Rail Traffic Depression: 292 Union Pacific Engines Are Sitting In The Arizona Desert Doing Nothing

Union Pacific Engines - Google EarthWe continue to get more evidence that the U.S. economy has entered a major downturn.  Just last week, I wrote about how U.S. GDP growth numbers have been declining for three quarters in a row, and previously I wrote about how corporate defaults have surged to their highest level since the last financial crisis.  Well, now we are getting some very depressing numbers from the rail industry.  As you will see below, U.S. rail traffic was down more than 11 percent from a year ago in April.  That is an absolutely catastrophic number, and the U.S. rail industry is feeling an enormous amount of pain right now.  This also tells us that “the real economy” is really slowing down, because less stuff is being shipped by rail all over the nation.

One of the economic commentators that I have really come to respect is Wolf Richter of WolfStreet.com.  He has a really sharp eye for what is really going on in the economy and in the financial world, and I find myself quoting him more and more as time goes by.  If you have not checked out his site yet, I very much encourage you to do so.

On Wednesday, he posted a very alarming article about what is happening to our rail industry.  The kinds of numbers that we have been seeing recently are the kinds of numbers that we would expect if an economic depression was starting.  The following is an excerpt from that article

Total US rail traffic in April plunged 11.8% from a year ago, the Association of American Railroads reported today. Carloads of bulk commodities such as coal, oil, grains, and chemicals plummeted 16.1% to 944,339 units.

The coal industry is in a horrible condition and cannot compete with US natural gas at current prices. Coal-fired power plants are being retired. Demand for steam coal is plunging. Major US coal miners – even the largest one – are now bankrupt. So in April, carloads of coal plummeted 40% from the already beaten-down levels a year ago.

Because rail traffic is down so dramatically, many operators have large numbers of engines that are just sitting around collecting dust.  In his article, Wolf Richter shared photographs from Google Earth that show some of the 292 Union Pacific engines that are sitting in the middle of the Arizona desert doing absolutely nothing.  The following is one of those photographs…

Union Pacific Engines - Google Earth

As Wolf Richter pointed out, it costs a lot of money for these engines to just sit there doing nothing…

These engines are expensive pieces of equipment. When they just sit there, not pulling trains, they become “overcapacity,” and they get very expensive. Then there are engineers and other personnel who suddenly become unproductive. Some of them have already been laid off or are getting laid off.

All over the world, similar numbers are coming in.  For example, the Baltic Dry Index fell 30 more points on Wednesday after falling 21 on Tuesday.  Global trade is really, really slowing down during the early portion of 2016.  What this means on a practical level is that a lot less stuff is being bought, sold and shipped around the planet.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for authorities to deny that a new global recession has begun, and at this moment we are only in the very early chapters of this new crisis.

Another thing that I watch very closely is the velocity of money.  When an economy is healthy, people feel pretty good about things and money tends to circulate fairly rapidly.  For example, I may buy something from you, then you may buy something from someone else, etc.

But when times get tough, people tend to hold on to their money more tightly, and that is why the velocity of money goes down when recessions hit.  In the chart below, the shaded areas represent recessions, and you can see that the velocity of money has declined during every single recession in the post-World War II era…

M2 Velocity Of Money

During the last recession, the velocity of money declined precipitously, and that makes perfect sense.  But then a funny thing happened.  There was a slight bump up once the recession was over, but then it turned down again and it has kept going down ever since.

In fact, the velocity of money has now dropped to an all-time low.  The velocity of M2 just recently dipped below 1.5 for the first time ever.

This is not a sign of an “economic recovery”.  What this tells us is that our economy is very, very sick.

And we can see evidence of this sickness all around us.  For instance, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that homelessness in Los Angeles increased by 11 percent last year, and this marked the fourth year in a row that homelessness in the city has increased…

Homelessness rose 11% in the city of Los Angeles and 5.7% in the county last year despite an intensive federal push that slashed the county ranks of homeless veterans by nearly a third, according to a report released Wednesday.

The increase marks the fourth consecutive year of rising homelessness in L.A., as local officials struggle to identify funding for billion-dollar plans they approved to solve the nation’s most intractable homeless problem.

Let us also not forget that about half the country is basically flat broke at this point.

Just recently, the Federal Reserve found that 47 percent of all Americans could not pay an unexpected $400 emergency room bill without selling something or borrowing the money from somewhere.

With numbers such as these being reported, how in the world can anyone possibly claim that the U.S. economy is in good shape?

It boggles the mind, and yet there are people out there that would actually have you believe that everything is just fine.

The current occupant of the White House is one of them.

With each passing month, the real economy is getting even worse.  We may not have slipped into a full-blown economic depression just yet, but it is coming.

For now, let us be thankful for whatever remains of our debt-fueled prosperity, because we don’t deserve the massively inflated standard of living that we have been enjoying.

We have been consuming far more than we produce for decades, but it won’t last for much longer.  And when those days are gone for good, we will mourn them bitterly.

Depressing Survey Results Show How Extremely Stupid America Has Become

No Thinking - Public DomainTen years ago, a major Hollywood film entitled “Idiocracy” was released, and it was an excellent metaphor for what would happen to America over the course of the next decade.  In the movie, an “average American” wakes up 500 years in the future only to discover that he is the most intelligent person by far in the “dumbed down” society that he suddenly finds himself in.  Sadly, I truly believe that if people of average intellect from the 1950s and 1960s were transported to 2016, they would likely be considered mental giants compared to the rest of us.  We have a country where criminals are being paid $1000 a month not to shoot people, and the highest paid public employee in more than half the states is a football coach.  Hardly anyone takes time to read a book anymore, and yet the average American spends 302 minutes a day watching television.  75 percent of our young adults cannot find Israel on a map of the Middle East, but they sure know how to find smut on the Internet.  It may be hard to believe, but there are more than 4 million adult websites on the Internet today, and they get more traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.

What in the world has happened to us?  How is it possible that we have become so stupid?  According to a brand new report that was recently released, almost 10 percent of our college graduates believe that Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court…

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni publishes occasional reports on what college students know.

Nearly 10 percent of the college graduates surveyed thought Judith Sheindlin, TV’s “Judge Judy,” is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Less than 20 percent of the college graduates knew the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation. More than a quarter of the college graduates did not know Franklin D. Roosevelt was president during World War II; one-third did not know he was the president who spearheaded the New Deal.

It can be tempting to laugh at numbers like these until you realize that survey after survey has come up with similar results.

Just consider what Newsweek found a few years ago…

When NEWSWEEK recently asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test, 29 percent couldn’t name the vice president. Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar.

Even worse were the extremely depressing results of a study conducted a few years ago by Common Core…

*Only 43 percent of all U.S. high school students knew that the Civil War was fought some time between 1850 and 1900.

*More than a quarter of all U.S. high school students thought that Christopher Columbus made his famous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean after the year 1750.

*Approximately a third of all U.S. high school students did not know that the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

*Only 60 percent of all U.S. students knew that World War I was fought some time between 1900 and 1950.

Of course survey results can be skewed, and much hinges on how the questions are asked.

However, even studies that are scientifically conducted confirm how stupid America has become.  In fact, a report from the Educational Testing Service found that Americans are falling way behind much of the rest of the industrialized world.  The following comes from CBS News

Americans born after 1980 are lagging their peers in countries ranging from Australia to Estonia, according to a new report from researchers at the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The study looked at scores for literacy and numeracy from a test called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, which tested the abilities of people in 22 countries.

The results are sobering, with dire implications for America. It hints that students may be falling behind not only in their early educational years but at the college level. Even though more Americans between the ages of 20 to 34 are achieving higher levels of education, they’re still falling behind their cohorts in other countries. In Japan, Finland and the Netherlands, young adults with only a high school degree scored on par with American Millennials holding four-year college degrees, the report said.

Out of 22 countries that were part of the study, the Educational Testing Service found that Americans were dead last in tech proficiency, dead last in numeracy and only two countries performed worse than us when it came to literacy proficiency

Half of American Millennials score below the minimum standard of literacy proficiency. Only two countries scored worse by that measure: Italy (60 percent) and Spain (59 percent). The results were even worse for numeracy, with almost two-thirds of American Millennials failing to meet the minimum standard for understanding and working with numbers. That placed U.S. Millennials dead last for numeracy among the study’s 22 developed countries.

So why has this happened?

Why have we become such an extremely stupid nation?

Well, at least a portion of the blame must be directed at our system of education.  The following is an excerpt from an article written by reporter Mark Morford.  In this article, he shared how one of his friends which had served for a very long time as a high school teacher in Oakland, California was considering moving out of the country when he retired due to the relentless “dumb-ification of the American brain”

It’s gotten so bad that, as my friend nears retirement, he says he is very seriously considering moving out of the country so as to escape what he sees will be the surefire collapse of functioning American society in the next handful of years due to the absolutely irrefutable destruction, the shocking — and nearly hopeless — dumb-ification of the American brain. It is just that bad.

Now, you may think he’s merely a curmudgeon, a tired old teacher who stopped caring long ago. Not true. Teaching is his life. He says he loves his students, loves education and learning and watching young minds awaken. Problem is, he is seeing much less of it.

And of course things don’t get much better when it comes to our college students.  In a previous article, I shared some statistics from USA Today about the rapidly declining state of college education in the United States…

-“After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.”

-“Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago”

-“35% of students report spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone.”

-“50% said they never took a class in a typical semester where they wrote more than 20 pages”

-“32% never took a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”

I spent eight years studying at some of the finest public universities in the country, and I can tell you from personal experience that even our most challenging college courses have been pathetically dumbed down.

And at our “less than finest” public universities, the level of education can be something of a bad joke.  In another previous article, I shared some examples of actual courses that have been taught at U.S. universities in recent years…

-“What If Harry Potter Is Real?

-“Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame

-“Philosophy And Star Trek

-“Learning From YouTube

-“How To Watch Television

Could you imagine getting actual college credit for a course entitled “What If Harry Potter Is Real?”

This is why many of our college graduates can barely put two sentences together.  They aren’t being challenged, and the quality of the education most of them are receiving is incredibly poor.

But even though they aren’t being challenged, students are taking longer to get through college than ever.  Federal statistics reveal that only 36 percent of all full-time students receive a bachelor’s degree within four years, and only 77 percent of all full-time students have earned a bachelor’s degree by the end of six years.

Of course our system of education is not entirely to blame.  The truth is that young Americans spend far more time consuming media than they do hitting the books, and what passes for “entertainment” these days is rapidly turning their brains to mush.

According to a report put out by Nielsen, this is how much time the average American spends consuming media on various devices each day…

Watching live television: 4 hours, 32 minutes

Watching time-shifted television: 30 minutes

Listening to the radio: 2 hours, 44 minutes

Using a smartphone: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Using Internet on a computer: 1 hour, 6 minutes

When you add it all up, the average American spends more than 10 hours a day plugged into some form of media.

And if you allow anyone to pump “programming” into your mind for 10 hours a day, it is going to have a dramatic impact.

In the end, I truly believe that we all greatly underestimate the influence that the mainstream media has on all of us.  We willingly plug into “the Matrix” for endless hours, but then somehow we still expect “to think for ourselves”.

There are very few of us that can say that we have not been exposed to thousands upon thousands of hours of conditioning.  And all of that garbage can make it very, very difficult to think clearly.

It is not because of a lack of input that we have become so stupid as a society.  The big problem is what we are putting into our minds.

If we continue to put garbage in, we are going to continue to get garbage out, and that is the cold, hard reality of the matter.

Thanks To The Republican Civil War, Every Scenario Ends With Hillary Clinton Winning The Election

Hillary Clinton_Testimony_to_House_Select_Committee_on_Benghazi - Public DomainWhat is the worst possible outcome for the presidential election of 2016?  Assuming that an election will actually take place, that is an easy question to answer – Hillary Rodham Clinton as the next president of the United States.  She is truly evil in every sense of the word, and the implications of what four (or eight) years of Hillary would mean for our nation are almost too terrible to imagine.  That is why it is so depressing watching what is happening to the Republican Party right now.  The civil war in the Republican Party is ripping it to shreds, and as a result of all this warfare every plausible scenario for what will happen the rest of the way ends with Hillary Clinton winning the 2016 election.

According to the Associated Press, here is how the Republican delegate count stands as of right now…

Donald Trump: 384

Ted Cruz: 300

Marco Rubio: 151

John Kasich: 37

Ted Cruz looks like he is within shooting distance of Trump, but that is an illusion.  The early part of the schedule was full of states where Cruz was expected to do well, but now the map is going to work very much against him.

At this point, the only candidate that looks like he may be able to accumulate 1,237 delegates before the convention is Trump, and that is far from guaranteed.  So far, Trump has won approximately 44 percent of the delegates during the caucuses and primaries.  By the time it is all said and done, he will need to have slightly more than 60 percent of all the delegates awarded during the caucuses and primaries to guarantee himself the nomination before the Republican convention.  That is because there are hundreds of delegates that are not awarded during the caucuses and the primaries, and almost all of those delegates are members of the Republican establishment.

Trump can still get there by racking up large delegate totals in winner-take-all states such as California, but it will be a challenge.  The entire Republican Party establishment, Fox News, Glenn Beck and a significant number of other prominent conservative voices have all declared war on Trump.  In fact, there are super PACs that are going to spend tens of millions of dollars doing nothing but trying to destroy Trump.

If the Republican Party actually wanted to beat Hillary Clinton in November, they should be rallying around Trump and trying to help him, because he would definitely need a lot of help to win the general election.

According to Real Clear Politics, the latest three polls all have Trump losing to Clinton by at least 5 points.  In key states such as Michigan, the numbers are quite a bit more dismal.  Over the next few months, those numbers are likely to get even worse as Trump is savagely assaulted by the Republican establishment and relentlessly bombarded by tens of millions of dollars of negative attack ads.  Meanwhile, Clinton is cruising along virtually unscathed.

Of course in a just world Hillary Clinton would have already been arrested and put in prison.  There is no possible way that she should be running for president of the United States.  Unfortunately, we live in a deeply corrupt society, and this is the way that things work.

If by some miracle he does survive to become the nominee, a significantly weakened Trump would then have to face the full power of the Clinton political machine.  It is estimated that a billion dollars could be spent on the Democratic side this time around, and Trump does not have the resources to match that.  Normally big Republican donors rally around the nominee, but in this case the big money is fighting like crazy to defeat Trump.  In a general election matchup, it really would be David vs. Goliath, and Trump would not be Goliath.

If Donald Trump does not accumulate 1,237 delegates before the convention, then we would be headed for what is known as a “brokered convention“.  The rules are very complicated, but the key thing to remember is that the delegates are only bound for the first vote.  After that, they can vote for whoever they want.

And it is very important to note that the campaigns don’t pick their delegates.  Becoming a delegate is a long and tedious process in most states, and most of them are party loyalists.

In the end, a “brokered convention” would almost certainly result in an establishment candidate being chosen as the nominee.  Needless to say, the names “Trump” and “Cruz” would not be on that list.

Have you noticed that Mitt Romney has started to put himself out there lately?  His verbal attacks on Trump have been absolutely scathing, and he told Fox News that he would not say no if he was “drafted” to become the nominee at the Republican convention…

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and the Republicans’ 2012 presidential nominee, repeated remarks from last week, telling “Fox News Sunday” that he wouldn’t launch an eleventh-hour campaign for president. But he declined to reject being “drafted” at the GOP convention in July to be the party’s general election candidate.

It would be absurd to say that if I were drafted I’d say no,” Romney said.

Behind the scenes, much more is going on.  In fact, CNN is reporting that Romney’s team is actively working on a plan to steal the nomination from Trump at the convention…

Mitt Romney has instructed his closest advisers to explore the possibility of stopping Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention, a source close to Romney’s inner circle says.

The 2012 GOP nominee’s advisers are examining what a fight at the convention might look like and what rules might need revising.

It sounds like the plan is to lock the convention,” said the source.

If Romney does emerge as the nominee, does anyone actually believe that he will defeat Clinton?

Of course not.  Trump’s millions of supporters will be absolutely infuriated, and many of them would absolutely refuse to cast a vote for Romney in the general election.

In the end, it would be the same result – a victory for Hillary Clinton.

The next few weeks are going to be very interesting.  If Trump wins Florida and Ohio, there is going to be a lot of pressure on Marco Rubio and John Kasich to get out of the race, and the path to 1,237 delegates would appear to be clear.

However, Mitt Romney could attempt to derail the Trump bandwagon by jumping in the race after March 15th.  Romney’s goal would be to capture enough delegates in winner-take-all states such as California to keep Trump from getting to the magic number of 1,237.  If Romney could do that, he knows that he would likely come out of a brokered convention as the nominee.

But no matter what happens on the Republican side from this point forward, it is going to take a miracle of epic proportions to keep Hillary Clinton from winning the presidency.  Every plausible scenario ends with her in the White House, and that is a truly horrible thing to imagine.

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.

The Death Of The Rust Belt

Abandoned House in Ambridge, Pennsylvania - Public DomainTheir names are familiar to all of us: Cleveland, Flint, Youngstown, Saginaw, Gary, Toledo, Reading, Akron, Flint and Buffalo were all once booming manufacturing cities that were absolutely packed with thriving middle class families.  But now most of the manufacturing jobs are gone and all of those cities are just shadows of their former selves.  When you drive through many of these communities, you will notice that a lot of people have a really hollow look in their eyes.  Decades of slow, steady economic decline have really taken a toll, and even the architecture in these cities looks depressed.  But despite all of the decay, there is still evidence that there was once something truly great about these communities.  Will we be able to recapture that greatness before it is too late?

A lot of writers make economics really complicated, but the truth is that it does not have to be.  For example, if you want your country to have a great economy it has got to produce wealth.  And one of the primary ways to produce wealth is to make stuff.  Immediately after World War II, the United States had the greatest manufacturing base the world had ever seen and we outproduced the rest of the planet combined.  Great manufacturing cities sprouted up all over America and the middle class thrived.  It was truly a great time to be an American.

But then we decided to start shipping in cheaper products from overseas.  At first it didn’t create too much of a problem for our massive economy, but eventually the floodgates opened up and we lost tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities and millions upon millions of good paying jobs.  Our labor pool was merged with the labor pool of countries such as communist China where it is legal to pay slave labor wages to manufacturing workers.  Needless to say, our workers could not compete with that and our middle class started to shrink rapidly.

Today, there are many American cities that were once truly great that are now truly frightening to visit.  For example, a recent CNBC article detailed the plight of Reading, Pennsylvania…

In August 2008, factory workers David and Barbara Ludwig treated themselves to new cars—David a Dodge pickup, Barbara a sporty Mazda 3. With David making $22 an hour and Barbara $19, they could easily afford the payments.

A month later, Baldwin Hardware, a unit of Stanley Black & Decker, announced layoffs at the Reading plant where they both worked. David was unemployed for 20 months before finding a janitor job that paid $10 an hour, less than half his previous wage. Barbara hung on, but she, too, lost her shipping-dock job of 26 years as Black & Decker shifted production to Mexico. Now she cleans houses for $10 an hour while looking for something permanent.

They still have the cars. The other trappings of their middle-class lifestyle? In the rear-view mirror.

I once had an aunt that lived in Reading.  She is dead now, and so is most of the city.  At this point, more than 40 percent of those living in Reading are impoverished and the city government is flat broke.

But similar things could also be said about the rest of the Rust Belt

Perhaps no other region in the country has more eerie examples of urban decay than the once dominant industrial region known as the Rust Belt. Covering the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the region is plagued by a number of abandoned factories, houses and buildings that lay in crumbling ruins.

You can see some incredible photographs by Seph Lawless of the decay in the Rust Belt right here.  The pictures are incredibly depressing, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to see that these cities were once truly impressive.

Just take Gary, Indiana for instance.  It was once known as “the Magic City” because it was doing so well, but now it is a rotting, decaying hellhole.  The following is from an excerpt from a Daily Mail article about Gary…

Gary, a struggling city 30 miles south of Chicago along the shores of Lake Michigan, is a prime example of the trend.

Known as the ‘Magic City’ in the roaring 1920s for its spectacular growth, Gary is still home to U.S. Steel’s largest plant, but the number of mill jobs has shrunk to 5,000 from 30,000 in the 1970s.

Gary’s population in 1960 was more than 178,000, but it disintegrated to just 79,000 by 2012.

Some one-third of its residents live in poverty and the home and business vacancy rate is about 35 percent. Gary recorded 43 murders in 2012 – three times as many per capita as nearby Chicago.

At one time, Gary was the envy of the rest of the globe.

But now very few people would ever want to willingly live there.

The following is how James Kunstler described what he saw when he traveled through Gary, Indiana…

Between the ghostly remnants of factories stood a score of small cities and neighborhoods where the immigrants settled five generations ago. A lot of it was foreclosed and shuttered. They were places of such stunning, relentless dreariness that you felt depressed just imagining how depressed the remaining denizens of these endless blocks of run-down shoebox houses must feel. Judging from the frequency of taquerias in the 1950s-vintage strip-malls, one inferred that the old Eastern European population had been lately supplanted by a new wave of Mexicans. They had inherited an infrastructure for daily life that was utterly devoid of conscious artistry when it was new, and now had the special patina of supernatural rot over it that only comes from materials not found in nature disintegrating in surprising and unexpected ways, sometimes even sublimely, like the sheen of an oil slick on water at a certain angle to the sun. There was a Chernobyl-like grandeur to it, as of the longed-for end of something enormous that hadn’t worked out well.

Sadly, what is happening to Reading and Gary is just a preview of what is slowly happening to the entire nation as a whole.

Since 2001, the United States has lost more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities.

That is absolutely astounding.

Most of those jobs have gone overseas.  That is why it seems like most of our products say “Made in China” these days.  They are getting rich while our communities suffer, and then we have to beg the Chinese to lend our money back to us.

Meanwhile, we have a permanent epidemic of unemployment in this country.  Back in the 1980s, over 20 percent of the jobs in the U.S. were manufacturing jobs.  Today, only about 9 percent of the jobs in the U.S. are manufacturing jobs.

And an astounding number of our young men are just sitting at home instead of doing something productive.  As I wrote about the other day, one out of every six men in their prime working years (25 to 54) do not have a job at this point.

Also, the percentage of working age Americans not participating in the labor force is up to 37.2 percent – a 36 year high.

Not only that, but the quality of our jobs has also steadily declined as we have lost good paying manufacturing jobs to overseas workers.

Right now, half the country makes $27,520 a year or less from their jobs.

No wonder the middle class is dying.

And of course there is so much more that could be said about this.  For even more numbers about our manufacturing decline, please see my previous article entitled “Shocking Facts About The Deindustrialization Of America That Everyone Should Know“.

These problems were not created overnight, and they are not going to be solved overnight either.

But as a nation, we have got to understand that we cannot consume our way to prosperity.  That is only going to result in even more debt.

Instead, we have got to make the decision to produce our way to prosperity.

In other words, we have got to start making stuff in this country again.

That may sounds “crazy” to a lot of people, but it is possible.  We have just got to have the willingness to do it.

You Can Buy A House For One Dollar Or Less In Economically Depressed Cities All Over America

Free House In Yakima, WashingtonWould you like to buy a house for one dollar?  If someone came up to you on the street and asked you that question, you would probably respond by saying that it sounds too good to be true.  But this is actually happening in economically-depressed cities all over America.  Of course there are a number of reasons why you might want to think twice before buying any of these homes, and I will get into those reasons in just a little bit.  First, however, it is worth noting that many of the cities where these “free houses” are available were once some of the most prosperous cities in the entire country.  In fact, the city of Detroit once had the highest per capita income in the entire nation.  But as millions of good jobs have been shipped overseas, these once prosperous communities have degenerated into rotting, decaying hellholes.  Now homes that once housed thriving middle class families cannot even be given away.  This is happening all over America, and what we are witnessing right now is only just the beginning.

The photo that I have posted below was sent to me by a reader just the other day.  It is a photo of a house in Yakima, Washington that is apparently being given away for free.  At one time it was probably quite a lovely home, but now nobody seems to want it…

Free Home In Yakima, Washington

This piqued my curiosity, so I started doing some research and I discovered that homes all over the nation are being sold off for a dollar or less.  The following are just a few examples…

Buffalo, New York: “The Urban Homestead Program that is offered by the City of Buffalo enables qualified buyers to purchase a home that has been deemed ‘homestead eligible’ for $1.00 and there are plenty of properties left. There are three main requirements when purchasing a homestead property; the owner must fix all code violations within 18 months, have immediate access to at least $5000, and live there for at least three years. You also have to cover the closing costs of the purchase.”

Gary, Indiana: “Officials say that a third of the houses in Gary are unoccupied, hollowed dwellings spread across a city that, like other former industrial powerhouses, has lost more than half its population in the last half-century.

While some of those homes will be demolished, Gary is exploring a more affordable way to lift its haggard tax base and reduce the excess of empty structures: sell them for $1.”

South Bend, Indiana: “How could you refuse this offer? The city of South Bend, Indiana wants to give this handsome circa-1851 Italianate farmhouse away to anyone willing to properly restore it. Aside from the boarded up windows (the boards are painted to look like real windows), the place is in pretty good shape, with a completely restored exterior, new roof, and all new HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems. All you’ll need to do is restore the gutted (but clean as can be) interior.”

Detroit, Michigan: “Now that the motor city has effectively run out of gas and declared bankruptcy, some rather eye-popping deals are presenting themselves to first time home buyers who appreciate the challenge of a fixer-upper.

Hundreds of Detroit homes currently listed on Zillow have asking prices below $5,000, with at least one seller so desperate as to offer his house for just $1, ABC News reported.”

—–

And guess who is selling more “one dollar homes” than anyone else?

If you guessed “the federal government” you would be correct.

Right now, the federal government is selling foreclosed homes to low income families all over the country for just one dollar

HUD’s Dollar Homes initiative helps local governments to foster housing opportunities for low to moderate income families and address specific community needs by offering them the opportunity to purchase qualified HUD-owned homes for $1 each.

Dollar Homes are single-family homes that are acquired by the Federal Housing Administration (which is part of HUD) as a result of foreclosure actions. Single-family properties are made available through the program whenever FHA is unable to sell the homes for six months.

By selling vacant homes for $1 after six months on the market, HUD makes it possible for communities to fix up the homes and put them to good use at a considerable savings.

Before you get too excited, there are a whole bunch of reasons why you wouldn’t want to actually buy any of these one dollar homes.

First of all, most of them have been totally trashed.  Just to get them up to livable condition would take thousands of dollars in most cases.  Many of them are full of asbestos, and severe wiring and plumbing issues are quite common.

Secondly, you assume all of the liability for a home when you buy it.  So if a homeless person stumbles in and injures himself, you could be liable for his injuries.

Thirdly, many of these homes are in very high crime neighborhoods.  In some of these areas, people will literally rip up and carry away anything that is not bolted down.

Fourthly, property taxes are very high in many of these cities.  Local governments are desperate to get people into these homes so that they can get the taxes flowing again.  In many cases, what you would pay in taxes for a year is more than the true value of the home itself.

So, like I said, these homes are not the “great deal” that they may appear to be at first glance.

But that is not really the issue.

The real question is this: What is causing our communities to decay so dramatically?

And of course a big part of the answer is that the middle class in America is dying.

According to Time Magazine, one new report has discovered that nearly half the country is constantly living in a state of “persistent economic insecurity”…

But as evidenced by a report out Thursday from the Corporation for Enterprise Development, nearly half of Americans are living in a state of “persistent economic insecurity,” that makes it “difficult to look beyond immediate needs and plan for a more secure future.”

That same report also found that 56 percent of all Americans now have “subprime credit”.

We are a nation that is losing our independence and sinking into poverty.

Right now, 49.2 percent of all Americans are receiving benefits from at least one government program, and the U.S. government has spent an astounding 3.7 trillion dollars on welfare programs over the past five years.

Millions of our jobs have been shipped overseas, the control freak bureaucrats that are running things are absolutely killing “the little guy”, and poverty in the United States is exploding at a frightening pace.

Things are “changing” in this country, and not for the better.

One way that the death of the middle class is manifesting itself is in the death of shopping malls all over America.  The following is an excerpt from a recent Business Insider article

All across America, once-vibrant shopping malls are boarded up and decaying.

Traffic-driving anchors like Sears and JCPenney are shutting down stores, and mall owners are having a hard time finding retailers large enough to replace them. With a fresh wave of closures on the horizon, the problem is set to accelerate, according to retail and real estate analysts.

According to that same article, one prominent retail analyst believes that we could see up to 50 percent of the shopping malls in America close within 20 years…

Within 15 to 20 years, retail consultant Howard Davidowitz expects as many as half of America’s shopping malls to fail. He predicts that only upscale shopping centers with anchors like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus will survive.

And did you catch that last part?  Only the shopping malls in wealthy areas will survive because the wealthy will be the only ones with enough money to support them.

For much more on this phenomenon, please see my previous article entitled “What Recovery? Sears And J.C. Penney Are DYING“.

At this point, things have already gotten so bad that now even Wal-Mart is having trouble.  In fact, Wal-Mart is blaming the recent slowdown in sales on cuts to the federal food stamp program

Wal-Mart announced today that cuts in a federal food stamp program as well as record cold temperatures hurt its fourth quarter profits.

After previously reporting “relatively flat” sales for the quarter, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. now says that sales for its namesake store and its Sam’s Club locations would be “slightly negative” for the November-January quarter, according to Agence France-Presse.

Wal-Mart’s Chief Financial Officer, Charles Holley, blamed the revised forecast on deeper-than-expected cuts to the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the extreme cold weather occurring in the past month.

This is how far the middle class in America has fallen.  So many people are now on food stamps that even a slight reduction in benefits has a huge impact on the largest retailer in the entire country.

And actually, many rural communities could end up losing their Wal-Mart stores in the years ahead as the economy continues to deteriorate.  In a recent CNBC article entitled “Time to close Wal-Mart stores? Analysts think so“, it was suggested that Wal-Mart should close about 100 “underperforming” supercenters in rural locations around the nation.

We are rapidly becoming “two Americas”.  In the “good America”, the wealthy will still have plenty of retail stores to choose from within easy driving distance from their million dollar homes.

In the “bad America”, which will include most of us, our shopping malls will be closing down and the rotting, decaying homes of our neighbors will be sold off for next to nothing.

So which America do you live in?  Please feel free to share what is going on in your neck of the woods by posting a comment below…

They Denied That We Were In A Depression In 1933 And They Are Doing It Again In 2013

Great Depression HeadlinesThe more things change, the more things stay the same.  The Great Depression actually started in 1929, but as you will see below, as late as 1933 the Associated Press was still pumping out lots of news stories with optimistic economic headlines and many Americans still did not believe that we were actually in a depression.  And of course we are experiencing a very similar thing today.  The United States is in the worst financial shape that it has ever been in, our economic infrastructure is being systematically gutted, and poverty is absolutely exploding.  Since the stock market crash of 2008, the Federal Reserve has been wildly printing money and the federal government has been running trillion dollar deficits in a desperate attempt to stabilize things, but in the process they have made our long-term economic problems far worse.  It would be hard to overstate how dire our situation is, and yet the mainstream media continues to assure us that everything is just fine and that happy days are here again.

As I have already noted, the mainstream media was doing the exact same thing back during the days of the Great Depression.  The following are actual Associated Press headlines from 1933…

Decisive Break from Panic Shown in Business Figures

Markets Spurt To New Highs

New Farm Bill to End Depression

And the following is a headline discovery from 1933 that was made by Linda Goin

I was browsing through old newspapers the other day and discovered a page filled with news about the stock market and banks in the Daily Capital News from Jefferson City, Missouri. The date was March 15, 1933, well into the Great Depression, and the news was cautiously celebratory as a headline read, “Era of Fear is Declared at End Now.

The Depression-era classic song entitled “Happy Days Are Here Again” was played at the Democratic National Convention in 1932 and it went on to be featured by the Democrats for many years after that.  The following is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article about that song…

Today, the song is probably best remembered as the campaign song for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s successful 1932 presidential campaign. According to TIME magazine, it gained prominence after a spontaneous decision by Roosevelt’s advisers to play it at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, and went on to become the Democratic Party‘s “unofficial theme song for years to come”.

There is only one huge problem.

The election of Roosevelt didn’t end the depression.  Years of bitter economic suffering and dust bowl conditions were still ahead.  The Great Depression continued all the way up to the start of World War II, and the war years were certainly no picnic for average folks either.

But at least cheery headlines can make people feel better, right?

That is what some believe.

Others believe that giving people false hope is very cruel and that it sets up people for failure.

The following are some actual headlines that were found on mainstream news sites today…

CNBC: “Recession risk gone in all US states but 1: Moody’s Analytics

CNN: “Foreclosure crisis is drawing to a close

NBC News: “Stocks close near highs; S&P logs 7-day rally

Wow, those headlines sound great!

So are happy days here again?

Not quite.

In fact, things continue to get even worse in a whole host of ways.  Just consider the following statistics…

-According to a brand new Gallup poll that was just released, 20.0% of all Americans did not have enough money to buy food that they or their families needed at some point over the past year.  That is just under the record of 20.4% that was set back in November 2008.

-Gallup also found that the ability of American families to meet some of their other most basic needs is near an all-time low…

The Basic Access Index, which includes 13 questions about topics including Americans’ ability to afford food, housing, and healthcare, was 81.4 in August, on par with the all-time low of 81.2 recorded in October 2011.

More than 90 million working age Americans are considered to be “not in the labor force”.

-The labor force participation rate is the lowest that it has been in 35 years.

516,000 Americans “left the labor force” last month.  That was a brand new all-time record high.

-The number of private sector jobs dropped by 278,000 last month.

77 percent of the jobs that have been “created” so far this year have been part-time jobs.

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

-Right now, 40 percent of all U.S. workers are making less than what a full-time minimum wage worker made back in 1968.

-The U.S. trade deficit with China has hit a brand new record high.

-The U.S. trade deficit with the EU has hit a brand new record high.

-The number of U.S. households on food stamps is at a brand new record high.

-One of the largest furniture manufacturers in America was just forced into bankruptcy

The maker of furniture brands such as Thomasville, Broyhill, Lane and Drexel Heritage said Monday that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

-Total mortgage activity has dropped to the lowest level that we have seen since October 2008.

Yes, those in the top 1 percent are doing very well for the moment thanks to the reckless money printing that the Federal Reserve has been doing.

But for most Americans, the last several years have been a continual struggle.  The following is a list that comes from one of my previous articles entitled “44 Facts About The Death Of The Middle Class That Every American Should Know“…

1. According to one recent survey, “four out of five U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives”.

2. The growth rate of real disposable personal income is the lowest that it has been in decades.

3. Median household income (adjusted for inflation) has fallen by 7.8 percent since the year 2000.

4. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the middle class is taking home a smaller share of the overall income pie than has ever been recorded before.

5. The home ownership rate in the United States is the lowest that it has been in 18 years.

6. It is more expensive to rent a home in America than ever before.  In fact, median asking rent for vacant rental units just hit a brand new all-time record high.

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

8. The U.S. economy actually lost 240,000 full-time jobs last month, and the number of full-time workers in the United States is now about 6 million below the old record that was set back in 2007.

9. The largest employer in the United States right now is Wal-Mart.  The second largest employer in the United States right now is a temp agency (Kelly Services).

10. One out of every ten jobs in the United States is now filled through a temp agency.

11. According to the Social Security Administration, 40 percent of all workers in the United States make less than $20,000 a year.

12. The ratio of wages and salaries to GDP is near an all-time record low.

13. The U.S. economy continues to trade good paying jobs for low paying jobs.  60 percent of the jobs lost during the last recession were mid-wage jobs, but 58 percent of the jobs created since then have been low wage jobs.

14. Back in 1980, less than 30% of all jobs in the United States were low income jobs.  Today, more than 40% of all jobs in the United States are low income jobs.

15. At this point, one out of every four American workers has a job that pays $10 an hour or less.

16. According to one study, between 1969 and 2009 the median wages earned by American men between the ages of 30 and 50 declined by 27 percent after you account for inflation.

17. In the year 2000, about 17 million Americans were employed in manufacturing.  Today, only about 12 million Americans are employed in manufacturing.

18. The United States has lost more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities since 2001.

19. The average number of hours worked per employed person per year has fallen by about 100 since the year 2000.

20. Back in the year 2000, more than 64 percent of all working age Americans had a job.  Today, only 58.7 percent of all working age Americans have a job.

21. When you total up all working age Americans that do not have a job, it comes to more than 100 million.

22. The average duration of unemployment in the United States is nearly three times as long as it was back in the year 2000.

23. The percentage of Americans that are self-employed has steadily declined over the past decade and is now at an all-time low.

24. Right now there are 20.2 million Americans that spend more than half of their incomes on housing.  That represents a 46 percent increase from 2001.

25. In 1989, the debt to income ratio of the average American family was about 58 percent.  Today it is up to 154 percent.

26. Total U.S. household debt grew from just 1.4 trillion dollars in 1980 to a whopping 13.7 trillion dollars in 2007.  This played a huge role in the financial crisis of 2008, and the problem still has not been solved.

27. The total amount of student loan debt in the United States recently surpassed the one trillion dollar mark.

28. Total home mortgage debt in the United States is now about 5 times larger than it was just 20 years ago.

29. Back in the year 2000, the mortgage delinquency rate was about 2 percent.  Today, it is nearly 10 percent.

30. Consumer debt in the United States has risen by a whopping 1700% since 1971, and 46% of all Americans carry a credit card balance from month to month.

31. In 1999, 64.1 percent of all Americans were covered by employment-based health insurance.  Today, only 55.1 percent are covered by employment-based health insurance.

32. One study discovered that approximately 41 percent of all working age Americans either have medical bill problems or are currently paying off medical debt, and according to a report published in The American Journal of Medicine medical bills are a major factor in more than 60 percent of all personal bankruptcies in the United States.

33. Each year, the average American must work 107 days just to make enough money to pay local, state and federal taxes.

34. Today, approximately 46.2 million Americans are living in poverty.

35. The number of Americans living in poverty has increased by more than 15 million since the year 2000.

36. Families that have a head of household under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.

37. At this point, approximately 25 million American adults are living with their parents.

38. In the year 2000, there were only 17 million Americans on food stamps.  Today, there are more than 47 million Americans on food stamps.

39. Back in the 1970s, about one out of every 50 Americans was on food stamps.  Today, about one out of every 6.5 Americans is on food stamps.

40. Right now, the number of Americans on food stamps exceeds the entire population of the nation of Spain.

41. According to one calculation, the number of Americans on food stamps now exceeds the combined populations of “Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.”

42. At this point, more than a million public school students in the United States are homeless.  This is the first time that has ever happened in our history.  That number has risen by 57 percent since the 2006-2007 school year.

43. According to U.S. Census data, 57 percent of all American children live in a home that is either considered to be “poor” or “low income”.

44. In the year 2000, the ratio of social welfare benefits to salaries and wages was approximately 21 percent.  Today, the ratio of social welfare benefits to salaries and wages is approximately 35 percent.

But there is no way that we are actually in another economic depression, right?

If that was the case, the mainstream media certainly would have told us, right?

According to John Williams of Shadow Government Statistics, if the U.S. government actually used honest numbers, they would show that the U.S. economy has actually been contracting continually since 2005.

In other words, if the numbers were not being manipulated they would show that we have had negative GDP growth every single year since 2005.

I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds like a depression to me.

What do you think?

Great Depression Headlines

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