The American Consumer Is Back, With An Asterisk

By Kevin G. Hall
McClatchy Washington Bureau.


Written off in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the U.S. consumer is back. Not quite with a vengeance, but definitely back.

It’s noticeable to Marie Galvin, owner of GALVIN-ized in Boston, where handmade women’s hats, a discretionary purchase, sell for anywhere from $35 to $85.

“This year, since the Kentucky Derby, it all seems out of control. Everybody was shopping for good hats,” said Galvin, who wears her wares on the sales floor. “I think it’s up a good 50 percent from last year.”

Same is true for Ron Lewis, owner of Designer Cabinetry in Newton, Mass., where his customers often spend $40,000 to $80,000 for high-end kitchen cabinets and appliances.

“It’s been a slow improvement until this year, where there has been a marked improvement,” said Lewis. “The people with money have more money than ever.”

Nationally the story is largely the same, whether it’s in the finance-rich suburbs of Charlotte, N.C., the sun-kissed condos of Miami or the most populous state, California, where the jobless rate is falling. Consumption powers about two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity, and it’s noticeably back.

Spending by the rich never tailed off, and it accelerated alongside the soaring stock market gains of recent years.

On the bottom economic rungs, the poor still struggle. So much so that Dollar Tree and Family Dollar recently announced plans to merge to compete against Wal-Mart for what Family Dollar CEO Howard Levine called “a more financially constrained consumer.”

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