Concerns About Economy Continue To Cause Worry In 2009

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We end this year with a wish for our readers to enjoy health, happiness and good news in the year ahead. Too often, good news seemed to be in short
supply in 2009.

The United States remains mired in a recession that began two years ago and intensified with the collapse of several financial institutions last year. The economy has lost more than  seven million jobs since the beginning of the recession, and about 10 million people are collecting government unemployment benefits according to Labor Department statistics.

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An index of leading economic indicators has risen for the past eight months, possibly showing promise of a recovery. Retail sales rose in November, just in time for the critical holiday shopping period. Still, with both the U.S. and New Jersey unemployment rates near ten percent, the picture doesn’t look very bright for those who need jobs.

In New Jersey, Jon Corzine ran a costly, but unsuccessful campaign to win another term as governor. Republican Chris Christie defeated him, winning about 48.5 percent of the vote to Corzine’s 44.9 percent. A third candidate, independent Chris Daggett took 5.8 percent.

For most voters, the key issues of the election were taxes and the economy. The Christie campaign successfully attacked Corzine’s record of raising taxes, failing to deliver property tax relief, and failing to control the rising unemployment rate. When he takes office, Christie will have to deal with the mess he’s inherited, keep the state from going broke this fiscal year and solve a projected $9.5 billion deficit in next year’s budget — not an enviable task.

We started 2009 with a change in administration in Washington, D.C. Barack Obama took office as America’s 44th President in January, becoming the first African-American to hold the office. He campaigned on a theme of hope and change.

Everyone had great–perhaps unfair–expectations for him. So Obama disappointed many supporters this year. According to a Gallup Poll, the President’s approval rating stood at 49 percent in mid-December, down from 69 percent just after taking office.

Obama signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Federal Reserve and Treasury committed to trillions in loan guarantees and troubled asset purchases. The President took credit for stopping the economic downturn when a 2.8 percent growth rate was reported in the third quarter. But all the government spending sent the national debt to record levels, creating new worries about America’s economic future.

Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, which was announced before he unveiled plans to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan as part of a risky and expensive war buildup there. The President did commit to ending combat operations in Iraq before the end of next summer.

For much of the summer and fall, Congress debated various proposals to accomplish Obama’s goal of health care reform. Opponents of the proposals feared the burden that the plans could add to the national debt and voiced concerns about increased government bureaucracy.

While neither conservatives nor liberals were happy with the plan lawmakers voted on this month, as we went to press it appeared that a health care bill would make it to the President’s desk by the end of 2009.

A new strain of flu, caused by the H1N1 virus, was declared a global pandemic in June. More than 50 million people were infected in the United States from the start of the disease’s spread in April through mid-November, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. An estimated 10,000 people died from the disease; in a reversal from the pattern of seasonal flu, about 90 percent of the victims were younger than 65.

Through early December, 38 people died from confirmed H1N1 flu cases in New Jersey. Over two million doses of vaccine were shipped to the state, and local government officials and health care providers vaccinated patients in high-risk categories throughout the fall. By mid-December, state health officials notified healthcare providers that they could provide vaccine to anyone who wanted it.

Michael Jackson, once known as the King of Pop, died on June 25. More than a billion people around the world watched broadcasts of his memorial service on July 7. Other notable 2009 deaths include author John Updike (Jan. 27); actress Bea Arthur (April 25); statesman Jack Kemp (May 2); actress Farrah Fawcett (June 25); journalist Walter Cronkite (July 17); author Frank McCourt (July 19); musician Les Paul (Aug. 13); statesman Ted Kennedy (Aug. 25); actor Patrick Swayze (Sept. 14) and actress Brittany Murphy (Dec. 20).

In sports, the New York Yankees won their 27th World Series trophy, their first since 2000. Team captain Derek Jeter set a Yankees record for most career hits, surpassing a mark held by Lou Gehrig. The Mets became something of a national joke as all of their star players landed on the disabled list at one time or another during a disappointing 70-92 season.

The New York Giants finished the 2008 season with a 12-4 record, winning their division. But they lost a Jan. 11 playoff game to the Philadelphia Eagles, 23-11, ending their hopes of defending their Super Bowl trophy. They started the 2009 season with a 5-0 record, but went on to lose the next four in a row.

The Jets began the year with new coach Rex Ryan and new quarterback Mark Sanchez. They got off to a 3-0 start and had a chance to make the playoffs.

The New Jersey Nets lost 18 straight games to start their 2009-10 season, setting a new NBA mark for futility. The New Jersey Devils went to the playoffs this spring, but saw their 2008-09 season end with a first round loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

In local news, Assemblyman Joseph Vas was indicted on federal and state corruption charges related to his term as Perth Amboy’s mayor. While the lawmaker dropped his re-election bid, he remained in office despite being stripped of all of his committee assignments.

In a bitterly-contested Democratic primary election in Edison Township, Councilwoman Antonia Ricigliano defeated incumbent Mayor Jun Choi. She went on to win the general election in November and will become the first woman to hold the Edison mayor’s office when she is sworn in.

Astronaut Mark Polansky, a native of Edison, commanded a mission the International Space Station this summer. While in orbit, he used the popular social networking site Twitter to keep in touch with people on the ground.

Elizabeth High School, once the largest in the state, split into six separate academies. The move is intended to boost test scores and guide the city’s 5,300 public high school students onto career paths, according to district officials.

Rahway voters approved a $34 million school construction referendum, which will fund renovations at the high school and a 12-classroom addition at Grover Cleveland School.

One of the first monuments in New Jersey to honor the soldiers killed in the current Iraq conflict was unveiled at the Rahway Train Station Plaza this summer.

In a move that was unpopular with local golfers, the Union County Board of Freeholders voted to close Oak Ridge Golf Course in Clark and turn it into a park. The county held several concerts at the site this summer, including Union County MusicFest, a two-day event headlined by Third Eye Blind and Pete Yorn.

Linden council members sided with Council President Robert Bunk to put up a roadblock against a proposal to build a $5 billion “clean coal” power plant on an industrial site in the community, citing safety and environmental concerns. Advocates said the plant would generate 2,000 construction jobs and 250 permanent positions.

New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giants Merck and Schering-Plough merged in a bid to improve their finances.


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