Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. The government announced Friday that sales of new homes posted their largest monthly increase in 47 years in March.
According to the Commerce Department, new home sales rose 27 percent last month, bouncing off the February's record-low.
But every silver lining comes complete with its own cloud these days. And the government also reports orders for durable goods — those big-ticket items expected to last at least three years — fell by 1.3 percent. But, when the volatile transportation sector is excluded, orders actually rose 2.8 percent.
While factories are benefiting from a sharp increase in orders from U.S. and foreign businesses, the fuel for new home sales is coming from a less sustainable source: government subsidies.
The rural economy is also heavily influenced by government largess. And with Congress about to draft the next round of farm policy, lawmakers heard testimony this week from the Obama Administration's "Point Man" on agriculture.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testified this week on the status of the current farm bill and the upcoming 2012 farm bill before the House Agriculture Committee. In his remarks, Vilsack provided a national perspective on the challenges facing rural America.
Tom Vilsack, USDA: "We're trying to strike the balance, which I think this committee instructed us to do, in terms of making sure we have a fair deal for taxpayers, a fair deal for producers, and one that provides greater stability."
House Agriculture ranking member Frank Lucas, a Republican from Oklahoma, expressed his concerns about the Obama administration's priorities for the 2012 farm bill.
Frank Lucas, R – Oklahoma: "With the focus you provided, both budget and conceptual wise, are you talking about turning rural America into a bedroom community?"
Tom Vilsack, USDA - "This isn't about bedroom communities. This is about making rural areas vibrant places, where young people in particular are anxious and interested in setting up their families and establishing a life."
Vilsack also testified that America has lost more than 1 million farmers and ranchers over the past 40 years. During that period, income from farming operations, as a percentage of total farm household income, plunged to half of the previous level. Today, only 11 percent of family farm income comes from farming. In order to maintain viable households, Vilsack said rural Americans have had to seek alternative sources of support, and benefits such as health insurance.
Tom Vilsack, USDA: "The reality is, if we can create better paying opportunities within rural America, if you can create centers of energy production for example. Bio-refineries, and if you sprinkle and dot the landscape with those bio-refineries, you're creating economic activity. If you keep the resources that are produced on the farm in the community by linking local production and local consumption, you create wealth."
The current farm bill will expire in September of 2012.