Cover Story: Economic recovery - not feeling it?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - When it comes to the economy most of us can't wait to put 2010 in the rear view mirror.

A year and a half after the recession ended it doesn't feel like it's over.  What will it take to feel like we're in a recovery?

For more than decades flipping burgers has been good to Willie West, the owner of the Rainbow Grill in north Charlotte at Graham Street and Atando Avenue.

He's survived a number of recessions over that time.  This one however almost did him in.

"The economy's been bad. It cost me a lot of money to keep this place open. I'd been better off had I closed it," he said.

But the trucking business is coming back, the business that he relies on.  And now customers are coming through his door.

"We're picking up pretty good now.  But we aren't what we were doing. We're not doing as much as we used to."

The recession officially ended 18 months ago.  In downturns we start to feel it nine months into the recovery.  This one doesn't feel like it.

"It's been a longer period of time when it doesn't feel like it than normally is the case," said UNC Charlotte economist John Connaughton.  "We haven't reached that point yet. The biggest reason we haven't reached that point is because jobs."

Hopeful signs of a recovery are on the horizon.

  • The number of people filing for unemployment benefits is at its lowest number in 2 and a half years.
  • Consumer spending over the holiday season was up five percent over last year.
  • And Congress just enacted a third stimulus package extending the Bush tax cuts and cutting payroll taxes - pumping another $130 billion into the economy.

But for the economy to take off, it's almost a chicken-and-the egg proposition.

People have to have jobs to be able to spend and companies have to produce to put people to work.

And right now businesses have the cash sitting beside them.  And banks have the money to lend.  They're sitting on top of the cash.

Why?  In case the economy tanks again.

The promise that GM got, that the government will bail you out, says UNC Charlotte economist John Connaughton isn't there anymore.

"Companies are doing essentially the same things as the banks are doing. They're protecting themselves because of what once was an implicit promise is really explicit now there is no promise," said Connaughton.

So with that in mind which companies are most likely to add jobs locally in 2011?

Best bets, according to the experts, are in the health care field, in energy and the professional and business services sector.

Not all the economic news is rosy this last day of 2010.  Gas prices are up.  Home prices fell in the nation's top markets.  And food prices are expected to shoot up three percent in the new year.

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