Retail sales slip and gasoline sales plummet, latest data show

Not only are we not buying stuff, we are not driving.

Retail sales took a step back in March, slipping 1.1 percent from February after a couple months of gains. The market had expected a slight increase.

Overall, the data released today showed a nearly 11 percent drop in sales from last year.

Maybe most surprising is how steeply gasoline sales have fallen. According to the Commerce Department, gasoline stations sales were down 34 percent from March 2008 and motor vehicle and parts dealers sales were down 23.5 percent from last year.

One month is not a crisis and the fact that that the prior two months showed gains remains a good sign. But it certainly seems like more evidence of a shift — Americans and Minnesotans are spending less and saving more.

A few months ago we took a look at gasoline consumption in Minnesota and found big drops in monthly gasoline use in 2008 compared to 2007. It looked initially like it was simply a reaction to the high price of gasoline but it became clear it was it was more than price, that maybe it was a shift.

As we’ve said before, in most circumstances this is a good thing. But experts keep telling us that we’ll mess up the economy even more if we don’t start spending our dough. What’s the right thing to do?

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