Why millions of Americans will never retire: How the prospect of retirement went from a realistic goal to an outrageous dream for most American families.
Retirement was presented to many Americans as some kind of middle class rite of passage. It was odd to see so many fall under the spell of easy riches and generous retirement math presented to the public from the Wall Street financing machine. Many saw retirement as a distant object so far into the future but the future is now here. The middle class is shrinking and with it the dreams of retirement. I suppose it is important to define retirement before we go on since this is a relatively new concept as far as history is concerned. In the past, you worked until you died. Short of royalty, this was the typical life path. Retirement, at least how it was presented to modern American workers, meant a time in life when financial worries were gone thanks to a lifetime of work. In more practical terms this meant a combination of a pension, 401k/403b, and Social Security. Social Security was never intended to be the main retirement income stream for Americans but it is. Pensions are now nearly extinct in this low wage economic system. Many Americans in the early 1980s were presented with the Wall Street vision of retirement where many simply set aside money in 401ks and IRAs generating untold wealth to the financial kings. Wall Street was supposed to exercise some fiduciary duty to the American people but the opposite occurred. A massive bait and switch. Retirement is going to take on an entirely new definition given the current state of wealth in America.
Is the stock market overvalued by 50 percent? PE ratios out of sync with fundamentals underlying the economy. Not in labor force group in US increased by 15 percent since recession ended.
How quickly people forget financial history. Those investing in the stock market since 2009 have grown accustomed to a market that only moves in one direction. They are also addicted to a system built off crony financial leverage that has largely locked out the vast majority of the public. This system has created wealth inequality that is now the worst we have seen during multiple generations. The stock market is massively overvalued based on multiple measures. Many use earnings as a way of measuring the actual value of a company. The PE ratio has been used over many decades as a sensible way of valuing companies. That is why today, with the PE ratio of the S&P 500 being 80 percent higher than the historical average dating back to 1870 we have to question what is driving this market higher. Certainly those with wealth, a smaller portion of the population, understand the Fed is debasing savings so people are diving deep into stocks, art, and even real estate to preserve wealth. Those that claim no inflation is imminent fail to look at the items that impact the lives of people daily. The stock market is up 164 percent from the lows reached in 2009! People are now addicted to a market juiced by easy funny money.
The acceleration of a global Gilded Age: Half of the world’s wealth now owned by one percent of the population. Bottom half of world population own the same as the richest 85 people in the world.
Wealth inequality across the globe has reached epic proportions. While many bankers roll around in piles of digital million dollar bonuses for basically adding no value to the economy, the rest of the world struggles to enter this modern economic era. The perception is that this is only happening across the world in other nations. Unfortunately the US has done an excellent job of exporting the middle class and creating a widening gap between rich and poor. A report by Oxfam International highlighted the dramatic wealth inequality that now plagues the world. Half of the world’s wealth is now owned by the top one percent of the population. Interestingly enough this pattern is also unfolding here in the United States. The global banking system has protected its own interests and to what end? It appears that a modern day global Gilded Age is now unfolding.
The biggest export from America? The middle class. The tradeoff for cheap goods and financial cronyism is coming back in a big way.
There is always a tradeoff in economics. The adage about a free lunch comes to mind to the rise of low wage capitalism in America. It is a complicated web driven by financial cronyism and a system largely driven by ignoring the plight of the working class. The story of US manufacturing is probably one tiny example of how we exported our middle class in exchange for cheaper goods and a massive amount of income inequality at the top. Yet there is a winner here as well. While the US middle class is shrinking the middle classes of China and India are growing and so is our income inequality. This trend tends to grow the economies overseas but has placed a large burden on the unskilled and working class in the US. This is possibly an inevitably given the global nature of our markets. When you get addicted to low cost goods, you may find yourself in a race to low wage capitalism. In the US and Europe people would not take on the jobs that pay near wage-slave levels and have terrible working conditions in countries that are now booming. While the top wage earners in the US are doing fantastic protected by Wall Street and Washington D.C. (many are diversified across the world), those who get paid in US dollars and come from the working and middle class are having a tough time adapting. The tradeoff has been coming home to roost in a big way.
When a dollar store is too expensive: Growing class of poor Americans unable to afford items at dollar stores.
You know things are tough when people face a challenge purchasing goods at dollar stores. The dollar store economy has been robust for the last decade as the US economy has shed the weight of millions of middle class families. As more people move down the economic ladder, these stores hit a critical niche. I remember when dollar stores were simply a place to find excess junk inventory. That changed over the last few years. Many of these dollar stores like the 99 Cents Store and Family Dollar now have a giant section of food. To many families, these are their supermarkets. In fact, a giant portion of revenues come from food items as people shift gears into lower priced items and there are few items more necessary than food. No longer are off the wall brands on the shelves but name brands trying to capture the funds from the 47 million Americans on food stamp debit cards. However, there are signs that even dollar stores are having a tough time with some customers given the extremely tight budgets they face.
Low wage capitalism with a dab of cronyism: Of job sectors with the highest growing raw number of positions 9 out of 10 will pay $35,000 a year or less with little to non-existent benefits.
There was a big miss with the latest employment report. The addition of 74,000 jobs produced the weakest employment report going back to January of 2011. Yet part of this is not a surprise given the weak retail sales over the holidays at the expense of cash strapped American consumers. If you dig deep into the data you find a continuing pattern of low wage employment taking over the nation. This trend is accelerating as wealth inequality reaches record proportions. When the Great Recession struck many good paying jobs were washed away in a bathtub of corporate financilization that has truly set the country on a fast track to economic inequality. Austerity for the public and corporate welfare for Wall Street. Even the “Wolf of Wall Street” still lives in a multi-million dollar home in California while fleeced investors take a walk down memory lane. Low wage jobs are here to stay. This might be stunning for older Americans but young Americans are faced with this once the minted college degree paid by debt is picked up. What does it say that the vast majority of the top 10 job sectors in America will pay $35,000 or less?
Say hello to my little friend, inflation: Shrinking packages, higher tuition, rising healthcare costs, real estate values jumping all the while household incomes remain stagnant.
Only those deep in denial think that inflation is not occurring in the economy. You only need to look back 10 years to see how nutty things have become. Is the price of a car more or less than it was 10 years ago? How about the price of tuition? Real estate? Healthcare? Inflation is alive and well in the economy. You even have many cases at grocery stores where you pay the same for less. Sure, the price didn’t go up but you are paying more for less of the product in what is usually termed dis-inflation. Access to debt has created some of the biggest bubbles in spite of real household income falling back to levels last seen in the 1980s. This is why juiced up sectors like real estate and higher education are seeing runaway price hikes. Say hello to my little friend, inflation.