With the November elections just a few weeks away, some politicians want Americans to believe that the U.S. economy is recovering. However, according to a report from Rutgers University, over half of American taxpayers believe the economy has undergone a fundamental and lasting change. Yesterday, I posted this blog entry taking a look at some of the signs of economic recovery, however, not all signs are good. There are also plenty of reasons to still be concerned about the economy.
We all know that the three main American automakers have been struggling for years. Despite federal funds, the companies are having ongoing problems. Some economists estimate that U.S. automakers must charge an additional $2,000 per vehicle because of labor costs, and high medical and retirement benefit expenses. With this additional overhead, it has become almost impossible for American automakers to stay competitive. Compared with August of 2009, auto sales have decreased by 21% over the past year, and between July and August of 2010, sales fell by 5%. These disappointing numbers have led many economists to call for another Cash-for-Clunkers program, or another type of financial incentive to purchase a new car.
It is impossible to ignore unemployment problem in this country, with thousands of jobs being lost every month. According to the Labor Department the economy lost 100,000 jobs in August, which increased the unemployment rate from 9.5% to 9.6%. The ongoing unemployment problems are commonly cited as the main delay in economic recovery, and although we might see seasonal job creation over the next few months, many experts predict that we will not see any significant employment gains until 2012.
Earlier in the year the housing market was showing some signs of improvement, but after the housing credit expired in June, home sales decreased quickly. In July, home sales were down over 25% compared with July of 2009. To make matters worse, home values are also continuing to plummet. Experts are even predicting another 5 to 10% decline in house prices over the next few months. Fortunately, as Neil Irwin or the Washington Post explains, housing activity has already decreased so much that it would be hard for it to hurt future economic recovery. Between 2006 and 2009 home sales fell from 2.3 million annually to under 500,000. This sudden drop was a major strain on the economy, but even if construction levels decrease further it is very unlikely to have the same impact on our economy as the collapse between 2006 and 2009.
Local Double Dips
One of the largest fears about the U.S. economy is the possibility of a double-dip recession. Most economists agree that this is unlikely on the national level. However, many state and local governments are at a serious risk of slipping into a second, more severe recession. Several government agencies across the country are facing unbalanced budgets, and have turned to drastic tax increases to generate revenue. Many economists suggest that these tax hikes could have a negative impact as consumers are left with less money to spend in their local economy.
Last month the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) announced that 829 financial institutions (or 1/10th of the banks in this country) were on their problem list. These banks are on the edge of going under, and there have already been 118 bank failures this year. There were 140 total bank failures in 2009, and it does not look like this trend is going to stop anytime soon. The problems facing financial institutions in the U.S. has a significant impact on the overall economy. When banks are struggling lending becomes more difficult, between April and June loan and lease balances fell another 1.3%. Until businesses have easier access to credit, unemployment problems will persist and the economy will continue to struggle.