Nothing sacred as families slash

Doreen Dennett and her family love the little pleasures in life: trips to Orlando, gym memberships, sporting events shared with friends and family.

But it's all going by the wayside.

Goodbye, road trips. So long, housekeepers, and hello, home cooking. Eighteen months into the economic downturn, the region's middle class is hanging on by its collective fingernails. Even if you escaped mortgage problems, you can't escape the $4 gas, the canceled vacations, the fear of worse to come.

Call it the new middle class austerity.

Delivery drivers feel the burn of rising gas prices

[Sarah] Griffin, 20, has been a delivery driver for Pizza Hut on Archer Road since November 2007. [W]hen Griffin started in November, the average gallon of gas cost a little more than $3.

Now, with many college students out of town and gas prices at a national average of more than $4 per gallon, she has had to take a second job to make enough money.

Like Griffin, many local student delivery drivers and the delivery companies they work for have had to adjust to the effects of the increase in gas prices on their profits.

Theater's troubles worry businesses on Main Street

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Business owners and residents are on edge about possibly losing what they say is the last anchor in the new Main Street plaza — its movie theater.

Lakewood Ranch Cinemas, owned by the Sarasota Film Society and recognized as a nonprofit, is in dispute with the Manatee County Property Appraiser's Office over its tax-exempt status.

The biggest challenge to the strip's survival is finding another anchor should the theater be forced to close, said University of Florida economist Dave Denslow.

Gas Prices, Debt Sink Florida Consumer Sentiment to Near All-Time Low

GAINESVILLE, Fla., May 27 (AScribe Newswire) -- Tax stimulus checks failed to blunt the damaging effects of record gas prices and rising debt on Florida's Consumer Sentiment in May, causing it to drop one point to 65 and hit a new 16-year record low, according to the latest statistics from the University of Florida.

Until now, last month's reading had been Consumer Sentiment's lowest level since December 1991, when the index fell to 64 and reached its all-time low, said Chris McCarty, director of UF's Survey Research Center at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Public payrolls feeling the pinch

Government jobs are less secure in Southwest Florida as counties, schools and cities in Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota counties trim their budgets by cutting staff.

In a field generally considered stable, hundreds of government workers here are losing their jobs or taking on more duties to make up for reductions in staff.

The reductions demonstrate the downside of Florida's real estate and construction boom, which boosted government payrolls through an influx of property tax revenues.

No More Fun in the Sun?

NEW YORK - Florida hasn't been hit by a major hurricane since Wilma slammed ashore in October 2005. But at least one publisher believes newspapers in the Sunshine State might be better off if one had. "Don't get me wrong," says Steve Erlanger, "I hope I never see another hurricane again. But we had four hurricanes in a matter of two years, and it brought in billions of dollars in spending money. People had $21,000 worth of damage, and got $100,000 checks. And they spent it."

Census: Fewer non-Hispanic whites moving to Florida

Florida is not as popular as it used to be among whites who are not Hispanic, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released today.

Analysts say the sluggish economy, rise in the cost of living and housing market slowdown are partly behind the falling numbers.

"It's certainly true that the non-Hispanic white population in Florida is declining and will continue to decline," said Stan Smith, director of the Bureau of Economic Business Research at the University of Florida.

But Smith said one has to be cautious about over-emphasizing year-to-year changes.

Floridians close wallets as Consumer Sentiment sinks

According to survey figures released Tuesday, statewide Consumer Sentiment fell again this month, surpassing a 16-year low recorded in March.

The results of the monthly University of Florida survey was one of several pieces of unpleasant economic news that came out Tuesday. Among the others:

• A national home-price survey showed that the South Florida market was the second-fastest-falling in the nation in February.

• A study found that Florida ranked fourth in the nation for the number of mortgage foreclosures during the first quarter.

Incredible shrinking dollar

Gas and grocery costs are giving consumers the shakes.

Continue to 2nd paragraph We shake our heads when filling up gas tanks as the price scrolls way past what used to fill them up.

We shake our heads when a small basket of groceries produces a bill that used to buy a large basketful.

Those are the main culprits taking a bite out of our purchasing power, with ripple effects on the cost of just about everything.

Economy slows Florida population growth to lowest level in 30 years

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The bursting of Florida’s housing bubble and overall economy has also let the air out of the state’s famed population growth, which has shrunk to its lowest levels in three decades, according to the latest projections from the University of Florida.

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