Food and fuel prices still trouble consumer

Truck driver Don Holzschuh says higher fuel prices are affecting his wallet.

Kai Ryssdal: There's a real tendency to get sidetracked by statistics when you do business and economic news. Leading indicators this, and unemployment rate that.

Which is why talking to actual people as a way to get some perspective is helpful. Last summer we found a guy named Don Holzschuh, he's a truck driver out in the Midwest. We've stayed in touch.

Mr. Holzschuh, good to talk to you again.

Don Holzschuh: Hi, good to talk to you again. Thanks for calling.

Ryssdal: Where did we track you down this time?

Holzschuh: I'm in St. Paul, Minn.

Ryssdal: Pulled over on the side of the highway someplace on I-35, or no?

Holzschuh: Well I'm in the truckyard. I'm about ready to go home.

Ryssdal: So how are things?

Holzschuh: Not too bad. You know, it's trotting along.

Ryssdal: That doesn't sound 'not too bad.' That sounds more bad than not too bad.

Holzschuh: It's food and fuel. The fuel jumped up quite a bit; it's levelled off right now. But the food is just, going to the grocery store is almost having a heart attack. Have to take my banker along with me.

Ryssdal: It's funny because if you talk to central bankers like us, like Ben Bernanke -- you listen to him and he says, 'yeah, inflation's fine in this country, there's really no inflation, especially if you don't count food and fuel.'

Holzschuh: Well, that's what most people buy, is food and fuel. That's how they turn their paycheck if it doesn't go that far. How many people are going on food stamps? It's just trying to get by.

Ryssdal: What about people you meet out on the road? You know, the people whose hardware stores you deliver to or people you talk to you at the truck stops? What do they say?

Holzschuh: Well, I ask them all, 'What do you think about how the economy's doing?' and they just say, 'It sucks.' That's it. I hate to be the guy at the end of the bar, but it just sucks.

Ryssdal: You know, it's always so interesting to talk to you because this sense I get from you and the actual economy out there is so disconnected from what you see on Wall Street and what you hear politicians saying about how things are getting better. It's just always eye-opening.

Holzschuh: It's just normal in my area. I don't know different regions or the type of work that's been getting better. But for us, that's like sitting on the ground. It's just the same. It's not getting any better and it's getting a little more difficult with food going up and fuel. And people who have to drive to work every day, I feel sorry for them.

Ryssdal: You sound almost resigned to this, like it's not ever going to get better.

Holzschuh: Well, I'm not going to commit suicide, but I just don't see anything that's happening. Something that's hopeful in the future for the economy.

Ryssdal: Do you get the sense that people who are in charge of making these kinds of decisions in this country get that?

Holzschuh: No, they don't get it. No, they make a lot of money. They don't see us.

Ryssdal: Don Holzschuh, got him in St. Paul, Minn., this time.

Holzschuh: I'll give you the horn.

Horn noise

Ryssdal: Makes it all worthwhile, man, makes it all worthwhile. Have a great day.

Holzschuh: Thanks a lot, I appreciate it.

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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