Amy Gehrt: Economic recovery goes unnoticed by most of us

Amy Gehrt

New reports out this week indicate the U.S. economy is continuing to recover. The Commerce Department said consumer spending rose at the fastest pace in four months in February, and The National Association of Realtors announced an unexpected increase in pending home sales for last month as well.

However, that’s cold comfort to the millions of Americans who are still struggling to make ends meet. Add to that sky-high gas prices, and it’s no wonder so many of us are feeling financially stressed and worried about our futures.

After all, most of us have already reduced monthly expenses down to the bare minimum, and it’s not like any of the remaining bills are getting cheaper — if anything, they, too, are going up.

Take grocery bills, for instance. If you buy fresh vegetables on a regular basis, you have no doubt noticed the nearly 50 percent price increase for produce recently. Experts predict those costs should ease in coming weeks, but for now families may find they simply cannot afford to put fresh, healthy food on the table.

That’s not the only tough choice many are being faced with these days. I know several people  — even those who have health insurance — who have put off needed doctors’ visits or not filled necessary prescription medications because their budgets don’t have any wiggle room left for costly co-pays. They know they are taking a risk, but the ramifications of defaulting on mortgage payments or failing to pay heating bills are far more certain.

These are not lazy people, or the types to spend above their means. Instead, like a growing number of Americans, they thought they were doing everything they should to guarantee a firm financial future — yet still ended up getting squeezed by the economic crisis.

It seems patently unfair. As children, we are taught that if we get an education and work hard, the American dream can be ours. Many of us even saw that axiom proven true through our parents’ experiences.

The sad reality, however, is that many of us will not be able to even come close to the comfortable lifestyles our parents enjoyed. Citizens across the U.S. end up unemployed because of circumstances beyond their control every day, and an untold number of job seekers have college degrees, enviable resumes and solid work ethics but still can’t find work.

Even getting that elusive job offer doesn’t necessarily put an end to money woes. The oversaturated job market means employers have their pick of candidates, and often that is translating into dramatically lower pay for those lucky enough to land an offer — in the majority of cases, people are even accepting jobs that pay less than what they received while on unemployment.

And, depending on the outcome of the budget showdown currently playing out in Washington, the situation could get even more bleak for American job seekers. Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi said in a report issued by the leading economic forecaster earlier this month that proposed GOP spending cuts would lead to roughly 700,000 additional job losses over the next two years, if enacted.

Zandi said such a move “would be taking an unnecessary chance with the recovery” and spending cuts, while needed, should wait until the U.S. unemployment rate is lowered. Let’s hope lawmakers on both sides of the aisle heed his advice.

Amy Gehrt may be reached at agehrt@pekin?

The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.