This has been a most unusual Christmas shopping season. Stores geared toward higher income shoppers are raking in huge sales gains for the first time since Christmas 2006. Meanwhile, middling retailers are just muddling along. And those who cater to lower income folks are having a tough time.
There's this real split in the economy between the haves and the have nots. If you look at U6, which is the real indication of unemployment, that number is sitting at 16 or 17 percent. That's 16 or 17 percent of Americans who are unemployed or underemployed right at this very moment!
For higher income shoppers, a lot of their lack of activity in the past few years was about fear of the future. But now for whatever reason -- it could be the nice gains in the stock market of late or it could be that they're not as worried about the businesses they run -- people of means are back out there shopping. As an indicator, high end cars are selling really well. So if you are in a position to consume, your wallet is smiling on you, especially if you like mid-price or bargain goods!
However, as you move down the income ladder, everyone else is still struggling mightily. When is recovery coming for those folks? There's no telling. Remember, we went into this recession with an excess of debt and borrowing. Historically, that means it will take a long time for things to heal. It will happen, but I'm not smart enough to say when.
The advice that I've been giving throughout the Great Recession still applies: We can't control the world economy, nor can we really control the economy here at home. The only thing we can control is what happens in our own lives. People have to make choices, one by one, about how to handle financial decisions.
So to the people who are out there shopping again, if you have your debt under control and you've done a good job of saving, then by all means, go out and splurge! In a weird way, you're helping the country and economy if you do feel free enough to spend.
Remember, ultimately, a recovery will come for everyone. The only question is when.