Last week's July employment report showed a surprising 163,000 new jobs last month. Anecdotal evidence also suggests the economy is doing better than expected.
Traveling through the Midwest last weekend, a ConsumerAffairs reporter observed full hotels, stores and restaurants, as well as major highway construction projects in a number of states. Still, it's too early to turn bullish on the economy, warns Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Consumers are struggling
In a recorded speech for a conference in Massachusetts, Bernanke said behind all the encouraging indicators, the average consumer is still struggling to keep up.
"Even though some key aggregate metrics, including consumer spending, disposable income, household net worth and debt service payments, have moved in the direction of recovery, it is clear that many individuals and households continue to struggle with difficult economic and financial conditions," Bernanke said.
When looking at facts and figures, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and consumer spending, Bernanke said it is hard to get the full picture. There are groups of consumers, types of businesses and even communities that are falling behind and through the cracks. And not just financially.
The Fed Chairman says perhaps a better measure of how we are doing as a nation would be to measure happiness, not wealth.
"We should seek better and more-direct measurements of economic well-being," Bernanke said in the taped speech, adding that promoting well-being is "the ultimate objective of our policy decisions."
Not that happy at the moment
And from what he sees, Bernanke said it's clear that many people are not really happy right now. Unemployment remains stubbornly high at 8.3 percent. Since the start of the Great Recession, many people have left the labor force, many giving up on finding a job. The number of Americans going on disability has surged in the last few months.
To help him gauge happiness, Bernanke said he would like to know how secure consumers feel about their jobs, how confident they are about future job prospects and how prepared they are for future financial shocks.