Times are hard.

How hard, you ask? Well, you’ll be glad to know that professional economists have now reached a conclusion: America is technically in a recession. Of course, millions of Americans have known this for months, since they’ve lost jobs, businesses, homes — and faith in economists.

While the professors pored over their reams of data, plenty of real-life indicators were shouting that, yes indeedy, the economy sure enough is in a heap of hurt. Start with this indicator: abandoned boats.

Thousands of vessels have been turning up in harbors, on beaches and on other waterfronts around the country — minus any owners. They’ve been ditched. These are not junkers. They are fully functioning pleasure boats that have become money-sucking burdens to would-be mariners who find themselves sinking in today’s economic whirlpool. They are also commercial craft (trawlers, shrimp boats and such) that can no longer earn their keep because of the disastrous decline in America’s fishing market.

Why not just sell them? No market. As one marina owner notes: “You can just forget trying to sell a power boat right now. No one is buying.”

Most boats also have very little scrap value, and it’s expensive to haul them to a proper dump. So many owners are slipping their rigs into a marina or river, removing the ID numbers, maybe even sinking them and scooting away.

For another sign of the times, look to the world of pro sports. Even Tiger Woods just got dumped by Buick, which cancelled a $7.5 million sponsorship deal for 2009. The carmaker, which is in line for a Washington bailout, explained that bailing out on Tiger “sure frees up a lot of money for us.”

Read the rest of this column on Creators.com

Please contact your local newspaper editor if you want to read Jim Hightower’s column in your hometown paper.

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