Global economic collapse, averted. Recession, analysts declared, was over. But aside from the few who got Wall Street bonuses, nobody was celebrating. In 2009, old-fashioned thrift became dire necessity. Those lucky enough to have jobs and homes scrimped, saved, and staycationed. Stimulus plans tried to revive a wilted economy, but the bubble burst had had the effect of a financial atomic bomb. People rolled up their sleeves and dug in to make the shift from crisis to survival, and went online to make sense of the seeming chaos around them. Here now, the Search lowdown on economic bad news.
—Yumi Wilson, contributor writer; Vera H-C Chan, Buzz senior editor
Grilled chicken, two sides, and a biscuit. That KFC offering and the power of Oprah resulted in a savings frenzy of 4.5 million coupons...and 6.5 milion rainchecks. Web traffic jams for a coupon, long lines for handouts—this craze may have been more about freebie addicts than Depression-era hunger, but it showed how far people would go for a deal.
In lean times, no savings were too small. The economic downturn revived the old-fashioned art of coupon-clipping, although actually downloading was the way people got "grocery coupons," "printable coupons," "restaurant coupons" and more. For many, the new thrift came from need, although plenty of Americans adopting a thriftier outlook still wanted their 21st-century luxuries. The "splurge urge" inspired at least one enterprising approach to profit from coupon-searchers. —YW
In a bleak sign of the times, Americans scoured the Net for anything related to finding new jobs, going back to school, and learning how to start their own business in 2009...but in the interim, many needed something to bridge the gap.
Lawmakers scrambled to ease the blow of job loss—and not being able to find another one—by fighting for a 14-week extension of unemployment benefits. A few people wondered aloud why President Obama’s stimulus plans weren't doing more to bail out the little guys. Meanwhile, analysts predicted that things would get a lot worse before they got better: The jobless rate reached its highest in 26 years, and 2010 doesn't look much rosier for working stiffs. —YW
More government spending equals more jobs, right? That was the thinking earlier this year when Congress approved the $787 billion stimulus plan. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was intended to get America back on its feet. Some governors made a show of refusing the money, and the Act fueled anti-big-government protests.
Still, plenty of working-class folks went online to demand "Where's my part of the stimulus?" Despite the clamor, the stimulus checks of 2008 turned into reduction in taxes withheld (an average $20 a week) for those who qualified. Unemployment rates went double-digit, and foreclosures continue at a record pace, but an Obama adviser argued the plan had pulled the U.S. economy back from the "abyss." America's not alone: The IMF talked stimulus on a global scale, to help the "nascent recovery." —YW
Got junk? A lot of people, it turned out, did—and 2009 was the year to get money out of it. Well before the federal government launched the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) in July, people rushed online for the lowdown on Cash for Clunkers to see if they could get up to $4,500 in rebates for trading in their old, still-running car for a better one. FuelEconomy.gov also saw lots of Web traffic. The Congress rushed to approve tripling the program budget to $3 billion.
In the end, 690,000 vehicles were sold and ailing auto dealers saw a slow but steady recovery. Meanwhile, plenty of copycats have started their own knock-off rebate programs, among them Cash for Appliances, hoping to capitalize on America’s relentless drive to spend less and save big. —YW
Students often take refuge in higher education to wait out a bad economic market. As tuition costs skyrocketed, however, so did the ways to pay for the increasing costs of college. Hopeful students scrambled for assistance as private student loans dropped significantly. Not willing to give up on a dream, students sought creative ways to finance classes as freshman Senator Al Franken and other lawmakers pushed plans to ease the financial crunch by funneling more loans through colleges and universities, instead of private lenders.
An ambitious White House may have inspired old-fashioned protests against a super-sized government, but at least one bureaucrat got an eager reception in 2009. The IRS stimulus checks under the Bush administration stirred up an online tizzy, but the Tax Man may have overdone his generosity this year by more than $20 million.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, an independent oversight committee, says that there were problems with how the Internal Revenue Service handled payments dishonored by the banks. Another headache: The IRS is double-checking 100,000 “doubtful” claims of first-time home-buyer tax credit, declared by people who fraudulently or mistakenly took advantage of the $8,000. Popularity can have its drawbacks. —YW
Homeowners sought refinancing, government help, and other ways online and off to save their properties, but the number of foreclosures still shot up in 2009. The stimulus package provided some much-needed relief for some homeowners, but not enough to spare the middle class and other families from the heartbreak of losing their homes.
Adjustable-rate loans, layoffs, and reluctant lenders were among the biggest factors for the number of homes that went back to the bank. Worse, analysts predicted that the rate wouldn't drop any time soon. “Recovery will be slow and gradual,” one real estate expert said. “I don't see home prices getting much better until 2013." —YW
Kumar went from White Castle to the White House, so why not join him? Kal Penn got his start in a movie about a burger joint, then moved into the popular “House” series. He had his character killed off for a new title: associate director in the White House’s Office of Public Liaison & Intergovernmental Affairs.
The actor's surprise role was one that many were seeking in 2009, as evidenced by the many queries on "how to get a government job." The future of government jobs, once considered the last bastion of secure employment, remains to be seen: Once-stable city and state bureaucracies slashed jobs in 2009 and put the rest on furlough. —YW
The "Talented Mr. Madoff" told everyone from author Elie Wiesel to the New York Mets that he could make them richer. But Bernard Madoff didn’t tell his clients that he was doing it through an elaborate Ponzi scheme. In the end, he confessed to his sons, who turned him in.
The sheer, unimaginable scope of his deceit—$65 billion—made him a poster boy for What Went Wrong on Wall Street. Some investors actually made money, but many people—and even towns—lost a huge chunk of their savings. Madoff’s infamy wasn’t just confirmed in widespread searches and news packages devoted to his rascality: His scheming landed him in Time’s Top 10 Crooked CEOs. The guilty plea came without a fight. As the financier finishes out his life in prison, he has spun off a mini-industry of lawsuits, auctions, and political lashings. —YW & VC
No doubt, stats on health care costs are grim: Every year for 30 years, costs have accelerated 2% faster than the rest of the economy. Insurance bills account for many layoffs and cutbacks. America spends more on health care than on food. From 1997 to 2007, each person's health care bill increased 81%. And that's not even mentioning the 47 million uninsured, and some more millions who were underinsured.
Change was needed, but was it the government's place? Was health care a right? The Obama administration believed so, and decided to risk repeating history by proposing health care reform. Taxpayer anger at big government erupted at town-hall meetings and wild rumors circulated, but the work went on at the Hill with the House and Senate working on their own versions, well into winter. —VC
Starting December 1 thru 31, 2009, we're giving away a 32GB iPod touch with $100 iTunes gift certificate each and every day for the entire month. Winners will be notified via @reply from the Yahoosearchdata Twitter account. See official rules for more details.