She's got the jittery-economy blues

January 29, 2008|By SUSAN REIMER

Yo. Here I am. Down here. Look down. Yeah, down here.

That's me. The Lowest Common Denominator.

There is nothing special about me, except that everybody is like me. Well, just about everybody. That's why I consider myself the Lowest Common Denominator.

When they talk about "consumers" or "the public" or "the middle class," they are talking about me. And my girlfriends.

When they talk about "trends," they are talking about us. Especially when they talk about "trending downward," because my friends and I are really trending downward these days.

Right now, we don't have any "confidence," and that's bad news for the economy because we are the only ones who matter. Not those talking heads in Washington. Not Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, although he seems like a very nice man.

My girlfriends and I are the only ones who matter because we make all the spending decisions in this country, and right now we are feeling poor. Really poor.

None of us has a subprime mortgage, whatever that is. But I can tell from all the "For Sale" signs and "Reduced" signs on the houses in my neighborhood that my own house is no longer worth the outlandish sum I heard it was worth when I didn't sell it two years ago.

None of us is ready to tap into our shrinking 401(k)'s just yet, thank God. But we are all worried that our jobs will not last long enough for us to retire from them and that, in any case, our investments will have shrunk to the size of an avocado pit by then.

Our credit card bills are pretty high, but they have always been pretty high. We have kids, OK? But right now, we are more nervous about our ability to pay those bills than we have ever been.

Whether we are poor or not, we feel poor, and that's all that matters. Because when we feel like this, we don't shop. Not even mid-winter sales. And when we don't shop, the economy in this country grinds to a halt.

The Congress and the president are working on a tax package that they hope will let us buy our way out of an imminent recession. Good luck with that.

When they start passing out money, a third of us will save it and a third of us will pay off credit card bills. Neither does much for a tanking economy. The rest of us will buy a couple of new outfits with our $300, and that money will go to China where the clothes were made.

Few of us will buy new appliances for the kitchen or hire a carpenter to build a deck, and that's what we need right now - we're American women with an itch to upgrade.

They are saying that this is the end of what The New York Times called the "new luxury," a trend that saw us all buying high-end products we didn't really need and couldn't quite afford because we felt like we worked hard and deserved them.

For example: I couldn't justify a new bedroom suite, but I bought really nice bed linens. A little self-indulgence. I work hard, I deserve to sleep in luxury.

No more.

We are still working hard, but we no longer believe we have any hope of paying for those fancy All-Clad copper core cookware sets, or the Coach bag or the $200 jeans or the iPhone. So we are determined to make do.

Or "shop down." I bought a sweater at Sam's Club for $11 instead of shopping at Nordstrom for one, and my husband got three pairs of pants on the bargain table there. They were actually very nice pants.

(My 21-year-old daughter is horrified. She hopes this "shopping down" is neither contagious nor genetic.)

They say that the constant terror alerts from the folks at Homeland Security are actually bad for our health - that these warnings are a stressor, and we have been having more heart attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.

I disagree. I don't pay attention to terror alerts. Terrorists would probably attack a mall in the hopes of killing as many Americans as possible, but we're not there because we have no confidence in the economy. The terrorists are going to have to look for us somewhere else. Maybe Sam's Club. I don't know.

No, it is this constant drumbeat of economic bad news that is stressing me out. I worry all the time about the future and whether I will have a job and whether I can pay my bills.

I am so depressed, not even a new outfit or a new refrigerator will cheer me up.

That's why I'm the Lowest Common Denominator and not just the Common Denominator.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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Read recent columns by Susan Reimer at baltimoresun.com/reimer

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