10 Reasons You're Not Feeling Better About the Economy Yet

Woman riding a metro to work.  10 Reasons Why You're Not Feeling Better About the Economy
(Melanie Stetson Freeman, The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI) capped a historic run last week, closing at new highs all five days, and ending just shy of 14,400. Meanwhile, the Department of Labor reported that 236,000 jobs were created in February, another recent high.

So, America, are you happy now?

The economic experts and the Wall Street analysts all say you should be. Consumer confidence levels are up more than 11 points since January, and judging from the surveys, most people think things are only getting better. The Wall Street Journal says consumers are "freshly flush" from stock market gains, and starting to feel confident enough to take on debt again. The fourth quarter of 2012 saw consumers taking out new loans at their fastest rate since the economy crashed in 2008.

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In short, things are going great, and now that the stock market is up nearly 10 percent in the past two months, everyone would really appreciate it if you'd stop worrying so much, buy some stuff, invest in some stocks, and help keep this rally going.

Your 10-point reality check

And yet, if you're feeling somehow left out of the party, and wondering if you're missing something -- that somehow, someway, you are the crazy one.

Well, perhaps not. Turns out, once you remove the pink glasses, and don some green eye-shades instead, not everything looks quite so rosy.

What follows are just 10 examples of why you might be feeling down in the dumps when everyone else acts like you should be living high on the hog.

10 Reasons Why You're Not Feeling Better About the Economy
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10 Reasons You're Not Feeling Better About the Economy Yet

Nationally, the average gas price hit a recent high of $3.74 per gallon, nearly $0.50 higher than it was on Jan. 1. According to website GasBuddy.com, that's about a 14 percent increase since the start of the year.

The start of the new year also marked the end of the temporary 2 percentage point tax break on Social Security contributions. Once that part of President Obama's stimulus package expired, your paychecks went back to being 2 percent smaller. For the average family, that adds up to about $1,000 a year.

That same "average family," by the way, already earns only about $50,000 a year today. And according to CNN, that's about $4,000 less than you were earning in 2000.

A disconcerting report from Sallie Mae last week showed that about one-third of Americans working toward retirement are having to raid their retirement savings to pay for their kids' college educations.

According to a poll commissioned by Bankrate.com (RATE) in February, only 55 percent of Americans have enough money tucked away in their savings accounts and "emergency funds" to cover the amounts owed on their credit cards.

That Bankrate poll also revealed that among women in particular, 51 percent actually owe more on their credit cards than they have cash in the bank. Digging deeper into the data, Bankrate reported that while high earners are doing well, and generally flush, most people (59 percent) who earn less than $30,000 annually owe more on their cards than they have in savings. And these are the people least able to afford the high cost of credit card interest.

Speaking of earnings -- and jobs -- the same unemployment report that set Wall Street to cheering Friday can be looked at from a glass half empty perspective as well. The new, lower unemployment level of 7.7 percent is the best number we've seen since the Great Recession ended. However, The Wall Street Journal points out that 7.7 percent is very close to the worst unemployment ever got (7.8 percent) in the 1991 recession. Our best number in years is within a whisker of the worst they faced back then.

The overall workforce participation rate -- the percentage of Americans currently earning wages at all -- currently stands at just 63.5 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that's much worse than what we saw in the 1991 recession. It's the lowest we've seen since the recession that hit during the Carter administration.

Little wonder, then, that according to the Bankrate survey, people are increasingly concerned about "job security." Friday's unemployment report may suggest that the jobs market is on the mend, but most people (59 percent) say they feel no more or less  confident in their employment situation today than they did a year ago. Among those polled whose opinions have changed, 23 percent said they feel "less secure today" than they did a year ago, versus 19 percent who feel more secure.

That doesn't exactly jibe with the story that things are getting better.

It's great news for folks who own stocks, no doubt, and according to the Journal , more than 90 percent of people earning $100,000 or more do. But what about the rest of us? Fewer than 46 percent of Americans earning less than $50,000 are invested in the stock market -- and remember, "$50,000" is the average income in America today.

So yes, It turns out for the average American, things may not be getting better at all.


Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of Bankrate.com.
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