Sometimes, in order to gauge the state of the economy, you just have to look around.
I check the news reports often, and am intrigued by reports about trends that will affect how my family spends and saves. For example, when there were problems with the peanut crop, I made sure to stock up on peanut butter, a staple in my household.
I also like to look around at what is happening locally, in my neighborhood and community.
Houses seem to be selling better than they have in a long time, and this is good. Fewer abandoned properties and homes that are on the market for a few weeks or months instead of years shows progress. We do have to ask though, are people suddenly purchasing house now because of interest rates threatening increase combined with pent-up demand? It is possible.
Higher-end homes…well, those still seem to be sitting, showing that most people just want something basic to get them through. Builders are building new homes, though, so there is promise there.
Car sales seem to be picking up, too. There is all of this pent-up demand from folks who have been putting off a car purchase, and lenders are getting a little easier in their demands.
The malls are a little busier. This may also be showing that more spending is occurring. Things are looking good, right? Not quite. I still know many people who are looking for a job and having a hard time finding one. Employees are told to put in even more hours for the same pay or to find new ways of increasing productivity.
The news reports back me up. Job growth is flatlined, leaving not much hope for the 12 million Americans who are out of work. It is also discouraging for people who have jobs. After all, employers have little incentive to provide raises and incentives. After all, their employees are probably considering themselves lucky to have a job at all.
Grocery prices are still high and packages are still shrinking. It is rare these days to find a box of pasta that is a full 16 ounces, which was standard for decades. A jar of sauce to accompany that pasta costs about three times as much as it did before things started to go south.
Even when the economy picks up, it is doubtful that prices on groceries will suddenly go down, back to where they used to be. They just might not continuing going up and up and up. We still will have that extra two percent payroll tax to contend with, as well, further shrinking the amount of money that we have available. The tax went into effect this past January 1st.