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A shopper with a telltale bag walks outside a Macy's store in San Francisco in 2013. - 

We could have a conversation about over-consumption in America, and the virtues of simple living. But how big retail chains are doing offers useful insight into the state of the American economy. Macy's reported its profits are up and that it is raising the dividend it pays shareholders, despite modest gains in sales.

For a read on the economy we turn to Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh.

Follow David Brancaccio at @DavidBrancaccio