One factor you must understand when evaluating economic data is that the data is far from straight forward. Even theoretically it is often confusing what something like “savings rate” should represent. And even if that were completely clear the ability to get data that accurately measures what is desired is often difficult if not impossible. Therefore most often there is plenty of question about economic conditions even when examining the best available data. Learning about these realities is important if you wish to be financially literate.
A closer look, however, shows that Americans have tightened their belts more sharply than the numbers report. The reason? Official figures for personal spending include a lot of categories, such as Medicare outlays, that are not under the control of households. They also include items, such as education spending, that should be treated as investment in the future rather than current consumption.
After removing these spending categories from the data, let’s call what’s left “pocketbook” spending – the money that consumers actually lay out at retailers and other businesses. By this measure, Americans have cut consumption by $200 billion, or 3.1%, over the past year. This explains why the downturn has hit Main Street hard.
Finally, for technical reasons the BEA throws in some “spending” categories where no money actually changes hands. The biggest is “rent on owner-occupied housing,” the money that people supposedly pay themselves for living in their own homes. Despite the housing bust, this number rose by 2.6% over the past year, to $1.1 trillion.
A closer look at BEA numbers shows that Americans reduced spending by 3.1% in the past year, indicating that the savings rate has risen to 6.4%
He raises good issues to consider though I am not sure I agree 100% with his reasoning.