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Holiday hopes, doubts
Is an economic upturn lurking in Santas bag?
112715 BLACK FRIDAY MALL Web
While restocking items, Hen House employee Katie Nevil, top, side-steps coworker Macy Hardy as she wraps a gift for a customer during Black Friday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

            Gasoline prices under $2 a gallon and the lowest unemployment rates in seven years are encouraging some Statesboro shoppers this holiday season, but not all are convinced that the economy is in a genuine upturn.
        This report is not the result of a poll, scientific or otherwise, but of parking lot and mid-mall interviews with a few people Friday, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season.
        Walking to her car with some TJ Maxx bags before noon, Jessica Pierce said she hadn't gotten up early for the sales and had missed the rush. Pierce, 36, lives in Sylvania but owns Market District Salon in Statesboro. She feels encouraged about the economy.
        "I do. I feel like people are spending more money," Pierce said. "In my business we don't see a lot of effects of the economy because people are going to splurge on their hair, that's just part of it. But as far as just out and about here, it has been busy. It's encouraging. I think it's going to improve and keep on going. People are spending, but they're still looking for good deals. I think they're being smart shoppers."
        Thanksgiving travelers and Black Friday shoppers were able to fill their tanks with regular unleaded in Statesboro for as low as $1.909 a gallon. Gasoline prices have been lower throughout 2015 relative to the past several years.
        More controversially, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a nationwide nonfarm unemployment rate for October of 5 percent, down from a high of 10.2 percent in October 2009 and the lowest rate since April 2008. Georgia's unemployment rate for October was 5.7 percent, down from peaks of 10.5 percent in February and March 2010 and 10.2 percent in October 2011.
        The federal report can be found at www.bls.gov. The report of November jobs and unemployment is due out Friday.
        Nick Propps, 42, owner of the Statesboro Properties real estate firm, had been shopping with his family, and they were back in the minivan in front of Hobby Lobby.
        "Overall, yes, it is encouraging," Propps said. "I still think there are some fundamentals that are delicate. But yeah, I'd say that overall we'll probably spend a little more than we did last year."
        As to those fundamentals, he doesn't believe some of the national numbers reflect reality.
        "I think politically there are a lot of things that are being artificially manipulated, including the unemployment numbers and other things at a federal scale, and depending on how long those are artificially manipulated, it's going to have an effect on the economy," Propps said.
        Agreeing to characterize his view as "hopeful with skepticism," he added that he is seeing positive signs locally.
        "We've seen our business go up since last year," Propps said. "We've seen more houses selling and we have a lot of commercial interest still in Statesboro. So from that point of view, that is a very good sign, that we have these other corporations looking around town and looking to open locations, so that gives me more hope than the things going on at the federal level."
        Traevon Owens, 23, lives in Hollywood, Fla., where he does maintenance for the board of education. While visiting his grandparents for the holiday, he went shopping Friday with other family members at Statesboro Crossing, the plaza that includes TJ Maxx, Books-A-Million and other retailers.
        "I feel, you know, pretty confident," Owens said. "I'm glad the economy has finally started working with us where, you know, we have to work hard but not too hard, and it's benefitting our pockets. ... I hope it goes forward, not backwards."
        By the way, Owens also said he loves Statesboro's gas prices. Florida's are higher.
Trina Biswas, and Simone Kirkland, both 17, Statesboro High School students shopping together, also expressed confidence in the future.
        "I'm feeling kind of good about it," Kirkland said. "I don't feel like I'm going to be struggling whenever I get into college or whenever I get into my career that I plan on doing. I don't feel like I'm going to have to struggle to find it."
        But then, few people would be surprised to find a bright outlook from Kirkland, who plans to become a veterinarian, and Biswas, who wants to be a physician.
        "It is better, and I think by the time we get out in the work force it will be good enough for us. ...," Biswas said. "We're both going to be in school for a while."

Real numbers?
        Kevin Freeman, 51, an accountant with his own firm in the Atlanta area, has a son who attends Georgia Southern University. Freeman and another son were waiting inside the Statesboro Mall, near Bed Bath & Beyond while their wife-and-mother shopped.
        "Well, if we're all getting into debt, is the economy getting better or worse?" Freeman asked. "We're all getting into debt, the country's getting into debt, the economy is getting worse, and they keep telling us it's getting better."
        The reported unemployment rates are based on the number of people who currently qualify for unemployment benefits, Freeman noted.
        "You know what the unemployment rate really is, don't you? It's about 40," Freeman said.
        He wasn't asked to elaborate, and didn't. But numbers in the BLS reports provide a basis for his observation. The civilian labor force participation rate for October was 62.4 percent, meaning that more than 37 percent of U.S. residents who are over age 16 - and not incarcerated or in the military - are not working.
        This nonworking percentage has been growing. But it includes retirees, at a time when the population is getting older, as well as those "discouraged workers" who gave up looking.
        Many observers have predicted that the Federal Reserve Board will raise key federal interest rates, long held near zero, this month. The improved jobs numbers are supposed to be one of the triggers.
        "In the next couple of weeks, if the feds don't raise the interest rates, we'll know they are lying about the economy," Freeman said.
        Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

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