Take whatever stigma you've attached to economics and check it at the door. This stuff can really get you going. I know it gets me fired up. Of course, with all of the chatter about recession vs. recovery, inflation vs. stagflation, and bailout vs. bankruptcy, keeping abreast of the latest economic events can be a Herculean task.

Fear not, Fools. In this regular series, we're here to compress the week's economic developments into a simple-to-understand summary. And we promise to keep it completely free of the hieroglyphics and eight-syllable words that weasel their way into standard academic forecasts. Here's the latest scoop.

  • Reflecting the soured housing market and falling stock prices, Americans saw their collective net worth shrink by $1.7 trillion -- a 3% decline -- in the first quarter of 2008. The declines stem from a $305 billion drop in household and non-profit owned real estate, and a $1.3 trillion downturn in the value of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other financial assets.
  • Unemployment climbed to 5.5% in May, to cap off the largest one-month jump in more than 20 years. Earlier in the week, Continental Airlines (NYSE:CAL) announced that it would let 3,000 workers go in response to burgeoning fuel costs, while rival United Airlines (NASDAQ:UAUA) plans to cut up to 1,600 employees for the same reason.
  • Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke described inflation as "significantly higher than we would like," but he pooh-poohed any comparison of our current condition to the inflationary strain in the 1970s. Although inflation has remained in check throughout many sectors, higher commodity costs have pushed companies such as Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW), PolyOne (NYSE:POL), and Lubrizol (NYSE:LZ) to raise prices by as much as 20%.
  • Orders for manufactured goods increased 1.1% in April from the previous month. Companies maintaining heavy demand include those dealing industrial materials such as steel and iron, and that strength is reflected in the continued muscle among the likes of Arcelor Mittal (NYSE:MT) and AK Steel Holding (NYSE:AKS).
  • The housing crisis has done a number on low-income households being crushed by higher mortgage bills, but Ed McMahon proved that even the well-heeled aren't exempt from housing woes. McMahon's Beverly Hills pad, on the market for around $5.75 million, is nearing foreclosure after the former Johnny Carson sidekick and Star Search host fell $644,000 behind on mortgage payments. Adding to the headache, McMahon owes American Express around three-quarters of a million dollars in unpaid credit card bills. His explanation? "Well, if you spend more money than you make, you know what happens. And it can happen. You know, a couple of divorces thrown in, a few things like that." Mm-hm.

That's the latest for this week. Check back in next Friday for the latest economic roundup.

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