Americans struggling with economic anxiety

Sarah Palin has come out with her new book and it is causing quite a stir. Regardless of what you may think about the former Alaska governor, she has tapped into the grassroots of America and proved that she has a sense of the pulse and values of Joe Sixpack and Sally Doe.

There is an anxiety in America today that anyone below the age of 55 can say they’ve never seen or experienced before.

Consider this:

— The 22-year-old college graduate who has spent the past four or five years working hard and earning a degree but today can’t find a job.

— The 35- to 45-year-old who bought a house two years ago only to wake up one morning to realize that he and his wife have lost 40 percent of the value in their home, and may owe more than it’s worth.

— The 50-year-old who realized one day last year that he lost 45 percent of the value of his retirement account. He has a child in college, and is faced with the choice of trying to pay for the child’s education or to rebuild his retirement account.

— The 65-year old couple who has just retired, thinking they are going to live happily ever after, and suddenly learning that their 401(k) has lost 50 percent of its value.

On top of all of this, food prices are climbing, energy prices are soaring, and this continues to squeeze every hard-working American’s budget. Unemployment is churning toward 11 percent and home foreclosures are still climbing. Those big banks that taxpayers bailed out have said to all these people, “If you’re late on your credit card payment, we’re going to stick you with unpleasant fees.”

As I’ve traveled around the country talking with people in airports, hotels, churches and in their homes and offices, the refrain I constantly hear is that Washington and Wall Street are clueless and out of touch with everyday people.

When we see people protesting in the streets, church parking lots and on Capitol steps, we have to ask why they’re doing this. The people who say these events are inauthentic have no clue how viscerally frustrated, angry and insecure these protesters are.

Most folks in Washington have no clue about small business people today who have one foot in bankruptcy and one foot out.

Washington has no clue what the 22-year-old, the 35- to 45-year-olds, the 50-year-old or the 65-year- old are going through, nor do they understand the anxiety they feel every day.

If they did, Washington would not be trying to pass a health care bill that would put a greater financial burden on every person I’ve mentioned. Washington would not be trying to pass an energy bill that would increase already unaffordable energy costs on these same people.

Congress would not be trying to pass a financial services reform bill that would make it tougher for every small business and every consumer in the marketplace to obtain credit.

Instead of the federal government working against these people, they should consider doing a few common sense things:

— Don’t raise taxes. Low tax rates matter when trying to create new jobs. In today’s economy, we don’t need more taxes, we need more taxpayers. Create an economic environment for people to invest or reinvest, or to expand and grow jobs.

— Create a sound and predictable regulatory environment. You can’t have cryptic regulations that change every other month on the federal level.

— Create a legal system that discourages frivolous lawsuits. Doctors want to practice medicine in a way they can be aggressive in healing their patients, not practice defensively to keep from getting sued. These defensive measures only increase the cost of health care for all of us.

Spend the necessary money to create good sound educational systems, but get accountability in return.

None of these common sense agenda items has seen the light of day under the current national leadership. What we have seen is an attempt to centralize government in Washington, with the states losing more and more control of everything from health care to energy policy. If this trend continues, the states will literally be working for the federal government, not the other way around.

J.C. Watts (JCWatts01@jcwatts.com), chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group, is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. He writes twice monthly for the Review-Journal.

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