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The State of the Union and your finances

By Gerri Willis, personal finance editor

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. It's expected to be the biggest headline from the president's State of the Union Address. And for good reason. In January of 2009, the unemployment rate was 7.7%. That jumped to 10% in December of 2009. That's almost 3 and a half million more people out of work than last year.


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When it comes to the value of your home, last year was a doozy. January 2009 was the worst month on record ever for S&P Case Shiller - a measurement of home prices across the country. But things aren't as bad as they were. There are still losses, but they're not as deep.

Let's take a look. From November of 2007 to November of 2008, home prices, on average, dropped 18.2%. Las year, prices only fell 5.3%.


Things are also looking up for your nest egg.

Consider this, at the end of December 2008, the average 401(k) balance was $50,200. But at the end of last year, that balance is $64,200 -- a 28% increase. Not incidentally mind you, the S&P 500 rose 24% last year.

Cost of living

No surprise here, but prices have increased too. Last year inflation was 2.7%. And some of the biggest price jumps -- you guessed it: energy and gas.

Let's take a look at what other products have increased the most in price. Gas prices are up over 50%, the price of used cars and trucks are up 9% and the cost of transportation is up 4 %according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


And finally -- let's take a look at your debt. Consumer debt is at 2 trillion, 464 million dollars according to the latest statistics. And that's about $100 billion dollars less than where we were last year.

That figure includes credit card debt, student loans, car payments, personal loans, but not mortgages or home equity lines of credit. That means people are spending less, and not using their credit cards as frequently. Mortgage rates have basically remained flat.


But ... people ARE feeling better. February of last year was the worst ever reading on consumer confidence at 25.3. This month confidence is up 50% from last January. Of course, we're still way off healthy levels of confidence according to The Conference Board.

We'll of course be watching the State of the Union speech tonight, bringing you all the latest news that affects your wallet.

-- CNN's Jen Haley contributed to this article.

Talkback: Do you feel the president's initiatives, if enacted, will help out the middle class? To top of page

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