Don't  Ignore  Economic Storm  Clouds

by Larry Burkett

I just finished reading an article about how well the economy is doing. "The best in decades,  it said. "Nothing wrong."   "A state of perfect economic bliss." 
This sort of thing amazes me, but I guess economists are like quarterbacks and weather forecasters: they get paid for being right about 30 percent of the time. The fact is, several storm clouds are on the economic horizon. 
Cloud one: Consumer debt. The average consumer owes about 17 percent of disposable (i.e. after-tax) income to creditors. Typically, housing, food, transportation, and insurance claim about 80 per cent. 

Understand what this means: the average consumer is spending 97 percent of his or her disposable income before taking into account such items as out-of-pocket health costs, clothing expenses, gifts, dental care, and miscellaneous spending. 

As for savings, well, this is why many families have no savings. What they should be saving and investing is going to pay creditors. A recent report estimated that, as of January 1997, as many as 25 percent of credit card holders were still paying off credit card charges from Christmas 1995! 

Another report?this one from a congressional committee estimated that Americans, on average, are spending $1.10 for every $1.00 they earn in wages. In other words, many of us are living beyond our means. 

Sooner or later that overspending will have to stop, as it always does. When that happens, and it could happen soon, the probability of recession is high since consumer spending drives so much of our economy. 

Cloud two: Bankruptcies. According to preliminary numbers, about 1.1 million personal bankruptcies were filed in 1996, a new record. That works out to roughly one bankruptcy for every 100 house holds in America. (In some states, there was one bankruptcy for every 45 to 55 households.) 

These numbers suggest that, for people in financial trouble, bankruptcy has become the first option rather than a last resort. This change in mindset and practice is causing banks to tighten lending standards, which will have ripple effects through the economy. 
The result could be a "credit crunch" that stalls economic expansion and leads to layoffs. A recent survey showed that up to 40 percent of respondents said they were unprepared to cope financially if thrown out of work. Some didn't have enough re serves to handle missing a single paycheck. 
Cloud three: Government "entitlement" programs. The rate of spending growth for Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs is unsustainable. Already, Medicare spending out paces revenue. Within 15 years, the same will be true for Social Security. Based on current projections, over the next several decades these programs will be underfunded by tens of trillions of dollars. The impact on our economy will be severe if government tries to deal with these problems by squeezing more tax revenue out of individuals and business. 

Cloud four: An oppressive tax and regulatory system. Trying to have a prosperous economy under the current system of federal taxes and regulations is like trying to row a boat against a 15-mile an-hour head wind. You can make progress, but it's slow going. Indeed, taxes and regulations are the main reasons why the economy is stuck in such a slow-grow mode (2.3 percent growth for '96; an estimated 2.2 percent for '97). 

Here's the good news: if you apply yourself to following God's will for your finances, a storm in our economy need not be a cause for fear. Instead, if you commit your way to Him, you will find He will "supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).