Banks can't pony up enough dough to save themselves, commuters can barely afford gas.
But the celebrity weeklies? Looking at the bidding wars brewing over celebrity baby pictures, you'd think they had more money than they know what to do with.
According to French newspaper Nice Matin, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have sold the first photos of the latest members of their brood -- twins Vivienne Marcheline and Knox Leon -- to an unnamed U.S. magazine for $11 million. The paper says the star couple will donate the money to charity.
That would be a record in the celebrity baby photo wars, a business that's been booming in the United States, despite the economic downturn. Earlier this month, TMZ.com reported that Matthew McConaughey and girlfriend Camila Alves pawned off the first photos of their newborn son Levi to OK! magazine for $3 million.
In March, Jennifer Lopez, who hasn't had a hit record or movie in several years, sold her baby photos for up to $6 million to People magazine, according to Advertising Age. Before that, People paid an estimated $1.5 million to singer Christina Aguilera for exclusive shots of her new son, Max.
Do the huge payouts translate to big sales? To a degree: Even after People raised the price of the issue featuring Jolie and Pitt's daughter, Shiloh, by 50 cents, it sold 2.2 million copies.
"It does help magazines," said Samir Husni, who chairs the journalism department at the University of Mississippi. "There is an old saying: Give me a picture of a baby, a beautiful woman, chocolate or a dog, and I will sell a magazine."
But with the publishing industry in peril, even the magazine that scores the photos of Vivienne and Knox may lose in the end. Celeb weeklies can't afford not to battle over baby pictures, but they can't afford to pay stars millions of dollars, either.
"If you're in that world, these are have-to-have pictures. Your street cred is based on whether or not you get them," said Abe Peck, professor emeritus-in-service at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. "And the publication that gets those photos of Brad and Angelina's twins, they'll get a big spike. They will get more subscriptions. And there's more money out there with Internet ad revenue. But still, I just can't see the economics working out -- even if you sell a million more copies, you're not going to recoup those losses."
Representatives from People, Us and OK! declined to comment on how much they've paid for celebrity baby photos and whether they were involved in bidding over the shots of the newest Pitt-Jolies.
So, maybe the magazines play the bidding game because they have to. But why do celebrities? Is it expected or exploitative for famous parents who face aggressive media coverage of their every move, to peddle photos of their children to the highest bidder?
Some ethicists and child psychologists are disturbed by the practice, which treads the nexus of money, parenthood and fame.
"If your own parents are literally selling you out, where can one feel safe?" asked Bruce Weinstein, a syndicated ethics columnist. "What's especially troubling is that the person who's the subject of these photos isn't able to give informed consent. I could imagine that person being really troubled by it."