Three years ago last month my job at the Los Angeles Times was eliminated, sending me off on this odd hybrid career of freelancing, book writing and teaching. And a much-reduced role as a consumer. In Sunday's Times, I weigh in on what that transition means for the rest of you, and our prognosis for economic recovery. From the piece:
I may owe the nation an apology. It turns out I'm a prime reason why the U.S. economy can't regain its footing. Because as a wage-earner, and as a consumer, I'm not what I used to be. ... It's how we and others in our situation are living now that helps explain the persistence of the economic crisis, and hints at the troubles of the future. ...[W]e're spending significantly less than we once did, forming an incremental drag on the economic recovery. Ironically, we have more money salted away in our savings account now than before my job was cut. That's what financial fear does; it makes you hoard cash.
So we patronize fewer restaurants, buy fewer books (a painful cutback for an author; if I'm not buying their books, are they not buying mine?), and rarely contemplate a weekend train getaway to Santa Barbara or San Diego. Take in a professional hockey or baseball game with the family? Um, no.
But a recovery needs us to spend. So we're not helping. And that's why the future is worrisome. We never were high-debt spenders (at the moment, mortgage, car payments and a small credit card balance are our only outstanding debts), but it's highly unlikely our household spending will ever again be what it was.