Are You Better Off Today than 4 Years Ago?

by Gerri Willis

June 2009.

That is the date economists say the recession officially ended. That was two and a half years ago. The President maintains we're in a recovery, and he's taking credit for it.

“And we began to see signs of economic recovery here at home, even as too many Americans are still struggling to get ahead,” said President Obama. “There's no doubt that 2012 will bring even more change.”

Here's the thing: there have been some good headlines over the past year or so, but a few bits of good news does not a recovery make. Because I bet if someone asked you at home if you're better off now than you were four years ago - I don't think you'd be as cheery.

Let let the numbers speak for themselves. Last week, we told you the economy grew 2.7% in the final quarter of 2011. That's the largest quarterly increase in a year and a half. Plus, the U.S. economy has experienced ten straight quarters of positive economic growth.

However!!! Even with the strong finish, the economy expanded just 1.7% for the whole year - roughly half the growth in 2010. And growth is expected to slow in the first three months of this year. The folks who track recessions for a living -- the NABE -- forecast growth of just 2.5 percent this year. That's punk compared to most recoveries when the economy jumps 5 or 6 or 7 percent.

The unemployment rate tells a similar story. Here's the good news. The rate is now down to 8.5% from more than 9% over the summer.

However!!! The unemployment rate has been above 8% for the last 35 months, and is still considerably higher than the 7.8% when Obama took office.

Full employment is around 5 to 6 percent, but we've been down so long, 8.5% looks like up to us. If you don't have a job, chances are you're not spending much, including buying a house, which is a main reason why housing remains so weak.

For all of 2011, existing home sales actually rose by nearly two percent to more than four million homes. That's pretty good. However, back in 2005, more than seven million homes were sold. And, even though home prices are falling, one report today has prices falling another 3.75% in December. People aren't willing to buy. Perhaps because they're spending so much on gas!

The good news: gas prices have declined to $3.43 a gallon from nearly four dollars last spring.

However!!! That $3.43 is considerably higher than how much it cost for a gallon of gas back in January of 2009. And, if you're lucky enough to have a job, you're probably not so happy about your pay. The median earnings over the last decade haven't really changed much. Adjusted for inflation, the average worker made about $39,125 back in 2000. Four years ago, you'd have made $39,224. Now, it’s $39,312. Not too impressive.

A lost decade. A decade we can't afford to repeat. When thinking about who to vote for president this election cycle, ask yourself if you're better off now than four years ago - I bet I know the answer!

Some Positive Economic News ... for a Change!

by Gerri Willis

Are you as sick of all the bad news in the economy lately as I am?

Well despite what feels like a bombardment of negative headlines - there are definite bright spots in the economy - a recovery may be in sight!

First of all, a recent Wall Street Journal poll shows nearly half of us feel the worst is behind us when it comes to the economy. They may very well be right - this country is structured for growth!

And guess what? We are growing! The economy grew at an annual rate of two and a half percent in the third quarter - the best performance in a year! And many economists are forecasting similar - if not stronger numbers - for this quarter.

Now while hiring is not going gangbusters - there are positive signs here as well.

Even though October only saw a boost of 80,000 thousand jobs - the government revised upward the number of jobs added in August and September.

And today - the number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level since early April - 388,000 marks the fourth decline in five weeks.

It's also the first time in nearly seven months that the four-week average fell below 400,000.

Where are these jobs? Well for starters American manufacturing is back on the rise. Output at the nation's factories rose three-quarters of a percent in October. While that doesn't sound like a lot, it's the fastest rate in three months!

In fact, according to USA Today industrial production is up nearly 13 and a half percent since the "end of the recession" in June 2009.

Car sales - along with the retail sector as a whole - much higher last month - than October of 2010. It probably helped that the Labor Department just announced consumer prices fell for the first time since June.

Bottom line - of course things are going to get better. This is the greatest country in the world - despite only having five percent of the global population - we still have the biggest economy!

We have a culture that enflames the entrepreneurial spirit.

Things are going to get better because there's no room for failure in America. No time to throw our hands in the air and give up. Wwe're going to succeed because in the end we always do, and we always will.

A Big Problem Our Country's Facing

by Gerri Willis

On today's show, I'm talking a lot about how it seems we've all lost confidence. One piece of evidence: Individual investors have pulled out of the stock market in record numbers. Stung by the crash after Lehman's bust, many of us just don't trust the stock market to help us with our most important goals - saving for retirement and our kids' education.

Investors pulled nearly $75 billion from stock mutual funds in the past four months. That tops the $72.8 billion pulled five months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers back in 2008. This lack of confidence is happening in corporate board rooms as well. CEOs are hoarding cash -- unsure where to invest.

U.S. companies sat on a whopping $1.2 trillion in cash and short-term liquid investments at the end of 2010, according to Moody's. That put debt-to-cash ratios at a five-year low. At one point this summer, Apple had more cash on its books than the U.S. Treasury Department. And, it's all because of a lack of confidence.

When you don't know what's going to happen to your taxes, or to the rules governing your business -- it's tough to commit to anything at all.

In the political arena, we see the same. Faced with gridlock and a nothing-can-get-done attitude, some opt to play to their constituencies only and to ignore the broader problems plaguing our country. Others just play both ends against the middle.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) slammed Bank of America for raising debit card fees. But, it was his amendment to Dodd-Frank that made it happen. The most common analysis of our problems as a country often comes down to money as a nation. We have a $14 trillion deficit. Social security, we are told, is a Ponzi scheme. Medicare and Medicaid running on fumes.

Also, American families struggle. They earned one tenths of a percent less in August. It's the first decline in nearly two years. Middle income families now earn what they did back in 1997.

Look, we could overcome these problems and fight back, if we had strong leadership - strong leadership in both the public and the private sector.

A galvanizing force would propel us up and out of this funk. Remember, our country still claims the biggest economy in the world. And, the biggest economy in the world runs on just 5% of the globe's population. We can turn around.

Recession Reality Hits Home

by Gerri Willis

Last night, while I was working late, my husband answered the front door to find a well-dressed young man selling magazines.

It's unusual to see door-to-door salesmen in our neighborhood, and David, surprised, listened for a bit. The young man was articulate and polite.

My husband was a little surprised someone who presented himself so well was selling magazines door to door - it's a tough way to make a living.

Then, two policemen appeared on our sidewalk -- and began questioning this young man -- did he have a permit to sell? Did he know how to get one? The young man answered no to both questions.

And then the policemen asked when he would be picked up -- the young man said he had another hour on the clock. He walked away in the early evening gloom, to wait for his ride.

It was then that it dawned on my husband this young man had spent all day in our neighborhood, walking from door to door -- selling subscriptions, or who knows, maybe it was a fraudulent scheme.

It had been raining all day that day... And now he would wait in the drizzle for his ride home.

It's that kind of economy -- weak. Punitive. Heartless. People who should be employed in good jobs aren't necessarily.

A new poll shows eight in ten Americans feel like we are most definitely in a recession - despite the fact economists say we're not.

Even if you do have a job -- incomes are sliding.

Americans earned less last month - down a tenth of a percent from July - that's the first decline in nearly two years!

Consumers spent a little more - total spending up about a quarter of a percent. But those dollars didn't go for extravagances they went for essentials - paying higher prices for food and gas. The average national price for a gallon of gas today is $3.45 - 76 cents higher than a year ago. The squeeze has many of us trapping savings to cover rising costs - in august the savings rate fell to four and a half percent - its lowest level since December 2009.

There was a time middle class incomes in this country were the envy of the world. Not anymore. Earlier this month, the Census Bureau reported middle class incomes dropped for the third year in a row and are roughly where they were back in 1996.

And that's how you get to the fella at our front door. He needs a real job with real prospects to have a real future. We all do.

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