Picking Up and Picking Up

The economy is picking up speed; bank branches are picking up as well … to leave.


Year-end and new year economic indicators are pointing to an economy that is picking up. Notably:

  • The economy grew at annual rate of 3.2% in October, November, and December, and grew 2.9% overall in 2010, the largest increase since 2005.
  • Consumer spending grew 4.4% in October, November, and December; retail sales grew 4.2% in February 2011.
  • The December unemployment rate dropped to 9.4%; first-time unemployment benefit claims dropped to 368,000 in February. “If the latest forecast materializes, it would be the fastest job growth since last May, when the numbers were lifted by temporary Census-related hiring,” reports the New York Times.
  • Home construction grew 3.4% in fourth quarter 2010; multifamily home starts increased 78% in January 2011; and according to the National Association of Realtors, existing-home sales increased 2.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million in January 2011.

These signs bode well for the economy, but not all neighborhoods feel the good effects. According to an article in the New York Times, “In 2010, for the first time in 15 years, more bank branches closed than opened … even as banks shut branches in poorer areas, they continued to expand in wealthier ones.”

In areas where the median household income dropped below $25,000 (low-income) or ranged from $25,000 to $50,000 (moderate-income), “the number of branches declined by 396 between 2008 and 2010.” In contrast, areas with higher median household income ($100,000+) saw the addition of 82 branches.

According to the F.D.I.C., approximately 30 million American households have either no bank account or rely on fringe financial services, such as payday lenders and pawnshops. The social cost of the departure of brick-and-mortar branches is evident as alternative services sprout up to fill the void.

Credit unions, as well as banks, have felt the revenue pinch from new regulations and have had to make the tough decision to close one or more branches. But as institutions that were founded to serve members of modest means, are there credit unions out there who opened (or plan to open in 2011) branches in low-income or moderate-income neighborhoods? Let me know; I’d love to hear their story.


March 3, 2011



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