By Frank Byrt
BOSTON (TheStreet) -- The country's economy is grinding along two years after the Great Recession ended.
A growing number of Americans worry they'll never regain the sense of financial security they once had. Prices for gas, oil and food have risen, fees of all kind are up, the job market is worsening and property values are in a deep slump.
In contrast, many of the nation's wealthy are doing better than ever, seemingly untouched by economic woes as they continue to spend, spend, spend.
As corporate America starts to report second-quarter earnings this week, the divide between Wall Street and Main Street is clearer than ever. Companies boosted profit margins this year to a historical peak, in part, by refusing to hire even as orders and sales were robust.
"It's really hard to characterize (this economy) right now," Bill Cheney, chief economist for Boston-based John Hancock Financial, told TheStreet last Friday. "There is a lot in this economic cycle that is not standard and we haven't lived through before. Although there are some parallels, there are no neat ways to figure it out."
One thing's for sure: The gulf between the very rich and the poor and middle class is growing fast.
The peculiar challenges and calamities that Hancock's Cheney refers to include: the lingering effects of the nation's near-bankruptcy that resulted in the government bailouts of Wall Street and the car industry; the continuing, unprecedented rate of home foreclosures; the international sovereign debt crisis; America's own debt-ceiling problems; bizarre weather events; the earthquake in Japan that disrupted manufacturing worldwide; and a Middle Eastern political situation that has run amok and threatened the world's supply of oil.
As for the U.S. real-estate dilemma, the number of homes in some stage of foreclosure remains near record highs, according to real-estate-data firm Realty Trac, with more than 2 million homes actually in foreclosure status at the end of May, and another 2 million in which the mortgage is seriously delinquent and foreclosure is imminent.
Several surveys show that most Americans are seriously worried about gas prices, the national debt, rising health-care costs and the high rate of unemployment. One survey, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment, which averaged 89 in the five years leading up to the recession that began in December 2007, fell to 71.5 in June from 74.3 in May, the lowest this year.