The economic numbers are in and there’s reason to, if not celebrate, then at least relax a little. Unemployment, health care costs, fuel costs, including gasoline, and the federal deficient are all down; productivity, savings and the dollar are up.
Many are asking: Can we get back to normal now? The reply to that is: what’s normal? If you mean back to a place that replicates what our economy and culture were in late 2007 and early 2008, the answer is “no.” That “normal” is gone and what we have now is, well, what we have now. This is normal, for the time being. And then it will change again.
What we have in the wake of the Great Recession is something different than what came before. It’s different from the recovery that followed the dotcom meltdown of 2000 and this recovery will be different from whatever downturn and recovery is ahead. Maybe one thing that remains constant is that politicians on the local, state and federal level will continue to point their fingers at each other, and some of their actions will have impacts on those they govern, but for the most part, for you and me, this is the new reality.
When times are bad, and they certainly were bad for a prolonged period of time, it’s natural to think back to one point in the past when everything seemed right. That point can become a beacon that we’re searching for as we slog through rough economic situations. But we can’t go back. What we can do is take what there is, incorporate what’s changed and make the very best of it.
One of the macro trends that I see, and I’ve written about this before, is a shift of responsibility for financial safety nets from large institutions such as governments and businesses to individuals. This translates to fewer defined benefit plans (pensions) and more defined-contribution plans (401(k) plans). Individuals are now responsible for navigating the path to their financial security. That can be viewed from opposing perspectives: fear of taking on the responsibility or empowerment that you sit in the control booth for your future, not someone else. I choose to look at it as empowering and I encourage others to do the same. And just like when you started driving a car, there’s a learning curve to mastering the skills to steering the right course to the future. But the resources are there to learn and there is professional guidance available in whatever platform—from face-to-face to a mobile app—with which you feel most comfortable. You can do this.
Take Away: The economy is on the upswing, but don’t expect things to be the same as they were in 2007.