Features

The death drag

National | The U.S. may be aborting its economy, credit card rates decline-somewhat, and other business news

Issue: "Germ warfare and national security," June 2, 2001

Killing growth softly
The civilian labor force is expected to increase by 17 million, or 12 percent, over the 1998-2008 period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but America still may be killing off its own economic future. The increase is far lower than the 19 percent rise from 1978 to 1988, the first BLS measurement period following the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973. According to the National Right to Life Committee, the falling labor-pool numbers correlate in part with legalized abortion. The group estimates that 7 million additional productive citizens would have entered the workforce by 1998 had they not been killed in the womb. As the BLS notes, a growing population increases demand for goods and services, and for workers across a wide range of industries and occupations. A shrinking populace has the opposite effect, and the passage of time compounds it: Based on 1991 pregnancy rates and age-relevant death rates, the NRLC estimates that more than 1 million additional children were never born because their parents were aborted. Rate-cut curmudgeons
The Fed's steady trimming of the prime interest rate has produced a small decline in variable rates charged by credit card issuers. Nationally, the average variable interest rate on a standard (not gold or platinum) credit card has dropped from 17.16 percent to 16.16 percent since March, according to Greg McBride, a financial analyst at Florida-based Bankrate, Inc., an interest rate-monitoring firm. Card users shouldn't count on the Fed to rescue them from interest rate enslavement. Since card issuers lose money on deadbeat customers, they must make up ground with interest charged to those who pay their bills. Further, many variable-rate cards have a "floor," or minimum below which the interest rate will never fall. Thus, in the wake of the Fed's half-point rate cut in May, some card issuers may shave rates a bare quarter percent-but that's about it. Good stewardship thus demands that credit card users pay off balances as quickly as possible. At current interest rates, a consumer who pays the minimum of $25.00 on a $1,000 card balance will pay about $900 in interest-nearly doubling the original debt-and won't pay off the card until 2012. Life insurance not dead yet
When the bull market seemed unstoppable, low-return investments like annuities and cash-value life insurance fell out of favor. But recent research, combined with the itinerant bear stalking Wall Street, may have Americans rethinking that attitude. The sale of variable-universal insurance products jumped about a third in premium amounts and face value in 2000, according to the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association. About 9 percent more such policies sold last year than in 1999. Recent studies show that in today's volatile market climate, prudent investors should expect to skim between 5 and 7 percent from investment accounts during their older years, and not the double-digit returns encouraged by the 1990s stock boom, says Curt Anderson, training director at Dearborn, a financial services sales-training firm. "When people start to look at those kinds of returns ... insurance policies start to look more attractive," he said. Longevity: 1; Sexy: 0
Pentagon acquisition managers are demanding more maintenance bang for the taxpayer buck, and some aerospace firms are listening. Instead of touting sexy new flight innovations, helicopter manufacturers are stressing the "maintainability" of their products, according to a Defense Week report. The strategy-a response to nearly a decade of shrinking defense budgets and mounting pressure on military commanders to keep old equipment running longer-was evident at the May convention of the American Helicopter Society, a key contact point for military contractors and potential buyers. Chopper manufacturer Sikorsky, for example, didn't use its display booth to showcase slick innovations on its H-92 helicopter. Instead, the firm trumpeted a new feature that lets mechanics more easily remove and repair the aircraft's rotor-head, a component that requires frequent maintenance. The emphasis on equipment longevity also showed up in Colonel Robert Birmingham's convention presentation on the RAH-66 Comanche, the Army's next-generation attack helicopter. Col. Birmingham, who is in charge of acquiring the RAH-66 for the Army, barely mentioned the aircraft's cutting-edge stealth airframe and fighter jet-like flight characteristics. He said the Comanche program gives "the soldiers a low-cost aircraft that ... is easy to maintain."

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