As the economy limps along and unemployment remains high, President Obama last week continued his 5-year-old promise to save the “middle class.” He’d better get on it. The economic health of this group is still fading fast.
Problem is, taxes are increasing on all levels. Coupled with falling wages and lack of full-time employment, the middle class is in a higher-bills, lower-income squeeze.
Median household income in 2012 was $51,017, a gain of only $17 over 2011, according to the Census Bureau. Eight years ago, it was $67,019.
An Allstate/National Journal poll indicates that most of the middle class still suffers from lowering opportunity and job security. Solving this was a big reason a majority voted for Obama. Five years of his rhetoric have not helped.
The middle class, by its sheer size, is the driver of retail sales. In normal recoveries, retail leads the way. This time, sales are creeping along, up only 0.1 percent in August.
The forecast for the holiday season is not good, according to the National Retail Federation. It blames economic insecurity and having to work harder for less pay.
The waiting time bomb is the cost of Obamacare, which nobody seems able to predict days before it starts. Some think tanks are still forecasting major health-cost increases for, you guessed it, the middle class.
Here’s the kicker. While the middies are suffering, those in the upper class are quietly celebrating.
Their share of the wealth pie is increasing, fast, and as they pour excess cash into the stock market, they’re only gaining. A USC study finds that 10 percent of the wealthiest citizens “own the United States of America.”
The wealthy, not the middle class, are causing the surge in car and home sales. How do we know? The average price of a 2013 vehicle sold is $33,000. Many of the houses sold are upper crust and paid for in cash. Average price of houses sold in July is $323,000, according to the Census.
Here in Stark County, we still have page after page of legal notices for home foreclosure auctions.
The federal government has delivered an especially fat gift to the rich. Our Federal Reserve for five years has taken control of the bond market, spending $2.8 trillion on securities. That artificial cash flood has kept bond interest rates low.
On paper, that should be good for the economy, as low rates enable companies to borrow and grow. That has happened but not in enough cases.
What are many companies doing with the cash from their Fed bond sales? CNBC analysts say they are using it to increase dividends, buy other companies and buy back their own stock, all of which benefit shareholders. This is not job creation.
Meanwhile, CNBC reports smart investors have switched from bonds to the stock market, sending it to record highs despite the slow recovery.
Bank accounts once were the primary investment of the middle class. The Federal Reserve bond policy clobbered that. Bank of America reports current rates on money-market accounts are at 0.3 percent — this when inflation is running at
1.5 percent, and the Fed expects inflation to increase.
WHERE THE GROWTH IS
While the middle class stagnates, the uppers are moving fast — upward.
The number of millionaires has risen to more than 9 million, accelerating from 6.7 million in five years. A survey by Spectrem Group says most of the gain is due to the stock markets.
There always will be winners and losers. But it’s depressing when the losers see no hope of things getting better and the lame-duck president is still on the road making campaign promises.
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