Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Last week, over a long, late dinner with friends, our discussion turned to their recent trip to Australia. They remarked that the country appeared to be full of "optimism," "energy" and "enthusiasm." People were on the move, getting to work and prosperity was in the air.

It reminded me of the commercial President Reagan used in the 1984 election, "It's morning in America." The feelings that our friends picked up on in Australia were the same ones that we used to feel in our country and in our economy. We were busy; we were optimistic; we were prospering -- or were confident that we would be soon.

Australia had a 4.9 percent unemployment rate in July. No wonder the atmosphere is buzzing.

The United States unemployment rate for July remained at 9.1 percent (13.9 million people). Another 8.4 million persons were employed part-time, but would like to be employed full-time. A third set, 2.8 million persons, were not counted as unemployed, but have not looked for a job in the past 12 months. Combined, 25.1 million Americans are either unemployed, underemployed or discouraged.

That is a lot of untapped energy and potential, if we can just figure out how to get people the jobs that they want.

Currently, 46 million Americans, 15 percent of our population, receive food stamps. This is more than twice the number of Americans who were receiving food stamps during the Bush expansion. Food stamps continued climb is exacerbated by the weak job market.

No wonder we don't feel the buzz of optimism and prosperity that our friends down-under do. We are down and out -- down in optimism, out of jobs and in need of solutions to put people to work.

Our situation has not been helped by recent events in Washington. The recent debt-ceiling compromise has been hailed by some as a victory, and by others as a defeat. For most of us who are cutting back on our expenditures by watching our dollars and pennies, the numbers are so large (billions and trillions) that we cannot comprehend their meaning.

In an attempt to make the dollars understandable, here are the dollar amounts per household (based on the 112.6 million U.S. Households in 2009, according to the United States Census Bureau).

-- Current Federal Government debt per household $126,728

-- 2011 forecasted US federal revenue (taxes paid) $19,302

-- 2011 forecasted US Expenditures $33,911

-- 2011 forecasted US deficit $14,608

-- 2012 savings of the debt-ceiling deal $186


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.