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Consumer Confidential: More poor, more foreclosures, more heat on cable companies

Here's your think-it-through Thursday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--Not feeling so flush? You're not alone. The government says the nation's poverty rate jumped to 14.3% in 2009 -- the highest level since 1994 -- and the 43.6 million Americans in need is the highest number in 51 years of record-keeping. Ouch. The poverty level in 2009 was defined as less than $21,954 a year for a family of four. The poverty rate increased for all racial groups except Asians. But there's a bright spot (sort of): The poverty level is less than what some experts were predicting. I'm sure that makes you feel better.

--Underlining the whole times-are-tough thing, a record number of homes were taken over by banks in August, according to market researcher RealtyTrac. Apparently lenders worked through a backlog of foreclosures, pushing the number of repossessions higher. RealtyTrac predicts a record 1.2 million repossessions this year, up from just under 1 million last year. In 2005, before the housing market went kerblooey, banks took over just about 100,000 houses. Did I mention that there are a lot more poor people these days?

--Ah, but what's this -- a glimmer of sunshine! New York has negotiated a new contract with Time Warner Cable and Cablevision requiring the two cable companies to pay customers if their technicians don't show up on time for appointments. Basically, if the tech doesn't arrive on time, the customer gets a credit for a full month's bill. Sweet! After 2012, though, the penalty decreases to $25. Let's get something like that in Southern California. And let's also end the practice of cable companies giving themselves a four-hour window (or more) for appointments. If customers can be there on time, so can the cable guy.

-- David Lazarus

 
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