While the economy is technically in recovery and the job market is beginning to show some signs of life, it is difficult for most Americans to feel very optimistic, as evidenced by recent declines in the two leading measures of consumer confidence (The Conference Board and The University of Michigan). Why all the pessimism? While it is true that employers are beginning to increase hiring, the pace is slow and many of the biggest hiring plans involve lower-paying, hourly-wage positions in retail and food service. Meanwhile, those with jobs have not been able to boost their salaries, despite the fact that costs for daily necessities like food and gas are on the rise. The lack of hiring and salary increases is due partly to the fact that productivity has continued to rise throughout the recession and recovery. As a result, employers have little incentive to boost their payroll costs. Consumer confidence could receive another blow this week if Congress is unable to reach a deal on the budget and the government is forced to shut down. What are the biggest obstacles to increased hiring? Do higher food and energy costs pose a threat to the recovery? How might a government shutdown impact the economy as a whole?