Sadly, for many, it will be a bit more difficult to sing along with Lee Greenwood this July 4th. Consumer confidence is at its lowest level in nearly three decades, and each day seems to bring still more increases in the prices of gasoline, food and other necessities.
A recent Zogby poll took a reading of attitudes about the “American dream,” which it defined as “the opportunity to have a nice home, financial security for you and your family, and hope for the future.” Nearly 75 percent of respondents—across incomes, geographic regions and ages—responded that the dream was less attainable than it was a decade ago.
An AP article made the syndication rounds recently, including an appearance locally in the Journal Star. “‘Can-do’ American attitude is under assault,” proclaimed the headline. With wars in the Middle East, flooding in the Midwest and the downturn in the economy, the article wonders, “Is everything spinning out of control?”
These are tough times for many Americans, no question about it. A perfect storm of change driven by technology and globalization has scared the wits out of us. This is not the same world in which we grew up, and for the first time in history, we can’t say with certainty that the next generation will be better off than we were.
And yet, there is ample evidence to support the idea that consumer sentiment is far more negative than the reality. “The last time consumers were this miserable, in May 1980,” says Washington Post writer Neil Irwin, “the jobless rate was 7.5 percent and inflation was 14.4 percent. Now those numbers are 5.5 percent and 4.2 percent respectively.”
In BusinessWeek, James Cooper points out that, excluding housing and autos, the economy actually grew at 2.8 percent and 2.5 percent in the past two quarters. While those numbers are of little solace to those squeezed by rising costs, they offer hope that the downturn may turn out to be shallow—so long as pessimism doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Here in central Illinois, although we are struggling with many of the same issues, we have also seen glimmers of hope in recent headlines. The local housing market has held up far better than in the rest of the country, and a flurry of news from Caterpillar—most prominently, the company’s billion-dollar commitment to expand and invest in its five plants in Illinois (see page 56)—is excellent news for our local economic future.
As Doug Hall, founder of the Eureka! Ranch, says on page 24, “What made this country great is thinking smarter—the spirit of ingenuity.” We’ve got work to do, but in tough times, we Americans band together—it’s who we are.
This 4th of July, I’ll be singing “God Bless the U.S.A.,” like always. With our heads up and spirits high, we’ll go to work to solve these problems, and we’ll get through this. IBI