Search for radiation leak turns desperate in Japan

In this photo taken on Thursday, March 31, 2011 by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and released by Japan Defense Ministry Friday, April 1, Unit 1, center, and Unit 2, left, of the tsunami-stricken Fukushima Dai- ichi nuclear complex are seen with damaged waterfront facilities in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan.

The house next door has been for sale for almost a year.

Some people watch the stock market to determine the health of our beleaguered economy. Others study employment trends and inventory data.

I watch the house next door.

There has been a real estate agent's sign standing tall in the front yard for quite a while. It is my personal economic barometer.

While unemployment numbers waver and household goods are unsteady, I look for people pulling up, slowing down and taking a look. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much traffic.

Although it's a very nice house, complete with a swimming pool and a lake, the market is soft.

In fact, this is the second time it's been on the market. My neighbors tried to sell it last year and pulled it off, only to try again this year with a different sign.

Adding zeros

Ask real estate agents how things are going and they're quick to flash a smile and say the economy is turning around, things are looking up.

But that's what they said last year. It's a practiced response.

This recession has been more than a pizza joint closing at the mall or a shoe store shutting its doors downtown. We came as close to total disaster as we may ever know. And I'm sure there's still a lot we don't know.

Government guarantees and stimulus plans have made us callous to billion-dollar bailouts and bank bonuses. They just keeping adding zeros until we become accustomed to numbers that numb the senses.

Unemployment is still the cancer eating a hole through the heart of our economy. People without jobs don't replace old lawn mowers, go out to eat or buy new houses.

Like the one next door.

Faint flutters

Economists already have been exposed as modern-day soothsayers. Lay them end to end and they never reach a conclusion.

As a nation, we have many pulse points with no shortage of people listening intently for signs of life.

Occasionally, they report faint flutters and we think everything will be all right. Sooner, we hope, rather than later.

The Dow is up one day and down the next. Business reporters seem more and more like TV weathermen. Forecasting is more art than science.

Those who have investments have seen some recovery but yearn for better returns. And yet people are optimistic by nature, which is our best hope for the future.

Meanwhile, the house next door is still for sale.

When I see people pulling up in their cars, craning to see into the backyard, imagining life in our neighborhood, their cars parked in the driveway, their kids catching the bus, I'll know we're starting to pull out of the recession.

Until then, "for sale" signs have become a permanent part of everybody's neighborhood, which means the recession isn't over until it's over for everybody.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598.