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This Is About As Good As Things Are Going To Get For The Middle Class – And It’s Not That Good

Depressed - Public DomainThe U.S. economy has had six full years to bounce back since the financial collapse of 2008, and it simply has not happened.  Median household income has declined substantially since then, total household wealth for middle class families is way down, the percentage of the population that is employed is still about where it was at the end of the last recession, and the number of Americans that are dependent on the government has absolutely exploded.  Even those that claim that the economy is “recovering” admit that we are not even close to where we used to be economically.  Many hope that someday we will eventually get back to that level, but the truth is that this is about as good as things are ever going to get for the middle class.  And we should enjoy this period of relative stability while we still can, because when the next great financial crisis strikes things are going to fall apart very rapidly.

The U.S. Census Bureau has just released some brand new numbers, and they are quite sobering.  For example, after accounting for inflation median household income in the United States has declined a total of 8 percent from where it was back in 2007.

That means that middle class families have significantly less purchasing power than they did just prior to the last major financial crisis.

And one research firm is projecting that it is going to take until 2019 for median household income to return to the level that we witnessed in 2007…

For everybody wondering why the economic recovery feels like a recession, here’s the answer: We’re still at least five years away from regaining everything lost during the 2007-2009 downturn.

Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicts that real median household income — perhaps the best proxy for middle-class living standards — won’t reach the prior peak from 2007 until 2019. Since the numbers are adjusted for inflation, that means the typical family will wait 12 years until their purchasing power is as strong as it was before the recession. That would be the longest period of stagnation, by far, since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Of course that projection assumes that the economy will continue to “recover”, which is a very questionable assumption at best.

Meanwhile, total household wealth has been declining for middle class families as well.

According to the New York Times, the “typical American household” is now worth 36 percent less than it was worth a decade ago.

That is a pretty substantial drop.  But you never hear our politicians (especially the Democrats) bring up numbers like that because they want us to feel good about things.

So why is all of this happening?

The biggest reason why the middle class is struggling so much is the lack of good jobs.

As the chart posted below demonstrates, the percentage of the working age population that is actually employed is still way, way below where it was prior to the last recession…

Employment Population Ratio

The “employment recovery” (the tiny little bump at the end of the chart) has been so miniscule that it is hardly even worth mentioning.

At the moment, we still have 1.4 million fewer full-time jobs than we did in 2008 even though more than 100,000 people are added to the U.S. population each month.

And a lot of the workers that have lost jobs since the start of the last recession have never been able to find a new one.

According to a brand new survey conducted by Rutgers University, more than 20 percent of all workers that have been laid off in the past five years still have not found a new job.

Meanwhile, the control freak bureaucrats that run this country continue to kill off small businesses.

In recent years we have seen large numbers of small businesses fail, and at this point the rate of small business ownership in the United States is at an all-time low.

As a result of everything that you have just read, the middle class is shrinking and dependence on the government is soaring.

Today, there are 49 million Americans that are dealing with food insecurity, and Americans received more than 2 trillion dollars in benefits from the federal government last year alone.

For many more statistics just like this, please see my previous article entitled “30 stats to show to anyone that does not believe the middle class is being destroyed“.

Without a doubt, things are not that good for the middle class in America these days.

Unfortunately, the next great wave of financial trouble is rapidly approaching, and once it strikes things are going to get substantially worse for the middle class.

Yes, the stock market set record high after record high this summer.  But what we have observed is classic bubble behavior.  So many of the exact same patterns that occurred just prior to previous stock market crashes are happening once again.

And it is interesting to note that September 22nd has marked important market peaks at various times throughout history…

For traders, September 22 is one of those days with a notorious history. UBS’s Art Cashin notes that September 22 marked various market highs in 1873, 1929, 1980, and even as recent as 2008.

Could the coming months be the beginning of the next major stock market decline?

Small-cap stocks are already starting to show signs of real weakness.  In fact, the Russell 2000 just hit a “death cross” for the first time in more than 2 years

The Russell 2000 has been diverging from the broader market over the last several weeks, and now technicians point out it has flashed a bearish signal. For the first time in more than two years, the small-cap index has hit a so-called death cross.

A death cross occurs when a nearer-term 50-day moving average falls below a longer-term, 200-day moving average. Technicians argue that a death cross can be a bearish sign.

None of us knows what the market is going to do tomorrow, but a lot of the “smart money” is getting out of the market right now while the getting is good.

So where is the “smart money” putting their assets?

In a previous article, I discussed how sales of gold bars to wealthy clients is way up so far this year.

And CNBC has just reported that the ultra-wealthy “are holding mountains of cash” right now…

Billionaires are holding mountains of cash, offering the latest sign that the ultra-wealthy are nervous about putting more money into today’s markets.

According to the new Billionaire Census from Wealth-X and UBS, the world’s billionaires are holding an average of $600 million in cash each—greater than the gross domestic product of Dominica.

Why are they doing this?

Are they concerned about the potential of a market crash?

And if we do see another market crash like we witnessed back in 2008, what is that going to mean for the rest of us?

2008 certainly did not destroy our economy.

But it did cause an immense amount of damage that we have never recovered from.

Now the next wave is approaching, and most people don’t even see it coming.

Small Business Ownership In America Is At An All-Time Low

Small Business - Public DomainAccording to the Federal Reserve, the percentage of American families that own a small business is at the lowest level that has ever been recorded.  In a report that was just released entitled “Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2010 to 2013: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances“, the Federal Reserve revealed that small business ownership in America “fell substantially” between 2010 and 2013.  Even in the midst of this so-called “economic recovery”, small business ownership in America has now fallen to an all-time low.  If the economy truly was healthy, this would not be happening.  And it isn’t as if Americans are flooding the labor market either.  As I detailed yesterday, the labor force participation rate in this country is at a 36 year low.  That would not be happening if the economy was actually healthy either.  The truth is that the middle class in America is dying, and this new report from the Federal Reserve is more evidence of this very harsh reality.

In order to build wealth, middle class Americans either need to have their own businesses or they need good jobs.  Sadly, the percentage of Americans that own a business continues to decline steadily.  In the report that I mentioned above, the Federal Reserve says that the proportion of U.S. families that have an ownership interest in a small business fell from 13.3 percent in 2010 to a brand new all-time low of 11.7 percent in 2013.

This is one of the factors that is increasing the gap between the extremely wealthy and the rest of us in this country.  And of course another of the major factors is the steady decline in good paying jobs.

The U.S. Competitiveness Project at Harvard Business School is chaired by professors Michael E. Porter and Jan W. Rivkin.  It just released a new report entitled “An Economy Doing Half Its Job”, and it addressed the fact that the middle class is deeply struggling even though many large U.S. corporations have been thriving.  The following is an excerpt from an article in the Boston Globe about this report…

In a statement, Porter added: “Shortsighted executives may be satisfied with an American economy where firms operating here are winning without lifting US living standards. But leaders with longer perspectives understand that companies can’t thrive for long while their workers and their communities struggle.”

Unfortunately, this is not likely to change any time soon.  In fact, that same report discovered that Harvard Business School alumni foresee “falling pay and fewer openings for full-time jobs” for American workers in the years ahead…

U.S. workers face a dim future, with stagnant or falling pay and fewer openings for full-time jobs.

That’s the picture that emerges from a survey of Harvard Business School alumni.

More than 40 percent of the respondents foresee lower pay and benefits for workers. Roughly half favor outsourcing work over hiring staffers. A growing share prefer part-time employees. Nearly half would rather invest in new technology than hire or retain workers.

The Obama administration continues to tell us that the unemployment rate is “going down” and that the economy is recovering, but that does not match the reality of what most Americans are experiencing on a day to day basis.

As David Stockman recently so aptly put it, outside of health and education the U.S. economy has not produced a single job since mid-2000 even though our population has grown greatly since that time…

In a few deft seconds, a “no jobs” nobody who apparently doesn’t actually have one himself,  essentially explained the contents of the chart below to his silenced CNBC hosts. Over the course of 170 “jobs Fridays” since mid-2000, the latter have apparently never noticed the single most stunning fact embedded in the monthly BLS report. Namely, that outside of health and education there has not been one net new job created in the American economy since July 2000! Yes, not a single new job—as in none, nein, nichts, nada, zip!

In addition, most of the new jobs that are being “added to the economy” each month are part-time jobs.  Right now, we still have 1.4 million fewer full-time jobs than we did in 2008 even though more than 100,000 people are added to the population each month.

What this means is that the middle class is shrinking.

We are witnessing an increasing concentration of wealth among the ultra-wealthy, and most of the rest of us are getting poorer.  As a recent CNN article detailed, the Federal Reserve has also discovered that the gap between the rich and the poor in America is larger than the Fed has ever recorded before…

In its Study of Consumer Finances, released every three years, the Fed found that the wealthiest 3% of American households controlled 54.4% of the nation’s wealth in 2013, a slight increase from its last survey in 2010. It’s also substantially higher from the 44.8% they held in 1989, showing how quickly the income divide has been growing over the past decade or so.

At the same time, the share of wealth held by the bottom 90% fell to 24.7% in 2013. That’s compared to 33.2% in 1989.

How close does the share of wealth for the bottom 90 percent have to go before we admit that we have a major problem on our hands?

Is there anyone out there that would be okay with it hitting zero percent?

One of the big reasons why the wealthy have been doing so well is because the stock market has been soaring.  The money printing policies of the Federal Reserve have sent stock prices to unprecedented heights.  This has overwhelmingly benefited the extremely wealthy

According to recent data from the Federal Reserve, America has the lowest level of stock ownership in 18 years. Yet stock ownership for the wealthy is at a new high—and that has accounted for most of their good fortune compared to the rest of America.

In fact, the Fed says that the wealthiest top 10 percent of all Americans now own 81 percent of all stocks…

Stock ownership is even more concentrated when it comes to share of total stock holdings. In 2010, the latest period available, the top 10 percent of Americans by net worth held 81 percent of all directly held or indirectly held stocks, according to Edward N. Wolff, an economics professor at New York University who specializes in inequality and Federal Reserve data.

Wolff said that share—which has not been released yet for 2013—has probably gone even higher than 81 percent since 2010.

Since the last financial crisis, the Federal Reserve has been very good to the elite.

But most of the rest of us have had a really hard time.

Until more Americans start getting good jobs and building small businesses, things are not going to turn around for the middle class.

But the policies being pursued by our politicians continue to kill good jobs and continue to kill small businesses, so I wouldn’t expect significant changes any time soon.

If The Economy Is Recovering, Why Is The Labor Force Participation Rate At A 36 Year Low?

Unemployment - Public DomainShould we be concerned that the percentage of Americans that are either working or looking for work is the lowest that it has been in 36 years?  In August, an all-time record high 92,269,000 Americans 16 years of age and older did not “participate in the labor force”.  And when you throw in the people that are considered to be “in the labor force” but are not currently employed, that pushes the total of working age Americans that do not have jobs to well over 100 million.  Yes, it may be hard to believe, but there are more than 100 million working age Americans that are not employed right now.  Needless to say, this is not a sign of a healthy economy, and it is a huge reason why dependence on the government has soared to absolutely unprecedented levels.  When people can’t take care of themselves, they need someone else to take care of them.  If the percentage of people in the labor force continues to decline like it has been, what is that going to mean for the future of our society?

The chart below shows the changes in the civilian labor force participation rate since 1980.  As you can see, the rate steadily rose between 1980 and 2000, but since then it has generally been declining.  In particular, this decline has greatly accelerated since the beginning of the last recession…

Labor Force Participation Rate

We have never seen an extended precipitous decline of this nature before.  But instead of admitting that we have a very serious problem on our hands, many mainstream economists are dismissing this decline as “structural in nature”.  For example, check out the following excerpt from a recent Reuters article

A paper published on Thursday by the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, suggested the decline was primarily due to an aging population and other structural factors, and concluded the labor force would continue to shrink.

But there is a major flaw in this analysis.  It turns out that older Americans are the only group for which employment numbers have actually been going up.  I really like how Zero Hedge made this point the other day…

Well that’s very odd, because it was only two months ago that the Census wrote the following [5]: “Many older workers managed to stay employed during the recession; in fact, the population in age groups 65 and over were the only ones not to see a decline in the employment share from 2005 to 2010 (Figure 3-25)… Remaining employed and delaying retirement was one way of lessening the impact of the stock market decline and subsequent loss in retirement savings.”

Figure 3-25
Yes, Baby Boomers are hitting retirement age.

But that does not explain why the labor force participation rate numbers for younger groups have been going down.

Each month, the U.S. economy has to add somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 jobs just to keep up with population growth.  Since job creation has been tepid at best in recent years, the only way that the government has been able to get the official unemployment rate to steadily “go down” has been to remove millions upon millions of Americans from the labor force.

According to the official government numbers, since 2007 768,000 jobs have been added to the economy, but a whopping 13 million Americans have been added to the numbers of those “not in the labor force”.

As a result, the official unemployment rate has magically been “declining”.

But the truth is that our employment crisis has not been solved at all.

And it isn’t just the number of jobs that we need to be concerned about.  We are also dealing with a multi-year decline in the quality of our jobs.  In fact, the Wall Street Journal just reported that 34 percent of all U.S. workers are “freelancers” now…

More evidence that this isn’t your parents’ labor market: Roughly one in three U.S. workers is now a freelancer.

Fifty-three million Americans, or 34% of the nation’s workforce, qualify as freelancers, according to a new report from the Freelancers Union, a nonprofit organization, and Elance-oDesk Inc., a company that provides platforms for freelancers to find work. These individuals include independent contractors, temps, and moonlighters, among others.

In other words, about a third of all workers in the country are “temps” at this point.

I don’t know about you, but to me that is an extremely alarming statistic.

If the economy really was recovering, this would not be happening.

And as millions upon millions of Americans are being forced out of the official labor force, an increasing number of people are turning to the underground economy.

For example, in some of our major cities we are witnessing a rise in the number of street vendors.  The following is an excerpt from a recent Los Angeles Times article entitled “More Angelenos are becoming street vendors amid weak economy“…

Sitting at her street vending booth with products arrayed neatly on a sequined purple tablecloth, Jackie Lloyd reflects nostalgically on the days when she had a steady salary and regular hours.

That was four years ago, before the 39-year-old was laid off from her job as an elementary school cafeteria worker and mounting bills forced her to venture into self-employment.

Now the Pico-Union resident hops from location to location, selling body oils, shea butter, soap and incense. She moves when nearby businesses complain or she feels unsafe.

Some days, her sales bring in $150. Others, they don’t break $20.

In order to have a strong middle class, we need middle class jobs.

If our labor force participation rate continues to fall and the quality of our jobs continues to decline, the middle class will continue to shrink.  For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “30 stats to show to anyone that does not believe the middle class is being destroyed“.

But our authorities never seem to want to admit what our real problems are.

Instead, they love to come up with alternative theories for our economic struggles.

One of the latest theories being put forward by the Federal Reserve is that the economy is not moving along like it should because ordinary Americans are “hoarding money”

One of the great mysteries of the post-financial crisis world is why the U.S. has lacked inflation despite all the money being pumped into the economy.

The St. Louis Federal Reserve thinks it has the answer: A paper the central bank branch published this week blames the low level of money movement in large part on consumers and their “willingness to hoard money.”

This seems completely absurd to me.

From what I can see, most families are just doing their best to survive from month to month these days.

I certainly don’t see a lot of people “hoarding money”.

What about you?

What do you think?

Please feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below…

30 stats to show to anyone that does not believe the middle class is being destroyed

Abandoned House - Photo by Flickr User baldeaglebluffThe 30 statistics that you are about to read prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the middle class in America is being systematically destroyed.  Once upon a time, the United States had the largest and most prosperous middle class in the history of the world, but now that is changing at a staggering pace.  Yes, the stock market has soared to unprecedented heights this year and there are a few isolated areas of the country that are doing rather well for the moment.  But overall, the long-term trends that are eviscerating the middle class just continue to accelerate.  Over the past decade or so, the percentage of Americans that are working has gone way down, the quality of our jobs has plummeted dramatically and the wealth of the typical American household has fallen precipitously.  Meanwhile, we have watched median household income decline for five years in a row, we have watched the rate of homeownership in this country decline for eight years in a row and dependence on the government is at an all-time high.  Being a part of the middle class in the United States at this point can be compared to playing a game of musical chairs.  We can all see chairs being removed from the game, and we are all desperate to continue to have a chair every time the music stops playing.  The next time the music stops, will it be your chair that gets removed?

And in this economy, you don’t even have to lose your job to fall out of the middle class.  Our paychecks are remaining very stable while the cost of almost everything that we spend money on consistently (food, gas, health insurance, etc.) is going up rapidly.  Bloomberg calls this “the no-raises recovery”…

Call it the no-raises recovery: Five years of economic expansion have done almost nothing to boost paychecks for typical American workers while the rich have gotten richer.

Meager improvements since 2009 have barely kept up with a similarly tepid pace of inflation, raising the real value of compensation per hour by only 0.5 percent. That marks the weakest growth since World War II, with increases averaging 9.2 percent at a similar point in past expansions, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by Bloomberg.

There are so many families out there that are struggling right now.  So many husbands and wives find themselves constantly fighting with one another about money, and they don’t even understand that what is happening to them is the result of long-term economic trends that are the result of decades of incredibly foolish decisions.  Without middle class jobs, we cannot have a middle class.  And those are precisely the jobs that have been destroyed during the Clinton, Bush and Obama years.  Without enough good jobs to go around, we have seen the middle class steadily shrink and the ranks of the poor grow rapidly.

The following are 30 stats to show to anyone that does not believe the middle class is being destroyed…

1. In 2007, the average household in the top 5 percent had 16.5 times as much wealth as the average household overall.  But now the average household in the top 5 percent has 24 times as much wealth as the average household overall.

2. According to a study recently discussed in the New York Times, the “typical American household” is now worth 36 percent less than it was worth a decade ago.

3. One out of every seven Americans rely on food banks at this point.

4. One out of every four military families needs help putting enough food on the table.

5. 79 percent of the people that use food banks purchase “inexpensive, unhealthy food just to have enough to feed their families”.

6. One out of every three adults in the United States has an unpaid debt that is “in collections“.

7. Only 48 percent of all Americans can immediately come up with $400 in emergency cash without borrowing it or selling something.

8. The price of food continues to rise much faster than the paychecks of most middle class families.  For example, the average price of ground beef has just hit a brand new all-time record high of $3.884 a pound.

9. According to one recent study, 40 percent of all households in the United States are experiencing financial stress right now.

10. The overall homeownership rate has fallen to the lowest level since 1995.

11. The homeownership rate for Americans under the age of 35 is at an all-time low.

12. According to one recent survey, 52 percent of all Americans cannot even afford the house that they are living in right now.

13. The average age of vehicles on America’s roads has hit an all-time high of 11.4 years.

14. Last year, one out of every four auto loans in the United States was made to someone with subprime credit.

15. Amazingly, one out of every six men in their prime working years (25 to 54) do not have a job at this point.

16. One recent study found that 47 percent of unemployed Americans have “completely given up” looking for a job.

17. 36 percent of Americans do not have a single penny saved for retirement.

18. According to one survey, 76 percent of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

19. More than half of all working Americans make less than $30,000 a year in wages.

20. Only four of the twenty fastest growing occupations in America require a Bachelor’s degree or better.

21.  In America today, one out of every ten jobs is filled by a temp agency.

22. Due to a lack of decent jobs, half of all college graduates are still relying on their parents financially when they are two years out of school.

23. Median household income in the United States is about 7 percent lower than it was in the year 2000 after adjusting for inflation.

24. Approximately one out of every four part-time workers in America is living below the poverty line.

25. It is hard to believe, but more than one out of every five children in the United States is living in poverty in 2014.

26. According to one study, there are 49 million Americans that are dealing with food insecurity.

27. Ten years ago, the number of women in the U.S. that had jobs outnumbered the number of women in the U.S. on food stamps by more than a 2 to 1 margin.  But now the number of women in the U.S. on food stamps actually exceeds the number of women that have jobs.

28. If the middle class was actually thriving, we wouldn’t have more than a million public school children that are homeless.

29. If you can believe it, Americans received more than 2 trillion dollars in benefits from the federal government last year alone.

30. In terms of median wealth per adult, the United States is now in just 19th place in the world.

Job = Just Over Broke

Jobs - Public DomainIf you are fortunate enough to have a job in America today, the phrase “just over broke” probably describes you.  Yes, there are a handful of jobs that certainly pay very well, but most Americans that work for somebody else are just barely making it from month to month.  More than half of all working Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and more than half of all working Americans make less than $30,000 a year.  That is an amazing statistic but it is actually true.  Once upon a time, anyone that was responsible and that was willing to work hard could get a good job in America.  But now those days are long gone.  Instead, we live at a time when good jobs are disappearing and when the middle class is getting smaller with each passing year.  In some homes, the husband and the wife are both working multiple jobs and they can still barely pay their bills.  Something has gone horribly wrong, and yet our leaders just keep telling us how wonderful our economy is.

One of the biggest things that has killed jobs in this country is the fact that the U.S. economy has been steadily merged into the emerging one world economic system over the past several decades.  They call it “free trade”, but they never told us that we would be merged into a single global labor pool where we would be competing directly for jobs with workers on the other side of the planet that live in nations where it is legal to pay slave labor wages.

According to Gallup, only about 1.3 billion people around the world work full-time for an employer at this point.

But overall there are more than 7 billion people.

That means that there are a whole lot of really poor, really desperate people that need to be employed.

This has been wonderful for the big corporations.  They can just take jobs away from American workers and give them to people who are willing to work for less than a tenth of what an American worker would make.  This has resulted in the systematic deindustrialization of the United States and horrific decline in dozens of formerly great manufacturing cities.

At the same time, we have also been losing millions of middle class jobs to technology.  At this point, robots are even starting to replace warehouse workers and fast food employees.  As robots become even more advanced and become even cheaper to produce, there will be less jobs available for the rest of us.

And what happens when robots can do everything better than us?

Because there are fewer middle class jobs available, the competition for the remaining jobs has become incredibly intense.  In recent years, millions of Americans have been forced to take just about anything that they can get.  For those Americans, “just over broke” has become “just trying to survive” as they scratch and claw their way through life.

A recent CNBC article profiled one such individual.  His name is Ken Bowman, and his job at a guitar shop just barely enables him to pay his rent and feed himself…

Ken Bowman joins the line for a free lunch in the Youngstown Salvation Army canteen, just like he does every Friday.

Looking younger than his 21 years, his hair dyed jet black and wearing big, battered boots, Bowman plays heavy metal on his cell phone. He chooses a seat at the end of a table and sits hunched over his tray, his blues eyes furtively sweeping the room. The others sit in packs, regulars who’ve formed lunchtime friendships over their burnt coffee and peppered corn, discussing the jobs they once had and the government benefits they no longer get.

Bowman is sensitive to the stigma of accepting handouts like lunch. “[It] doesn’t mean you’re homeless or poor, people have standards but they struggle,” he said, his chin jutting out, his eyes glowering.

After paying his rent, Bowman says his job in a guitar shop leaves him with $50 a month to live on — if he can get shifts. He is one of America’s “underemployed,” a group of as many as 11 million Americans struggling to survive in society’s shadows on wages that put them below the federal poverty line.

There are millions of others out there just like Bowman.  In fact, as I mentioned in a previous article, one out of every four part-time workers in America is living below the poverty line.  The “working poor” is a phrase that describes a very large segment of the U.S. population today.

And the cold, hard truth of the matter is that most of the country is steadily getting poorer.  According to a study recently discussed in the New York Times, the “typical American household” is now worth 36 percent less than it was worth a decade ago.  That is a staggering decline in just ten years.

Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to rise.  This is something that I have discussed repeatedly, but sometimes a picture can say things far better than any words can.

The photo posted below has been floating around on Twitter.  It is of a McDonald’s menu from the 1960s.  As you can see, prices have gone up a little bit since then…

Inflation - McDonald's

Most people think that I am crazy when I tell them that I can remember a cup of coffee being sold for a quarter when I was young.  But it is true.  Over the long-term, our purchasing power has been systematically destroyed by the insane polices of the Federal Reserve.

Sadly, most Americans don’t understand any of this.  They just trust that our leaders actually know what they are doing.  Meanwhile, they just keep on struggling to survive in an economic system that is stacked against them.

According to one recent study, 40 percent of all households in the United States are experiencing financial stress right now and the homeownership rate for Americans under the age of 35 is at an all-time low.

In the old days, if you got your education, worked hard and did all the right things, it was just about an automatic ticket to the middle class.

Today it doesn’t work like that.

Instead, more Americans than ever are being forced to become dependent on the government.  If you can believe it, Americans received more than 2 trillion dollars in benefits from the federal government last year alone.

So it astounds me whenever I hear anyone say that the economy is in “good shape”.

How can it be in “good shape” when one out of every three adults in the United States has an unpaid debt that is “in collections” and there are 49 million Americans that are dealing with food insecurity?

The truth is that we are in the midst of a long-term economic decline that is the result of decades of incredibly foolish decisions.

Until the American people start understanding what has happened to us, they are never going to demand real change that actually accomplishes something.

The Robots Are Coming, And They Are Replacing Warehouse Workers And Fast Food Employees

Robot 2014There are already more than 101 million working age Americans that are not employed and 20 percent of the families in the entire country do not have a single member that has a job.  So what in the world are we going to do when robots start taking millions upon millions more of our jobs? Thanks to technology, the balance of power between employers and workers in this country is shifting dramatically in favor of the employers.  These days, many employers are wondering why they are dealing with so many human worker “headaches” when they can just use technology to get the same tasks done instead.  When you replace a human worker with a robot, you solve a whole bunch of problems.  Robots never take a day off, they never get tired, they never get sick, they never complain, they never show up late, they never waste time on the Internet and they always do what you tell them to do.  In addition, robotic technology has advanced to the point where it is actually cheaper to buy robots than it is to hire humans for a vast variety of different tasks.  From the standpoint of societal efficiency, this is a good thing.  But what happens when robots are able to do just about everything less expensively and more efficiently than humans can?  Where will our jobs come from?

And this is not something that is coming at some point in “the future”.

This is already happening.

According to CNN, there will be 10,000 robots working to fulfill customer orders in Amazon.com warehouses by the end of 2014…

Amazon will be using 10,000 robots in its warehouses by the end of the year.

CEO Jeff Bezos told investors at a shareholder meeting Wednesday that he expects to significantly increase the number of robots used to fulfill customer orders.

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love Amazon.  And if robots can get me my stuff faster and less expensively that sounds great.

But what if everyone starts using these kinds of robots?

What will that do to warehouse jobs?

PC World has just done a report on a new warehouse robot known as “UBR-1″.  This robot is intended to perform tasks “normally done by human workers”…

The UBR-1 is a 4-foot tall, one-armed robot that could make warehouses and factories more efficient by performing tasks normally done by human workers.

Unlike the industrial robots widely used in manufacturing today—usually large machines isolated from people for safety reasons—this robot can work alongside humans or autonomously in a workspace filled with people.

This little robot costs $50,000, and it can work all day and all night.  It just needs a battery change every once in a while.  The creators of this robot envision it performing a vast array of different tasks…

“We see the robot as doing tasks, they could be dull, they could be dirty, they could be dangerous and doing them repetitively all day in a light manufacturing environment,” said Melonee Wise, Unbounded Robotics CEO and co-founder. Those tasks include stocking shelves, picking up objects and assembling parts.

The UBR-1 isn’t designed for small component assembly, but it can manipulate objects as small as dice or a Lego piece, Wise said. Unbounded Robotics is targeting companies that want some automation to speed up their manufacturing process, but can’t afford to fully automate their businesses.

To many people this may sound very exciting.

But what if a robot like that took your job?

Would it be exciting then?

Of course you can’t outlaw robots.  And you can’t force companies to hire human workers.

But we could potentially have major problems in our society as jobs at the low end of the wage scale quickly disappear.

According to CNN, restaurants all over the nation are going to automated service, and a recent University of Oxford study concluded that there is a 92 percent chance that most fast food jobs will be automated in the coming years…

Panera Bread is the latest chain to introduce automated service, announcing last month that it plans to bring self-service ordering kiosks as well as a mobile ordering option to all its locations within the next three years. The news follows moves from Chili’s and Applebee’s to place tablets on their tables, allowing diners to order and pay without interacting with human wait staff at all.

Panera, which spent $42 million developing its new system, claims it isn’t planning any job cuts as a result of the technology, but some analysts see this kind of shift as unavoidable for the industry.

In a widely cited paper released last year, University of Oxford researchers estimated that there is a 92% chance that fast-food preparation and serving will be automated in the coming decades.

It is being projected that other types of jobs will soon be automated as well

Delivery drivers could be replaced en masse by self-driving cars, which are likely to hit the market within a decade or two, or even drones. In food preparation, there are start-ups offering robots for bartending and gourmet hamburger preparation. A food processing company in Spain now uses robots to inspect heads of lettuce on a conveyor belt, throwing out those that don’t meet company standards, the Oxford researchers report.

Could you imagine such a world?

When self-driving vehicles take over, what will happen to the 3.1 million Americans that drive trucks for a living?

Our planet is changing at a pace that is almost inconceivable.

Over the past decade, the big threat to our jobs has been workers on the other side of the globe that live in countries where it is legal to pay slave labor wages.

But now even those workers are having their jobs taken away by robots.  For example, just check out what is happening in China

Foxconn has been planning to buy 1 million robots to replace human workers and it looks like that change, albeit gradual, is about to start.

The company is allegedly paying $25,000 per robot – about three times a worker’s average salary – and they will replace humans in assembly tasks. The plans have been in place for a while – I spoke to Foxconn reps about this a year ago – and it makes perfect sense. Humans are messy, they want more money, and having a half-a-million of them in one factory is a recipe for unrest. But what happens after the halls are clear of careful young men and women and instead full of whirring robots?

Perhaps you think that your job could never be affected because you do something that requires a “human touch” like caring for the elderly.

Well, according to Reuters, robots are moving into that arena as well…

Imagine you’re 85, and living alone. Your children are halfway across the country, and you’re widowed. You have a live-in aide – but it’s not human. Your personal robot reminds you to take your medicine, monitors your diet and exercise, plays games with you, and even helps you connect with family members on the Internet.

And robots are even threatening extremely skilled professions such as doctors.  For instance, just check out this excerpt from a Bloomberg article entitled “Doctor Robot Will See You Shortly“…

Johnson & Johnson proposes to replace anesthesiologists during simple procedures such as colonoscopies — not with nurse practitioners, but with machines. Sedasys, which dispenses propofol and monitors a patient automatically, was recently approved for use in healthy adult patients who have no particular risk of complications. Johnson & Johnson will lease the machines to doctor’s offices for $150 per procedure — cleverly set well below the $600 to $2,000 that anesthesiologists usually charge.

And this is just the beginning.  In a previous article, I discussed the groundbreaking study by Dr. Carl Frey and Dr. Michael Osborne of Oxford University which came to the conclusion that 47 percent of all U.S. jobs could be automated within the next 20 years.

47 percent?

That is crazy.

What will the middle class do as their jobs are taken away?

The world that we live in is becoming a radically different place than the one that we grew up in.

The robots are coming, and they are going to take millions of our jobs.

So what do you think of this robot invasion?  Please feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below…

The “Economic Recovery” Continues: Businesses Are Being Destroyed Faster Than They Are Being Created

The Death Of Small Business - Photo by Tina McKimmieWhat would you say about an economy where businesses are shutting down faster than they are opening?  Well, a shocking new study released by the Brookings Institution indicates that this is exactly what is happening in the United States.  We are absolutely killing small businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit in this country, and as you will see below, the number of self-employed Americans has been on a downward trend for a decade even though our population has been steadily growing.  Traditionally, small businesses have been the primary engine of job growth in this nation, so the fact that study after study has found that small business creation is being crippled in the United States is a really bad sign for our economic future.

Personally, I write about our long-term economic decline nearly every day, but even I had no idea that businesses were being destroyed faster than they were being created.  According to the Brookings Institution, this first started happening in 2009

The American economy is less entrepreneurial now than at any point in the last three decades. That’s the conclusion of a new study out from the Brookings Institution, which looks at the rates of new business creation and destruction since 1978.

Not only that, but during the most recent three years of the study — 2009, 2010 and 2011 — businesses were collapsing faster than they were being formed, a first.

And this mirrors an earlier study conducted by economist Tim Kane.  According to his analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data, the following is how the decline in the number of new business jobs per one thousand Americans breaks down by presidential administration

Bush Sr.: 11.3

Clinton: 11.2

Bush Jr.: 10.8

Obama: 7.8

As you can see, this is a problem that has been building for decades and that has accelerated under the Obama administration.

We are strangling small business creation to death, and as a result the number of Americans that are self-employed just keeps going down.  Just check out this chart…

Self-Employed 2014

And keep in mind that throughout this entire time the U.S. population has been growing.  So the numbers in the chart above should be going up steadily as the population grows.  But instead they have just kept going down.

Meanwhile, the “economic recovery” is continuing in the corporate world as well.

On Tuesday, we learned that Office Depot is going to be closing 400 stores.

Why would that happen if the economy was actually getting better?

When this was announced, shares of Office Depot rose about 20 percent.

I can never understand why that happens.  You would think that when a business makes an announcement that essentially says “our business is failing” that it would cause people to dump the stock.

In any event, this comes on the heels of an announcement by Staples back in March that it was going to shut down 225 stores in the United States and Canada.

So where will we buy our pens and paper from now on?

If the economy really was “recovering”, you would think that demand for office supplies would actually be on the rise.

But the only places where the economy is “recovering” is in places such as Washington D.C., New York City and San Francisco.

Those at the top of the pyramid are doing well, but almost everyone else in the country is really suffering right now.

When you kill off small businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit, it tends to increasingly funnel money to the very top of the food chain.  And this is precisely what is happening in America at this point.  In a recent article, Charles Hugh Smith included a chart that shows how average household net worth in the U.S. breaks down by quartile…

Bottom 25%: $4,600
From 25% to 50%: $21,700
From 50% to 75%: $78,900
From 75% to 90%: $242,800
Top 10%: $1,606,600

As you can see, the bottom 50 percent are really not that much above zero at all.  In the old days, it seemed like almost everyone was “middle class” in America, but now that is rapidly changing.

We can see this increasing divide in the real estate market as well.  According to Bloomberg, sales of million dollar homes are booming, but sales of homes at the low end are plunging…

“Million-dollar homes in the U.S. are selling at double their historical average while middle-class property demand stumbles, showing that the housing recovery is mirroring America’s wealth divide.

Purchases costing $1 million or more rose 7.8 percent in March from a year earlier, according to data released last week by the National Association of Realtors. Transactions for $250,000 or less, which represent almost two-thirds of the market, plunged 12 percent in the period”

So this explains why it is almost impossible to find an affordable home in San Francisco, but the overall homeownership rate in the United States has dropped to the lowest level in 19 years.

But even in our wealthy enclaves there are signs of deep economic trouble.  For example, in New York City the number of homeless children has soared to a new all-time high…

They’re just like other kids except they have a secret. They are homeless.  Children are living hidden lives in plain sight. They are part a growing number of low income families who find themselves with no way out but they are working hard to find a solution.

It’s a big issue. And it’s growing. More than 23,000 children sleep in homeless shelters every night, an all-time high, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.

The only “recovery” being experienced in America is the one that is happening on Wall Street, in boardrooms in Silicon Valley and in the halls of power in Washington.

In the rest of the country, retail stores are closing at the fastest pace that we have seen since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, 20 percent of all families do not have a single member that is employed and 49 million Americans are dealing with food insecurity.

There is no way that we are ever going to have a broad-based economic recovery in this nation if we continue to destroy small businesses.  They are the lifeblood of any economy and they are the primary engine of job creation.

Sadly, our politicians seem completely clueless about all of this.  So they will continue to do the same things that they have always been doing and then wonder why the economy never seems to turn around.

The Number Of Working Age Americans Without A Job Has Risen By 27 MILLION Since 2000

Arrow Going UpDid you know that there are nearly 102 million working age Americans that do not have a job right now?  And 20 percent of all families in the United States do not have a single member that is employed.  So how in the world can the government claim that the unemployment rate has “dropped” to “6.3 percent”?  Well, it all comes down to how you define who is “unemployed”.  For example, last month the government moved another 988,000 Americans into the “not in the labor force” category.  According to the government, at this moment there are 9.75 million Americans that are “unemployed” and there are 92.02 million Americans that are “not in the labor force” for a grand total of 101.77 million working age Americans that do not have a job.  Back in April 2000, only 5.48 million Americans were unemployed and only 69.27 million Americans were “not in the labor force” for a grand total of 74.75 million Americans without a job.  That means that the number of working age Americans without a job has risen by 27 million since the year 2000.  Any way that you want to slice that, it is bad news.

Well, what about as a percentage of the population?

Has the percentage of working age Americans that have a job been increasing or decreasing?

As you can see from the chart posted below, the percentage of working age Americans with a job has been in a long-term downward trend.  As the year 2000 began, we were sitting at 64.6 percent.  By the time the great financial crisis of 2008 struck, we were hovering around 63 percent.  During the last recession, we fell dramatically to under 59 percent and we have stayed there ever since…

Employment Population Ratio April 2014

And the numbers behind this chart also show that employment in America did not increase last month.

In March, 58.9 percent of all working age Americans had a job.

In April, 58.9 percent of all working age Americans had a job.

Things are not getting worse (at least for the moment), but things are also definitely not getting better.

The month that Barack Obama entered the White House, we were in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and only 60.6 percent of all working age Americans had a job.

Since only 58.9 percent of all working age Americans have a job now, that means that the employment situation in America is still significantly worse than it was the day Barack Obama took office.

So don’t let anyone fool you with talk of an “employment recovery”.  It simply is not happening.  The official unemployment rate bears so little relation to economic reality at this point that it has essentially become meaningless.

Look, how in the world can we have an “unemployment rate” of just “6.3 percent” when 20 percent of all American families do n0t have a single member that is working?

Here is how that 20 percent figure was arrived at

A family, as defined by the BLS, is a group of two or more people who live together and who are related by birth, adoption or marriage. In 2013, there were 80,445,000 families in the United States and in 16,127,000—or 20 percent–no one had a job.

So if one out of every five families is completely unemployed, then why is the official government unemployment rate not up at Great Depression era levels?

Could it be that the government is manipulating the numbers to make them look much better than they actually are?

Why don’t they just go ahead and get it over with?  They can just define every American that is not working as “not in the labor force” and then we can have “0.0 percent unemployment”.  Then we can all have a giant party and celebrate how wonderful the U.S. economy is.

And don’t be fooled by the “288,000 jobs” that were added to the U.S. economy last month.  For workers under the age of 55, the number of jobs actually dropped by a whopping 259,000.

If we were using honest numbers, the official unemployment rate would look a lot scarier.  John Williams of shadowstats.com has calculated that the unemployment rate should be about 23 percent.  I don’t think that is too far off.

Meanwhile, the quality of the jobs in our economy continues to go down.  The House Ways and Means Committee says that seven out of every eight jobs that have been “added” to the economy under Barack Obama have been part-time jobs.  But you can’t raise a family or plan a career around a part-time job.  To be honest, it is very hard for a single person to even survive on a part-time wage in this economic environment.

As the quality of our jobs goes down, so do our incomes.  The median household income has declined for five years in a row, and the middle class is falling apart.

Without middle class incomes, you can’t have a middle class.  Considering what we have been watching happen, it should be no surprise that the homeownership rate in the United States has dropped to the lowest level in 19 years or that the number of Americans receiving money from the government each month exceeds the number of full-time workers in the private sector by more than 60 million.

For many more statistics like this, please see my previous article entitled “17 Facts To Show To Anyone That Believes That The U.S. Economy Is Just Fine“.

At a gut level, most Americans understand that things are much worse than they used to be.

The Pew Research Center recently asked people what “class” they consider themselves to be.  The results were shocking.

Back in 2008, only 25 percent of all Americans considered themselves to be “lower middle class” or “poor”.

Earlier this year, an astounding 40 percent of all Americans chose one of those designations.

We are in the midst of a long-term economic decline, and no amount of propaganda is going to change that.

But based on the “happy numbers” being trumpeted by the mainstream media, the Federal Reserve is slowly bringing their quantitative easing program to an end.

When quantitative easing is finally totally cut off, we shall see how the financial markets and the U.S. economy perform without artificial life support.

Personally, I don’t think that it is going to be pretty.

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