Americans Spending Less on Gas -- and Everything Else

Gas is one of those things you have to buy. Without it, you don’t get to work and your kids don’t get to school. And for those of us who still do a little brick & mortar shopping, gas is what gets us to the J Crew at the strip mall.


Not all gasoline spending is necessary, of course. When gas is cheaper, Americans take more road trips — and spend more money at motels and amusement parks, too.

But by and large — and especially in the winter months when people take fewer vacations — lower gas prices mean people have more money to spend on the things we want to buy, like lunch at Panera or on new sneakers for the kids.

Right now, with gas prices near lows we haven’t seen since before President Obama declared his unofficial war on affordable energy, other retail sectors like restaurants and clothing outlets ought to be ringing up improved sales figures.

But no:

U.S. retail sales slipped last month, pulled down by sharply lower gas prices, and Americans spent much less in January than previously estimated. The figures suggest that consumers remain cautious about spending despite steady hiring.

Retail sales fell 0.1 percent in February, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Excluding the volatile gas and auto categories, sales rose 0.3 percent. Overall sales were revised sharply lower in January, from a 0.2 percent gain to a drop of 0.4 percent.


That’s a lousy indicator for the economy, given that consumer spending represents about 70% of all economic activity in this country.

And doesn’t it seem …odd… at least that these lousy retail numbers come at a time when BLS is heralding strong job creation?

Fact is, no number is more massaged than the official unemployment rate — and it’s never massaged harder, like the Hulk giving shiatsu, than it is in the months before and after the holiday season.

What does your wallet tell you is the real state of the economy?


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