I recall reading some time ago that human behavior is motivated more by perceptions of what other human beings are doing rather than on any particular reality that one is facing. We humans are very intuitive creatures, who interpret situations not just intellectually, but also by environmental and social influences. For example, in a psychology experiment designed to determine how unconscious factors influence people, experimenters had test subjects handed either a warm cup of coffee or a cold cup of coffeed to a test subject before they went into an interview. On the whole the people who held the hot cup of coffee perceived the experience of the interview more positively and also performed better.
What I am getting at is that if something so simple as warmth can have an impact on us, imagine the impact of our fellow human being's behavior--subtle or not. The economic down turn has really only started hitting the middle class right now, what with the massive layoffs in January (the greatest since 1974). That didn't stop people from participating in the meme of economic collapse, however. People stopped spending the moment all the bad news started rolling in. (Most of the big losses were initially only seen by people wealthy enough to invest plummeting stock market.)
People, of course, are scared. Hell I'm even scared and I, quite honestly, don't have that much to worry about or, in fact, to lose. Sure it would suck being out of work (and the imags of bread lines do flash into my mind occasionally) but I am fairly mobile in my lifestyle and could hit the road if worse came to worst. While I think my job is fairly secure, recent events have made me and many other antsy. Thus we have the downward spiral of the meme of the bad economy.
All I know is I just need someone to hand me a warm cup of coffee before I hit the cold world tomorrow. Maybe that will make things look better.