Normal again on something!

It amused me some time back when I found an article on the cities that the most people wanted to move to, and many on my list were on their top list as well.

But I found an article this week from a major publication (from back in may, but that i hadn’t seen previously) that goes further.

 

This time, it’s cities that young college graduates are moving to for atmosphere and surroundings that they want to live in, even if not having jobs yet, because a lot of them don’t have much reason not to in the current recession after job losses.

Seriously… it’s that specific of a match.. lol!

“The worst recession in a generation is disrupting migration patterns and overturning lives across the country. Yet, cities like Portland, along with Austin, Texas, Seattle and others, continue to be draws for the young, educated workers that communities and employers covet. What these cities share is a hard-to-quantify blend of climate, natural beauty, universities and — more than anything else — a reputation as a cool place to live.”…
…Some had already lost their jobs where they used to live, so there wasn’t much keeping them there.

“A lot of people figure there aren’t jobs anywhere, so they might as well be where they want to be,” says Mark McMullen, a senior economist at Moody’s economy.com.

 

Their big example in the article is portland, which wasn’t on my list. But they have a list on the side… with 20 cities on it. Of those, 7 were on my list even after the first rounds of reductions. (though, in some cases I was focusing more towards particular suburbs)

Of my top 5, the only one not on the list was city2. But, well, it fits the mold too even if not listed. Maybe actually a good thing that it isn’t listed… 

Always surprises me sometimes when I realize I’m not as far out in left field insanity as it sometimes feels like I am.

Though, also sounds like the walls I’m banging my head on are pretty par for the course too. 

 

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124242099361525009.html

‘Youth Magnet’ Cities Hit Midlife Crisis
Few Jobs in Places Like Portland and Austin, but the Hipsters Just Keep on Coming
By CONOR DOUGHERTY

PORTLAND, Ore. — In October, as the stock market tanked and the economy shed 400,000 jobs, Matt Singer moved from Oxnard, Calif. to Portland, Ore. He didn’t have a job, but he was attracted to the city’s offbeat culture and hungered for change. Mr. Singer’s plan was to get an editing or writing gig at an alternative weekly newspaper, the job he was doing in California.

Seven months later, the 26-year-old is still without a steady job — and still here. “I wasn’t really aware of how bad the job situation was at the time,” says Mr. Singer.

This drizzly city along the Willamette River has for years been among the most popular urban magnets for college graduates looking to start their careers in a small city of like-minded folks. Now the jobs are drying up, but the people are still coming. The influx of new residents is part of the reason the unemployment rate in the Portland metropolitan area has more than doubled to 11.8% over the past year, and is now above the national average of 8.9%.

Some new arrivals are burning through their savings as they hunt for jobs that no longer exist. Some are returning home. Others are settling for low-paying jobs they are overqualified for.

With his search for a journalism job coming up short, Mr. Singer has spent thousands in savings, and is now earning $12 an hour at a temporary job scanning loan documents, a task he says is so mind-numbing he listens to his iPod all day. “Careerwise, it’s definitely not what I’d like to be doing,” says Mr. Singer.

The worst recession in a generation is disrupting migration patterns and overturning lives across the country. Yet, cities like Portland, along with Austin, Texas, Seattle and others, continue to be draws for the young, educated workers that communities and employers covet. What these cities share is a hard-to-quantify blend of climate, natural beauty, universities and — more than anything else — a reputation as a cool place to live. For now, an excess of young workers is adding to the ranks of the unemployed. But holding on to these people through the downturn will help cities turn around once the economy recovers.

Portland has attracted college-educated, single people between the ages of 25 and 39 at a higher rate than most other cities in the country. Between 1995 and 2000, the city added 268 people in that demographic group for every 1,000 of the same group living there in 1995, according to the Census Bureau. Only four other metropolitan areas had a higher ratio. The author of the Census report on these “youth magnet” cities, Rachel Franklin, now deputy director the Association of American Geographers, says the Portland area’s critical mass of young professionals means it has a “sustained attractiveness” for other young people looking for a place to settle down.

Indeed, the trend has appeared to continue. Between 2005 and 2007, only eight metropolitan areas — many of them bigger — added more college-educated migrants of any age than did Portland, the nation’s 23rd largest metro area, according to an analysis of Census data by William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. A more detailed breakdown by age isn’t yet available, but Mr. Frey and other demographers say the bulk of the movers are likely between the ages of 25 and 39, the most mobile age group by far.

Portland’s bleak job market might seem like a reason to stay away, but some of the newcomers say the pull of a different city is greater than the fear of unemployment. Some had already lost their jobs where they used to live, so there wasn’t much keeping them there.

“A lot of people figure there aren’t jobs anywhere, so they might as well be where they want to be,” says Mark McMullen, a senior economist at Moody’s economy.com.

Portland isn’t discouraging the young and educated from coming, though the glut of workers puts more stress on city services. One of the most important factors in a city’s economic success is the education level of its work force, says Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser. Cities such as Detroit and Cleveland that have exported college graduates in recent years are trying to retain them with everything from internship programs to building artists’ lofts.

“I’m hopeful people will stick around,” says Portland mayor Sam Adams. “Even if they come to my city without a job, it is still an economic plus.”

As migration within the U.S. slows as jobs disappear and home prices fall, Portland is one of the few cities to which people of all ages are moving. Of the top 25 destinations for domestic migrants between July 2006 and July 2007, before the recession started, Census data show only four drew more people in the subsequent 12 months, between July 2007 and July 2008, when the U.S. was in recession, according to an analysis by Mr. Frey.

The four places: Portland, Seattle, Denver, and Houston, which in addition to attracting college graduates, enjoyed a boom fueled by high oil prices. In Seattle, the number of people in the labor force, both working and looking for work, has continued to grow faster than the national average, even though there are fewer jobs.

The inflow of young college grads helped change Portland’s economy over the past two decades. Most notably, it contributed to an increase in the fraction of Oregon workers with college degrees to 28.3% in 2007 (above the national average of 27.5%) from 19.5% in 1990 (below the national average of 21.3%), according to Moody’s Economy.com. Of course, some of that increase came from older educated migrants, as well as homegrown college graduates.

Portland’s culture and businesses have come to reflect the city’s youthful edge. Among U.S. metro areas with more than a million people, only Seattle — another magnet for the young and educated — has more coffee shops per capita than Portland, according to NPD Group. Roughly 8% of Portlanders commute regularly by bike, the highest proportion of any major U.S. city and about 10 times the national average, according to Boulder, Colo., bike-advocacy group Bikes Belong.

Andrew McGough, executive director of Worksystems Inc., a Portland nonprofit that helps people find work, says he’s seen young people continue to stream into the city even as the economy has worsened. “Assuming they are educated, we like it,” says Mr. McGough, who moved to Portland himself without a job in the early 1990s.

Portland’s vibrant music scene was part of what drew Ryan Suarez, a 28-year-old civil engineer, from San Diego two years ago. In February 2007, when Portland’s unemployment rate was about half what it is today, Mr. Suarez took a one-week trip to scout for jobs, lined up five interviews — and got five offers. But construction work has slowed with the rest of the economy. Mr. Suarez says his firm has had two rounds of layoffs; he survived, but took a 20% wage cut. “Things have changed a lot,” he says.

Tyler Carney, a 29-year-old computer programmer, moved here from Tulsa, Okla. in September when the Internet-security company he was working for relocated to downtown Portland. He was laid off two months later, and today is living off the $417 in weekly unemployment checks. He has trimmed expenses, such as cutting out restaurant meals, ending cable and switching to slower Internet service. Mr. Carney is spending most of his days job-hunting, but has no plans to go back to Tulsa anytime soon. “Portland is a little more progressive than Tulsa was, as far as the culture goes,” he says. “This town is awesome. Tulsa tended to roll up the streets at night.”

Scott Thompson, president of Lexicon Staffing, Inc. in the Portland area, says the information technology staffing firm continues to get calls from new arrivals looking for work. Many, he says, are less interested in jobs and more interested in Portland’s quality of life, such as the city’s proximity to the Oregon coastline and the Cascade Mountains. “You have to wonder what would inspire someone to walk into a situation where you have higher than U.S. average unemployment rate,” he says.

For Brian DeGrush, 28, it’s a visit he paid to the city two years ago to see friends. He says he loved the social life and the green landscape, and when he went back about a month ago with his girlfriend, it was to scout out jobs and neighborhoods to live in. On Saturday, he graduates from the MBA program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but hasn’t yet found a job.

If he doesn’t find work soon, Mr. DeGrush says he and his girlfriend will probably just move to Portland over the summer and hope for the best. “We’re debating just trying to find part-time stuff and scrounging by until something more permanent opens up,” he says.

As unemployment has risen, businesses have felt the pain. So many restaurants have closed in recent months that the Portland alternative newspaper Willamette Week recently started a column called “Restaurant Apocalypse” to keep track of closings. “Everybody is holding on to their money,” says Ryan Birkland, a Portland artist who does abstract paintings of flowers and koi fish on glass, sheet metal and other recycled materials. Mr. Birkland sells art across a range of prices, but says sales of $400 to $500 pieces, which are mostly purchased by young professionals, are down about 25% compared with this time last year.

The scarcity of jobs has college grads competing for positions they might not have considered just a few years ago. HotLips Pizza, a local institution that touts ingredients from nearby farms and whose owner drives a stubby electric car emblazoned with the restaurant’s rouge lips logo, recently posted a job for a sous-chef and got hundreds of résumés in the space of a few days. They were both over- and under-qualified, ranging from the executive chefs at fine dining restaurants that have closed to unemployed computer technicians with zero experience in a kitchen. “People are having a harder time landing,” said Greene Lawson, HotLips’ chef.

Boly:Welch Recruiting, a Portland firm, says it has had several lawyers willing to settle for work as paralegals. The firm says it generally won’t place the lawyers because their over-qualification makes it unlikely they would continue to do paralegal work when the economy turns.

Stephen Anderson, 28, a lawyer who moved in June to Portland from Austin, says for now, he’s happy being over-qualified. He went to Boly:Welch looking for legal or temp work of any kind, and the recruiting firm ended up hiring him to be an assistant to the firm’s recruiters, a job that includes answering phones, getting lunches and occasionally walking the owner’s two poodles. “I know I’m underemployed and if it bothered me more, I guess I’d do more to change it,” he says.

Of course, less-educated migrants are being squeezed, too. Chris McGee, a 29-year-old concrete finisher moved to Oregon about four years ago from Philadelphia to follow his then-girfriend. Mr. McGee was out of work for seven months and exhausted his unemployment benefits. But after applying for dozens of jobs at convenience stores, fast-food restaurants and other places, he finally got a job washing dishes. “It’s just to stop the bleeding in my bank account,” he says. “I’m thankful for it, but it’s just temporary.”

With jobs scarce, some Portland newcomers are going home. Adam Pollock, 36, moved from New York to Portland in December, lured largely by the natural beauty and vibrant cycling scene. “In New York, if you want to get anywhere decent you have to battle traffic for a half-hour on either end of the ride,” he said. Mr. Pollock, a computer consultant, rented a small apartment with a month-to-month lease, figuring he’d trade up after he found a job.

He spent months sending out résumés and trying to drum up consulting work. He looked for work as a bicycle mechanic and as a barista at some coffee shops. As his savings ran out, he finally punted. “It got to the point where, fiscally, the clock had run out,” he said in a recent phone interview from Louisville, Ky. He was visiting relatives on his way back to New York.

Write to Conor Dougherty at conor.dougherty@wsj.com

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Fall fire fears

Turning on the heater for the first time of the year scares me to death.

 

There is actually a somewhat direct reason for this, going back to my sophomore year of college. (Longish story warning)

Freshman year I had lived on the 9th floor of a dorm, and as heat rises, I don’t think we turned on our heater at all during the winter. But sophomore year, I was in a much smaller room on the first floor of a much smaller dorm.

This room wasn’t frequently used, as it ended up being between the building office and the building managers apartment, and opened directly into the building lounge. It also was the first window from the locked door, so got people knocking on it trying to get into the building who didn’t live there.

So, it basically only got used when things were really full, and that year they were. Apparently, the previous few years it hadn’t been… and it was really dusty.

After I’d had the room for about a month or two, the weather got cold. So I turned on the heater.

And all of that dust and build up from a few years sitting all got kicked up, and burnt up.

 

I didn’t realize it yet, but my room had a smoke detector. One of those really loud industrial types. 

I discovered it pretty quickly with a near heart attack to go with the discovery.

Fortunately, it wasn’t connected to set off the ones in the rest of the building, but I didn’t realize that. I’d been woken up by way too many tromps down then back up 9 flights of stairs in the middle of the night by false alarms in my previous dorm, and waited way too long in the cold in just jammies for firemen to arrive and clear the floor that had triggered it.

The office was closed. The manager was away. Nobody was in the lounge, or anywhere I could see them on the first floor at all.

So… what do I do?

 

I ran down to the bathroom, turned on one of the showers, and stood in the little changing area outside of it to pretend I didn’t know what was going on and hadn’t been in my room.

Yes, really really logical. As if the fact I was fully dressed with no towel or soap in sight wouldn’t have been a clue?

I suppose in the long run it was probably better than calling the fire department or something else rash.. but standing there shaking with my heart racing in full panic mode was definitely not one of my most helpful solutions to a problem.

Eventually I calmed down enough to realize that I couldn’t hear it anymore. And a full ten minutes later was brave enough to actually leave the bathroom, expecting to step into total chaos and inquisition.

Instead I found a completely quiet hallway. And a quietly running if still musty smelling heater. If anybody else had noticed at all, nobody said anything.

 

But since that time, I have been scared to death of there being a fire when I turn on the heater for the first time of each season.

But this year, it’s worse.

 

I dunno if I’ve mentioned the occasionally malfunctioning sump pump in the basement my stepdad hasn’t fixed in the two years it has been doing it, but every month or so water backs up in my basement instead of being drained off. Not a huge huge amount, we’re talking like a 4 to 6 foot wet radius around the drain it’s supposed to go down…. but enough to be annoying, and to get boxes and such wet if I don’t watch where I put them.

But apparently at some point this summer, it got a bit further out, and had gotten into the bottom of the heater, and gotten trapped when the rest of the water went back down. So there was like 5 mm or so water on the bottom floor of it when I went to change the filter.

Nothing big… easily taken care of with the shopvac… only wire even near the area is a really thickly insulated power cord type of cord… and the area down there is just between the ducts and the intake anyway, so mold getting into the intake is probably the biggest issue it might cause.

But still.

After opening all the doors and windows and preparing to turn it on, I flipped the themostat, then ran back downstairs armed with my kitchen sized fire extinguisher and a giant flashlight. As if had there been a fire, it wouldn’t have produced it’s own light?

Smoke detector downstairs went off for a few minutes, then stopped. Neither of the upstairs ones went off at all. Ran fine, turned off.

This should have been the end of it, you would think.

 

But I’m still paranoid about it. I turned it back off for the night, then got up early to turn it on so that it would be warm when kiddo woke up, but it wouldn’t be running when I wasn’t awake. To do what exactly, panic? 

I’m letting it run tonight. It’s run through its cycle a few times already. I know logically that it is fine.

But I’m still a bit paranoid. “It’s kinda cool in here, shouldn’t it have kicked on yet, what if there is a problem and it shorted out and caught on fire, or what if the filter wasn’t lined up right and fell against the fan, and friction made it hotter than the furnace already was and it caught on fire?” style of thinking.

And I know the solution to such thinking is to have faith, and to give up my really pathetic illusion of being able to control…

Yet somehow that still doesn’t make it any easier to actually do so.

Pumpkin muffins

Pumpkin muffins

3 c sugar
1 c oil
4 eggs

1 t baking powder
2 t baking soda
2 t salt
3 1/2 t pumpkin pie spice

1 1/2 cans of pumpkin (15-16 oz sized… make sure it isn’t the premixed pie stuff)
2/3 c water

3 1/2 c flour

1 c raisins (optional)
1 c walnuts or pecans (optional) 

 

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix or stir the sugar, oil, and eggs together.

Add all spices, and mix really well.

Add pumpkin and water, mix again.

Slowly add the flour while still mixing.

Stir in raisins and nuts by hand.

Fill muffin tins or cupcake wrappers with 1/3 c of batter, stirring the mixture between batches if using raisins and/or nuts.

Bake for 22 minutes, or longer if using larger muffin sizes.

Some posts passworded…

As much as I prefer not to, I’ve decided for right now to make some posts on certain topics have a password. I’ll use the same password for each of them, and hopefully most posts will still be open.

How this works for google reader and other feeds is that it will give you the title and a note that its a password protected post, so you know that its posted to log in to read it. To try and make it simpler, I’m going to put them all in a password category and only that category so they don’t get in the way of the other posts, and I’m going to leave them with the post title being just the date.

 

 

If you are reading here, you probably aren’t the ones I’m trying to avoid reading certain things. That may make more sense when you see the posts… but its not the general lurker or reader that I’m trying to block.

I will send password to the ones of you I know have commented lately to have your email from the form, or have contact in other ways, but feel free to leave a comment if you’d like it and I missed you. (if it makes a difference to the lurkers, i will remove your comment afterwards)

The $500 checkbox and meritrust jerks

Rant warning. 

I try to avoid ranting too much, but, well, this has been the big issue dominating the week.

 

As I’ve mentioned before, the credit union where I’ve had my primary checking account for the last 7 years is really lacking in the customer service skills. To the point where they can’t even let you make a deposit in cash unless you have exact change, or have them make change for you first as a separate transaction. 

I probably should have gotten my clue then and walked away. But I didn’t. 

 

So late last month, I messed up. 

On my electric bill, when paying online, they have my checking account info saved, so it defaults to paying through the bank. I have to check a box to change it to pay through my unemployment account, or make a transfer from my unemployment to my checking. 

I forgot to do so. Entirely my fault. 

 

So, the bounced check fee at meritrust is 32, the electric company charges 30. $62 for a mistake makes for an expensive mistake, particularly when unemployed, but it was my mistake, so I expected to be paying it.

 

If only that was the end of the story.

As of currently, the fees stand at $478! (And that’s without them letting the payment go through.) And, they keep adding up, sometimes by $100 per day!

And there is nothing I can do to stop them. 

 

At first, I assumed that the electric company was the one putting it through repeatedly, as the bank does not list what company the refused transaction is from. So I dealt with them, paid the bill and their fee at one of their payment centers in cash as required, and thought all was taken care of. 

But the fees kept coming. So I called meritrust. And got told really that there wasn’t anything they could do about it. 

At this time, the fee was about 130 or so. So I basically sighed, figured it was over, and tried to figure out how to budget around it.

 

Then the letters came. More of them. The fees hadn’t stopped, even though the electric company had been taken care of. 

The next day a statement finally showed up… the first time I’d gotten to see anything but that it was an NSF fee. As it turned out, there were 3 transactions with my debit card that were pending still and not through yet before the electric bill hit. 

One for 22, one for 15, and one for 3.17 cents to kinkos for resumes.

None of which got paid, and all of which keep getting put through again and again and again and again with the electric one.

 

So instead of 3.17 plus 32 for resumes, its well over 103.

So I went into meritrust in person. 

The first guy couldn’t get my account to come up on his computer.

Next lady had to call someone. Then get transfered to someone else. And to a third person.

 

Third person wanted to talk to me. So she tells me that because I originally approved the transactions, they are federally regulated, and they aren’t allowed to block them from coming through.

So I asked if there was any way to block the fees. Even if they have to let them come through, its still their bank who is charging me 500 in fees when it does. (None of the transactions were paid, the balance is pure fees, plus they pulled out the money from my savings.)

 

Her response was that the only thing they could do would be to close the checking account, and create a new one. Which I was fine with. 

But there was a catch… she could only close the account if I paid the fees in full. 

Gee, yeah…. every unemployed person has more than twice their check amount sitting around at home to deposit. 

So I point blank asked how she could work with me on it. And she said she could cut them down to 200 if I were to make a payment to show an effort to pay, and could get her supervisor to sign off on changing the account with that. I agreed. She got my cell number, and told me she would call me back after it was completed.

So I made a 30 payment, as I only had 37 on my unemployment account at the time. And I’m less than a mile from the credit union when she calls back to tell me that her supervisor decided not to approve, but that maybe I could take out a loan for the amount. I pointed out that without a job currently, there was little chance of my being approved, and was told to find a cosigner.

 

Now when my stepdad had a car loan with them, it was for 24.6%! So high he refinanced through someone else almost immediately. 

So basically, if I give them 500 in profit, plus interest on 500 for however long, they will do me the favor of not continuing to charge fee on top of fee on top of fee for their debit card continuing to put the transactions through, and open a new account for me. As if I’m going to want to still do business with them after that?

I’m thinking they probably programmed their cards to create this setup intentionally.

 

But, basically, to me it means that instead of them getting 230 in profits and keeping a 7 year customer, they will get just the 30, the extra pain of trying to collect after they have finally given up and closed my account anyway for being so far in the red, and I’ve applied for a new local account elsewhere and will make sure to tell anyone I know who is considering using meritrust about my experiences.

 

I’ve got medical bills on my credit report anyway so it’s not like it hurts me much to have worse credit. And if/when they decide to sue, the judge really can’t be any worse about it than meritrust is being currently. And considering I have documentation that the electric bill had been paid before some of the retries, and that I’ve tried to close the account and been refused, I’m thinking there’s probably more of a shot of working with me than meritrust.

 

Yes, I made the original mistake. But $500 for a single checkbox being missed? And still growing every day? 

Gotta love companies who are jerks.