From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

Why things suck

with one comment

OK, there are a lot of things that suck right now, but I’m going to focus on the major malaise in the economy.  If unemployment is, as we are told, better than it has been since the time of the Holy Roman Empire, and the stock market is at an all time high, too, then why do we feel so sucky about things?  Where’s the beef?

Here’s a bit of the problem.  Following WW-2, millions of service members came out of uniform, got blue and white collar jobs, bought houses in the ‘burbs, bought new cars every few years, TVs, all the appliances, occasionally bought new, larger houses, and lived the good life.  Middle Class in America was pretty good.  Not everyone was there — we had a lot of poverty and racial strife — but still, if you made it to the middle class, you had something pretty good.

Today, though, the middle class seems out of reach for a lot of Americans.  Poverty seems to be growing, rather than shrinking, and it is nearly impossible for a single-wage-earning household to make ends meet.  Home ownership is increasingly out of reach for young families.  Indeed, the proportion of home buyers who are “first time buyers” is unsustainably low.

I took a look at some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning, dating from 1947 all the way to the present.  It’s simple stuff — real hourly wages (that is, hourly wages after accounting for inflation) versus inflation itself.  Not surprisingly, real wages have actually gone up.  The trend is positive and substantial.  People SHOULD be feeling pretty good.  As you might suspect, real wages and inflation tracked one another after WW-2.  This meant that every year stuff got more expensive, but your income kept up with it.  If and as you grew in your job and got promoted, you’d make more money.  However, if you kept the same job for your entire career (as many in the middle class did), then at least you’d keep up with inflation.

Why Things Suck

Data courtesy U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

 

However, all that got broken sometime in the mid-1970’s.  Inflation hit the U.S. like a ton of bricks.  Real hourly wages continued to rise, year in and year out, but the cost of stuff decimated the purchasing power.  This may seem mathematically incongruous, but for those of us who lived in the 1950’s and 60’s, it resonates.  Note how two important purchases — housing and cars — have outstripped average incomes since 1960.

Why things suck 2“Today” is a mix of 2017 & 2018 data, as available

So there’s that.  Sure, houses are nicer today than in 1960, cars are nicer (and safer, too), and we get a lot better health care today than w-a-a-a-ay back then.  However, arguably, the linkage between working and achieving “the good life” seems to be broken today for millions in the middle class.  That’s one of the main reasons why things seem to suck today.  This has enormous implications as we go into a major mid-term election.  However, from an economic perspective, these long term trends are decidedly problematic.  This is the global warming of the national economy.

Written by johnkilpatrick

September 11, 2018 at 9:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] like “underemployment” and “wage growth”.  Indeed, my own earlier column, Why Things Suck, demonstrated that for the last 40+ years, wages in America have not kept up with the cost of […]

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