Unemployment Drops, But Recovery May Be Fragile

Art Hicks, president, Cybex International, Inc.
Catherine Rampell, economics reporter, The New York Times

The latest numbers from the Labor Department were good news for the millions of Americans looking for work. But many economists warn that the recovery is fragile at best and the economy faces a long, painful road to full employment.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

The unemployment rate last month fell to 8.8 percent, the lowest level in two years, and McDonald's announced a plan to hire 50,000 workers as part of a national hiring day. Yet amid the good news, economists continue to warn the recovery remains fragile, that different parts of the country do better than others, and that something close to a full recovery is probably at least a couple of years away.

Still, some things have changed. Employers, what's different? And workers, what's changed where you live? Tell us your story: 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, another international intervention in Africa, in Ivory Coast this time, where the U.N. and France attacked troops on one side of a civil war yesterday.

But first, Art Hicks joins us from his office in New Jersey, where he's the president of Cybex International, a company that makes treadmills, bikes and other exercise equipment for health clubs.

And it's nice to have you with us today.

Mr. ART HICKS (President, Cybex International, Inc.): Thanks, Neal. Glad to be with you.

CONAN: And we have heard in a recent report - some people may have heard on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED - you're doing rather better.

Mr. HICKS: Yes. I would say in the middle of 2010, we saw bottom of our sales, and it's increased since then. In the fourth quarter of 2010, sales were up about 15 percent, and they've continued in the first quarter. Or it will be up more than 10 percent in the first quarter.

CONAN: And is that as a result of domestic consumption, or how much are you shipping overseas?

Mr. HICKS: Well, I tell my board it's obviously shrewd management.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HICKS: But actually, it's a mix.

CONAN: I would tell your board that, too.

Mr. HICKS: Yeah. Sometimes they believe me, sometimes they don't. But we sell in 90 countries. Almost a third of our sales come from outside North America. And both North America and international markets are doing fairly well.

CONAN: And have you shifted - when things start getting better, companies typically start hiring temp workers until they can be sure that this is going to be something permanent.

Mr. HICKS: Yeah, we have a great employee base, well-trained, and the first reaction is that we authorize overtime. We increase that to what we think is a reasonable level, maybe 50 hours per week, and then we add a temporary workforce.

And then after we believe the sales levels have been sustained, then we would convert those temps to full-time employees. It's a good thing at this point.

CONAN: And how many new, full-time employees have you brought on in the last...

Mr. HICKS: Well, we're up about six employees since the end of the year. We have about 600 employees. Around 60 percent remain involved in production.

CONAN: So this is - six doesn't sound like a lot, but it's nevertheless pretty significant.

Mr. HICKS: It really is. And we're a somewhat seasonal business. June, July, August are slow periods. So I wouldn't expect to hire more production folks until fourth quarter. But we've already made some important investments in areas that we think will drive sales. For example, we hired recently a VP of marketing. We're looking for a Web designer. We hired a West Coast sales manager. We're looking for a design engineer for (unintelligible) group.

CONAN: And I've seen your products in too many hotel exercise rooms to count.

Mr. HICKS: I hope you're staying healthy with us.

CONAN: Well, thank you, but I'll do my best. But in any case, I know you've been in business a while. The number of workers you've added, does it compare to the number of workers that you may have dropped when things weren't so good?

Mr. HICKS: Well, sales are off about 20 percent from 2007-2008 levels. Our team did a great job. We all sacrificed in the tough times, took some pay cuts, and we've really retained, mostly, the entire workforce intact. So we're only down about four to five percent of employees.

So at this point, we have a base to build up again, and then we'll increase on the production side. But as I said, at this point, we're cautiously optimistic, and we've investing in areas that we think will drive sales going forward.

CONAN: And I wonder, in terms of the job applicants you're seeing, are you getting people who are - well, describe their qualifications for us, if you would.

Mr. HICKS: It's kind of a difficult conundrum. We - you know, you would think with higher unemployment, the number of applicants would be increasing, you know, the skill level would be increasing, but that hasn't been the case for us.

We've had a lot of difficulty finding the skill sets we're looking for, even though, you know, the numbers would tell you otherwise.

CONAN: So even though you're getting a large number of applicants, the people who are qualified for these jobs is relatively small.

Mr. HICKS: Yeah. I mean, you need good, qualified people, well-trained, to succeed in our business. And, you know, maybe that's the difficulty.

CONAN: Are the applicants - have they been out of work a long time, or are they changing fields, or what?

Mr. HICKS: There does seem to be a level of which, you know, the folks have been out there longer than we had seen in the past.

CONAN: And as you look ahead to sustain growth, obviously, 10 percent a quarter would be great. That may be hard to do.

Mr. HICKS: Well, in our industry, I think we sell mostly to fitness clubs. And you see 2010, the club members were up 10 percent. Club revenue was up four percent. The long-term prognosis, depending on which crystal ball you want to believe, is in North America, you would - they predict a three to four-percent long-term growth rate. International could be 10 percent or higher.

CONAN: And I assume that during - when things were not so good, a couple, three years ago, people weren't buying at all. They were trying to extend the life of equipment that maybe right now is pretty well worn out.

Mr. HICKS: Yeah. They need to have good equipment to compete. And you're right, I think they're replacing now equipment that probably would've normally been replaced a year and a half ago in a lot of cases.

In addition, we see now an increase in club expansion. You see several chains with aggressive expansion plans. So, I mean, both of those are important for our sales forecast.

CONAN: So you look at those - the figures about the nation's fitness with a smile when you realize we're all getting heavier.

Mr. HICKS: Well, you know, we have a real fancy mission statement, but in the end, it's to improve the health of the world. And that's where we come out. So we hope - there's now over 50 million people that are club members just in the U.S. alone.

CONAN: Well, Art Hicks, we wish you continued success.

Mr. HICKS: Neal, thanks for spending time with me.

CONAN: Art Hicks is the president of Cybex International, a company that makes treadmills, bikes and other exercise equipment for health clubs. He joined us from his office in Haddonfield in New Jersey.

Well, yeah, unemployment's down a tick, and a lot of jobs were added, more than 200,000 last month. We're wondering if you're an employer, what's changed in your business? Obviously, it varies by field and location.

And if you're a worker, well, what's your story? Have people been changing things where you live? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And let's see if we can go to Ed, and Ed's with us from -where are you, Ed, I'm sorry?

ED (Caller): I am in South New Jersey, South Jersey, basically.

CONAN: And what do you do?

ED: I am a Teamster for a liquor distributor in New Jersey. It's basically a recession-proof industry.

CONAN: And so you drive trucks?

ED: I drive a truck, yes.

CONAN: And in your industry, you say recession-proof, is it better or worse?

ED: It's better. People are drinking more, I guess because they're unhappy because they lost their jobs or they're happy they have a job. So people are drinking more.

CONAN: And you're working longer hours?

ED: Longer hours, less people are doing it. I could probably take on 15 to 20 employees at this time, and management won't bill it.

CONAN: And why not, do you think?

ED: I'm sure they want to save money.

CONAN: And are they just suspicious that maybe this boom will not last?

ED: No, the boom has never gone away.

CONAN: All right, Ed. Thanks very much.

ED: Thank you.

CONAN: Drive safely, please.

Joining us now from our bureau in New York is Catherine Rampell, an economics reporter for the Business Day section of The New York Times. She edits the Economix blog.

And nice to have you back with us.

Ms. CATHERINE RAMPELL (Economics Reporter, The New York Times): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: If you're somebody who's been out of work for some time, how should you interpret this drop in the unemployment rate? Just sheer good news?

Ms. RAMPELL: Well, certainly, the drop in the unemployment rate and the rise in non-farm payrolls in March are good news. You know, they're better than the opposite, than having unemployment go up and having employers lay off more people.

But it's not unequivocal good news. I mean, there are a few things to consider, here. One is that we still have this huge number of people who've been out of work for years. The duration of unemployment, on average, has gone way up. I mean, it's at record high levels.

The typical person who's out of work has been out of work for 37 weeks, which is sort of amazing. And those people, the people who have been out of work the longest, are the hardest to get back to work for a whole host of reasons.

CONAN: And so that is a stubborn problem. But as you say, good news is good news. You should not...

Ms. RAMPELL: Well, you know, as they say, it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, certainly. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's really enough to dig us out of this deep hole.

We lost a huge number of jobs during the recession, and while we -again, growth is welcome in terms of payrolls, it's really not fast enough to recover much of the ground that was lost.

CONAN: And it's interesting. It turns out that there are actually more people of employment age than there used to be. So we'd have to grow even faster to make up a percentage of the population.

Ms. RAMPELL: Right. So if we had growth like March going forward, you know, indefinitely - so that's about 216,000 jobs added each month - it would take us probably about eight years until we got to the quote-unquote "full employment" - that is, you know, we made up for all the layoffs that we had during the recession, as well as creating jobs for the new people entering the workforce because they're becoming old enough to work now.

CONAN: What do you make of some economists who say: Wait a minute. This is all private-sector growth. All the people were added in the private sector. In fact, the employment - the government sector's been laying people off. So this is really a good sign, and it's a sign that it's beginning to take off.

Ms. RAMPELL: Well, yeah. I mean, the fact that we've had 13 months now of private payroll growth certainly indicates that there is some at least tiny sustainability to what has generally been considered a relatively weak recovery. And it's good that we obviously have employers who are hiring at least a little bit.

The fact that governments are laying off workers, I would say, is not good news. I mean, I know that there is a movement afoot to shrink the size of the government in general, which would mean, of course, having fewer workers. But whether or not you think that's a good idea, you know, that's sort of a separate issue. But having it now is somewhat problematic because when you have these government - state and local governments laying off workers, that means adding more people to the unemployment payrolls and fewer people able to spend paychecks, right.

And so when you have, let's say, a town that lays off its employees, you know, whether they're secretaries or janitors or bus drivers or whoever, those people are no longer able to buy groceries, to, you know, replace the car, to get new furniture or whatever. And that has ripple effects throughout the private sector, as well, because the dollars that they would be spending, they're not.

CONAN: And what do you make - when we talked to Art Hicks, he said: Well, yeah, first we expand over time. Then we hire temp workers. And now we're hiring permanent workers. Are a lot of employers in that cycle somewhere, or not even at that beginning cycle yet?

Ms. RAMPELL: That seems to be what's happening. And that's sort of the standard process here, that employers will dip a toe in, you know, rather than hiring someone permanently and taking on all of those more intensive costs.

CONAN: Health care, for one.

Ms. RAMPELL: Well, health care in particular. But actually, health care is the one industry that's been growing. Forget the temps there. They've been hiring - they've been going like gangbusters, you know, during the recession and afterwards.

CONAN: We're talking with Catherine Rampell, economics reporter for the Business Day section of The New York Times. Workers, employers, what's changed in your business? 800-989-8255.

Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

The jobless rate dropped last month to the lowest level in two years. That's the good news. Still, more than 13 million people are looking for work, and the unemployment rate swings widely between specific groups: whites, 7.9 percent, Hispanics, 11.3 percent. For African-Americans, the employment rate stands at over 15 percent.

Looking ahead, there's little consensus among economists about whether or not the drop in unemployment signals a strong rebound or just another small step along a long, painful road.

We're talking with Catherine Rampell about where the jobs are and are not. She's an economics reporter for the Business Day section of The New York Times and also writes and edits the economics blog.

Employers, what's different? Workers, what's changed where you live? 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Jacob's on the line, calling from Anchorage.

JACOB (Caller): Hey, I just wanted to say, you know, I work for a small excavation company up here, and, you know, like the caller said before, recession-proof is not recession booming because we work in the residential sector, and people aren't buying homes up here, but they're remodeling their homes.

So we've had record-breaking years since the recession because material is cheap for them, and we've been digging for additions and redoing driveways. And, I mean, our seasons have been the longest since, you know, '08.

CONAN: So it's actually been pretty good for you?

JACOB: It has. I mean, we've added - you know, we've hired two people last year. We're hiring four people this year. And, you know, we only have under 10 employees. We go around, we have about three crews.

And yeah, it's, you know, I - it's pretty amazing. If you look at different sides of the recession, you know, who it affects in bad ways and who it affects in good ways, you know. I mean, it's been nothing but good news for us.

CONAN: Well, Jacob, continued good luck to you.

JACOB: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And I guess that reminds us, Catherine Rampell, that it's different no matter - depending on where you are.

Ms. RAMPELL: Right. The economy is not just one giant, monolithic entity. There are lots of industries that are counter-cyclical, as it's called, meaning that when most people are doing badly, they're doing well.

I mean, I remember there was an article a couple years ago about cobblers doing particularly well because people weren't buying new shoes. They were getting their old shoes fixed up and otherwise, you know, redone.

So there are always going to be different effects. But that said, the pain was and is relatively widespread, and it's been especially concentrated in certain groups, as well.

You mentioned that there are different unemployment rates by race. We've also seen that by age. You know, there are some sort of funny things going on in the job market there. Young people, teenagers, people in their early 20s have much higher unemployment rates than older folks.

But once an older person, let's say over 55 - older worker, I should say. No judgment there.

CONAN: I was going to say mature, but...

Ms. RAMPELL: Mature. Well, just in terms of - relatively speaking. Whatever. In any case, once a more mature, experienced worker gets laid off, that person is much less likely to find a new job in the near future relative to a young person, who can also maybe have more flexibility to go back to school. You know, they don't have to deal with a mortgage and kids and whatever else.

So you do see the effects of the recession being visited in very different ways upon different groups, men and women, as well.

CONAN: Well, speaking of counter-cyclical, here's Jeff in Pennsylvania, emails: I'm a physician at a maximum security prison. Business has never been better - so good, in fact, we sent some of our business to other states due to overcrowding.

What a sad result of a poor economy, further erosion of our inner cities and lack of jobs that can sustain a family. Sad that when business is best for me, it's hard times for everyone else.

Let's go to Amy, Amy with us from Evansville in Indiana.

AMY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Amy.

AMY: Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

AMY: I was just calling to say my husband was working for a flailing company for about six years throughout the recession. And it was a small company of maybe 10, 12 employees.

And his boss did everything he could. He had laid off a couple of people. He didn't give raises, you know, did everything he could, cut back benefits. And then finally in October, he decided that he needed to close up shop.

Well, my husband and I decided that we were going to have to go on unemployment and look for better work to sustain our family of five. And come to find out that all these clients and new clients have come to him, and he has been able to start his own small business with me, writing copy with my degree and him designing with his degree. And we have yet to even think about going to the unemployment office yet.

CONAN: Well, congratulations. So in other words, the - your husband's former company went out of business. The people who used to be there, customers, and indeed even more people, have come to your new firm.

AMY: Right. And I don't know if it was, you know, the conglomerate of television commercials and Web design, or just the fact that my husband does primarily Web work and oriented to the Internet.

I don't know if it was just the television production was just not big or the advertising wasn't big. But, I mean, we have terrible amounts of print work for these election coming up and lots of design work, and working for Democrats.

We have no end in sight of our clients so far. So we were really scared to death that we were going to have to live on unemployment until we ran out, and we live in Indiana, and our governor is well-known for being a strong conservative and cutting back on a lot of projects around here. So we were worried we'd be kind of be stuck down in that. But everything seems to be working out, and we're hoping we're riding the boom along with everybody else.

CONAN: Well, continued good luck for you, Amy. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

AMY: Thanks a lot, Neal. Have a good day.

CONAN: Bye. Charles emails from San Jose: I'm a software engineer in Silicon Valley. I returned to the U.S. in August, 2009, after some time off abroad. Since that time, I've been offered only contract work for periods between three and six months.

The company I'm currently working at has indicated that when my contract is over, they want to hire me as a regular employee. I see this as a sign the tech economy has turned the corner, at least here in California.

And Catherine Rampell, California in general and Silicon Valley in particular were very hard-hit. Have they begun to mount a return?

Ms. RAMPELL: That's what I've been hearing in terms of Silicon Valley, at least anecdotally. About maybe six months ago, I did a story where I was looking at the employment trends in high-tech, because that's supposed to be the leading industry of the economy.

You know, that's the industry that's growing, whose services we are exporting overseas, even as, you know, our auto shipments and other manufactured goods fall.

And things were still kind of tough. The new, you know, superstar graduates of places like Stanford were very much high in demand. But more experienced, oftentimes older engineers who had been out of college for a while were having a lot of trouble and were being offered contract work, freelance work, were having a lot of trouble getting permanent offers.

But that seems to be changing a little bit as at least those companies see some stability to their profits.

CONAN: Go next to George, George with us from Naples in Florida.

George, are you there?

GEORGE (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi, George, you're on the air.

GEORGE: Hi, how are you? Love the show, Neal.

CONAN: Thank you.

GEORGE: I'm a food and beverage director in Naples, Florida, for a restaurant that does about $4 million a year in annual sales. And since January 1st, we're up about five-and-a-half percent over last year.

We're a pretty affluent town, but we're very seasonal. We do about 60 percent of our business for the year in February and March. And I talked to a lot of GMs around town of other restaurants, and everybody's been bursting at the seams this season. And it's been a - you know, it's just been a bang-up season for every restaurant in town. We've had a terrific season.

CONAN: So in the course of that, did you hire a lot more servers and people to help cook all that food?

GEORGE: Well, our workforce is about - we have about 70 employees total, but it's misleading because a lot of them work two days a week here, three days a week there. There's a lot of part-timers. That's what leads to so many employees.

But what we've noticed in the five-and-a-half percent increase in revenue - which is a sizable number for us, based on $4 million in sales - it's cost us a lot more money. It's cost us a lot more to do that extra five-and-a-half percent.

CONAN: I see.

GEORGE: Food costs are just almost unbearable.

CONAN: Yeah...

GEORGE: Liquor's up. Prices are up there, insurances, utilities. So it costs a lot more to do that extra five-and-a-half percent, but I guess it's six in one, half-a-dozen in the other. I guess it's a good problem to have.

CONAN: I guess so. George, thanks very much for the call.

GEORGE: Thank you. Love the show.

CONAN: And Catherine Rampell, his call illustrates a couple of situations, one of which he says food costs are up, in no small part because oil costs are up...

Ms. RAMPELL: Right.

CONAN: ...and all that food has to be delivered somewhere. Is that going to be a break on the economic recovery?

Ms. RAMPELL: I think a lot of economists are worried about commodity prices of all kinds going up. It's not just because of oil prices. There's actually more demand for various kinds of food throughout the world, as, you know, developing countries get richer, and they want to eat better food.

Cotton prices are going up, all sorts of commodities - you know, the types of inputs that producers use to make the goods that they sell to consumers.

And, you know, what was interesting about this last call also was that the business is doing well. It sounds like profits will probably be up, and yet there still sounded like there was a little bit of hesitation to hire, and I think that's pretty widespread. You know, last year, according to the Commerce Department, corporate profits rose at their fastest pace in about 60 years. So companies did quite well, at least relative to the year before, when, you know, things weren't great.

So it's - you know, it's from a low base. But even so, companies were doing very well. They were making a lot of money. But they still have been relatively reluctant to hire. And I think it's because of these underlying concerns about commodity prices going up, about what's happening in Libya. Are oil prices, on their own, going to go up? Or, you know, is the tragedy in Japan going to cause a lot of supply disruptions? There are just so many sources of uncertainty going forward, that even though companies seem to be doing well, they seem reluctant to take the plunge and really commit to hiring many more workers.

CONAN: Another aspect of it that, even six or eight months ago, relatively high-end businesses were doing relatively better than their counterparts who were in the middle of the market or low market.

Ms. RAMPELL: That makes sense. You know, you see that with the stock market going up, for example, people who have a lot of investments -which are primarily wealthier people - feel richer, and they're more likely to spend more money. We have been seeing consumer spending going up, and that's probably - although I'm not certain - because of more affluent consumers who would, you know, primarily be shopping at more luxury good-oriented stores, as opposed to kind of the dollar store and the discount stores that actually have been doing relatively well during the recession.

CONAN: We're talking about the employment outlook as the last jobs report showed an increase of over 200,000 jobs last month. And, well, the unemployment rate ticked down one-10th of 1 percent. That's good. But economists warn that the recovery is still fragile and not going at a fast enough pace to begin to get back to anywhere near full employment for, well, a good number of years.

Our guest is Catherine Rampell, who's the economics reporter for the Business Day section for The New York Times and writes about economics and edits at the Economix blog.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, which is coming to you from NPR News.

Let's go next to Elise, Elise with us from Iowa City.

ELISE (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Elise, you're on the air.

ELISE: Oh, hi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm calling from Iowa City in Iowa, and I work in education. For 10 years, I've been conducting professional development and curriculum development projects that were funded by the federal Department of Education. In its most recent budget processed for fiscal year 2011, the House of Representatives has cut the funding for 54 Department of Education programs, one of which is the one that funds my own programming.

The program in which I do function will be cut by $120 million if the program is not salvaged by the Senate, and it's unlikely that it will be. With the $30 billion in cuts the Senate has agreed to - which was the original Republican request from the House before they had the change - I'm just wondering what that's going to do to this trajectory of improved employment. I have to think with $30 billion plummeting out of the economy in the next five months...

CONAN: Yeah.

ELISE: ...before the end of September, that there's going to be a huge fallout.

CONAN: It depends on which $30 billion it is and where that goes. But I think, Catherine Rampell, she's got a point.

And we've got an email from Susan in Solon, Ohio: My husband and I are both schoolteachers. His smaller district(ph) was just notified that 40 employees will be let go. I work for the Cleveland Municipal School District - Metropolitan School District, excuse me. At tonight's board meeting, 836 people will get layoff notices. Six-hundred-fifty are teachers.

This is going on, well, not just in the Midwest, but all over the country.

Ms. RAMPELL: Right. That goes back to what I was saying before, that whether or not you think that the government should ultimately become smaller - and, you know, deficit projections going forward make it look like that it will have to become possible - right now, it's really not the ideal time for that downsizing to happen because it has ripple effects throughout the economy. When you have laid off schoolteachers, when you have contractors or other grant recipients like the woman who just called, whose funding is tied to the federal government or even state and local governments - when you have all of those people who are losing money or are losing their jobs, they're not able to shop. They're not able to pay their bills.

And as a result, the people that they owe money to, or the stores that they would patronize don't have money coming in. And then those store owners don't have the money to spend. And so it sort of reverberates throughout the economy. And that's why a lot of people - in particular, economists - are very concerned about what's been happening to state and local government layoffs, because they could have this sort of chilling effect in the private sector as a result.

CONAN: Elise, I'm sorry to hear about your situation. We wish you the best of luck.

ELISE: Thanks so much, Neal.

CONAN: Bye. Let's see if we can get one more caller in. This is Morgan, Morgan with us from Ann Arbor.

MORGAN (Caller): Hi, there.

CONAN: Hi.

MORGAN: I'm a professional ballerina, and I had a lot of work dancing on the East Coast. And my husband got transferred to Michigan. And now I'm in Michigan, and I don't have any work. I've currently published my own book, "Tiny Toes," just so that I can have a job. And now I'm driving an hour and a half just to dance.

CONAN: Just to dance professionally.

MORGAN: Yeah. Yeah.

CONAN: And I guess we don't think of ballerinas as a big part of the workforce, you'll excuse me...

MORGAN: Right.

CONAN: ...but it's important.

MORGAN: Yeah, the arts are hurting. My mom has now been unemployed. She's a visual artist. For three years now, those seem to be the programs that seem to be gone the fastest.

CONAN: And Michigan - well, not just the federal government, the state government there is in dire straits, as well. Prospects don't look great, do they?

MORGAN: No. They don't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MORGAN: Lots of people are leaving Michigan.

CONAN: Well, Morgan, we wish you the best of luck, too.

MORGAN: Thank you.

CONAN: And Catherine Rampell, yeah, the arts are an important sector. We forget that sometimes.

Ms. RAMPELL: Well, and they're suffering, not only because government money has been drying up, you know. They're - these governments are having trouble paying their more - what they would consider - essential bills, you know, keeping the lights on in their offices or whatever. And they're less likely to be spending money for the arts, whether in schools or elsewhere. And beyond that, you have nonprofits that also end up giving a lot of grant money for performing arts, visual arts, and they've been hurting, too, because their donations are drying up.

CONAN: Catherine Rampell, thanks very much for your time.

Ms. RAMPELL: Thank you.

CONAN: And we thank everybody who called and wrote to us on this subject. It's one to which we will return as the situation continues to develop. Thank you all.

When we come back, we're going to be talking about what's changed in Ivory Coast, where France and the United Nations took what may have been decisive action yesterday on one side of a civil war.

This is NPR News.

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