It's easy to feel gloomy right now. A lot of people are still out of work, the economy continues to be sluggish and, following the recent mid-term elections, the stage is set for a long period of gridlock where the government gets little or nothing done. Try not to despair, though. As Thanksgiving approaches, there's still plenty to celebrate on the personal finance and economic fronts. (For more, see Thanksgiving On A Budget.)
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- We Live in America
The U.S. of A. may not be quite what she was 15 or 20 years ago, but she's still beautiful. Americans continue to enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. And the United States is still a land of opportunity. There's high demand for workers in many professions, such as home health aid, network systems analysts, financial examiners, biomedical engineers, computer software engineers and veterinarians - just to name a few. (For more, see 6 Sectors That Are Creating Jobs.)
- Unemployment Has Stabilized and Should Soon Decline
Although quite a bit worse than normal at 9.6%, the unemployment rate is at least not going any higher. Some forecasts call for a decline in unemployment to less than 8% in 2011 and to a bit under 6% sometime between 2012 and 2015. So it seems quite possible that relief is on the way.
- U.S. Stocks are Hot
Have you seen the Dow lately? It's up almost 8% this year. Most other stock market indexes are looking good, like the S&P 500 index of large company stocks, which has risen about the same, and the Russell 2000 index of small company stocks, up more than 15%. Since stock market performance is considered a leading economic indicator, the good news in stocks suggests the tough times are nearly over and a period of economic prosperity is about to begin.
- Better Protection Against Abusive Credit Card Companies
The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, signed into law in May, requires credit card agreements to be much easier to read and understand. It also ends a lot of the worst credit industry abuses. For example, credit card companies are now much more limited in their ability to retroactively raise their interest rates, and they have to give a lot more notice before raising rates. (To learn more, see Understanding Credit Card Interest.)
- More People Get to be Home for the Holidays
Bank foreclosures have dropped significantly in recent weeks. Many have been put on hold, possibly for several months or more, while the federal government investigates the banking industry to see if it broke any laws in its rush to process huge numbers of foreclosures during the housing crisis. Some banks have actually admitted to signing off on foreclosures without even reviewing them, so hopefully a lot of people who thought they were going to be out on the street by now will end up keeping their homes permanently once the investigation is over. (To learn more, see the Top 5 Things To Know About Robo-Signers.)
- Time Hasn't Run Out on "Green" Tax Breaks
Besides being able to deduct 30% of the cost of a major energy-saving improvement (such as a solar heating system), this year you can also take a deduction for the cost of new insulation, doors, windows and other more basic energy-efficiency measures. All eligible improvements must be completed by December 31, so there's still time to at least add some insulation or even have a new energy-efficient door installed.
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The Bottom Line
Things aren't as bad as they seem. The jobs outlook is getting brighter and the stock market is picking up, suggesting that economic recovery is afoot and we have more prosperous times to look forward to. A year or two from now, the financial meltdown and ensuing recession may only be unpleasant memories. (Check what we were thankful for last year in The Top 10 Financial Blessing of 2009.)
Find out what happened in financial news this week. Read Water Cooler Finance: G20 Leader Spats And China Fakes It.