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For many, rally into Dow record feels empty

By DANIEL WAGNER Published: March 6, 2013
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/articleid/3761814/1/pictures/1970380">Photo - FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011, file photo, people walk in front of the New York Stock Exchange, in New York. The Dow reaches its highest record ever on Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Yet the market's run-up feels worlds away from the lives of many Americans. Wages have only recently started to recover after months of declines that stretched family budgets thin. Unemployment is stuck near 8 percent, high enough that most Americans still know people who are out of work. Signs of a housing recovery have boosted stocks, yet millions of people face foreclosure. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) ORG XMIT: NYBZ703
FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011, file photo, people walk in front of the New York Stock Exchange, in New York. The Dow reaches its highest record ever on Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Yet the market's run-up feels worlds away from the lives of many Americans. Wages have only recently started to recover after months of declines that stretched family budgets thin. Unemployment is stuck near 8 percent, high enough that most Americans still know people who are out of work. Signs of a housing recovery have boosted stocks, yet millions of people face foreclosure. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) ORG XMIT: NYBZ703

The extra 2 percentage points will cost someone making $50,000 about $1,000 a year, and a household with two high-paid workers up to $4,500.

Smaller paychecks make it difficult to feel included in Wall Street's exuberance.

{Zcirf}Housing may have hit bottom, but it hasn't fully recovered.

In a healthy housing market, builders start work on about 1.5 million houses and apartments a year. Last year, they began 780,000. That's a 41 percent increase from 2009, but not enough to revive big industries like construction that rely on the production of new homes.

Home price gains also suggest a slow, uneven healing process. The S&P/Case-Shiller index of home prices started rising in June after 20 straight months of decline. Prices nationwide remain about 30 percent below the peak reached in mid-2006.

For many Americans, their home is their most valuable asset. When it loses value, they feel less wealthy and are less likely to spend and contribute to the recovery.

The problem is more acute for the millions who owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth. Millions more still face foreclosure because they can't afford the payments on a loan they took out during the credit bubble.

Elevated foreclosure activity causes negative ripples throughout the economy. Foreclosed properties make neighborhoods less attractive to buyers and delay the recovery of home prices. People who experience foreclosure generally can't qualify for loans, limiting their ability to spend as the economy picks up.

{Zcirf}Despite recent gains, hiring remains slow.

The unemployment rate stands at 7.9 percent, an improvement from the 10 percent peak during the recession, but still well above the 5 percent that policymakers strive for during good times.

Unemployment affects the broader economy and consumers' outlooks in a number of ways. Jobless people contribute less to consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity. Acrimony over extending long-term benefits for unemployed people has contributed to Washington's rolling series of budget standoffs, rattling the economy. And for every unemployed American, there are many more who feel less secure financially because their own job situation is more tenuous.


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