How’s your economy?

The New York Times’ Upshot blog shares a little secret today: The economy is taking off and a lot of people haven’t noticed. Just this morning, for example, the jobless claims report revealed pretty good news. And the number of housing starts last month was higher than expected.

The revelation flies in the face of an election-inspired focus on the Rust Belt and places where things are tough and people are suffering.

But Neil Irwin writes today that things are actually pretty good.

And while overall industrial production fell 0.3 percent in January, according to new Fed data, that was only because the warm winter depressed energy demand and thus output by utilities. Manufacturing output rose 0.5 percent. To cap off a day of good data pointing to an economic surge, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said its survey of business activity soared to its highest level in two years.

This all continues a recent theme. The economy added 227,000 jobs in January despite an unemployment rate that is already low. The number of people filing new claims for jobless benefits each week keeps hitting lows not seen since the 1970s.

The improving data — and particularly the uptick in inflation — does create a puzzle for the Federal Reserve. In testimony this week, the Fed’s chairwoman, Janet Yellen, made clear that an interest rate increase was on the way, though she left ambiguity on whether it would happen at the Fed’s March meeting or later in the spring or summer.

Those are the numbers, but the emotion of the economy is a matter of anecdotes. If people aren’t “feeling” that things are improving, then they’re not.

Discuss: How’s your economy?

Related: The Rust Belt Elevated Trump, But Its Electoral Power Is Dwindling (FiveThirtyEight)

  • Gary F

    Commercial construction industry doing good. Interest rates still low so people are locking in deals right now. Lots of people that were sitting on their hands and not doing much are doing stuff. Get your deal done before inflation hits us. Trade benches are not empty currently but its the lull before the storm. They will be empty by end of spring, maybe sooner if the weather like this keeps up.

  • MrE85

    We’re doing okay. I am concerned about volatility in the stock market and my retirement savings, as well as my options for health coverage after I leave work — if I can leave work.

  • Anna

    I am making ends meet but the summer is going to be tight with no sub teaching jobs available.

    I have a few irons in the fire to get back into nursing in a desk job but the pickings are few and far between.

    My property tax refund will help some in August. I’ll probably end up paying some state and federal income tax because of a pension I get each month from my divorce settlement.

    It’s been this way for a couple of years so I’m used to it. It doesn’t make it any easier.

    One thing’s for sure. I know how to live on a limited income so I’ll be more than ready for retirement.

  • jon

    I’m doing alright.
    But I did alright through the crash of ’08.

    Sure when they stopped giving out raises back then it wasn’t ideal, but it didn’t kill me.

    I’ve not really been hurt by the economy failing, though I still don’t entirely trust it… particularly not with “Let’s start a trade war” as one of the policy ideas that is being thrown around in DC…

    BUT I went against the flow, I bought my house in ’09, I started my 401k Jan ’09. I bought into the economy at the bottom, and things have really only gone up…

    I do wish my employee stock purchase program was doing better, we are down some ~12% from our 52 week high…. but I’m not planning on selling any of it any time soon, and I am still buying it at the discount, so if it wants to stay low until the moment I sell it that’s cool with me.

    My 401K plan says it’s yellow on the stop light (was never that color until we changed management companies, it was always green before.) and their estimator says if I retire at 59.5 (as soon as I can without taking the tax hit) I’ll only be able to manage about 70-130% of my current income (depending on the markets), which seems pretty good to me… especially when you consider that some 20-30% of my current income is going to a mortgage, that will be paid off by that time (though that could change if we move, or etc… the future is still a bit unknown)

    All and all I can’t complain to much…
    And were I to complain at all it’d probably be called whining.

  • AsaP

    Mine is actually pretty good. Hubby is a union carpenter (mostly commercial) and building is taking off, so he has more hours right now than we know what to do with.

    My job is secure for the moment, but working in Human Services in the changing landscape of Olmstead, the future of my whole industry is precarious right now.

    Having been able to be careful with our money for the last few years, and not having any expensive emergencies has set us up well.

    • tboom

      I think the key for most families is “not having any expensive emergencies”, I’m thinking medical here.

  • Will

    My economy is doing pretty good, the company I work for was sold to a fortune 500 company… I’m hoping for a very big raise to put salaries in line with industry standards. I’m also seriously thinking of starting up a business relatively soon. I finally moved my retirement funds over to Vanguard and they’re doing better in the few weeks with Vanguard than they did in 10 years with my work option.

    • MrE85

      I’m a big fan of Vanguard, too.

      • Will

        Which funds do you use?

        • MrE85

          The biggest chunk is in S&P Index, but I have a couple other funds as well.

          • Will

            I just bought a couple stocks (CAT & INTC) then the rest is in the 500 admiral index. What other funds are you looking at?

          • Robert Moffitt

            For my money, you can’t go wrong with an index fund like you already have. Low fees, easy to understand, instantly diversified. Vanguard invented these, and I wish my 403(b) offered them.

  • Joe

    My economy is doing good. My personal income feels secure, and around me (south Minneapolis) it feels like businesses are opening left and right.

  • Personally, doing OK, but the company I’m working at has been in a slide the last couple of years. Luckily I’m in a position that seems to be safe from the fickle finger of fate. The down side is I seem to be maxed out so far as income is concerned.

  • BJ

    I’m doing really well, just got a 5K raise and work in sending me to a very expensive week long training that will increase my value on the open market and to them.

    But 90% of our work is in health care, something easily budgeted out. And with congress ready to throw the biggest industry, health care, in the country into turmoil I’m not positive it will keep going. So I just put all my retirement into bonds or cash instead of the stock-market mutual funds.

  • Al

    We have newborn twins at home. My economy is strong so long as diapers stay affordable.

    • Rob

      Thank you for producing more eventual taxpayers! : )

      • Al

        …you’re welcome?

  • Kassie

    Today, right now, we are doing great.

    But if Obamacare goes away, then my partner will lose his subsidized insurance and that will costs us thousands of dollars.

    And if Republicans cut Obamacare and other funds to the department that pays me, which is likely, that would mean likely losing my current position and going back to a lower job that I have seniority in, costing about $10k a year.

    And if the State legislature and governor can’t come to a compromise and there is a State Shutdown, that’s a couple more thousand dollars.

    And my union contact is up this year and I’m sure the governor will negotiate a raise with us, but it is unlikely that a Republican legislature will pass it, so there’s my cost of living raise out the window, which over time will be thousands more.

    So today we are doing great, but if the Republicans get their way, we will have a much harder time making ends meet.

  • Mark in Ohio

    I think that part of the issue that’s never discussed is: “Which Economy?” I’d say that we have two (arguably three) different economies existing simultaneously in this country. You have what I’ll call the upper economy, where you have people with investments and significant resources. This generally follows the “Economic Indicators” and is what’s discussed.

    What a large percentage of the population lives in is what I’ll call the lower economy, what is commonly called “Working Class”. Here you have much less margin between your income and problems, and that margin is subject to all of the “volatile” indicators that are filtered out of the reported economic statistics. The return on T-bills or government bonds has no practical bearing on your job or your (small) savings. Their status hasn’t changed with the “rising” economy, and they haven’t profited by it, either. The current economic measures don’t do a very good job of reflecting what things are like at the “working class” level, hence people not feeling good about the state of the economy.

    If you want, you could bring the third level, the underground economy, into play. I’d bet that this segment has grown over the last 10 years, as you have to wonder how all of those people who have fallen out of the reported job world are surviving. I’d bet that many of them are existing on cash jobs and under the table work.

  • Veronica

    We’ve done pretty ok; I’m in the middle of making a career change and after 5 years of only being self-employed, I’ve taken on a part time job in a totally difference field in addition to the business. I’m excited to have regular paychecks. When I was looking for a new job last month, there were a ton of them.

  • rallysocks

    Our’s is the same as always. But with a child in a group home setting and a son with Type 1 diabetes, I worry about what will happen with them.

  • Al X

    I don’t believe the economy had much at all to do with the election. What has happened to the rural American economy is a story that is at least 30 years old. As someone who lives in a rural community and works across a wide section of outstate MN, I believe loss of identity and loss of privilege are driving today’s politics. A changing national, regional, community and personal identity are happening so fast that, for a lot of people, it scares them. Loss of privilege feels like persecution. It’s not.

    • MikeB

      Bingo. The election was about identity.

  • X.A. Smith

    I am OK. My workplace voted to unionize, which gave me a good pay raise, and I’d say for the first time I feel like I have a little breathing room. However, my place of employment just had to lay off some non-union employees. My business is somewhat sheltered from recessions, but is in a competition crunch.

  • Rob

    I’m always perplexed at the non-information that constitutes monthly “new job” stats. Where is the beef regarding how many of the new jobs are part-time, seasonal or full-time? What industries are they in? In which parts of the country were the new jobs added? What percentage of the new jobs pay a living wage? Do any of the new jobs provide health benefits? Merely noting that “X number of jobs were added in Y month” is empty journalism, and tells us exactly squat.

  • Kurt O

    My economy sucks more than a turbo charged shop vac.

    It’s been 8 months since my official layoff day, and I’ve had a grand total of 3 in-person interviews for the 50+ job applications I’ve made. My most recent interview was in September. Since January 1 I’ve only found 4 jobs worth applying for. I’ve tried contacting at least 10 recruiters specializing in scientists, and only 3 actually responded. Of those, 2 said there is nothing out there for people with my advanced level of experience. The other gave me the name of a contact at a company I applied to. She stopped responding to my emails after I didn’t get a second interview for that job.

    Currently I’m studying to take the US Patent Office bar exam as part of becoming a patent agent. Luckily the MN Dislocated Worker program is paying for a prep course. I’m hoping to pass the exam in April and find a job within a couple months of that.

  • Quietly Watching

    I work in international trade. Financially I am doing ok; nothing to write home about, but I’m able to pay my bills every month. It’s going to be very interesting to see what changes this administration makes in regards to import taxes, etc as there could be some potentially damaging consquences…