Morning Brief: Washington Area May Slow In 2009


The Washington region has held up despite the recession this year. Next year might not be so easy.

The Washington region is expected to end the year with as many as 36,000 more jobs than last year, but analysts are forecasting a much dimmer outlook for next year, saying a rush of layoffs bearing down on the region over the next several months may bring a six-year span of job growth to an end.

"Only four regions had positive job growth," said John McClain, senior fellow at the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, told staff writer V. Dion Haynes. All the other large metropolitan areas, major population clusters connected socially and economically, "have had net losses in jobs," he said.

Haynes writes: "What happens next year will depend on the clash between two strong forces powering the region's job growth. President-elect Barack Obama's staffing of initiatives such as the Troubled Asset Relief Program could, according to analysts, add thousands of government and ancillary private-sector jobs while weak employer confidence could reduce the labor market."

And as the economic turmoil strikes a broadening swath of American industries, it is also hitting many national trade associations based in Washington. Haynes writes today that these associations are hemorrhaging members who either have lost their jobs, run a financially distressed business or said they need to spend their dwindling discretionary dollars on necessities rather than dues.

As a result, they are struggling to fill budget gaps -- trimming staffs, downsizing national conventions and trade shows, replacing meetings with "webinars," and either slashing dues to prevent a further membership slide or raising them to replace lost revenue.

In other news, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce is launching a for-profit enterprise that will sell health, dental and life insurance to local businesses seeking to make up revenue lost from the departure of numerous members.

Long a back-burner issue, the move to diversify its funding sources became a front-and-center effort when the economy began sputtering. The chamber, like many nonprofit trade and professional associations in the Washington region, is losing many financially distressed business owners who can no longer afford the dues.

Also, mortgage giant Fannie Mae has agreed to let renters stay in their homes even if the owners of the properties have been foreclosed on. About 4,000 renters live in properties foreclosed on by Fannie Mae.

The move comes after the mortgage-finance giant came under pressure from a Connecticut legal aid group to end efforts to evict tenants who are able to pay their monthly bills but whose landlords have lost their buildings to foreclosure.

It represents another step the company is taking to keep people in their homes. Last month District-based Fannie Mae and McLean-based Freddie Mac announced that they would suspend foreclosures and evictions during the holiday season and introduced a program to modify mortgages of owners facing foreclosure. Freddie Mac hasn't announced a policy regarding renters.

Also locally, Delta Air Lines plans to begin offering wireless Internet service Tuesday on board half of its shuttle flights between Washington's Reagan National, New York's LaGuardia and Boston's Logan airports.

But don't get too used to it. By the end of March, the planes that currently fly the Washington-New York route will be replaced with planes operated by contract carrier Shuttle America, which don't have Internet access.

By then, however, other Delta flights out of Washington will have WiFi. This week marks the first step of Delta's plan to let passengers on its 330-jet domestic fleet surf the Net by 2009.

And faced with painful choices about who will suffer most from looming budget cuts, Alexandria officials have taken the unusual step of paying a professional ethicist to help them grapple with the moral issues involved.

By Alejandro Lazo  |  December 15, 2008; 11:00 AM ET  | Category:  Economy , Economy Watch , Fannie Mae , Freddie Mac , Morning Brief
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