Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. A private report released Friday revealed the beleaguered housing industry is pulling out of its 3-year slump.
According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of previously owned U.S. homes rose 7.2 percent in July, growing at their fastest pace in nearly two years. Despite a 15 percent decline in the national median sales price, Wall Street welcomed the development as U.S. stocks rallied to post new 2009 highs on the robust housing report.
A report from the Mortgage Bankers Association on Thursday showed late home loan payments jumped to a record high in the second quarter, with almost one in eight homeowners delinquent or in the process of foreclosure.
Nevertheless, The New York-based Conference Board announced this week its index of leading indicators rose 0.6 percent in July marking its 4th consecutive monthly gain.
But high unemployment threatens the fragile economic recovery and many private economists and the Fed expect the nation's jobless rate to hit double digits before the end of the year.
While the economy has been President Obama's top priority so far in his presidency, proposed health care reform and climate change legislation aren't too far behind. But even as lawmakers vacate Washington for the August recess, its not just Senators and Congressmen adopting a town hall format.
Members of the Obama Administration headed to the heart of the nation's Corn Belt this week. Former Iowa Governor and current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack paid a visit to the quintessential icon of rural life – the Iowa State Fair. Unlike other town halls across the country pertaining solely to health care reforms, the USDA Secretary was questioned on a variety of issues.
Farmer with NFU hat: "It seems like we go through a series of crisis all the time and it seems it gets worse all the time."
While Vilsack's forum was relatively civil, many farmers and ranchers on hand were concerned about economic troubles in rural America.
Rancher with Cowboy hat: "The bankruptcies in these small communities is not the problem. It's the symptom of the problem. The problem is misdirected farm policy. We need to chart a new direction in farm policy."
Vilsack: "55 percent of America's farmers do not list farming as their principal occupation. They will list the job they have off the farm first because of the health care benefits and pay. 90 percent of the income produced by America's farmers is not farm-related. That's why the conservation title and the energy title are so important because it's additional income. When we begin working on new farm bill legislation we will not look at the way things used to be but the way things are. Right now we're just trying to get the economy to the point we can breathe to think about things like that."
Iowa is well-known as the country's leading state for corn…soybean…and pork production, but the Hawkeye State ranks in the top 15 in dairy. While dairy producers suffer through an economic storm of sour prices and low consumer demand, one farmer took a more upbeat tone.
Dairy Farmer: "I think there is a bright future for dairy and we might have just started to turn the corner and if we give it time the prices will recover. There is a lot of negative feelings out there but I'm positive that it is possible to bounce back."
Vilsack: "We've got to figure out a way to continue to open up new markets and encourage consumers to look at dairy as a nutritious choice. And we also have to hope that as the world economy improves, and I believe it will and beginning to be signs that it is, we're going to see greater purchase of dairy and greater purchase of pork. But it is going to be tough."
At least one of Vilsack's questions centered on Washington's most contentious issue: health care reform.
Town Hall Attendee: "I think that more people would be going into agriculture if we had a health care system that would cover health care."
Vilsack: "23 percent of people that will live in communities of less than 2500 don't have health insurance. They stop going to the doctor because they can't pay for it. They end up in emergency rooms. Hospitals say we have to take care of them. That is the most expensive health care you can get. I think $950 million dollars get shifted to insured customers so the rest of us are paying more and for self-employed people - for farmers - that is tough. We can not maintain the status quo. Rural America comes out on the short end of a very long stick."
Another controversial issue on Capitol Hill, climate change legislation, received a negative appeal from one Iowa farmer.
Farmer: "We need to not pass the cap-and-trade bill because I spend about $2400 a month on electricity right now. If that goes through and I've got to spend 30 to 50 percent more...I mean I don't have profit right now. That's going to hurt small farmers like me."
Vilsack: "There is an expectation of American leadership on this issue. The concern I have is that if we fail to lead on this issue it will impact not just the cap-and-trade conversation. It will impact our capacity to convince countries to do things in other areas. We have a lot of business in foreign countries that involve everything from trade to terrorism. I think from an international perspective we need to provide leadership."