SAN FRANCISCO -- Americans need a financial plan to turn them around. They’ve been consuming too much and saving too little for the better part of two decades, Bill Gross, PIMCO’s co-founder and co-chief investment officer, told a rapt audience of financial planners at the opening of the Schwab Impact 2011 conference.

“We’ve been bad squirrels in the fall and not put enough nuts in the tree,” Gross said. And now, in addition to not having saved enough to get through difficult times unscathed, the country is vastly underemployed, Gross said.

The real rate of unemployment is not the reported 9% but is closer to 16%, according to Gross. It’s not the Depression, Gross said, but the need for job growth is critical. “I think people simply want to go back to work,” he said. “It does become a function of how can we best provide productive jobs to allow this country to become competitive again on a global basis.”

Liz Ann Sonders, Schwab’s chief investment strategist, shared the stage with Gross at the conference. She sounded a more hopeful note, saying that in recent trips to China, business leaders there have told her the wage spread between the U.S. and China is narrowing. “They said they were bringing business back to the U.S.,” she said.

And the U.S. may be at the cusp of revolutions in energy and technology, she said. “It’s not going to be an overnight sensation,” she said, “but it’s a budding story that I don’t think is getting enough attention.”

Ann Marsh writes for Financial Planning.

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