Americans are focused on paying off debts

Published 10:00 am Monday, June 13, 2011

The economy continues to hurt, no doubt, but maybe we as a nation are learning.

In economic reports issued by the federal government during the past week, indications were that home prices have shrunk so much that the proportion of their homes Americans actually own is near its lowest point since World War II.

That’s not good news, no matter how it’s turned, twisted, fried or diced. After all, home ownership has been The American Dream for nearly as long as the country has existed.

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But there is a good side to that same report. Americans are focused on paying off debts already made, which slows growth because new debts are not being created.

That information walks hand-in-hand with another report last week, one that might be the brightest news in generations.

The Federal Reserve says that while Americans’ borrowing increased for the seventh straight month in April, it was for necessities such as cars and education, not the frou-frou of instant gratification that comes with plastic. Credit card use fell for the second time in three months after rising only twice since August 2008, the height of the financial crisis. Maybe we’re learning.

It takes this nation as a whole to fix the economy, but just as it took individuals to build it up over more than 200 years it will take individuals to pick it back up by its bootstraps.

The economy is not going to get better by itself. Be frugal, be cautious, pay it off and pay it forward — one payment at a time.