Educated Guesses: Experts Offer Predictions for 2009

17-Dec-2008 1:40 PM EST, by University of Alabama

Newswise — What's ahead for 2009? Anxiety and depression will threaten Americans' mental health, the U.S. will pull out of Iraq, 100 more banks will fail and healthy eating will fall by the wayside, according to the 28th edition of "Educated Guesses," a series of annual predictions offered by University of Alabama faculty. Full stories and faculty contact information are available at

Educated Guesses 2009: "¢ Americans to cope with recession in both health and unhealthy ways -- Anxiety and depression will threaten Americans' mental health in 2009 as the recession progresses, says Dr. Martha Crowther, associate professor of psychology at UA. "With the uncertain job market and stock market, without question the recession is impacting most people," Crowther says. "I think, depending on individual life factors, it will cause people to have increasing anxiety or depression. I think we'll definitely see more people getting therapy, but we'll also see more people coping in other ways," she says. "Some of that may be alcohol or drugs " prescription or non-prescription, legal or illegal. But you may see some positive coping as well. People may actually step back and readjust their lives. What families do together may change. They may move from people doing lots of individual things and spending a lot of money to actually increasing quality time."

"¢ Nation's retailing picture to be dim in 2009 -- Don't expect the nation's retailing picture to improve through most of 2009, says Dr. Kristy Reynolds, Bruno Associate Professor of Marketing in UA's Culverhouse College of Commerce. Reynolds, who has done extensive research in retail loyalty, shopping motivations and behavior, and customer-salesperson relationships, says all of those areas will be major factors in retailing success in 2009. Reynolds expects consumers to curtail discretionary spending and put a greater emphasis on quality and maximizing value. She also expects declines in product areas in which consumers can delay purchases, such as some appliances and clothing. "I think those retailers that over the years have come to be recognized as offering products that last will have a better chance of surviving through the faltering economy," she said.

"¢ First 100 days will be key to Obama presidency -- Look for President Obama to pursue his electoral mandate to fix the economy and health care in 2009 in a historic moment nearly comparable to the beginning of the Roosevelt administration in 1933, says Dr. David Lanoue, chair of the political science department at UA. Jumping into these issues during the first 100 days in office will be a key to Obama's presidency. "It's especially important now," Lanoue says. "People need to feel that something is going to happen. It's not like the Depression, but it's the closest thing we've had since the 1930s, when Franklin Roosevelt took office. The first thing Obama is going to do is make moves to make sure people know something's happening."

"¢ Prisoners may be released as federal and state governments face critical funding decisions -- The economic downturn in 2009 will force the federal government and some state governments to face critical funding decisions when it comes to prisons, says Dr. David Forde, professor of criminal justice at UA. In fact, states like Alabama may be forced to choose between funding the prison system or schools. "The economy is going to force this issue to the forefront," Forde says. "Either you provide the money to the correctional system, or you continue to let it grow and take the money from somebody else. And that somebody else will be schools." Funding issues could result in early release for some prisoners, according to Forde, who sees officials re-evaluating sentencing guidelines with an eye toward releasing the least dangerous prisoners.

"¢ Bailout or not, U.S. auto industry will change in 2009 -- Whether or not the federal government bails out the ailing auto industry, Dr. James E. Cashman, John R. Miller Professor of Management at UA, expects substantial changes in the nation's auto industry next year. Cashman, who has worked extensively with the auto industry, especially the troubled General Motors, the largest and most vulnerable automaker, and Saturn, says any bailout plan will be hobbled by discussions on how to split the money. "If there is a bailout in the auto industry we will go into a prolonged discussion - or dispute - between GM management and the UAW leadership about how the funds should be spent," Cashman says. "That said, the American consumer will find that the new car market will become even more dominated by the transplant organizations." On the other hand, Cashman says, if there is no bailout, the U.S. auto industry will go about the business of re-inventing itself, which may be to the benefit of the consumer.

"¢ Oil prices will stay low for 2009 --After a year in which oil prices fluctuated from record highs to the lowest prices in the last five years, a UA engineering professor predicts that oil prices will remain low during 2009, thanks of the struggling national economy. "If the economy does not rebound quickly in 2009, oil prices should remain in the fifty dollar a barrel range, which will result in gasoline prices around a dollar and a half per gallon," says Dr. Peter Clark, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering. "A rational energy policy that emphasizes, conservation, alternative fuels, and domestic production will help to moderate the increase in the price of oil."

"¢ A hundred more banks expected to fail; impact on most individuals slight -- Dr. Benton Gup, author of "Too Big to Fail: Policies and Practices in Government Bailouts" and the Robert Hunt Cochrane/Alabama Bankers Chair of Banking at UA's Culverhouse College of Commerce, expects that another 100 or so banks will fail, but the average American probably won't feel too many direct effects. "The deposits and loans of the failed institutions are taken over by another bank, and it is almost like business as usual for depositors and most borrowers," Gup says. "Those who have delinquent mortgage loans face some challenges."

"¢ U.S. to pull out of Iraq, increase troops in Afghanistan -- The incoming Obama administration will make good on pledges regarding the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009 even as those nations pose huge challenges, says Dr. Douglas Gibler, UA associate professor of political science and an expert in international relations. President Obama may turn to foreign-policy issues as his domestic initiatives run into problems in the legislative process, Gibler predicts. "My best guess is that Obama will quickly become frustrated with domestic policy. It's going to be very difficult to get his policies through Congress. But, because of his rhetorical appeal, because of the importance of issues like Iraq and Afghanistan, I think you're going to see much more of a focus on foreign policy, because presidents want to be known for doing something."

"¢ Multi-platform books, fantasy to hold kids' attention -- Interactive books that use Web pages and CDs to help tell their stories and keep kids guessing will continue to hold children's and young adults' attention in 2009, a UA children's literature expert predicts. These new multi-platform books include Richard Riordan's "The 39 Clues" series, which features extensive new media enhancement. "The books come with trading cards, and kids can go online to a Web site, interact with the characters, predict the ending, and get clues to help solve the mystery that's in the book," says Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo, an assistant professor in UA's School of Library and Information Studies. "In the future and especially in 2009, the books that are popular will be much more interactive between the reader and the book." The coming year will also see a continued increase in literature aimed at young Hispanic readers as well as Spanish or multilingual material.

"¢ Style shifts direction in 2009 -- More figure-flattering cuts, belts and dresses that emphasize the waist will replace bulky tops as the hottest styles in 2009 as fashion trends move away from the focus on volume of the last few seasons, a UA expert predicts. "You can expect to see a lot of fitted silhouettes," says Brian Taylor, instructor of clothing, textiles and interior design. Taylor says designers are experimenting more with mixed patterns instead of voluminous fabrics. This trend is likely to leave the runways as it the easily adapted to anyone's wardrobe and adds visual interest. Fashion watchers are also keeping an eye on Michelle Obama, Taylor says. "She's a smart professional who puts thought into what she wears. I think a lot of women have been looking for someone to cling to, and she has a classic style that they like," Taylor says.

"¢ Obama's first year to bring open, frank dialogue about racial and ethnic diversity -- An increase in open and frank dialogue about racial and ethnic diversity will begin as Barack Obama's presidential administration gets underway in the coming year, predicts a UA rhetorical studies expert. "The historic election of the nation's first African-American president " along with his selection of a culturally diverse cabinet including Bill Richardson (Latino), Eric Holder (African-American), and Eric Shinseki (Japanese-American) " will bring race and ethnicity as a socio-political subject to the fore of the American public's consciousness," says Dr. Jason Edward Black, assistant professor of communication studies in the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences.

"¢ Lack of funding to mean less access to long-term care for older Americans -- The year 2009 will witness a crisis in funding of long-term care for older adults, predicts Dr. Patricia Parmelee, director of the Center for Mental Health and Aging at UA. "Thanks to the 'graying of America,' both nursing homes and home health agencies are facing increasing demand for services," says Parmelee. "However, the federal funding that supports long-term care services is not keeping pace with this demand. Access to long-term care services may become more limited, and efforts to recoup nursing home costs from families of Medicaid recipients will become more common," Parmelee says. "The burden of these changes will fall disproportionately on families, who will shoulder an even greater responsibility for care of frail, older Americans."

"¢ Americans can look for serious problems in Medicare, Medicaid and prescription prices -- While the bailout of the banks and the Big Three automakers is taking center stage in the nation's economic crisis, the three-headed health care issue " Medicaid, Medicare and drug prices " could hit American consumers even harder next year. "President-elect Obama has proposed reducing the cost of health care by investing in electronic health records, disease prevention, and coordination of care and providing affordable coverage to all Americans," says Dr. Marilyn Whitman, director of the healthcare management program at UA's Culverhouse College of Commerce. "But, given the economic downturn and recent confirmation of a recession, the plan to expand coverage may be delayed." Whitman says 2009 may bring the largest number ever of people who don't have health insurance.

"¢ More women to seek high-profile political roles -- Sarah Palin continues to draw big audiences to Republican events, and some say she helped Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss pull off a victory in a state run-off. A UA professor believes Palin will continue drawing attention well into the new year and, quite possibly, longer. "She will continue her efforts to be a central figure in the Republican Party," says Dr. Janis Edwards, associate professor of communication studies, "but other forces will see to it she isn't in line for a viable run at the presidency in 2012." While another chance at the White House may not be in line for Palin, Edwards believes Palin's popularity, both during and after the election, will inspire other women to seek office.

"¢ Legislation to expand funding for stem cell research, overall federal research dollars to remain scarce -- A 2001 ban on federally funded researchers conducting embryonic stem cell research will be lifted in the coming year, but overall funding for this and other scientific research will remain historically low, a UA biologist predicts. "I think President-elect Obama will sign legislation to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in 2009," says Dr. Kim Caldwell, an assistant professor of biological sciences. "Now, will we have the federal dollars to increase research toward stem cells?" That seems much less likely, Caldwell says. An exciting technology that we'll hear more about in 2009 is iPS (induced pluripotent stem cells), Caldwell says. "While iPS technology remains relatively untested, it circumvents the sticky ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells."

"¢ Education issues will have to wait on economy -- While fulfilling some campaign promises, such as full funding for "No Child Left Behind," may prove elusive for President-elect Obama during the current economic downturn, the act will receive some attention and support through stimulus packages, predicts Dr. Marcia Rock, associate professor of education at UA. "The NCLB Act of 2002 will likely remain idle for some time simply because education will continue to take a back seat to more pressing national concerns. Nonetheless, when NCLB reauthorizations do manage to take center stage under President-elect Obama's watch, look for sweeping changes aimed at fulfilling its original intent of making schools a better place for all children," said Rock

"¢ A likely casualty of the economic slump: health eating -- The obesity epidemic in the United States has made getting the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables a major issue at the dinner table, but a UA expert says the focus on healthy eating may suffer in 2009 thanks to the downtown in the economy. "During the difficult economic times ahead, consumers may attempt to contain food costs by purchasing more pastas, potatoes and rice rather than meats, poultry and vegetables since these items are inexpensive and filling," says Dr. Ralph Lane, professor of human nutrition and hospitality management. "On the brighter side, vegetable gardening has increased in popularity, recently, and will probably continue since produce may be grown for a fraction of the cost in food stores "¦"

"¢ State's employment levels to decline -- Alabama, one of the shining lights in the South when it comes to employment levels, will likely lose some of its glow in 2009, according to Ahmad Ijaz, an economic analyst with UA's Center for Business and Economic Research. "We will see an increase in job losses in manufacturing, construction, retailing and restaurants," said Ijaz, adding that the dramatic drop in consumer prices "will make it even harder for some of these firms to survive the downturn." He said he expects jobless numbers to inch up to 6 percent, maybe 6.5, early next year.

"¢ Alabama's educational level to rise -- If recent trends are any indication, look for the state's educational level to move up and maybe the per capita income to increase. Annette Watters, manager of the State Data Center at UA's Center for Business and Economic Research, said people moving to Alabama lately tend to be well-educated, and she expects that trend to continue. "About 21 percent of Alabama's adult population has a college degree or more," Watters said. "But about 32 percent of people who moved here from a different state last year had a college education, as did 35 percent of people who moved here from abroad."

"¢ Weather to offer few surprises -- If you were a fan of the Southeast's 2008 weather patterns, you may be in luck during the coming year. Dr. David Brommer, a UA climatologist, predicts 2009 will follow the weather pattern set by the current year " a pattern of normalcy. So, if you were hoping this would be one of those rare years when your kids get to break out the snow boots in Alabama for a couple of days, don't hold your breath. " "¦ Something like what we saw last year, a nice dusting that was around for a couple of hours and gone," Brommer says. The widespread drought effects that hammered parts of the Southeast in 2006 and 2007 will likely continue lessening, he said.

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