Escalating gasoline prices. Increasing grocery bills. Skyrocketing utility costs. They're in the headlines every day, but Oregonians are feeling the pinch in ways they haven't seen since the last recession. Tim Duy, a University of Oregon economics professor and the director of the school's Oregon Economic Forum, said working people are hurting more now because income levels haven't grown since the last recession in 2001. The American dream, he says, is moving out of reach.... "A decent job doesn't get you there anymore," he says. "It doesn't take much to throw an average person into debt with the huge increase in food bills and utility bills. You have families wondering how they fell so far behind. Even families that you could say were well off have felt the stress because the incomes are stagnant." .... Officials with agencies that help the needy say they're seeing something unprecedented: More families with two incomes are joining other needy people seeking help with food, shelter and other essentials.
It can bedifficult for me to relate to the plight of other people. After all, I'm not walking in their shoes. What I can do, however, is relate my own experience to what I see happening around me...and I've gotta tell you, I'm not a happy camper. I understand the theory of economic boom and bust cycles; at least that much of the macroeconomics class I took in college has stuck with me. But macroeconomic trends don't really mean much until you begin relating those trends to what's happening in your own life. When I look at what's happening in my world, it's difficult to maintain anything resembling optimism when everyone I do business wants more...and more...and more from from me.
I'm fortunate in that the increasing price of gasoline, which truly is a pain in the ass, hasn't really had much of an impact on me. I'm driving a whole lot less here in Portland than I was in Houston. In the six months since I moved to Portland, I've put perhaps 3500 miles on my car (which at that rate means it will last forever- and, best of all...it's paid for!), about half of what I was driving in Houston. So, while the price of gasoline has gone through the roof, since I'm driving less the amount I'm spending is probably about the same.
When you look at what I'm paying for day-to-day staple food items, though, that's where I'm feeling the pinch. Because of the way I eat, I pay a premium. I try to avoid processed foods, fast food, and refined sugar, I don't eat red meat, and I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. All of that means spending more of my disposable income on food than some people might. While I'm not about to go back to Frosted Flakes and pork & beans, it certainly would save me some money if I were to be less particular. Then again, I'm not going to achieve my goal of living forever if my diet consists of Big Macs and French Fries.
Frankly, I'm one of the fortunate ones, and I recognize that. While I don't make an obscene amount of money- far from it- I make a reasonable amount of money for one person if I manage things carefully. Combine that with the fact that I drive a paid-for 2004 model year car with only 54,000 miles on it, and I'm in reasonably good shape financially...even if it doesn't always feel that way. These days, though, I find myself sometimes struggling to make ends meet and having to determine how to cut some fat out of my budget so that I can do some fun things- like travel. Saving more of my income for my retirement would also be nice, but right about now that's a difficult thing to do.
If I'm struggling what must it be like for those less fortunate? I'm hardly rich...or even close to well off...but even I understand that there are many, many people out there significantly less fortunate than I am. Trying to raise, feed, and clothe a family, keep up the mortgage and car payments...all while keeping up with prices spiraling out of control and an economy not likely to change for the better any time soon has got to be tough. I know it has been for me.
Before I go, I'll freely admit my willingness to blame Our Glorious and Benevolent Leader © and his cabal of neoConservative thugs for the state this country is in. Hey, they were all over patting themselves on the back when things were rolling smoothly. Now that the economy is circling the toilet bowl, they'd damn well better be willing to accept the blame. Perhaps if they'd spent more time tending to Main Street instead of Wall Street, things might be a fair bit different. J'accuse!