Unemployment Numbers, Gas Prices Ease Economic Pain

Economic indicators could signal some relief.

May 7, 2011— -- Rising job figures and dropping gas prices should help alleviate some of the economic pain felt by many cash-strapped Americans. Nationwide, gas prices have already dropped nearly a penny since yesterday, and some analysts say prices could drop 25-40 cents per gallon nationwide in the next two weeks, just in time for Memorial Day.

If prices fall, Americans who spending about $390 a month filling up the tank will now be spending about $350, which economists say would free up an extra $100 to 160 million a day for Americans to spend on other things.

"I'm feeling really confident in the economy," Chicago resident Carl Sanders told ABC News. "We've been having a big turn around."

Americans have been delivered a steady stream of encouraging economic news. Private employers went on an April hiring spree, adding 260,000 jobs, the strongest gain in five years and the third month in a row of at least 200,000 new jobs.

The unemployment rate rose to 9 percent in April from 8.8 percent, but even that figure is considered a temporary quirk, according to The Associated Press.

Americans may also feel some relief at the supermarket soon. Food prices, which have shot up 3 to 4 percent this year, are now they're leveling off and commodities prices for corn, wheat and sugar all dropped this week – sugar is down almost 13 percent. Moreover, clothes prices are now slowly dropping, with the price of cotton down 30 percent from its high in March.

"We're finally hearing good news again, and we've been hearing it consistently since the beginning of the year," Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, told ABC News. "The green shoots out there appear to be a little more green, and there's more of them."

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, oil prices fell for the second day in a row. Following months of steady price increases, from $75 in May 2010 to more than $113 last week, oil has dropped to $97 a barrel. That is its second biggest drop in history.

If pump prices continue to settle, Seattle resident Cheryl Sanders says she might drive her new car to the mall and spend some more. She was out of work for a year, but is now re-employed and feeling better about buying.

"I'm not worrying as much about the little things," she told ABC News. "If we want to go out to dinner, we do it. If we want to go to a movie, we do it. ... It's nice to not have to worry about every penny that's going out."

In Schaumburg, Ill., near Chicago, a family owned manufacturing company called Quality Float Works Inc. is just one of the companies across the country that's on a hiring binge.

"We've hired two people since the beginning of this year, and we are looking for two positions in our factory that we are looking to fill immediately," Jason Speer, Quality Float Works' owner, told ABC News. "And if things continue, we will be hiring several more people later on this year."

Welcome news for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are still out of work.