Has The Next Recession Already Begun For America’s Middle Class?

RecessionHas the next major economic downturn already started?  The way that you would answer that question would probably depend on where you live.  If you live in New York City, or the suburbs of Washington D.C., or you work for one of the big tech firms in the San Francisco area, you would probably respond to such a question by saying of course not.  In those areas, the economy is doing great and prices for high end homes are still booming.  But in most of the rest of the nation, evidence continues to mount that the next recession has already begun for the poor and the middle class.  As you will read about below, major retailers had an absolutely dreadful start to 2014 and home sales are declining just as they did back in 2007 before the last financial crisis.  Meanwhile, the U.S. economy continues to lose more good jobs and 20 percent of all U.S. families do not have a single member that is employed at this point.  2014 is turning out to be eerily similar to 2007 in so many ways, but most people are not paying attention.

During the first quarter of 2014, earnings by major U.S. retailers missed estimates by the biggest margin in 13 years.  The “retail apocalypse” continues to escalate, and the biggest reason for this is the fact that middle class consumers in the U.S. are tapped out.  And this is not just happening to a few retailers – this is something that is happening across the board.  The following is a summary of how major U.S. retailers performed in the first quarter of 2014 that was put together by Jim Quinn

Wal-Mart Profit Plunges By $220 Million as US Store Traffic Declines by 1.4%

Target Profit Plunges by $80 Million, 16% Lower Than 2013, as Store Traffic Declines by 2.3%

Sears Loses $358 Million in First Quarter as Comparable Store Sales at Sears Plunge by 7.8% and Sales at Kmart Plunge by 5.1%

JC Penney Thrilled With Loss of Only $358 Million For the Quarter

Kohl’s Operating Income Plunges by 17% as Comparable Sales Decline by 3.4%

Costco Profit Declines by $84 Million as Comp Store Sales Only Increase by 2%

Staples Profit Plunges by 44% as Sales Collapse and Closing Hundreds of Stores

Gap Income Drops 22% as Same Store Sales Fall

American Eagle Profits Tumble 86%, Will Close 150 Stores

Aeropostale Losses $77 Million as Sales Collapse by 12%

Best Buy Sales Decline by $300 Million as Margins Decline and Comparable Store Sales Decline by 1.3%

Macy’s Profit Flat as Comparable Store Sales decline by 1.4%

Dollar General Profit Plummets by 40% as Comp Store Sales Decline by 3.8%

Urban Outfitters Earnings Collapse by 20% as Sales Stagnate

McDonalds Earnings Fall by $66 Million as US Comp Sales Fall by 1.7%

Darden Profit Collapses by 30% as Same Restaurant Sales Plunge by 5.6% and Company Selling Red Lobster

TJX Misses Earnings Expectations as Sales & Earnings Flat

Dick’s Misses Earnings Expectations as Golf Store Sales Plummet

Home Depot Misses Earnings Expectations as Customer Traffic Only Rises by 2.2%

Lowes Misses Earnings Expectations as Customer Traffic was Flat

That is quite a startling list.

But plummeting retail sales are not the only sign that the U.S. middle class is really struggling right now.  Home sales have also been extremely disappointing for quite a few months.  This is how Wolf Richter described what we have been witnessing…

This is precisely what shouldn’t have happened but was destined to happen: Sales of existing homes have gotten clobbered since last fall. At first, the Fiscal Cliff and the threat of a US government default – remember those zany times? – were blamed, then polar vortices were blamed even while home sales in California, where the weather had been gorgeous all winter, plunged more than elsewhere.

Then it spread to new-home sales: in April, they dropped 4.7% from a year ago, after March’s year-over-year decline of 4.9%, and February’s 2.8%. Not a good sign: the April hit was worse than February’s, when it was the weather’s fault. Yet April should be the busiest month of the year (excellent brief video by Lee Adler on this debacle).

We have already seen that in some markets, in California for example, sales have collapsed at the lower two-thirds of the price range, with the upper third thriving. People who earn median incomes are increasingly priced out of the market, and many potential first-time buyers have little chance of getting in. In San Diego, for example, sales of homes below $200,000 plunged 46% while the upper end is doing just fine.

As Richter noted, sales of upper end homes are still doing fine in many areas.

But how long will that be able to continue if things continue to get even worse for the poor and the middle class?  Traditionally, the U.S. economy has greatly depended upon consumer spending by the middle class.  If that continues to dry up, how long can we avoid falling into a recession?  For even more numbers that seem to indicate economic trouble for the middle class, please see my previous article entitled “27 Huge Red Flags For The U.S. Economy“.

Other analysts are expressing similar concerns.  For example, check out what John Williams of shadowstats.com had to say during one recent interview

We’re turning down anew. The first quarter should revise into negative territory… and I believe the second quarter will report negative as well.

That will all happen by July 30 when you have the annual revisions to the GDP. In reality the economy is much weaker than that. Economic growth is overstated with the GDP because they understate inflation, which is used in deflating the number…

What we’re seeing now is just… we’ve been barely stagnant and bottomed out… but we’re turning down again.

The reason for this is that the consumer is strapped… doesn’t have the liquidity to fuel the growth in consumption.

Income… the median household income, net of inflation, is as low as it was in 1967. The average guy is not staying ahead of inflation…

This has been a problem now for decades… You were able to buy consumption from the future by borrowing more money, expanding your debt. Greenspan saw the problem was income, so he encouraged debt expansion.

That all blew apart in 2007/2008… the income problems have continued, but now you don’t have the ability to borrow money the way you used to. Without that and the income problems remaining, there’s no way that consumption can grow faster than inflation if income isn’t.

As a result – personal consumption is more than two thirds of the economy – there’s no way you can have positive sustainable growth in the U.S. economy without the consumer being healthy.

The key to the health of the middle class is having plenty of good jobs.

But the U.S. economy continues to lose more good paying jobs.

For example, Hewlett-Packard has just announced that it plans to eliminate 16,000 more jobs in addition to the 34,000 job cuts that have already been announced.

Today, there are 27 million more working age Americans that do not have a job than there were in 2000, and the quality of our jobs continues to decline.

This is absolutely destroying the middle class.  Unless the employment situation in this country starts to turn around, there does not seem to be much hope that the middle class will recover any time soon.

Meanwhile, there are emerging signs of trouble for the wealthy as well.

For instance, just like we witnessed back in 2007, things are starting to look a bit shaky at the “too big to fail” banks.  The following is an excerpt from a recent CNBC report

Citigroup has joined the ranks of those with trading troubles, as a high-ranking official told the Deutsche Bank 2014 Global Financial Services Investor Conference Tuesday that adjusted trading revenue probably will decline 20 percent to 25 percent in the second quarter on an annualized basis.

“People are uncertain,” Chief Financial Officer John Gerspach said of investor behavior, according to an account from the Wall Street Journal. “There just isn’t a lot of movement.”

In recent weeks, officials at JPMorgan Chase and Barclays also both reported likely drops in trading revenue. JPMorgan said it expected a decline of 20 percent of the quarter, while Barclays anticipates a 41 percent drop, prompting it to announce mass layoffs that will pare 19,000 jobs by the end of 2016.

Remember, very few people expected a recession the last time around either.  In fact, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke repeatedly promised us that we would not have a recession and then we went on to experience the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

It will be the same this time as well.  Just like in 2007, we will continue to get an endless supply of “hopetimism” from our politicians and the mainstream media, and they will continue to fill our heads with visions of rainbows, unicorns and economic prosperity for as far as the eyes can see.

But then the next recession will strike and most Americans will be completely blindsided by it.

The U.S. Has An Even Larger Gap Between The Rich And The Poor Than Downton Abbey Does

The U.S. Has An Even Larger Gap Between The Rich And The Poor Than Downton Abbey DoesThere are two very different Americas today.  In one, the stock market is soaring, high end homes are selling briskly, big banks and hedge funds are rolling in money as if the last financial crisis never even happened, and life is really, really good.  In the other America, good jobs are incredibly scarce, incomes are declining, and poverty is skyrocketing to levels that we have never seen before.  The gap between the wealthy and the poor in America is getting wider with each passing day.  In fact, it is my contention that the U.S. has an even larger gap between the rich and the poor than Downton Abbey does.  If you have never seen Downton Abbey, you really should.  It is one of the most extraordinary shows to appear on television in years.  It is a drama set in the UK which follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants throughout the early part of the 20th Century.  It can be a bit jarring to watch servants wait on their masters hand and foot and refer to them by such titles as “Lord” and “Lady”, but the truth is that in many ways there is more inequality today than there was back then.  As far as people living in the worst areas of cities such as Detroit and Cleveland are concerned, the socialites that live on Fifth Avenue in New York City or in multi-million dollar homes out in the Hamptons might as well be from another planet.  If you have lots of money, America is still a really great place to live.  If you barely have any money, America can be really cold and cruel.  Sadly, our politicians continue to pursue policies that make things even better for those working for the establishment in places such as Washington D.C. and Manhattan, and worse for all the rest of us.  This has especially been true over the course of the past four years.  If nothing is done, the gaping chasm between the rich and the poor will continue to get even worse, and in the end that will have some really severe consequences for our society.

So is the answer to raise taxes and “redistribute” more money to the poor?  Of course not.  Today, we are already paying dozens of different kinds of taxes every year and the government is handing out more money to people than ever before.  But poverty just continues to explode.

What the poor in the U.S. desperately need are good jobs, but we continue to ship millions of good jobs out of the country and Barack Obama continues to pursue policies that are killing the U.S. economy.

There is not much help on the horizon for the poor or the middle class in America, and that should be distressing for all of us.

But things in the wealthy parts of America are going absolutely wonderfully right now.  Let’s take a few moments and contrast what life is like in the two Americas right now…

In the “good America”, stocks are absolutely soaring.  In fact, the S&P 500 closed above 1,500 on Friday for the very first time in more than five years.

In the “bad America”, poverty statistics just continue to get worse.  According to a newly released report, 60 percent of all children in the city of Detroit are living in poverty.

In the “good America”, hedge funds are rolling in the profits.  The Dow just had its best January since January of 1994, and many analysts are projecting that 2013 will be a banner year for the markets.

In the “bad America”, median household income has fallen for four years in a row, and millions of families are really struggling to find a way to pay the bills each month.

In the “good America”, expensive homes are selling at a pace that we have not seen in years.  Just check out what is happening in the Hamptons.  According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of homes worth at least a million dollars were 51 percent higher in November 2012 than they were in November 2011.

In the “bad America”, there are hordes of young adults that cannot find jobs and cannot take care of themselves.  Shockingly, U.S. families that have a head of household that is under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.

In the “good America”, the “too big to fail” banks are partying like it was 2005 again.  For example, revenues at Goldman Sachs increased by about 30 percent in 2012 and Goldman stock has soared by more than 40 percent over the past 12 months.

In the “bad America”, poverty is exploding and government dependence has become a way of life.  If you can believe it, the number of Americans on food stamps has grown from about 17 million in the year 2000 to more than 47 million today.

In the “good America”, those working for the establishment will do just about anything to make a buck.  For instance, Goldman Sachs made 400 million dollars driving up food prices in 2012 while hundreds of millions around the world existed on the edge of starvation.

In the “bad America”, millions of families are wondering how they will make it until next month.  If you can believe it, 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.

In the “good America”, everyone has a good ride.  In fact, sales of luxury German-made vehicles set new all-time records in 2012.

In the “bad America”, those that have lost everything are shunned and ostracized.  In fact, many communities all over America are actually making feeding the homeless illegal.

The fact that there is poverty in America should not alarm you.  Every country in the world has poverty.  What should alarm you is how rapidly it is growing.  Even though the Obama administration tells us that we are in an “economic recovery”, things just continue to get worse.  The wealthy elitists in Washington D.C. and New York City may be doing wonderfully, but the truth is that the middle class continues to shrink and just about every poverty statistic that you can think of continues to rise.

If you are convinced that we do not have a “wealth gap” problem in the United States today, just check out the following statistics.  Most of them are from one of my previous articles entitled “The Middle Class In America Is Being Wiped Out – Here Are 60 Facts That Prove It“…

-According to the Economic Policy Institute, the wealthiest one percent of all Americans households on average have 288 times the amount of wealth that the average middle class American family does.

-In the United States today, the wealthiest one percent of all Americans have a greater net worth than the bottom 90 percent combined.

-According to Forbes, the 400 wealthiest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans combined.

-The six heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton have as much wealth as the bottom one-third of all Americans combined.

-At this point, the poorest 50 percent of all Americans collectively own just 2.5% of all the wealth in the United States.

-The United States now ranks 93rd in the world in income inequality.

-The average CEO now makes approximately 350 times as much as the average American worker makes.

-Today, corporate profits as a percentage of U.S. GDP are at an all-time high, but wages as a percentage of U.S. GDP are near an all-time low.

Sometimes, when the “good America” and the “bad America” collide, the results are quite humorous.

For example, a 23-year-old homeless Brazilian man and his friends recently decided to “move in” to a 7,522 square foot house down in Florida that is valued at $2.1 million.  The following is from a recent article in the Orlando Sentinel

Bank of America has filed to evict nine squatters from a $2.5-million mansion in a posh Boca Raton neighborhood.

In a filing in Palm Beach County court that names 23-year-old Andre De Palma Barbosa and eight other unknown people, the bank claims rightful ownership of the home – despite Barbosa’s attempt to stake his claim on the foreclosed waterside property by using an obscure Florida real estate law.

Barbosa has been invoking a state law called “adverse possession,” which allows someone to move into a property and claim the title – if they can stay there seven years.

A signed copy of that note is also posted in the home’s front window.

Yeah, they will be able to get him and his friends out of there eventually, but in future years I fear that the conflicts between the rich and the poor will not be so nice.

Already, a very ominous “Robin Hood mentality” is building among the poor in this country.  Many wealthy people don’t even realize that it is happening.  But someday when desperate “flash mobs” are roaming through their neighborhoods looking to do a little “creative redistribution”, then they will get it.

Our society is starting to come apart at the seams, and there is an incredible amount of tension between the rich and the poor.  This is unfortunate, but instead of calming things down many of our politicians are actually exploiting this tension.

When our economy crashes, the class warfare of today may actually turn into real war in the streets.  Desperate people do desperate things, and when people are hungry and they can’t feed their families, many of them will not be afraid to go over to the wealthy neighborhoods and take what they want.

A lot of people don’t want to see them, but dark clouds are building.  According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans are more negative about where America will be five years from now than they have ever been before.  Most people know that we are on the edge of something really bad, even if they can’t really explain it.

It is time to get ready for what is coming.  Even though the stock market is soaring right now, that could change at any moment.  All of the long-term economic and societal trends are pointing to some really bad things in the years ahead, and sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that everything is going to be okay somehow is not going to help.

So what do you think about all of this?

Do you think that the U.S. has an even larger gap between the rich and the poor than Downton Abbey does?

Please feel free to post a comment with your thoughts below…

Downton Abbey

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