Barack Obama recently made the following statement to American families that are struggling to survive in this economy: "If you’re a family trying to cut back, you might skip going out to dinner, or you might put off a vacation." A few days after making that statement Obama sent his wife and children off on yet another vacation, this time to a luxury ski hotel in Vail, Colorado. But the Obamas are not the only ones enjoying the high life. Wealthy corporate executives and greedy Wall Street fatcats insist that profit margins are too tight to hire more American workers, and yet sales of luxury cars, private jets and vacation homes are soaring. Meanwhile, most American families are going through economic hell right now. In 2010, more Americans than ever before were living below the poverty line. Over 4 million Americans have been unemployed for more than a year, and over 5 million Americans are at least two months behind on their mortgage payments. As the Obamas and wealthy corporate executives jet off to fancy ski resorts, half of all American workers are earning $505 or less per week and 55 percent of American families are living paycheck to paycheck. Something is very wrong with this picture.
So is there anything wrong with working hard and enjoying the fruits of success? Of course not, as long as it was done honestly and not on the backs of the American taxpayers. But the truth is that many of the corporate executives that are enjoying luxury vacations right now would not even have companies to run if the American taxpayers had not stepped in and bailed them out during the financial crisis. Thanks to the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve, Wall Street bankers and top corporate executives are once again enjoying bonuses that most of us would consider obscene.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the country is suffering very deeply.
Over the past several decades, the biggest financial institutions and the biggest corporations have worked really hard to "fix" the rules of the game in their favor. The truth is that our economy is no longer a "free market" capitalist system. Rather, what we have now is more accurately described as "corporatism" or "neo-feudalism". The big corporations dominate almost everything, and whatever they don't dominate the government does.
One of the key features of a "corporatist" system is that it tends to funnel all the wealth to the very top.
Back in 1976, the top 1 percent of earners in the United States took in 8.9 percent of all income. By 2007, that number had risen to 23.5 percent.
There are two different Americas today. There is the America of the gated communities, the private planes and the good life, and there is the America of declining wages, thrift stores and rising desperation.
What is saddest of all is that the most vulnerable people in society often suffer the most from all of this.
According to one recent study, approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States were living below the poverty line in 2010.
Do you think that the Obamas are thinking about any of this while they are enjoying their stay at a luxury ski hotel in Vail, Colorado?
The truth is that leadership is not just about words. Leadership is about setting an example.
Back in August, Michelle Obama took her daughter Sasha and 40 of her friends for a vacation in Spain.
So what was the bill to the taxpayers for that little jaunt across the pond?
It is estimated that vacation alone cost U.S. taxpayers $375,000.
Hey, Barack Obama won the most votes in 2008 and so if he wants his family to get as much enjoyment out of these four years as they can that is his prerogative.
However, if he wants to tell American families that they "might put off a vacation" after all the vacations that the Obamas have taken over the past two years then he is just being a massive hypocrite.
According to the New York Post, Barack Obama enjoyed a total of 10 separate vacations that stretched over a total of 90 vacation days during the years of 2009 and 2010.
During his first two years in office, he also managed to play 29 rounds of golf.
Oh, but it is the rest of us that have to cut back on our vacations.
But it is not just the Obamas that are enjoying the high life right now.
The wealthy have recovered nicely from the "recession" and now they are spending money by the gobs once again.
According to Moody's Analytics, the wealthiest 5% of households in the United States account for approximately 37% of all consumer spending.
Life is very good in America if you have got enough money.
A recent article in USA Today detailed some of the things that wealthy corporate executives are spending money on in 2011....
Luxury and high-end marketers have picked up on what they hope is a growing trend, offering products that bank on a looming spending spree. Germany's PG-Bikes is rolling out the $80,000 Black Trail, a battery-powered bicycle. Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille is selling $525,000 timepieces. Steinway has launched a John Lennon-themed grand piano — at $90,000 and up. After selling out a $245,000 model, automaker Porsche is planning the 918 Spyder, a hybrid car that could sell for more than $630,000.
Nearly all luxury brands experienced a resurgence in 2010. Just check out some of the sales increases for luxury car brands....
At the exact same time, however, life is getting really, really hard for the rest of America.
As I wrote about yesterday, the U.S. middle class continues to be decimated even in the midst of this "economic recovery".
There are tens of millions of Americans that would like to have a full-time job that are not able to get a full-time job. The number of Americans on food stamps has gone from about 26 million at the start of 2007 to 43 million today and it continues to set a brand new record every single month. One out of every six Americans is now enrolled in at least one anti-poverty program run by the federal government.
Our economy has become a complete and total nightmare.
Over the past couple of days some of the readers of this column have been sharing some of their economic horror stories. But they are far from alone. There are literally millions of Americans with economic horror stories out there. It is just that we don't get to hear too many stories from the "other America" on our televisions.
The following stories of economic pain are from people just like you and me. Times are incredibly hard for most of America right now, and they are only getting harder with each passing month....
My mother is unemployed. She is 61 years old, has 25 years of experience working for a major telecommunications corporation, and has a four-year degree. I watch her send application after application to employers with no response. I watch her get contacted by recruiters who say she is a ‘perfect fit’ for a job and never deliver. I watch her slide into depression and staying in bed many hours of the day.
I am 38 years old, I have mental illness, and I recently lost my job as a delivery driver because the owner sold his business to a competitor.
I don’t believe that either my mother or I will ever be employed again. I am beginning to feel that I am permanently in the world of the unemployed.
I graduated college in May 2000 with a Bachelors degree in Broadcasting/Minored in History. I have worked for major corporations as an Enterprise Sales Consultant selling Servers. I was a Network Engineer for Qwest Communications. I even worked for the Federal Government and held a Security Clearance for 4 years. I also won Dell Small Business Sales Consultant of the quarter as well. But since I don’t have an active clearance anymore no one wants to hire me in D.C. I lost my job in 07/2010 and from 07/2010-Present I have been unemployed. My food stamps were also recently cut off last month since the State of Virginia decided that for a household of 1 you can’t make more than $1178 a month. I make $1250 a month in Unemployment compensation before taxes so according to the Government I am too rich to receive Food stamps now. My Rent, Gas and Car insurance is $1000 a month and I am holding on for dear life. I am currently in the process of declaring Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and using my tax return to pay the attorney $1500 to file. That leaves me with only #250 a month for food, water and cell phone.
I have a list compiled in my Google email with approximately 784 applications I have filled out for every government agency, defense contractor and job available in the Washington, DC area. I even applied to Carmax and my old job in college waiting tables at red Lobster and the moving company I used to work at during the summers in college. If its bad for someone like me with over 10 years of Sales, Server/computer experience, Investigations and Network Engineering than I can’t imagine how bad it is for people that just have a high school diploma. I have been on one interview out of the almost 1000 jobs I have applied to (It takes about 2 hours to apply to one job). The one interview I went on offered me less than my unemployment gives me at $8 an hour. I can sit at home and make more money on unemployment than 80% of the jobs that I have applied too and even those jobs don’t call me. Is this what America has become? Is this what I sacrificed 5 years of my life in college from 17 years old to 21 years old and spent $40,000 to get a worthless degree that won’t even get you hired?
Well, My family has been ripped to shreds alright.
Overall combined (My father, and myself) make about 60k a year. We can barely survive we keep looking to cut things, and make things cheaper but it’s just not working fast enough.
My wife can’t find a job, and now student loans are starting to become issues. (won’t go in to further details).
Tax returns taken, and various other things, Can’t even afford dental care. We don’t even get to go out anymore, and lucky to get any type of snacks. Just so you know there are 5 people living in this house.
The only reason I am not out on the street is that when I had money I paid off my mortgage.
However, because I did that, my food stamp allotment is only $25 a month. The heating assistance I get only paid for less than one months’ heat out of the six months I need here in Pennsylvania. All other expenses use up what’s left, so you learn to eat at home; I try not to leave the house because it’s going to cost me money.
I blame Congress for destroying America. They have given tax breaks to themselves and their rich friends at our expense. Did you know that anybody who serves 5 years in Congress gets a FULL pension at age 62? Us peasants work for 45 years and then if we retire at age 62 we are forced to give up 25% of what we earned.
I lost my house, my family was split, and all my savings is gone.
I have lost hope. I served in the military, went to college and have high tech skills. My country doesn’t give a ***** about me. The bankers are as evil as the communists and I hate them.
I’m also 38, and have worked in IT since the mid 90s. I lost my full time job in April ’03, and have only been able to find short term temporary work since. The contracts started to get shorter and fewer as the years went on, so in spring ’10 I retrained to be an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) but have not been able to find work in the last 9 months. An ambulance company I applied with said that they have hundreds of applications in several Northern CA counties but no job openings. And health care jobs are supposed to be on the the only areas of growth. I deliver pizzas for cash on and off and am getting unemployment.
I lost track of how many resumes I’ve sent out during the past several months. My neighbors think I’m trying to win the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes or something (yeah, that would help too! Ha!)
Maybe I should go back to school and become an RLP (Rejection Letter Professional).
The rent at the place I lived was so high that I couldn’t afford it on a school bus driver’s salary, which I was doing for the past few years, because in spite of 30 years clerical experience, where I performed every function from clerk typist to executive legal secretary, I could not find employment. So I applied for subsidized housing and was forced to move back to Chicago, where the crime rate is very high in certain areas.
Before I moved I was getting $200 in food stamps, but now that I am in subsidized housing, I have to go and reapply and if I get anything at all, I have heard that it will be about $52 a month! Although the rent is subsidized, I have to pay for my own heat, and the building in which I live is completely electric! Energy assistance doesn’t cover it. They give with one hand and take away with the other.
All of the people above are still "surviving", but what do you think is going to happen to many of them as the cost of living goes up dramatically? Brent crude just hit $108 a barrel and the UN says that the global price of food recently hit a new all-time high.
Americans on fixed incomes or that are on government assistance are going to be absolutely devastated if prices for basics such as food and gas rise substantially.
Not only that, but budget cuts on the federal, state and local levels are also going to hurt many of these people deeply.
But this is where we are at as a nation. A small privileged class is enjoying the high life while a rapidly growing poverty class pleads for the government to toss them some more crumbs.
The American people deserve better than this. They deserve an economy that will provide them with good jobs which will enable them to pay their mortgages and feed their families.
Unfortunately, the U.S. economy is dying. The number of good jobs is actually declining. The middle class is being systematically wiped out.
The answer is not to "tax the rich" so that we can toss the rapidly growing poverty class a few more crumbs. The answer is to radically transform our economy back into the kind of economy our founding fathers originally intended.
But wealthy corporate executives and politicians such as Barack Obama are not going to have any of that. Those sitting on top don't want any real change to happen. Sadly, the general population has become so dumbed-down that they don't even know the questions that they should be asking.
So unfortunately it appears we are going to keep heading down the exact same economic path that we have been heading for decades. The middle class will keep being ripped apart and politicians like George W. Bush and Barack Obama will just keep on smiling.