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US Officials Urge Americans To Spend Money During Holidays - 2001-11-20

The United States' Thanksgiving holiday marks the traditional start to the Christmas shopping season. For retailers, this is the most important shopping period of the year and officials from the Bush administration are touring the country trying to convince Americans to spend money.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans says the quickest way for the nation's economy to climb out of its current slump is for Americans to head to the stores and open their wallets. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy.

"This is a great economic system. It was great before September 11, it is great today. There is not anything that should slow this great economic system down," he said.

But the economy was already slowing before the September 11 terrorist attacks, and some areas of consumer spending have dropped further since the attacks. The retail chain Sears reports its sales are down about four percent since September 11.

Secretary Evans was speaking Monday at a meeting of Chicago-area business owners, workers and consumers. It was the first in a series of such meetings planned nationwide and called "America Works." One aim of the meetings is to promote the Bush administration's economic stimulus package, which includes tax cuts and some additional government spending. Mr. Evans says the president's plan will work if Americans help. "Move on back into your normal lives. Go back to the stores. If you were going to buy a car before September 11th, go buy a car," he said.

But a poll of Chicago-area consumers suggests people are skeptical about the economy. One-third of those surveyed by a business consulting firm said they would spend less this Christmas season than they spent last year.

One proposal to get people into the malls and stores here is to declare one or more sales tax holidays in the state of Illinois. David Vite is president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. He says such a holiday would amount to roughly a seven or eight percent discount on consumer goods.

"If a store gets bought out of toasters, they have to go out and get more toasters to stock their stores, which means someone has to make them, which creates demand, which starts to stimulate manufacturing at least in consumer goods area and we think it could have a very positive spin on the economy and maybe drive enough business that we could get some people back to work," he said.

The U.S. Congress is considering reimbursing states for revenue lost to sales tax holidays. Critics of the proposal say state budgets could still be hurt by sales tax holidays, even if the federal government offers reimbursement.