The economic worries of a regular American consumer

Don Holzschuh has been driving semi-trucks in the Midwest for nearly 35 years. He talks about how he's been trying to survive financially, and why he thinks the recession isn't over.

Kai Ryssdal: This was a big week for the Midwest. The Iowa Straw Poll last weekend. President Obama and his bus tour the past three days. The presidential motorcade rolled south along Highway 52 toward the town of Decorah, one of Mr. Obama's stops during his trip.

It's a route Don Holzschuh knows well. He's been driving trucks all over the Midwest for decades. Welcome to the program.

Don Holzschuh: Well thank you very much for having me on.

Ryssdal: Let me ask you where we tracked you down, first of all. You're out on the road today?

Holzschuh: I'm on the road; I'm in Northeast Iowa by a small town of Oran, Iowa. I just delivered to a family hardware store.

Ryssdal: Tell me about these family hardware stores you deliver to. What do they tell you when you walk in the door with a new box of pliers or something? How's business been?

Holzschuh: Well some are saying it's OK; it's squishy. You know, it's not gangbusters. They're holding their own, is what it is.

Ryssdal: The recent craziness in the stock market and people worrying again about the economy, is that sort of trickling down to Iowa?

Holzschuh: Everybody's worried about the economy. The biggest complaint that I hear is the price of everything. It's just killing everybody.

Ryssdal: Like gas and food and all that? I mean, we saw the inflation numbers today, right?

Holzschuh: I mean, it's everything; it's not even gas and food -- it's basic material. The first time in my life that I am cutting back, cutting back and it doesn't make any difference. It's frustrating, where everything has gone up and seems to go up all the time. And I have a budget, and before and three years ago, I was able to make it no problem. But now I'm one nostril above the water, and when a wave comes by, it puts me under.

Ryssdal: How long have you been driving this truck route, Mr. Holzschuh?

Holzschuh: I've been driving semi-trucks for 34 years.

Ryssdal: Mind if I ask you how much you make every year doing this?

Holzschuh: This job I make about $50,000 to $52,000.

Ryssdal: And when you're not on the road, you have your own home, you have a 401(k)? You live a regular financial life, right?

Holzschuh: Right. Just a regular American life, you know, supposed American life.

Ryssdal: Well yeah, so one of the reasons why we called you is to get a sense of the regular consumer, because there's all this pressure, as you know -- the analysts and everybody says, 'consumers have to spend more to get this economy back in gear.' Question is: Are you in a position to do that?

Holzschuh: No. I don't have any extra money. In fact, I'm trying to save money, and when I look at products when I go into a store, I've gotten to a point where I don't buy anything from China. Unless I really have to buy it, I'll buy it. But you know, just to buy for buying's sake -- that's not how we're going to get out of this recession.

Ryssdal: You talk about the recession as if it's present tense, but I mean, technically the recession's over, right? It's been over for two years.

Holzschuh: I don't know what you've been reading -- it hasn't. And I try when I talk to people in like the small areas, it hasn't. It may be in some university or college, but not on the ground.

Ryssdal: Donald Holzschuh has been driving trucks in the Midwest part of this country for about 35 years. Mr. Holzschuh, thanks a lot for your time.

Holzschuh: Thank you very much.

Ryssdal: Drive safe out there.

Holzschuh: OK, no problem. Use your turn signals.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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Let me get this straight. Many people have lost their jobs because of the economy, yet we're being asked to feel sorry for a guy who not only still has his job, but who makes FIFTY GRAND A YEAR?

I'm the primary grocery shopper for the household. Prices are rising OR the manufacturer cuts back on the size of the container by an ounce or so.

Wal-Mart just 3 months ago 32 oz of shredded cheese was $7.49 - Last week it was $9.59

Krogers just 3 months ago 1 5oz can of cat food was 45 cents - Today it was 55 cents

I can go on and on and on giving even more examples but I hope you get the picture. I shop 2 times a week, Tuesdays at Kroger (%5 discount for us old fellers) and Fridays it's Wal-Mart. I know my grocery prices, okay? And trust me... food prices are rising!

Ethan, normal people can't live at Mommy's house getting free rent, utilities, groceries, and laundry for ten years.

52k a year, after income taxes, is around 40k. If he is self-employed, knock off another 5k in self-employment/medicaid taxes, unemployment insurance, etc. Which leaves 35k. If he is paying for family health insurance, that costs 13k/year with a high deductable plan. Which leaves 22k, or less than 2k/month. If you have a 1000 mortgage payment (700 to the bank, 300 for property taxes, so maybe a 125k house), that leaves $1000/month for food ($300/month), bills ($150-250/month), clothing (50-100/month), basic necessities ($50, paper towels, garbage bags, toilet paper, cleaning materials, etc.), gas (150). So no, at 52k/year you really don't have a whole hell of a lot of wiggle room if there is a bigger doctor/dentist bill, prescription meds, a car repair, a new lawn mower, etc. unless the spouse is working.

I don't get it. What is his budget? How many kids does he have? A mortgage? 52k sounds like a lot of money to me. That is after expenses for his truck right?

Maybe he bought more house than he can afford?

I keep hearing about inflation but the only things I buy are gas and food. The foods I buy haven't gone up - but I buy at the low cost chain where the immigrants buy not the fancy stores with the plush interiors and the "wild harvest" isles.

The recession is over because your Overlords residing in "Mordor on the Potomac" said so...

If we had our economy and dollar backed by gold, silver like we used to then saving would be a good thinhg considering that precious metals rise in value and dollar worth as they are "saved", especially in these times. This is basic financial common sense that has been destroyed by Government hubris time and time again, as well as by the ignorant peoples of thisnation that refuses to let go of the notion that the we are out of a recession, when in fact we are in a depression. Independecy from our nanny state of mindset is what is going to save this econom, that and a truly free market. But only when the SHTF will this be realized.

I can totally sympathize what this typically middle class person is saying: Costs for necessities are going up, often 10% a year. This makes people pretty frugal when it comes to non-essential items. The Bankers and Wall Street have essentially hijacked the country, in my opinion. The sad truth is, most people don't really understand the true problem. Plus only alternate media (less than 10% of all media) asks the hard questions. The result is, we have a largely clueless public having their wealth stolen from them through inflation!! Thomas Fox's advice of self-sufficiency are spot on! The status quo will not change until a catastrophe happens, so do what you can to prepare. Plus, tell your friends, family, co-workers and neighbours.

Saving is not what caused this recession. Spending beyound your means did. From the 70% consumers to the 30% government, debt was, is and is being counted on to sustain our "economy". The smart folks are securing their future in precious metals and goods for self-sufficency since when things stop being trucks all over the country, what you have in your backyard will be the extent of what's available. We have demanded the lowest price on goods, but want the highest wages around. No wonder we don't want to afford to buy American. We could, if we really took the time to think about our purchases instead of spending hours looking for the "lowest price". There's a reason why US companies don't produce in the US. Want more US products? Be prepared to pay for them since US workers won't take less for thier labor than what they already have. It's not a simple situation, but the continuing recession will make it simple, self-sufficent or starvation.

Larry, are you really that ignorant? We are saving because of the recession. Saving did not cause the recession! Over zealous spending is what caused this recession. That said be warned if you put your savings in the dollar...choose an alternate currency or a commodity. Do your research before making your choice, but whatever you do don't keep your savings in dollars.


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