Never before in previous recessions have they had to cut back like this. "We are struggling to stay in the same place," said Stacy Burris, 47. "You don't mind pinching pennies to send your kids to college. You do mind pinching pennies when it's simply to buy some eggs." Many others nationwide are feeling similarly strapped. Recent consumer sentiment studies and polls show that Americans feel worse about their financial situations and the economy than they have in decades, even as economists debate just where things stands. And people don't expect things to improve anytime soon. "Consumers are very financially stressed, more than what's indicated by the job and income statistics," said Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics at Moody's Economy.com. High fuel and food costs, coupled with miniscule raises and shrinking home values, led more people to report that their personal finances have worsened than at any time since 1982, according to a recent consumer survey by Reuters and the University of Michigan.
The future looks grim to them, too. Just one in five households surveyed expect their finances to improve during the next year, the least favorable in half a century. Three-quarters of those surveyed said they expected the nation's economic troubles to continue over the next year, the highest level since 1980. They predict the unemployment rate will jump by one percentage point to 6.0% by year end. "Consumers are the ones in trouble here," said Paul Ashworth, senior U.S. economist with consulting firm Capital Economics. Consumers are being pummeled by plummeting home values, a weak stock market and soaring grocery and gas costs. Weighing even more heavily on consumers is uncertainty about where the economy is headed, said Ken Goldstein, economist with The Conference Board. It's unusual to have such slow growth for so many months and Americans don't know how to respond. "What's really pushing consumers into a funk is the fear of what's coming next,
" Goldstein said. "You can't be sure you know exactly where we are or where we're going. Consumers are afraid that the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train." That's exactly how Chris Ackerman feels. He said that he and his wife, who live just outside Seattle, find that their paychecks no longer cover their rent, student loans and daily living expenses. That is forcing the young couple to turn to their credit cards to make ends meet. They've already cut out much of their entertainment and trips to visit her family and friends 30 miles away. If gas and grocery prices continue to rise, Ackerman, who works for an importer, said he'll have to stop contributing to his 401(k) plan. He doesn't see many other options. "The worst part is looking to the future," said Ackerman, 25. "What if everything keeps getting worse. That's the scariest part. Is my grocery bill going to double again? What will we do?" Making a good living, but still feeling strapped
* Today I reiterate The compromises are just beginning and I hate to say it when this is done we will be better, stronger, and more serviceable and functional as a society but we have some changes to make. Gas prices have been increasing for 20 straight days. Here in New England it is the price of heating oil next year and beyond that has me concerned! As I keep hearing of hot gas compensation, a gas tax holiday, using our oil reserves, curbing oil co. tax incentives, I hate to say it people but you are screwed. They have your number, they know Bush is complicit, and Congress is worthless. This is just beginning and I see $10 gas at the pump in the not too distant future. What would that do to your lifestyle? Let me give you an idea!