PBT Transcript (5/27/2008)

MIKE ARMSTRONG:  It’s the day after Memorial Day, and it’s back to work and commuting for many Philadelphians.  Not long ago, we posted a show about people who spend way more time in traffic than most of us do.  We’re gonna present that episode again to you, and invite you to remember that however much time you spend on the highway over the weekend, at least you’re probably not doing it every day.  Philadelphia Business Today starts now. 

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High gas prices, a weak job market, the downturn in housing.  They affect all of us.  But for one demographic, the bad economic news is disrupting carefully-made plans.  Call them the super-commuters.  They’re the people who commute 30 miles or more to work each day.  There are 20,000 people in the nine-county Philadelphia region who do just that.  The reasons they do it vary, but many blame the dramatic rise in housing prices.  They say they couldn’t afford the house they really wanted if it were close to the city.  So they headed to the exurbs.  Buying more house for less money was good for them.  But what about when gas is over $3 per gallon?  We talked with one such super-commuter, Candace Snyder.  She lives in Potstown and commutes every day to Center City.  Total travel time, nearly four hours.  Our first question – what changes have you had to make since gas prices have doubled?

CANDACE SNYDER:  Well, like everyone else, you simply adjust.  Obviously, with the doubling of any one household item, you start to save in other areas, and you start to cut back.  I’ve cut back, obviously, in entertainment.  In clothing, like most women.  And the little extras.  But it has absolutely doubled.

MIKE ARMSTRONG:  Our second question for Candace – what about the emotional toll of such a long and expensive commute?

CANDACE SNYDER:  It’s difficult enough to drive for three to 3 ½ hours all together each day.  But it gives you time to think about the gas you’re wasting as you’re sitting in traffic, burning up – you know, what you’ve just put into the tank.

MIKE ARMSTRONG:  Inquirer business reporter Maria Panaritis has been working on the story.  I asked her, given the cost, why do super-commuters think it’s worth it?

MARIA PANARITIS:  Well, several years ago, when the housing market was really hot, a lot of them felt that – and perhaps rightly so – the only way they could afford the house that they wanted was to move very far away.  We know that houses at the height of the housing boom, closer to Philadelphia, were far more expensive.  You’d have to pay the same amount of money for a smaller house.  And so the people who made this trade-off thought, “Well, at minimum, I won’t have to pay this much for gas.  I’ll suck up this commute.  But I’ll get the house that I’ve always dreamed of.”

MIKE ARMSTRONG:  Is this a matter of people chasing what they think  is the classic American dream?

MARIA PANARITIS:  A lot of the people who it seems moved into the exurbs during the housing boom were going there because it represented sort of achieving this pinnacle of home ownership.  And the kind of home ownership they dreamed of as kids.  “I want my children to be able to run around on a half-acre.  I don’t want to put my kids into a 40-year-old house, that felt like when I was growing up.  This represents doing something better for my kids, the way that my folks wanted something better for me.”

MIKE ARMSTRONG:  Now back by popular demand, a segment we call “Ask Joe D.”  It’s where Inquirer staff writer Joe Distefano answers your questions about money, business, and life. 

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FEMALE VOICE:  Joe D, what’s worse?  Now, or The Great Depression?

JOE D:  I wasn’t around in The Great Depression.  But I understand that in upstate Pennsylvania and parts of Kentucky, people were cooking dandelions and violet tops.  That’s pretty bad.  I don’t think this is like that.

MALE VOICE:  Joe D, what’s the difference between a recession and a depression?

JOE D:  A recession is when that guy down the block loses his job.  A depression is when you lose your job.

MALE VOICE:  Joe D, what’s up with my stimulus package?

JOE D.:  [LAUGHTER] You’ll have to talk to your girlfriend about that.  You know what else is good?  Sweet potatoes.

MIKE ARMSTRONG:  That’s it for today.  At The Inquirer, I’m Mike Armstrong, for Philadelphia Business Today.

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This transcript of Philadelphia Business Today may not be completely accurate and may contain inaccuracies. The original recording of Philadelphia Business Today, not this transcript, is final and authoritative. Philly.com and The Philadelphia Inquirer shall have no liability for errors in this transcript and bear no responsibility for losses, lost profits, direct, indirect, incidental, consequential, special or punitive damages stemming from any actions based solely on this transcript.