It is the season to spend, spend, spend. But with new figures out on Wednesday showing U.S. consumers cutting spending in October at the steepest rate in more than seven years, retailers are worried.
The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is the traditional kickoff to the U.S. holiday shopping season and one of the biggest buying days of the year for consumers, whose spending sprees in past years have fueled the economy.
At his third news conference in three days on the economy, President-Elect Barack Obama, who has been seeking to present himself as a man with a plan to fix the economy, was asked by a reporter whether he planned to lead by example and hit the malls himself.
“Well, we are going to do some Christmas shopping. And Malia and Sasha have already put their list together,” he said, referring to his two young daughters. “It’s mostly for Santa. They send their letter every year. But — but we may do some extra shopping as well.”
Noting that Thursday was the Thanksgiving holiday, he also joked that the latest appointments to his economic team, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and Austan Goolsbee, one of his policy advisers, could cook a mean turkey dinner.
“I want you to know that both Paul and Austan have special turkey-cooking recipes, if anybody out here needs some advice on how to make the ideal turkey,” he said to laughter as Goolsbee and Volcker looked on.
Obama will spend Thanksgiving at home in Chicago, where he said he and his wife Michelle were hosting a “whole bunch of people”. The guests will likely first have to go through strict physical checks by the Secret Service agents now protecting Obama before being allowed to enter the family home.
The agents kept their distance though on Wednesday when the president-elect and his family went to St Columbanus, a Roman Catholic church in Chicago’s South Side, to help hand out chickens to hungry families.
Bundled up against the cold in in a brown suede jacket and scarf, Obama smiled broadly and shouted “Happy Thanksgiving” as he handed out dozens of frozen chickens piled on a table to those waiting in line in the church’s carpark.
Many people were delighted to see him — several women even hugged him, while others were so overcome by emotion that they forgot to take their chicken — but some were clearly more concerned about getting their food.
The church’s pastor, Reverend Matt Eyerman, said people had been lining up since 5 a.m. in the bitter cold to make sure they got their weekly food rations, which include bread, oranges, canned goods and 10 lbs (5 kg) of potatoes.
“Every Wednesday we hand out food. We are feeding 350 to 400 households. A year ago we were serving 270 households,” he said, adding that it was one very visible sign of the deteriorating economy.
Obama, who has helped distribute food to the needy on Thanksgiving eve for the past three years, later acknowledged this, saying: “These folks were often times having a tough time. They are having a tougher time now.”
REUTERS/John Gess (Obama and family at Chicago food bank)