The U.S. Department of Labor every Thursday releases its weekly unemployment applications aid report. And every Thursday, we watch with some amusement as certain news outlets try to spin the numbers in a positive light.

For instance, just a few weeks ago, when the Labor Department announced initial claims jumped by 22,000, a certain source claimed that this increase suggested “modest hiring.”

Come again?

We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but things are still tough out there. True, the Dow and the S&P have in recent weeks seen an explosion in activity (a very welcome change indeed), but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the economy is booming.

Indeed, between rising gas prices, the Fed’s worries over its open-ended $85 billion monthly bond purchases, Q4’s miniscule 0.1 percent growth, and the largest monthly decline in personal income in the last 20 years, we’re going to go out on a limb here and say that this economy isn’t exactly on the “upswing.”

There’s still a ​lot ​of work to be done.

But don’t take our word for it. Here are eight signs that U.S. consumers and businesses are still struggling [via The Economic Collapse]:

1. Credit Cards

Eight Signs That U.S. Businesses & Consumers Are Still Struggling

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According to one brand new survey, 24 percent of all Americans have more credit card debt than money in the bank.

2. Retail Giant Continues to Struggle

Eight Signs That U.S. Businesses & Consumers Are Still Struggling

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J.C. Penney was once an unstoppable retail powerhouse, but now J.C. Penney has just posted its lowest annual retail sales in more than 20 years

J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) slid the most in more than three decades after the department-store chain lost $4.3 billion in sales in the first year of Chief Executive Officer Ron Johnson’s turnaround plan.

The shares fell 18 percent to $17.40 at 11:28 a.m. in New York after earlier declining 22 percent, the biggest intraday drop since at least 1980, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. J.C. Penney yesterday said its net loss in the quarter ended Feb. 2 widened to $552 million from $87 million a year earlier. The Plano, Texas-based retailer’s annual revenue slid 25 percent to $13 billion, the lowest since at least 1987.

How much worse can things get?  At this point the decline has become so steep for J.C. Penney that Jim Cramer of CNBC is declaring that they are in “a true tailspin“.

3. Car Purchases

Eight Signs That U.S. Businesses & Consumers Are Still Struggling

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In the United States today, a new car has become out of reach for most middle class Americans according to the 2013 Car Affordability Study

Looking to buy a new car, truck or crossover? You may find it more difficult to stretch the household budget than you expected, according to a new study that finds median-income families in only one major U.S. city actually can afford the typical new vehicle.

The typical new vehicle is now more expensive than ever, averaging $30,500 in 2012, according to TrueCar.com data, and heading up again as makers curb the incentives that helped make their products more affordable during the recession when they were desperate for sales. According to the 2013 Car Affordability Study by Interest.com, only in Washington could the typical household swing the payments, the median income there running $86,680 a year.

4. Subway

Eight Signs That U.S. Businesses & Consumers Are Still Struggling

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The founder of Subway Restaurants, Fred Deluca, says that the recent tax increases are having a noticeable impact on his business…

“The payroll tax is affecting sales. It’s causing sales declines,” he said, estimating a decline of about 2 percentage points off sales at his restaurants. “There are a lot of pressures on consumers,” Deluca said, adding “I think this is on the permanent side, but I think business will adjust to it.”

5. Restaurants Struggling

Eight Signs That U.S. Businesses & Consumers Are Still Struggling

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Many other large restaurant chains are also struggling in this tough economic environment…

Darden Restaurants, which owns the casual dining chains Oliver Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster, said blended same-store sales at its three eateries would be 4.5 percent lower during its fiscal third quarter.

Clarence Otis, Darden’s chairman and chief executive, said that “while results midway through the third quarter were encouraging, there were difficult macro-economic headwinds during the last month of the quarter.”

“Two of the most prominent were increased payroll taxes and rising gasoline prices, which together put meaningful pressure on the discretionary purchasing power of our guests,” he added.

6. Family Dollar

Eight Signs That U.S. Businesses & Consumers Are Still Struggling

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The CFO of Family Dollar recently admitted to CNBC that this is a “challenging time” because of reduced consumer spending…

At Family Dollar where the average customer makes less than $40,000 a year, the combination of a two-percent hike in the payroll tax, rising gas prices and delayed tax refunds has created a “challenging time and an uncertain time for the consumer right now,” said Mary Winston, the company’s chief financial officer.

“In our case, anything that takes money out of our customer’s wallet gives them less money to spend in our stores,” she told CNBC. “So I think all of those things create nervousness for the consumer, and I think there are sometimes political dynamics going on that they might not even fully understand the details, but they know it’s not good.”

7. Sad Face

Eight Signs That U.S. Businesses & Consumers Are Still Struggling

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Even Wal-Mart is really struggling right now.  According to a recent Bloomberg article, Wal-Mart is struggling “to restock store shelves as U.S. sales slump“…

Evelin Cruz, a department manager at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pico Rivera, California, said Simon’s comments from the officers’ meeting were “dead on.”

“There are gaps where merchandise is missing,” Cruz said in a telephone interview. “We are not talking about a couple of empty shelves. This is throughout the store in every store. Some places look like they’re going out of business.”

This all comes on the heels of an internal Wal-Mart memo that was leaked to the press earlier this month that described February sales as a “total disaster”.

8. Best Buy

Eight Signs That U.S. Businesses & Consumers Are Still Struggling

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Electronics retailer Best Buy continues to struggle mightily.  Best Buy just announced that it will be eliminating 400 jobs at its headquarters in Richfield, Minnesota.

Click here to see eight additional signs and the full list of 16.

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