How does one gauge the health of the US economy, especially as it relates to the “average” American? Typically, economists use official statistical measures such as the unemployment rate, GDP (especially as it pertains to the rate of growth/contraction), median household income, and others. While these measures are espoused and analyzed by the pundits, I would argue that other measures, loosely based on “things Americans do which require money”, provide a less official but more veracious representation of the state of the economy. So what are some of the things that Americans do which require money? In the author’s opinion, here are three highly relevant examples: (1) Eat out (2) Go to sporting events (3) Take vacations. With this being said, what do the statistics indicate about these three discretionary spending-related activities, and what do they suggest about the state of the US economy?
For starters, the amount that Americans are spending eating out is decreasing according to reports. Since the price of food and the price of a meal at restaurants is not going down (according to several reports), this indicates Americans really are eating out less (and is not some statistical aberration due to declining food costs, etc.). As far as sporting event attendance, ticket prices have been steadily rising, and concomitantly, it has been documented that attendance at all the major American sports (football, basketball, baseball) has been declining. This is particularly significant considering how rabid Americans are in their love of sports (as indicated by salaries of athletes). Finally, Americans are travelling less, as a recent study ( http://www.prweb.com/releases/staycations/glamping/prweb11380628.htm ) has shown staycations are on the rise.
What do these “unofficial statistics” suggest about the state of the American economy? In my opinion, these indicate that despite the lowest unemployment rate in years, and despite what many members of the media tell us, the average American is definitely not feeling any economic improvement. Don’t take my word for it. Take a look at less common but “official” statistics which support this, for example, median personal income (see Wikipedia) or the poverty rate, both of which look very disheartening.
Do I have any recommendations about what to do? As a matter of fact, I do. First of all, do not get fooled by any of the economic statistics espoused by the media, and do your own research. Second, use common sense; the unemployment rate may be its lowest in years, but how many people do you know that spend all of their time working or have 2-3 jobs just to get by? The latter makes no sense under the assumption of an improving economy. Finally, cultivate your own small business (doing something you enjoy) as a side job, because this extra income may be your financial security in this economy.