PBT Transcript (3/28/2008)

MIKE ARMSTRONG: Coming up: imagine spending two, three, even four hours each day traveling back and forth to work. Thousands of people in the Philadelphia area do it every day. We’ll tell you why they do it and why you may want to think twice before buying that dream house fifty miles from where you work. And it’s Friday, which means it’s time for Ask Joe D., where Inquirer business reporter Joe DiStefano has all the answers. Philadelphia Business Today starts now.


MIKE ARMSTONG: 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 9 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 Pottstown and commutes every day to Center City. Total travel time: nearly 4 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, 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 3 to 3 ½ hours altogether 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, the tank

MIKE ARMSTRONG: Inquirer business reporter Maria Panaritis has been working on this 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 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.

WOMAN: Joe D., what’s worse, now or the Great Depression?

JOE DISTEFANO: 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.

MAN #1: Joe D., what’s the difference between a recession and a depression?

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

MAN #2: Joe D., what’s up with my stimulus package?

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

MIKE ARMSTONG: That’s it for this week. Coming next week: the one, the only Donald Trump. At the Inquirer, I’m Mike Armstrong for Philadelphia Business Today.


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