For the second straight day, the stock market hit an all-time high Wednesday. But let's not get too excited.
While the milestone is a welcome sign of recovery from the financial meltdown in 2008 and may make those of us with 401(k)s feel better, there are other measures that are more telling about the daily lives of most Americans.
Those numbers are not good.
The jobless rate remains barely below 8 percent, and it's not expected to improve much when the February numbers come out Friday. California's rate was 9.8 percent in December, tied with Nevada and better than only Rhode Island.
When you add in workers who want a full-time job but can only find part-time employment and those who have become so discouraged that they have stopped looking, that's more than 22 million Americans.
The most recent report says 46 million Americans were poor a poverty rate of 15 percent in 2011. As many as one in five children lived in a household below the official poverty line a paltry $23,000 for a family of four.
The number without health insurance was nearly 49 million, or 16 percent of the population.
The inflation-adjusted income for the average household was 8 percent lower in 2011 than in 2007, before the crash. The finances of most families haven't completely rebounded, and the gap between rich and poor has widened.
Attention, however, is focused on the Dow Jones industrial average, which closed at 14,296 Wednesday, up 7,750 points from the trough in March 2009. Some "experts" are predicting again that the Dow will break 20,000, though it's also possible that this is another dangerous bubble.
A rising stock market is better than a plummeting one, particularly for the psychology of consumer confidence. Yet rather than reflecting improvement in the lives of most Americans, the market rally has much more to do with soaring corporate profits, relatively low stock prices and record-low interest rates that make other investments less attractive.
President Barack Obama has delivered some soaring speeches about helping the middle class and restoring the American dream. "Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it," he declared in his inaugural address. "We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class."
His wealthy friends on Wall Street may be happy, but he needs to remember that most people are not cashing in from the stock market surge.
It's no reason to let up in the task of rebuilding long-term prosperity that lifts all Americans.