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Thursday, October 07, 2010 

Bear with me. This is actually about circus. With several shows now almost home, it seems like a pretty good time to look at 2010 and beyond. The good news, most shows weathered the season despite the continued weakness in the US economy. The bad news, the US economy is still on life support and plenty of taxpayers are frustrated and ready to pull the plug. For not-for-profit circus and circus programs, charitable giving is still well below pre-recessionary levels. The Bush/Obama economic brain trust was great at bailing out financial institutions and car companies, but only recently has government agreed to funnel money to small and smaller business, the kind of homegrown manufacturers and retailers who quietly generous. Stimulus money has certainly benefited those in infrastructure construction and related business – though job creation hasn’t lived up to expectation – but that enormous new debt did nothing to solve foreclosures and continued weakness in housing. Ten show that historically stayed in the black in areas of southern California are still looking at virtual ghost towns in the Imperial Valley and in counties where foreclosures have emptied entire subdivisions. It’s likely still tough for a traditional tent show to make a dime south of Bakerfield.

What has continued to assist tent shows through this recession is the disconnect between economic statistics and economic reality. In “hard times” we love distraction. Movies are doing well. With tickets for 3-D films running close to #20 in some places, circus is a genuine bargain. Moreover even when unemployment is 10%, 85% of the workforce is still punching a clock (5% have just given up) and while a third may be under-employed and struggling, the clear majority of Americans continue to have disposable income. Again, that doesn’t do much to brighten the picture in Barstow, orf in Victorville or in those areas of Illinois where the downturn appears to be getting deeper and deeper, but in a few areas of Michigan things are looking up… And in the natural gas fields of Pennsylvania and the upper Appalachians there’s a modest economic boom. Consumer sentiment remains negative, but families are acutely aware of a good deal. A #20 dollar circus ticket may be the kiss of death, but a $15 dollar ticket sounds reasonable.

Economists are cautiously optimistic. While it wouldn’t take much to send the US economy back into Recession, slight improvements in manufacturing, retail, and job growth in 2010 seems to signal a long, slow recovery – like Japan in the 1990s rather than a significant worsening in the picture for 2011. Assuming major changes in the make-up of Congress at least some attempt will be made to pay down debt. It may be 2012 or even 2013 before the economy is ready to give us all a really good circus season with easy spending – but assuming oil prices remain below $95 a barrel 2011 should show biz a little more cash at the end of the season than did 2010.

About me

  • I'm B.E.Trumble
  • From Everywhere, United States
  • Ben Trumble works in circus, carnival, and media relations
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