A year after attacks, resilience is common theme

The numbers are astonishing.

On a sunny September morning a year ago, 19 terrorists killed 3,000 people by attacking the very symbols of American financial and military might. Insurance companies are paying at least $40 billion for the New York destruction. The federal government so far has spent another $82 billion for a foreign war on terrorism, homeland security and New York recovery. The economy was hit hard for many billions more, particularly the airline and tourism industries.

And yet in dozens of interviews across the country, one theme keeps popping up; resilience. That’s true even in the places that suffered the most, New York and Washington.

“Things are more or less returning to normal,” says Paul Mauro, a Manhattan police officer. “There’s still a slight edge of uncertainty, but New Yorkers are a pretty resilient lot.”

In the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, many said that our security, our psyche, our economy and our very way of life were going to change radically and permanently. Some even wondered if a fearful populace would abandon our biggest cities.

A year later, there is no doubt that many things have changed. But many things have not.

Consider Charles Marske, a St. Louis University sociology professor who predicted last Sept. 11: “I think it’s going to become a different world in ways we can’t imagine.”

Recently, Marske said the world has changed for victims’ families and for some people such as business travelers, but that for many others, “our taken-for-granted ways have a way of re-emerging.”

Yet there have been changes.

Travelers are paying about 10 percent more for an airline ticket, to cover added security costs.

Every business in America will pay 15 percent more for property insurance because of Sept. 11, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Tall buildings and public stadiums may be paying several times more than that.

Many states are now requiring more documentation for drivers’ licenses, such as original Social Security cards and utility bills proving addresses. Immigrants need to prove resident status or that they have legitimate visas. “The driver’s license is America’s ID of choice, although it was never intended to be,” says Jason King of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which is now promoting nationwide uniformity for identity requirements before licenses are issued. “If one state has more secure practices than others, then people can just go to the easier state.”

National monuments, once accessible to all, have become more distant. Individual visitors can no longer sign up for tours of the White House or roam the halls of the Capitol. In Philadelphia, sightseers must arrive an hour early to go through security checks for Independence Hall.

Constitutional rights have been altered, with the Bush Administration instituting secret legal proceedings and refusing to release the names of persons detained after Sept. 11. Critics are worried. “We see an enormous erosion of civil liberties, and we’re concerned we won’t know when it will end,” says Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “After World War II, the Japanese in the detention camps were released. The war on terrorism is not likely to come to a decisive end. So the civil liberties and the protections that have been lost are likely to be for a very long time.”

Perhaps as interesting is what didn’t happen.

Right after the attacks, for example, inquiries about enlisting in the military doubled. The fervor was short lived, says the Pentagon. Enlistment and re-enlistment remained at normal levels.

Environmentalists worried the attacks would give impetus for the Bush Administration’s drive to develop the oil reserves in Alaska’s wildlife refuges. That move collapsed in April when the Senate rejected the drilling.

Others were concerned that ordinary crimes would be ignored as the FBI concentrated on terrorism, and, indeed, for the last months of 2001, the FBI referred fewer cases for prosecution. But by March, the number of referrals for such crimes as drug dealing and bank robbery was back to normal, according to a Syracuse University tracking analysis.

Ground Zero has gone from a smoldering mound of twisted steel and corpses to New York’s biggest tourist attraction.

Thousands come to the site each day. They look somberly and silently into the cavernous hole where dozens of workmen still are busy cleaning up the site. They snap photos, then they cross the street to the iron fence that surrounds St. Paul’s Chapel.

There, on scribbled bed sheets and T-shirts and ballcaps and scraps of paper are thousands of tributes to those who died.

Though small shops are still suffering, many residents are moving back to Downtown, lured by rent cuts of up to 30 percent.

Even Gateway Plaza, a 3,000-apartment complex two blocks from Ground Zero, is coming back. Last fall, a third of its apartments were empty. Now, vacancies are under 1 percent.

Ken Patton, a real estate economist at New York University, says he hasn’t “heard a word in six months” about tenants being afraid of tall buildings.

The fear that people would flee large cities has proved unfounded, he says. “The forces that bring people to central cities are still at work.”

Experts still debate how much the attacks hurt business overall.

They point out that the economy was sliding downward before Sept. 11. How much it would have declined without the terrorist attacks in uncertain.

Joel Prakken of Macroeconomics Associates in St. Louis says, “If you look at what happened to investor confidence and the problems of the stock market, Sept. 11 might be the less important factor. Our estimates are the impact (of the terrorist attacks) wasn’t much and didn’t last very long. Consumer spending bounced back quickly. And we had unexpectedly strong growth rates in the fourth and first quarter.”

Clearly, the gloomiest estimates were wrong. In January, the Milken Institute predicted that the economic fallout of the terrorist attacks would cause 1.6 million jobs to be lost. It said one of the hardest hit areas would be Myrtle Beach, S.C., because of its heavy reliance on tourism.

Didn’t happen. Partly because 94 percent of the Grand Strand’s 13.7 million annual visitors drive there, the Myrtle Beach economy has remained strong. Tourist tax revenue for the summer months is ahead of the same period last year.

Still, tourism in many areas is down substantially. Visitors to Disney World and Disneyland fell 40 percent in the first weeks after the attacks, and while many domestic visitors have returned, international visitors continue to stay away. Foreign business is down 20 percent at the Florida facility and 15 percent in California.

Other costs of the attacks are hard to measure exactly. Corporations have added billions to their security budgets, meaning they have less money to create products, causing yet another drag on the economy.

Put this together with higher insurance rates and the terrorists may have blown as much as a $300 billion hole in the country’s pocketbook an enormous price for a crime.