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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