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Watching Paint Dry Can Be Palatable

How much of any process or situation can you control to ensure a successful outcome?

February 18, 2013
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Recently I oversaw a painting project in my kitchen. Time to touch up the ceiling.

The painter first prepared the room. Furniture was moved, tarps dropped, open surfaces taped and papered. Next, he edged the ceiling, carefully avoiding wall coverings. Finally, an extended roller made an appearance as he completed the bulk of the task. The “white-on-white” paint job was challenging as he focused upward, hoping to cover all surface area in a first attempt.

We talked as he worked.  He mentioned that streaks could result, requiring a second application. As we discussed that possibility, we concluded we’d have to wait until time had passed and the paint dried. We could do nothing more to ensure success; we could not anticipate or further control the project’s outcome.

I watched as the paint dried. The ceiling was glossy. Horrors—were there streaks? The new white was brighter; texture variances appeared, only to disappear later.

How much of any process or situation can you control to ensure a successful outcome? Preparedness and careful execution are necessary, but ultimately variables may come into play that we cannot anticipate. The passage of time will eventually tell us what we need to know.

Housing primer

All eyes remain on the housing market as an indicator of economic wellness. This week, a Pew Research survey reveals “Public Hearing Better News about Housing and Financial Markets.”  It states, “for the first time, as many say they are hearing mostly good news (25%) as bad news (24%) about real estate values; the remainder (40%) says the news is mixed. In 2009, far more saw the news about real estate as bad than good and the balance worsened considerably in 2010 and 2011.”

Survey results also indicate, however, “views of news about prices for food and consumer goods remain broadly negative.”

Another study reveals that the passage of time has interesting outcomes for some homeowners. Patterns of Homeownership, Delinquency and Foreclosure Among Youngest Baby Boomers” examines homeownership trends between 1988 through 2008 for select boomers.

“Among young baby boomers…all groups experienced growth in the rates of homeownership, but over time, minorities and the less educated were less likely to own a home... Rates of delinquency and foreclosure were higher among those who experienced a life event, those who reported owning a home at fewer previous interviews, and those with negative equity in their home.”

This report examines how time, the economy, and life circumstances affected these homeowners.

Brush up on education issues

Getting an education is a path to success for some consumers. But it is costly.

Americans Call for New Solutions to Make Education Accessible and Affordable,” reports a Gallup/Lumina Foundation poll. Key findings:

  • Eighty-seven percent think students should earn college credit for education and skills obtained beyond the classroom;
  • Seventy-five percent are “more likely to enroll in a higher education program if they could be evaluated and receive credit for what they already know”; and
  • Seventy percent disagree with time-based learning and feel if a student demonstrates mastery of curriculum, they should be exempt from sitting through the entire course.

With regard to financing education, “Overdue Student Loans Reach ‘Unsustainable’ 15%, Fair Isaac Says.” 

Student loans are a big source of unsecured debt and speculation about a possible bubble exists: “Education debt has swelled to $1 trillion, more than what Americans owe on their credit cards.”

Further, “Average student-loan debt last year rose to $27,253 from $17,233 in 2005, and almost 60% of bank managers surveyed… expect delinquencies to worsen in six months.”

College costs are increasing at double the rate of inflation, according to “Fast Facts: Student Loans.”  Also, the majority of student loans are federal loans, at $931 billion last year.

Meanwhile, “$140 billion of private student loans were outstanding last year.” Private loans have fewer defaults, at 4.2% while 13.4% of federal student loan borrowers default.

College students need to be forward thinkers when they plan where to get their education and what to study if this investment is to pay off. Otherwise, we may find ourselves asking, “Why are Recent College Graduates Underemployed?” per the musings of The Center for College Affordability & Productivity.

Typically, college-educated people tend to earn more than those without a degree. But a disturbing truth is that many “Americans who obtain higher education do not achieve the economic gains traditionally accompanying the acquisition of college-level credentials…. A growing disconnect has evolved between employer needs and the volume and nature of college training of students, and the growth of supply of college-educated labor is exceeding the growth in the demand.”

Some of the reasons for this disconnect:

  • Schools are not equal—some colleges produce graduates who will earn more because of their alma mater;
  • Majors are not equal—engineers, for instance, will earn more than social workers; and
  • Escalating college expenses and “perceived declines in economic benefits may well lead to declining enrollments and market share for traditional schools.”

Economic conditions touch up

“Budget estimators predict better growth, lower debt” as the “CBO Paints Rosier Economic Condition for 2013.”

The Congressional Budget Office currently expects economic growth of 1.4% and an unemployment rate of 8% by year’s end. Despite recent economic improvements, “CBO’s predictions still represent a bleak outlook. If the economy only grows by 1.4% in 2013, that’s a slowdown from around 1.9% in 2012. And if unemployment remains above 7% through 2014, as the office projects, it will be (the) sixth-consecutive year with the jobless rate above 7%.”

My ceiling looks beautiful. It dried evenly, and it gleams.

Streaky problems may have required a second coat of paint—not an insurmountable problem. Obsessive focus on outcomes may have unnecessarily burdened the process with an excessive initial application of paint, or wasted energy on anxiety. Eventually, the passing of time told us what we needed to know about the project’s success.

Watching paint dry is actually quite interesting. Grab your brush!

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