Just How Bad Is the Economy Really?

Two weeks ago my wife and I drove from Virginia to Michigan and back on our annual pilgrimage to visit family. Covering roughly a third of the nation, our trip was a good opportunity to check the pulse of how the economy is really doing. I stress ‘really’ because it is hard to believe that inflation is a as low as the government reports. Much of the state of the American economy isn’t numbers as much as what you see, feel, and experience as a consumer.

We expected high gas prices and found them everywhere. The highest we paid was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at $5.49 per gallon. What we found ourselves doing is filling the tank more often on the trip, so that that sticker shock was smaller. Even then, you winced at the price to fill a half-tank.

The Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpike rest areas generally have three to four small food vendors in their food courts. At the ones where we stopped, those numbers have dropped to one or perhaps two. These are not temporary or staffing closures either, these vendors are gone, their spaces abandoned. Those that were open often had reduced hours and signs were up that stated that due to supply shortages, some menu options might not be available. While no one travels the turnpike system for its food, the element of choice, something we have all grown accustomed to, was nonexistent.

I expected more traffic on the highways. Much of the driving was done on two separate Saturdays. Parts of the road that were usually hectic were clear sailing. As much as the media says people are traveling, they weren’t doing it on the turnpikes. Either they are avoiding those roads to dodge the toll costs, or the media isn’t in tune with how many people can afford to travel.  

Road construction was big in Michigan. The state has cornered the market on orange construction barrels and has excelled at closing off major roadways, but we actually saw little real construction taking place. Still, any progress on rehabilitation of the road infrastructure has to be good news. Some construction was driven by the county, the state, and some were federal highway projects. None of these groups apparently coordinate their activities. Waze literally routed us through neighborhoods in the Detroit suburbs to get around -- it is that disjointed.  

We went to two small towns during our trip -- St. Clair Shores and Marshall. My nephew is co-owner of Copper Hop Brewing Company in St. Clair Shores, and his business is booming. They have worked with the local community there to come up with innovative and creative downtown events to bring in consumers. Like many entrepreneurs, he has contingency plans in place in case the economy goes into a recession. For now, as always when times are good, people drink and when times are bad, people drink.

We went to my family’s hometown. Marshall, Michigan is a quaint town, a slice of Americana. The core of their main street had small businesses still in operation, but once you got out of the heart of the town, there were more than a handful of empty storefronts. Small business is the heart and soul of our economy and it was clear it was still stretched thin -- either from COVID or the inflation that followed. I found myself wondering if things get worse, how many of the businesses I saw were going to be forced to close up for good.

When you go into restaurants, you find messages saying that the prices are higher than shown on the menus. We went to two places that had brand-new menus, presumably to reflect the inflationary prices. In Biden’s America, beer and the menu printing businesses are the only safe bets.

No matter where we went, no matter the circumstances, there is one topic that comes up first and foremost -- inflation. The people we met with, family and otherwise, where not talking about the January 6th committee or Roe v. Wade. They talked about their dollars not going as far as they did six months ago. Some of it is complaining. Much of it is concern as to how bad things are going to get. The people we spoke with felt gas and food prices were at least a third more than what they were paying a year before, if not double.

Finally, there’s angst in the voices of many Americans. Many believe we are already in a recession… that the government either is lying about the inflation rate or has no clue as to the true state of the economy. The less-than-subtle hints about American’s transitioning to electric vehicles are falling on frustrated ears. They feel that the government is not paying attention to the real issues that they are dealing with. Worse yet, there is a feeling of concern and fear over what is to come… worry about how bad things can get. While Biden was out falling off a bike, many Americans were wondering if they would have to use one to get to and from work -- or if their jobs were still going to be there a year from now.  

Blaine Pardoe is a New York Times Bestselling and award-winning author. He is a regular contributor to American Thinker, PJ Media, American Greatness, Bizpac Review, and other conservative sites. His most recent works include the conservative political thriller Blue Dawn tells the story of the violent overthrow of the government by Progressives. The sequel, A Most Uncivil War, is out on June 28.  His new book, The Democratic Party Playbook 2022 Edition was an Amazon bestseller for new political humor.

Image: Tony Fischer

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