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.
Is college worth the debt? The cost of one year of college is higher than the per capita wage of a fully working American.
Going to college has become a rite of passage in America. We’ve left shamanic rituals deep in our human past and have come to accept college as a clear transition point into adulthood. In a consumption based economy, success is typically measured by your ability to consume. Spending prowess is not measured by sea shells but by how many credit cards grace your wallet. Unfortunately many in the once healthy middle class are falling off the wagon and finding it necessary to enter into a deal with the debt devil merely to keep the pretenses up. Last year roughly 90+ percent of non-housing debt growth occurred because of auto and student loans. Is college worth the cost? More to the point, is college worth the massive amount of debt being taken on? Clearly many prospective students have no other means of financing their education aside from going deep into the student debt market. College has become a rite of passage and the ticket for that journey has grown incredibly expensive.
The Great Income Divide: IRS data shows 50 percent of households make less than $35,000 per year. Top 10 percent pay 68 percent of income taxes.
A major theme throughout 2013 revolved around a booming stock market and real estate sector. Alongside this theme however was also the one of growing income inequality. The stock market generated one of its best years but only a small portion of the population benefitted since most Americans do not own stocks outright. The real estate boom was largely driven by big money investors leveraging the unprecedented Quantitative Easing machinery from the Federal Reserve. Yet most households have little access to this debt since deleveraging is still occurring for households. The only consumer debt sectors to boom in 2013 came from student loans and auto debt. Not exactly two sectors to build up your wealth portfolio. We see how the great income divide is splitting the nation even when it comes to paying income taxes. The adjusted gross income for half of households in the US is less than $35,000. This group pays 11.55 percent of all income taxes. The top 10 percent pay 68 percent of all income taxes. This is an expected trend when wealth inequality is at levels last seen since the Gilded Age.
Comparing the inflated cost of living today from 1938 to 2013: How the US Dollar has lost incredible purchasing power since 1938.
Money is only as useful as to what it can purchase. The Fed has created a system where debt is now equal to money. This is why big purchases like cars, housing, and even going to college are only feasible by mortgaging your future for many decades. Since the payments are broken down into tiny monthly installments many people pay little attention to the true cost of things over their lifetime. Yet over this time, the U.S. dollar has lost a tremendous amount of purchasing power due to inflation. Inflation slowly eats away at your purchasing power yet having access to debt has given the middle class the false impression that they are still protected from the unraveling impacts of inflation. Someone sent over a photo posted over on the popular Reddit website that shows the cost of living for people back in 1938. You would think that people in 2013 would have more purchasing power than those living through the Great Depression. Adjusting for inflation you would be surprised what has happened in the last 75 years.