At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney – things sure have changed a lot from when I was a kid. Growing up in the 1960’s (a time my son refers to as “the dark ages”) we lived meagerly for the most part. We weren’t poor – far from it. My father worked every day and my mom stayed home and raised us.
Our clothes were simple. Levi Strauss was the closest thing we had to a designer label. For a long time, we survived with one car – which my dad paid cash for. While waiting for the next car to be purchased, my parents “saved” for it (for the uninitiated – saving means not spending more than you make and putting the “extra” money into a bank account). My folks worked diligently to pay off their home mortgage and NEVER carried debt. They grudgingly got a credit card in the 1970’s because they found that they couldn’t rent a car or travel without one. We almost never went out to eat. When we did, the fare was Elias Brothers – home of the Big Boy.
We did venture out on an annual vacation every year. This was also something my parents saved for. We would arrive home from a week’s vacation with no debt.
To get to the point – my wife and I were out last month in suburban Metro Detroit. It was our monthly dinner and a movie night. The State of Michigan had just announced 10.6% unemployment. The Metro Detroit area was likely at 20% or greater unemployment. We tried to get a table at Outback Steakhouse and there was a 1 hour and 15 minute wait. The place was packed! We went down the street to another restaurant – same story! We decided that we would see the movie before we went to dinner – so we headed over to the theater (a 20 screen multiplex). We had to park in the boondocks because the lot was full. There was a 5-10 minute lineup for tickets and you could just forget about the concession line – we would have missed all the previews and had to sit in the front row had we decided to get popcorn.
On our way home, we both commented on how full the bar and restaurant parking lots were. Other than nursing jobs or other healthcare based employment, I really don’t know that any industries are thriving – yet many people seem unphased by the economic downturn. It may have affected them psychologically, but it seems to have little impact on practical matters.
I guess that’s a generational difference. There are people in America in their late 20s who have never experienced any sort of financial setback in their lives. The response to hardship seems to be more spending. Massive debt has become a fact of life for us here in America. My Father was an Irish immigrant who worked for Ford Motor Company for 40 years. He used to say, “boy, in this country – its not how much money you’ve got – it’s how much they’ll let ye borrow”.
There endeth the lesson.