of houses, restaurants and businesses aren't reopening, and I'm really scared because that's my home.

ASHER: Memorial Day weekend is the shore's first big chance to bring business back and reward months of hard work. Schlossbach is back to worrying about the weather.

SCHLOSSBACH: To us the weather is everything. If it is 90 degrees and sunny, we'll be packed. If it's raining and cold, we're not going to be busy.


ASHER: And you know, Christine, we've talked about the unemployment rate is 7.5 percent. But what's interesting is that she's actually having the opposite problem. She's looking to hire but she says she cannot find workers. She says people sort of still have it in their mind the Jersey Shore was completely destroyed by Sandy.

But, of course, you know, that's really true anymore.

ROMANS: The last shore town I visited with my kids is Asbury Park, and it's so beautiful and so great. And it's changed so much over the last 10 years, so I really hope people spend some money on the shore because it really matters.

ASHER: It does.

ROMANS: Thanks, Zain.

Less than a week after deadly tornadoes tore through Moore, Oklahoma, residents already vowing to rebuild their city. Does that make economic sense? That's next on YOUR MONEY.


ROMANS: Twenty-four dead, hundreds of buildings destroyed, billions of dollars in property lost but residents of Moore, Oklahoma, have seen this before. This is the third, the third time in 15 years that tornadoes have carved a path through Moore.

So, after three tornadoes, you might be surprised by this response.


GOV. MARY FALLIN (R), OKLAHOMA: We will get through this. We will overcome, and we will rebuild.


ROMANS: We will rebuild. Again, she says.

I want to bring in Jerold Kayden. He's professor of urban planning and design at Harvard's Graduate School of Design.

So nice to see you. Thanks for coming by.

You know, rebuilding heals psychological wounds. We've heard again and again people say this is my home, I'm going to rebuild. We are strong. We will get through it.

But is it smart to rebuild in the same place where disaster has struck so many times?

JEROLD KAYDEN, PROFESSOR, HARVARD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF DESIGN: Smart is of course in the brain of the beholder, and some people will say it is smart and others will say it's the opposite of smart.

Look, we are a resolute, some would even say stubborn people. As you just said, we're going to rebuild, we're going to show that storm, even we're going to show the terrorists with he rebuild in the same area. Nothing is going to stop us.

Also, we have to recognize these are people's homes. They're streets, their neighborhoods where they grew up and have memories. We're very attached to place so where we see the images of a desolate destroyed area, they're actually seeing their street still.

Yes, it's their destroyed house but this is where they grew up, this is where they want to continue to live. So we're a compassionate people and we honor that sort of rebuilding effort. Sometimes in unwise ways and that's where it actually isn't smart. It can indeed lead to unwise behavior and it's a question of both government policy and individuals recognizing that we have to be smarter in the future.

ROMANS: So if we rebuild and we rebuild in better ways or we learn lessons in the rebuilding, that's what's really key I think here.

You know, in 1999, President Clinton urged Moore's residents then to invest in safe rooms, reinforced spaces that can resist tornadoes. Listen.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: If you don't remember anything else I say today remember this, for goodness sakes, build a safe room in your house when you rebuild. Go it will be the cheapest $2,000 you ever spent.


ROMANS: And, you know, since 1993, FEMA has paid more than $57 million for 12,000 private and public safe rooms in Oklahoma. But still, it's not everyone. It's not everywhere.

Vital places like Morris Plaza Towers Elementary School were not protected when those tornadoes came.


MAYOR GLENN LEWIS, MOORE, OKLAHOMA: It's about the money and statistics. F-5 tornado is very rare. It's 1 percent to 2 percent of the tornadoes. Same reason they don't have safe rooms for earthquakes, they don't work all the time.


ROMANS: My question to you is whether it's safe rooms for tornadoes, earthquake proofing, flood prevention measures, who pays for it? Who should pay for it?

KAYDEN: It's really the central question now going forward. I think on smaller types of things that are manageable by a middle class family, it is not unreasonable to ask at a minimum that they share if not pay for the entire cost. No one hesitates when government imposes a regulation for example that going forward requires homeowners to install smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors. The reason nobody objects is first of all it's smart for safety and it's a very small cost.

The issue is slightly more and yet we should be asking people to bear some of that burden and if government can provide some assistance, particularly in the aftermath of a disaster or over time, to help people contribute to this, then it may be reasonable to do that of course given budget constraints.

ROMANS: That's a key point given budget constraints, because you hear on one hand people talk about big government and government intrusion and too much regulation and this and that, something like this happens and you hear why wasn't there a safe room in that school because it costs money to build these things and the public has to pay for it.

KAYDEN: Right. It's a two-step dance. After the disaster, people understandably say government, come here and rescue me. Government, come here and give me money to rebuild. When government says, yes, but in the future you are not able to rebuild in certain areas or in the future you must install a safe room or basement in terms of tornadoes or whatever it may be, then you hear people say, no regulation. No government.

So, it's dilemma between wanting government and not wanting government.

ROMANS: Let me ask you this. Eqecat, it's a disaster modeling firm. It said it estimates, that, you know, the insured property losses from tornadoes will be between $2 billion and $5 billion.

And the cost of the disasters is rising. So, in the '80s, the extreme weather costs less than $20 billion in damage each year on average. Since 2010, the damage has been $86 billion. So, what's driving this? Is Mother Nature getting nastier or is human nature where we're building bigger things and there's more of us building in the same spots?

KAYDEN: It's a combination of all of those things. I mean, there does appear to be more high-risk storms, flooding, tornadoes. Weather-related incidents that are occurring more and more and more. Not earthquakes but weather related incidents.

And then, in some cases, we do have building, not even rebuilding but building in areas that are vulnerable. Although I will say also that government has enacted laws in a variety of places which begin to restrict building in vulnerable areas and we're simply going to need more of that. This is not simply a matter of individuals being protected against their own unwise behavior but it's society rescuing them which puts them at risk.

BERMAN: So nice to meet you, today. Jerold Kayden, thank you for your insight on that. Of course, our thoughts and prayers with those people in Oklahoma as they prepare. It is clear over the past 15 years, they have done much in that town to try to protect themselves. I'll give them best of luck as they try to do more. Thank you so much, sir.

Coming up, protecting your property before disaster strikes. The ins and outs of insurance, next.


ROMANS: Thousands of Oklahomans are picking up the pieces after this week's deadly tornadoes. The painful process of rebuilding for them starts now. It's one all too familiar to homeowners on the Jersey Shore. They have spent the last seven months rebuilding their homes and their lives dealing with reconstruction and insurance claims, a process that's not always easy.


ROMANS (voice-over): More than 2,400 homes damaged or destroyed by the devastating tornado that rocked Moore, Oklahoma. For homeowners forced out of properties by a natural disaster, the painful process of rebuilding and insurance claims starts right now.

Mary and Tom Walls know a thing or two about that. Seven months ago, their New Jersey home on the shore was flooded during Hurricane Sandy.

TOM WALLS, LAVAILETTE, N.J. RESIDENT: I think that there was a certain shock when the water was coming in my house. I can't believe it. It didn't knock the front door down. It just kind of rose up through --

MARY WALLS, LAVAILETTE, N.J. RESIDENT: Bubbled up through the carpeting.

TOM WALLS: Immediately we walked around where my son, and that was my first thought of insurance actually.

ROMANS (on camera): What's the first call you make? The first call you make after everyone safe, is it to the person that sold you the insurance policy?

JEANNE SALVATORE, SR., V.P., INSURANCE INFORMATION INSTITUTE: Well, the first thing you should do is get in touch with your insurance company. Let them know the extent of the damage and where you can be reached. That's the most important thing to do.

ROMANS (voice-over): Jeanne Salvatore represents the insurance industry. She advises all homeowners to know what's in their insurance policies before disaster hits.

SALVATORE: There's a lot of disasters that are covered under just standard policies. I mean, you are covered for wind damage, for fire, for falling objects. The two big disasters that are not covered, one is flood and the other is earthquake. And you need to get separate insurance for those types of disasters.

ROMANS: The Walls home is covered for flood damage and they contacted their insurance company immediately after the storm. But they were frustrated by their carrier's slow response and decided not to wait for an insurance check to start the rebuilding process.

MARY WALLS: I had no clue what goes into this whole process. I actually had to say to a couple guys what exactly takes place? Like break it down for me and tell me how this works. It was very foreign for me.

TOM WALLS: There were people that just experienced so much worse than we did. You know, my insurance company didn't pay for everything but in the final analysis, I was satisfied with the dollar amount.

ROMANS: They spent most of the past seven months displaced but were able to move back into their home last month.

TOM WALLS: Keep the faith. Things will get better.


TOM WALLS: You need family and friends and --

MARY WALLS: Don't be afraid to ask for help.


ROMANS: Wow. Best of luck to them and to all of them in Oklahoma.

Let's keep this conversation going. Do you have enough insurance for your home? Find me on Facebook and Twitter. Let's talk about it. My handle is @ChristineRomans. I'll be back at 2:00 p.m. Are you wondering what the 16 volumes of the U.S. tax code are for? Oh, yes, and the mirror, what do these things have to do with Apple, the world's most valuable brand? Tune in and I'll explain. That's today at 2:00 p.m.

"CNN SATURDAY MORNING" continues, though, right now.