If you want to get an idea of where the rest of America is heading, just take a trip through the western half of West Virginia and the eastern half of Kentucky some time. Once you leave the main highways, you will rapidly encounter poverty on a level that is absolutely staggering. Overall, about 15 percent of the entire nation is under the poverty line, but in some areas of eastern Kentucky, more than 40 percent of the population is living in poverty. Most of the people would work if they could. Over the past couple of decades, locals have witnessed businesses and industries leave the region at a steady pace. When another factory or business shuts down, many of the unemployed do not even realize that their jobs have been shipped overseas. Coal mining still produces jobs that pay a decent wage, but Barack Obama is doing his very best to kill off that entire industry. After decades of decline, vast stretches of impoverished Appalachia look like they have been through a war. Those living in the area know that things are not good, but they just try to do the best that they can with what they have.
In previous articles about areas of the country that are economically depressed, I have typically focused on large cities such as Detroit or Camden, New Jersey. But the economic suffering that is taking place in rural communities in the heartland of America is just as tragic. We just don’t hear about it as much.
Most of those that live in the heart of Appalachia are really good “salt of the earth” people that just want to work hard and do what is right for their families. But after decades of increasing poverty, the entire region has been transformed into an economic nightmare that never seems to end. The following is a description of what life is like in Appalachia today that comes from a recent article by Kevin D. Williamson…
Thinking about the future here and its bleak prospects is not much fun at all, so instead of too much black-minded introspection you have the pills and the dope, the morning beers, the endless scratch-off lotto cards, healing meetings up on the hill, the federally funded ritual of trading cases of food-stamp Pepsi for packs of Kentucky’s Best cigarettes and good old hard currency, tall piles of gas-station nachos, the occasional blast of meth, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, petty crime, the draw, the recreational making and surgical unmaking of teenaged mothers, and death: Life expectancies are short — the typical man here dies well over a decade earlier than does a man in Fairfax County, Va. — and they are getting shorter, women’s life expectancy having declined by nearly 1.1 percent from 1987 to 2007.
In these kinds of conditions, people do whatever they have to do just to survive. With so much poverty around, serving those on food stamps has become an important part of the local economy. In fact, cases of soda purchased with food stamps have become a form of “alternative currency” in the region. In his article, Williamson described how this works…
It works like this: Once a month, the debit-card accounts of those receiving what we still call food stamps are credited with a few hundred dollars — about $500 for a family of four, on average — which are immediately converted into a unit of exchange, in this case cases of soda. On the day when accounts are credited, local establishments accepting EBT cards — and all across the Big White Ghetto, “We Accept Food Stamps” is the new E pluribus unum – are swamped with locals using their public benefits to buy cases and cases — reports put the number at 30 to 40 cases for some buyers — of soda. Those cases of soda then either go on to another retailer, who buys them at 50 cents on the dollar, in effect laundering those $500 in monthly benefits into $250 in cash — a considerably worse rate than your typical organized-crime money launderer offers — or else they go into the local black-market economy, where they can be used as currency in such ventures as the dealing of unauthorized prescription painkillers — by “pillbillies,” as they are known at the sympathetic establishments in Florida that do so much business with Kentucky and West Virginia that the relevant interstate bus service is nicknamed the “OxyContin Express.” A woman who is intimately familiar with the local drug economy suggests that the exchange rate between sexual favors and cases of pop — some dealers will accept either — is about 1:1, meaning that the value of a woman in the local prescription-drug economy is about $12.99 at Walmart prices.
I would encourage everyone to read the rest of Williamson’s excellent article. You can find the entire article right here.
In Appalachia, the abuse of alcohol, meth and other legal and illegal drugs is significantly higher than in the U.S. population as a whole. In a desperate attempt to deal with the pain of their lives, many people living in the region are looking for anything that will allow them to “escape” for a little while. The following is an excerpt from an excellent article by Chris Hedges which describes what life is like in the little town of Gary, West Virginia at this point…
Joe and I are sitting in the Tug River Health Clinic in Gary with a registered nurse who does not want her name used. The clinic handles federal and state black lung applications. It runs a program for those addicted to prescription pills. It also handles what in the local vernacular is known as “the crazy check” — payments obtained for mental illness from Medicaid or SSI — a vital source of income for those whose five years of welfare payments have run out. Doctors willing to diagnose a patient as mentally ill are important to economic survival.
“They come in and want to be diagnosed as soon as they can for the crazy check,” the nurse says. “They will insist to us they are crazy. They will tell us, ‘I know I’m not right.’ People here are very resigned. They will avoid working by being diagnosed as crazy.”
The reliance on government checks, and a vast array of painkillers and opiates, has turned towns like Gary into modern opium dens. The painkillers OxyContin, fentanyl — 80 times stronger than morphine — Lortab, as well as a wide variety of anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax, are widely abused. Many top off their daily cocktail of painkillers at night with sleeping pills and muscle relaxants. And for fun, addicts, especially the young, hold “pharm parties,” in which they combine their pills in a bowl, scoop out handfuls of medication, swallow them, and wait to feel the result.
Of course this kind of thing is not just happening in the heart of Appalachia. All over the country there are rural communities that are economically depressed. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, economic activity in about half of the counties in the entire nation is still below pre-recession levels…
About half of the nation’s 3,069 county economies are still short of their prerecession economic output, reflecting the uneven economic recovery, according to a new report from the National Association of Counties.
So what are our “leaders” doing to fix this?
Well, they plan to ship millions more of our good jobs overseas.
Unfortunately, I am not kidding.
Republicans in the House of Representatives are introducing “fast track” trade promotion authority legislation that will pave the way for rapid approval of the secret trade treaty that Barack Obama has been negotiating. The following is how I described this insidious treaty in a previous article…
Did you know that the Obama administration is negotiating a super secret “trade agreement” that is so sensitive that he isn’t even allowing members of Congress to see it? The Trans-Pacific Partnership is being called the “NAFTA of the Pacific” and “NAFTA on steroids”, but the truth is that it is so much more than just a trade agreement. This treaty has 29 chapters, but only 5 of them have to do with trade. Most Americans don’t realize this, but this treaty will fundamentally change our laws regarding Internet freedom, health care, the trading of derivatives, copyright issues, food safety, environmental standards, civil liberties and so much more. It will also merge the United States far more deeply into the emerging one world economic system.
Once again, our politicians are betraying the American people and millions of jobs will be lost as a result.
Not that the economy needs another reason to go downhill. The truth is that our economic foundations have already been rotting away for quite some time.
But now the ongoing economic collapse seems to be picking up steam again. For example, the Baltic Dry Index (a very important indicator of global economic activity) is collapsing at a rate not seen since the great financial crash of 2008…
Despite ‘blaming’ the drop in the cost of dry bulk shipping on Colombian coal restrictions, it seems increasingly clear that the 40% collapse in the Baltic Dry Index since the start of the year is more than just that. While this is the worst start to a year in over 30 years, the scale of this meltdown is only matched by the total devastation that occurred in Q3 2008. Of course, the mainstream media will continue to ignore this dour index until it decides to rise once again, but for now, 9 days in a row of plunging prices is yet another canary in the global trade coalmine and suggests what inventory stacking that occurred in Q3/4 2013 is anything but sustained.
Soon economic conditions will get even worse for Appalachia and for the rest of the country. The consequences of decades of very foolish decisions are rapidly catching up with us, and millions upon millions of Americans are going to experience immense economic pain during the years to come.
So what are things like in your area of the country right now? Please feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below…
That headline is not a misprint. The number of working age Americans that do not have a job has increased by nearly 10 million since Barack Obama first entered the White House. In January 2009, the number of “officially unemployed” workers plus the number of Americans “not in the labor force” was sitting at a grand total of 92.6 million. Today, that number has risen to 102.2 million. That means that the number of working age Americans that are not working has grown by close to 10 million since Barack Obama first took office. So why does the “official unemployment rate” keep going down? Well, it is because the federal government has been pretending that millions upon millions of unemployed workers have “left the labor force” over the past few years and do not want to work anymore. The government says that another 347,000 workers “left the labor force” in December. That is nearly five times larger than the 74,000 jobs that were “created” by the U.S. economy last month. And it is important to note that more than half of those jobs were temporary jobs, and it takes well over 100,000 new jobs just to keep up with population growth each month. So the unemployment rate should not have gone down. If anything, it should have gone up.
In fact, if the federal government was using an honest labor force participation rate, the official unemployment rate would be far higher than it is right now. Instead of 6.7 percent, it would be 11.5 percent, and it has stayed at about that level since the end of the last recession.
But “6.7 percent” makes Obama look so much better than “11.5 percent”, don’t you think?
The labor force participation rate is now at a 35 year low, and the only way that the federal government has been able to get the “unemployment rate” to go down is by removing hundreds of thousands of Americans out of the labor force every month.
Why don’t they just get it over with and announce that they have decided that all workers immediately leave the labor force the moment that they lose their jobs? That way we could have an unemployment rate of “0.0 percent” and Obama could be hailed as a great economic savior.
Of course the truth is that the employment crisis in the United States is about as bad now as it was during the depths of the last recession.
If you want a much more accurate reading of the employment picture in America, just look at the employment-population ratio. The percentage of working age Americans that actually have a job continues to stagnate at an extremely low level. In fact, the percentage of working age Americans that are employed has stayed between 58.2 percent and 58.8 percent for 52 months in a row…
Does that look like an “employment recovery” to you?
Because no matter how hard I squint my eyes, I just can’t see it.
The percentage of Americans that actually have jobs should have bounced back at least a little bit by now.
But it has not happened.
And guess what? Most people don’t know this, but the U.S. economy actually created fewer jobs in 2013 than it did in 2012. So the momentum of job creation is actually going the wrong way.
No matter how rosy the mainstream media makes things out to be, the reality on the ground tells an entirely different story.
For example, just check out the desperation that was displayed on the streets of New York City last week…
The line wrapped nearly around an entire city block on Friday as approximately 1,500 people waited in Queens for a chance to apply for a coveted union job as painters or blasters on bridges and steel structures.
The first few people on line had been there since 1 p.m. on Tuesday when the temperature in New York City was in the single digits.
The job that those desperate workers wanted to apply for only pays $17.20 an hour.
Of course that is far from an isolated incident. Last week, I wrote about how 1,600 workers recently applied for just 36 jobs at an ice cream plant in Maryland.
We would not be witnessing scenes like these if the unemployment rate in America was really just 6.7 percent.
An article by Phoenix Capital Research does a good job of summarizing how useless the official government numbers have become…
Since 2009, we’ve been told that things have improved. The fact of the matter is that the improvement has been largely due to accounting tricks rather than any real change in reality.
Sure you can make unemployment look better by not counting people, you can claim the economy is growing by ignoring inflation, you can argue that inflation is low because you don’t count food or energy, but the reality is that all of these arguments are grade “A” BS.
We are now five years into the “recovery.” The single and I mean SINGLE accomplishment from spending over $3 trillion has been the stock market going higher. This is a complete and total failure. Based on the business cycle alone, the economy should be roaring.
What does it say that we’ve spent this much money and accomplished so little?
The word is FAILURE.
The media is lying about the economy. They have been for years. Even the BLS now admits that its methodologies are either inefficient (read: DON’T work) or outright wrong.
The cold, hard reality of the matter is that there has not been an economic recovery in this nation.
Anyone that tries to tell you that is lying to you.
And now the next major wave of the economic collapse is rapidly approaching.
The U.S. national debt is on pace to more than double during the eight years of the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve has been recklessly printing up trillions of dollars. The long-term damage that they have done to our economy is incalculable. But despite all of those extraordinary “stimulus” measures, the percentage of Americans that are actually working has not budged.
If we were going to have a recovery, it would have happened by this point. In fact, this is all the “recovery” that we are going to experience.
From here on out, this is about as good as things are going to get. As bad as you may think things are now, the truth is that this is rip-roaring prosperity compared to what is coming.
I hope that you are getting prepared.
The stock market may be soaring to unprecedented heights, but things just continue to get even tougher for the middle class. In this economic environment, there is intense competition for virtually all kinds of jobs. For example, more than 1,600 applications were recently submitted for just 36 jobs at an ice cream plant in Hagerstown, Maryland. That means that those applying have about a 2 percent chance of being hired. About 98 percent of the applicants will be turned away. That is how tough things are in many areas of the country today. It is now more than five years after the great financial crash of 2008, and the level of employment in the United States is still almost exactly where it was at during the worst moments of the last recession. And this is just the beginning. The next major financial crash is rapidly approaching, and once it strikes our employment crisis is going to get much, much worse.
Working at an ice cream plant does not pay very well. But at least it beats flipping burgers or stocking shelves at Wal-Mart. And in this economy, there is no shortage of desperate workers that are willing to take just about any job that they can find. The following is how a Breitbart article described the flood of applications that were received for just 36 positions at an ice cream plant owned by Shenandoah Family Farms in Hagerstown, Maryland…
Thanks to persistent unemployment and low availability of low-skill jobs, Shenandoah Family Farms’ ice cream plant in Hagerstown, Maryland has received over 1,600 applicants for a grand total of 36 jobs. Many of those applicants are former workers at the Good Humor plant that was bought by Shenandoah Family Farms. “You’d think that after 20-some-years working someplace at least somebody would think you area a good person, that you’d show up on time every day, and that would be worth something,” Luther Brooks, a 50-year-old former worker at the plant told the Washington Post. “I can’t get nothing. I’ve tried.”
Anyone that believes that the economic crisis is “over” is just being delusional. It may be “over” for the boys and girls that work on Wall Street, but even their good times are only temporary.
Of course most Americans are not fooled by the propaganda being put out by the mainstream media. According to a recent CNN poll, 70 percent of all Americans believe that “the economy is generally in poor shape”.
And according to another survey, the economy is still the #1 concern for American voters by a good margin and unemployment is still the #2 concern for American voters by a good margin.
In other words, “It’s the economy, stupid!”
The American people can see that mid-wage jobs are disappearing and that the middle class is being systematically eviscerated. The following is a short excerpt from a recent Business Insider article…
A startling number of middle-class jobs may be headed toward extinction.
More than any other job class, mid-level positions have struggled to recover from the recession, and only a quarter of jobs created in the past three years are categorized as mid-wage. There are high-skilled professional jobs that require college degrees and low-skilled service jobs for less educated workers, but the middle is getting squeezed.
As mid-wage jobs disappear, they are being replaced by low wage jobs. As I mentioned yesterday, one recent study found that about 60 percent of the jobs that have been “created” since the end of the last recession pay $13.83 or less an hour.
And this is just the beginning of the decline of the middle class. Another great financial crisis is rapidly approaching, and once it arrives things are going to get much worse than they are right now.
A number of very prominent experts believe that this next great financial crisis could begin in 2014. For example, in a recent article entitled “Top Ten Trends 2014: A Year of Extremes“, Gerald Celente warned that “an economic shock wave” could hit the United States by the middle of the year. Here are some excerpts from that article…
-“In 33 years of forecasting trends, the Trends Research Institute has never seen a new year that will witness severe economic hardship and social unrest on one hand, and deep philosophic enlightenment and personal enrichment on the other. A series of dynamic socioeconomic and transformative geopolitical trend points are aligning in 2014 to ring in the worst and best of times.”
-“Such unforeseeable factors aside, we forecast that around March, or by the end of the second quarter of 2014, an economic shock wave will rattle the world equity markets.”
-“Nearly half of the requests for emergency assistance to stave off hunger or homelessness comes from people with full-time jobs. As government safety nets are pulled out from under them – as they will continue to be for the foreseeable future – the citizens of Slavelandia will have no recourse but action.”
You can read the rest of that article right here.
And according to the Wall Street Journal, United-ICAP chief market technician Walter Zimmerman in convinced that 2014 will mark the beginning of a massive stock market decline. In fact, he believes that over the next couple of years it could fall by more than 70 percent…
In what may be the bearish call to end all bearish calls, one technician believes 2014 will be the year of “major reversals,” with the Dow Jones Industrial Average expected to start a two-year decline that could eventually take it down more than 70% to below 5000.
If his forecast is correct, it will make what happened in 2008 look like a Sunday picnic…
“Based on our longer-term time cycles the present stock market rally must be considered the bubble to end all bubbles,” Mr. Zimmerman wrote in a note to clients.
He doesn’t believe the Dow Industrials will hit a long-term cycle low until 2016, somewhere in the 5770 to 4650 range. The Dow hasn’t seen those levels, which are 65% to 72% below current prices, since late-1995 to mid-1996.
So what do you think the rest of 2014 will bring?
Please feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below…
The percentage of Americans that are participating in the labor force is the lowest that it has been in 35 years. During the 70s, 80s and 90s, the labor force participation rate consistently rose as large numbers of women entered the workforce. It peaked at 67.3 percent in early 2000, and just before the last recession it was sitting at about 66 percent. Since the start of the last recession, the labor force participation rate has not stopped falling and it is now at a 35 year low. In September, 11,255,000 Americans were considered to be “unemployed”, and an astounding 90,609,000 Americans were considered to be “not in the labor force”. The number of Americans “not in the labor force” has increased by more than 10 million since Barack Obama entered the White House. When you add the number of unemployed Americans to the number of Americans “not in the labor force”, you come up with a grand total of more than 101 million working age Americans that do not have a job.
The Obama administration and the mainstream media continue to insist that we are in the midst of an “economic recovery”, but that is a total joke. Does the chart posted below look like a recovery to you?…
Americans are leaving the labor force in droves. If the labor force participation rate was at the same level that it was when Obama first became president, the official unemployment rate would be up around 10 percent and everyone would be wondering when the “economic depression” would finally end.
It is funny how our perceptions of reality are so greatly shaped by what our televisions tell us to think.
Below I have posted a chart of the “inactivity rate” of U.S. men in the 25 to 54-year-old age group. As you can see, the percentage of men in their prime working years that are not employed and not considered to be unemployed either has been rising steadily…
We have millions upon millions of men just sitting around and doing essentially nothing. Not that women are doing so much better. In fact, the labor force participation rate for women is at a 24 year low.
Some people may be tempted to think that all of this is happening because more Americans are choosing to stay home and raise children. But that is not the case at all. In fact, in a previous article I showed that the marriage rate in the U.S. is at an all-time low and the birth rate for young women in this country is also at an all-time low.
People are not staying home because of family obligations. Rather, people are staying home because there aren’t enough jobs available.
And when Americans that are actually employed do lose their jobs, it is taking them a very, very long time to find another one. Just check out the following chart…
Once again, I must ask – does that look like a “recovery” to you?
Obama can say the word “recovery” as much as he would like, but that does not make it a reality.
So is anyone out there actually doing well?
Yes, as I have talked about frequently, some pockets of the country are doing quite nicely. In fact, government workers (think Washington D.C.) and finance workers (Wall Street, etc.) are tied for the lowest rates of unemployment in the nation (3.9 percent).
But for almost everyone else, things are very hard right now and poverty continues to grow.
Just today, I came across a recent study that discovered that nearly half of all public students in the United States come from low income homes.
That is an incredible number.
But this is just the beginning of our problems. Our debt continues to grow by leaps and bounds and our big banks are engaging in extraordinarily reckless behavior. As Richard Russell recently discussed, it is only a matter of time before this entire house of cards comes tumbling down…
In this whole process, debt has been created to an extent never seen before in history. So far, the debt has been managed with super-low interest rates and borrowing. But the compounding process goes on, and the debt mountain continues to grow. So, to be brief, I see the theme of today as the “haves” doing whatever they have to — to remain in power.
The dangers in the background for the haves are the possibilities that (1) interest rates will begin to advance, and (2) inflation will rise and be so visible that even the common man will recognize it, and begin to protest, or even revolt and (3) the whole debt structure will rise so high that it will topple over of its own weight and take down the entire world economy with it.
So as bad as things are today, the truth is that they are far, far better than what is eventually coming.
If you want to get a glimpse of the future of the U.S. economy, just check out what has happened to Greece…
Greeks are on average almost 40 percent poorer than they were in 2008, data indicated, laying bare the impact of a brutal recession and austerity measures the government may be forced to extend into next year.
Gross disposable incomes fell 29.5 percent between the second quarters of 2008 and 2013, statistics service ELSTAT said on Tuesday. Adding in cumulative consumer price inflation over the same period takes the decline close to 40 percent.
As you can see from the charts posted above, our economy has never even come close to getting back to the level that we were at before the last financial crisis.
And now the next wave of the economic collapse is approaching.
Right now, Spain has an unemployment rate that is above 26 percent and Greece has an unemployment rate that is above 27 percent.
We will eventually be heading up toward those levels.
As millions of good paying jobs continue to be shipped overseas, and as technology continues to eliminate millions of our jobs, the unemployment situation in this country will continue to grow even worse.
And whenever the next great financial crisis inevitably strikes, that will greatly accelerate our employment problems.
If you can move toward becoming more independent of the “system”, now would be a good time to do so. The job that you have today may not be there next month or next year.
We are moving into the greatest period of economic instability in U.S. history.
Get ready for it while you still can.
Are we on the verge of another major economic downturn? In recent weeks, most of the focus has been on our politicians in Washington, but there are lots of other reasons to be deeply alarmed about the economy as well. Economic confidence is down, retail sales figures are disappointing, job cuts are up, and American consumers are deeply struggling. Even if our politicians do everything right, there would still be a significant chance that we could be heading into tough economic times in the coming months. Our economy has been in decline for a very long time, and that decline appears to be accelerating. There aren’t enough jobs, the quality of our jobs continues to decline, our economic infrastructure is being systematically gutted, and poverty has been absolutely exploding. Things have gotten so bad that former President Jimmy Carter says that the middle class of today resembles those that were living in poverty when he was in the White House. But this process has been happening so gradually that most Americans don’t even realize what has happened. Our economy is being fundamentally transformed, and the pace of our decline is picking up speed. The following are 22 reasons to be concerned about the U.S. economy as we head into the holiday season…
#1 According to Gallup, we have just seen the largest drop in U.S. economic confidence since 2008.
#2 Retailers all over America are reporting disappointing sales figures, and many analysts are very concerned about what the holiday season will bring. The following is an excerpt from a recent Zero Hedge article…
Chico’s FAS [CHS] Earnings Call 8/28/13:
“Traffic was our issue in quarter two. In a highly promotional and challenging environment, comparable sales result was a negative 2.6 percent on top of a positive 5.6 percent last year and a positive 12.8 percent in 2011.”
William-Sonoma [WSM] Earnings Call 8/28/13:
“The retail environment, it seems to indicate there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there, that the promotional environment has not gone away and that the retail environment in general continues to be choppy, especially with the recent earnings releases and this global unrest, and we just don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
Zale Corp [ZLC] Earnings Call 8/28/13:
“Overall, we continue to take a conservative view of market conditions in both the U.S. and in Canada. That being said, we do expect to continue to achieve positive top line growth. We expect store closures will impact our overall revenue growth for the year by about 250 basis points. It represents net closures of approximately 50 to 55 retail locations.”
DSW Inc. [DSW] Earnings Call 8/27/13:
“We did have a traffic decline in Q2, sort of similar to what just about every other retailer in America has reported.”
Guess? [GES] Earnings Call 8/28/13:
“The Korean business continued to be strong as revenue grew in the high single digits in local currency during the quarter. This was offset with the weakness from China, where we are seeing clear evidence of a pullback in consumer spending behavior because of the slowdown in the economy.”
Aeropostale [ARO] Earnings Call 8/22/13:
“Our business trends in the second quarter did not change materially from earlier in the year, which was disappointing given the level of change we registered with the brand. This performance in the third quarter outlook is being influenced by a challenging retail environment, with weak traffic trends and high levels of promotional activity.”
#3 Domestic vehicle sales just experienced their largest “miss” relative to expectations since January 2009.
#4 One of the largest furniture manufacturers in America was recently forced into bankruptcy.
#5 According to the Wall Street Journal, the 2013 holiday shopping season is already being projected to be the worst that we have seen since 2009.
#6 The Baltic Dry Index recently experienced the largest 4 day drop that we have seen in 11 months.
#7 Merck, one of the largest drug makers in the nation, has announced the elimination of 8,500 jobs.
#8 Overall, corporations announced the elimination of 387,384 jobs through the first nine months of this year.
#9 The number of announced job cuts in September 2013 was 19 percent higher than the number of announced job cuts in September 2012.
#10 The labor force participation rate is the lowest that it has been in 35 years.
#11 As I mentioned the other day, the labor force participation rate for men in the 18 to 24 year old age bracket is at an all-time low.
#12 Approximately one out of every four part-time workers in America is living below the poverty line.
#13 Incredibly, only 47 percent of all adults in America have a full-time job at this point.
#14 U.S. consumer delinquencies are starting to rise again.
#15 The Postal Service recently defaulted on a 5.6 billion dollar retiree health benefit payment.
#16 The national debt has increased more than twice as fast as U.S. GDP has grown over the past two years.
#17 Obamacare is causing health insurance premiums to skyrocket and this is reducing the disposable income that consumers have available.
#18 Median household income in the United States has fallen for five years in a row.
#19 The gap between the rich and the poor in the United States is at an all-time record high.
#20 Former President Jimmy Carter says that the middle class in America has declined so dramatically that the middle class of today resembles those that were living in poverty when he was in the White House.
#21 According to a Gallup poll that was recently 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.
#22 Right now, one out of every five households in the United States is on food stamps. There are going to be a lot of struggling families out there this winter, so please be generous with organizations that help the poor. A lot of people are really going to need their help during the cold months ahead.
What are human workers going to do when super-intelligent robots and computers are better than us at doing everything? That is one of the questions that a new study by Dr. Carl Frey and Dr. Michael Osborne of Oxford University sought to address, and what they concluded was that 47 percent of all U.S. jobs could be automated within the next 20 years. Considering the fact that the percentage of the U.S. population that is employed is already far lower than it was a decade ago, it is frightening to think that tens of millions more jobs could disappear due to technological advances over the next couple of decades. I have written extensively about how we are already losing millions of jobs to super cheap labor on the other side of the globe. What are middle class families going to do as technology also takes away huge numbers of our jobs at an ever increasing pace? We live during a period of history when knowledge is increasing an an exponential rate. In the past, when human workers were displaced by technology it also created new kinds of jobs that the world had never seen before. But what happens when the day arrives when computers and robots can do almost everything more cheaply and more efficiently than humans can?
For employers, there are a whole host of advantages that come with replacing human workers with technology. Robots and computers never complain, they never get tired, they never need vacation, they never show up late, they never waste time on Facebook, they don’t need any health benefits and there are a vast array of rules, regulations and taxes that you must deal with when you hire a human worker.
If you could get a task done more cheaply and more efficiently by replacing a human worker with technology, why wouldn’t you want to do it?
We are already starting to see this happen on a mass scale, and according to Dr. Frey and Dr. Osborne, close to half of all of our jobs could be automated within the next 20 years. A recent article posted on smartplanet.com described how this process might play out…
The automation of half the nation’s jobs will occur in two phases, the study says: The first wave will affect (and is affecting) jobs in transportation/logistics, production labor, administrative support, services, sales, and construction. The second wave — propelled by artificial intelligence — will affect jobs in management, science, engineering, and the arts.
Just as interesting as the study is the response provided by Gary Reber, founder and executive director of For Economic Justice, who argues that owners of the means of production will actually thrive as such a shift takes place. Those who rely on 9-to-5 standard employment arrangements for subsistence are likely to suffer the most in the automation wave. As Reber put it: ‘Full employment is not an objective of businesses. Companies strive to keep labor input and other costs at a minimum.”
This is one of the reasons why the U.S. economy will never produce enough jobs for everyone ever again.
If technology can outperform humans, it is only rational for companies to replace humans with technology.
And this is even starting to happen in fields that require very high levels of education.
Just look at what is happening in the medical field. Today, millions of people turn to websites such as WebMD for their medical needs, but this is only just the beginning. Check out this excerpt from a recent 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.
Certainly we will always need doctors.
But many of the tasks that doctors once performed will now be performed by technology.
For example, have you heard about “OnStar for the Body” yet? Some of these new “wearable technologies” are more than a little bit creepy…
Smart, cheaper and point-of-care sensors, such as those being developed for the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE, will further enable the ‘Digital Checkup’ from anywhere. The world of ‘Quantified Self’ and ‘Quantified Health’ will lead to a new generation of wearable technologies partnered with Artificial Intelligence that will help decipher and make this information actionable.
And this ‘actionability’ is key. We hear the term Big Data used in various contexts; when applied to health information it will likely be the smart integration of massive data sets from the ‘Internet of things’ with the small data about your activity, mood, and other information. When properly filtered, this data set can give insights on a macro level – population health – and micro – ‘OnStar for the Body‘ with a personalized ‘check engine light’ to help identify individual problems before they further develop into expensive, difficult-to-treat or fatal conditions.
We are also seeing humans being replaced in other fields as well. For instance, DARPA has developed a robot named “Atlas” that it hopes will be used in “disaster-response scenarios”…
DARPA’s Virtual Robotics Challenge entered a new phase in July, when Atlas — a 6-foot-2-inch, 330-pound robot developed by Boston Dynamics — was introduced to seven teams tasked with training it for disaster-response scenarios. The end goal? “Supervised autonomy” so that Atlas and its successors can step into situations too dangerous for humans.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want “Terminator” to show up when my family is in the middle of a disaster, but this is where things are headed.
And as technology increases, a lot of good paying middle class jobs are going to be vulnerable. In fact, one study of employment data that examined statistics from 20 countries found that “almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38,000 to $68,000.”
Those are exactly the sort of “breadwinner jobs” that middle class families rely upon.
And of course working class jobs are being replaced by technology as well. According to MIT Technology Review, a $22,000 humanoid robot named Baxter has been developed that can easily be programmed to do jobs that have never been automated before…
Brooks’s company, Rethink Robotics, says the robot will spark a “renaissance” in American manufacturing by helping small companies compete against low-wage offshore labor. Baxter will do that by accelerating a trend of factory efficiency that’s eliminated more jobs in the U.S. than overseas competition has. Of the approximately 5.8 million manufacturing jobs the U.S. lost between 2000 and 2010, according to McKinsey Global Institute, two-thirds were lost because of higher productivity and only 20 percent moved to places like China, Mexico, or Thailand.
The ultimate goal is for robots like Baxter to take over more complex tasks, such as fitting together parts on an electronics assembly line. “A couple more ticks of Moore’s Law and you’ve got automation that works more cheaply than Chinese labor does,” Andrew McAfee, an MIT researcher, predicted last year at a conference in Tucson, Arizona, where Baxter was discussed.
So what are human workers going to do when robots are making all of our products?
That is a very good question.
Incredibly, robots are now even replacing human factory workers in China. The following comes from a recent TechCrunch article…
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?
So who benefits from all of this?
Those that own the big corporations that dominate our economy certainly benefit. They aren’t going to need to hire as many of us to work for them, and they are going to make even bigger profits than before.
Meanwhile, the gap between the wealthy and the poor will grow even larger. The only thing that most people have to offer in the economic marketplace is their labor, and the demand for that labor is decreasing with each passing day.
What do you think will happen to society when most of us are no longer “needed”?
Could we be headed for big trouble as a society?
And if you think that your job could “never be automated”, you might want to think again.
We are rapidly getting to the point where even driving will be automated…
Brace yourself. In a few years, your car will be able to drop you off at the door of a shopping center or airport terminal, go park itself and return when summoned with a smartphone app. Audi demonstrated such a system at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.
At your next dinner party, ask for a show of hands of the people who’d want that.
Anybody want a car that doesn’t crash? At this month’s Frankfurt auto show, mega-auto supplier Continental announced a partnership with IBM to help bring autonomous vehicles to market, with “zero accidents” as a possible result. Volvo has promised to injury-proof its cars by 2020. GM and Carnegie Mellon aim to develop autonomous technology to eliminate car accidents.
So what will happen to the 3.1 million Americans that drive trucks for a living once all driving is automated?
What will happen to the millions of other Americans that drive buses, taxis and limos once all driving is automated?
That is something to think about.
And researchers are even trying to create computers that “seem human” when you have a conversation with them…
On 14 September, researchers will gathered in Derry, Northern Ireland, to demonstrate their latest efforts. If any of them has created a machine that successfully mimics a human, they will leave $100,000 richer.
The money is being put up by Hugh Loebner, a New York based philanthropist. His goal, he says, is total unemployment for all human beings throughout the world. He wants robots to do all the work. And the first step towards that is apparently to develop computers that seem human when you chat to them.
So if your job involves a telephone, you are in danger of being phased out. In fact, this transition is already starting to happen…
IPsoft is a young company started by Chetan Dube, a former mathematics professor at New York University. He reckons that artificial intelligence can take over most of the routine information-technology and business-process tasks currently performed by workers in offshore locations. “The last decade was about replacing labour with cheaper labour,” says Mr Dube. “The coming decade will be about replacing cheaper labour with autonomics.”
IPsoft’s Eliza, a “virtual service-desk employee” that learns on the job and can reply to e-mail, answer phone calls and hold conversations, is being tested by several multinationals. At one American media giant she is answering 62,000 calls a month from the firm’s information-technology staff. She is able to solve two out of three of the problems without human help. At IPsoft’s media-industry customer Eliza has replaced India’s Tata Consulting Services.
We truly are entering an unprecedented time in human history.
Instead of robots violently taking over society like so many movies have portrayed, they are slowly starting to “replace” us instead. A recent Wired article described what this transition might look like as it picks up steam…
First, machines will consolidate their gains in already-automated industries. After robots finish replacing assembly line workers, they will replace the workers in warehouses. Speedy bots able to lift 150 pounds all day long will retrieve boxes, sort them, and load them onto trucks. Fruit and vegetable picking will continue to be robotized until no humans pick outside of specialty farms. Pharmacies will feature a single pill-dispensing robot in the back while the pharmacists focus on patient consulting. Next, the more dexterous chores of cleaning in offices and schools will be taken over by late-night robots, starting with easy-to-do floors and windows and eventually getting to toilets. The highway legs of long-haul trucking routes will be driven by robots embedded in truck cabs.
All the while, robots will continue their migration into white-collar work. We already have artificial intelligence in many of our machines; we just don’t call it that. Witness one piece of software by Narrative Science (profiled in issue 20.05) that can write newspaper stories about sports games directly from the games’ stats or generate a synopsis of a company’s stock performance each day from bits of text around the web. Any job dealing with reams of paperwork will be taken over by bots, including much of medicine. Even those areas of medicine not defined by paperwork, such as surgery, are becoming increasingly robotic. The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic.
Are you ready for the “robot takeover”?
The world of employment is never going to be the same again. Technology has already surpassed human workers in a whole host of arenas, and this transition is only going to become more rapid in the years ahead.
So what does this mean for the rest of us? Please feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below…
There are hundreds of formerly prosperous communities all over America that are being steadily transformed into rotting, decaying hellholes. The good paying middle class jobs that once supported those communities are long gone, and they have been replaced with low paying service jobs if they have been replaced at all. When you visit those communities, it is almost as if all of the hope has been sucked right out of the air. It can be absolutely heartbreaking to look into the hollow eyes of someone that has totally given in to despair, but unfortunately the number of Americans that are giving up on the economy continues to grow. Today, the labor participation rate is the lowest that it has been in 35 years, and more than 100 million Americans are enrolled in at least one welfare program. It is easy to say that they should just “get a job”, but as I have written about repeatedly, our economy simply is not producing enough jobs for everyone anymore. The percentage of working age Americans with a job has remained at the same level that it was at during the worst days of the last recession, and meanwhile the quality of our jobs has continued to steadily decline. Median household income has fallen for five years in a row, but the cost of living continues to rise rapidly. The middle class is being systematically shredded, and poverty is growing at an alarming rate. The U.S. economy has been in decline for a long time, and the really bad news is that it appears that this decline is about to accelerate.
We are a nation that consumes far more wealth than we produce. We are a nation that buys far more from the rest of the world than they buy from us. We are a nation that has a “buy now, pay later” mentality.
As a nation, we have accumulated the largest mountain of debt in the history of the world. 40 years ago, the total amount of debt in our system (government, business and consumer) was about 2 trillion dollars. Today, it is more than 56 trillion dollars.
The consequences of decades of incredibly foolish decisions are starting to catch up with us, and it is those at the bottom of the food chain that will suffer the most.
I could spend the rest of this article quoting 30 or 40 more statistics that show how bad things are, but today I wanted to do something different. Today, I wanted to share some quotes from some of my readers about what they are seeing where they live. The following are 20 quotes from ordinary Americans about the economic despair that is rapidly growing like a cancer all around us…
“Yes, the American economy is in the pits. I know five languages, have three degrees (including two graduate degrees), and have lived overseas for 16 years and I still can’t find a job in the USA. Everything is broken in America. Maybe I should give up my American citizenship.”
“I’ve been struggling since I finished college in the summer of 2010. My dream is to work in the courts, law enforcement but it’s almost impossible to get a call back for an interview. I interviewed with Garland, Texas PD for a position in the city jail and I made the final 30 of 300 applicants that applied for the 3 positions.”
“I have two Master’s degrees, am 61 years old and earning $10 per hour. What does that say about the current economy?”
#4 Cincinnati Dave:
“I work for one of the banks mentioned in your article. I was in mortgages. I saw all of this coming, so several months ago I asked to get into another area of the bank and fortunately, for me, they granted by request. A lot of people are losing their jobs and there is really no prospects out there for anything else whereby the same kind of money could be made. I will make nothing near what I had been earning but am at the least grateful to be employed. This is all so sad to watch happen.”
“I used to work for WF processing mortgages. The week that the rates went up, I was out of work, not one extra week of work.”
“The U.S. economy is producing mostly part-time, low-wage jobs. These jobs barely pay enough to put food on the table.”
“What I am aware of, is every person I know, who had to switch jobs in the last five years took a pay cut. The smallest cut among my friends was 10%, the average was closer to 18%. No we are heading down a bad road, and we are past the point of no return.”
“After spending most of my life in the middle class, I now consider myself lower class due to age and income. Nothing wrong with that. I am still able to provide myself with what I need and some of my ‘wants’. I am like most retirees today.”
“As many of you already know (but maybe some new members of this blog don’t) – I live in Phoenix, Arizona. Where you live here, determines (to a great extent) your economic well being. Those in the “East Valley” – Chandler, Gilbert, Scottsdale, etc – have the jobs, the opportunities and the transportation. Those in the wealthier areas of the “West Valley” also have these benefits.
The remainder – those who live in the older west side of town, and the south side of town – are mainly forgotten and left to struggle. Many are hard working citizens who just want a chance. Unfortunately, chance costs money, in the view of many people, and as far as the municipal government is concerned, there’s no money for us. It’s cheaper to let them live in a tent in the park, where the cops at least have an excuse to evict them.”
“We are no longer the land of opportunity where anyone can make it.”
“There is no middle class here in the Florida Panhandle. Only folks who have money are the retired and they hate everyone. They own all the antique stores [big business] and most thriving businesses and restuarants. Military is big here, they spend every dime they have on stupid stuff and taxis. Tourist are way down since the spill. Now for the good news. A major food chain here is going out of business [Food World] Another is losing 20k a month to theft. Every other property it seems is up for sale. There are tons of empty real estate [store fronts] There are thrift stores opening everywhere. People are selling goods on the streets, only to be run off by the cops. Crime is getting out of hand. Most don’t go out after dark. Police are beating up the homeless at the beaches. Panhandling now is mainly younger people. Where did all the older ones go?”
“In my area which is SW Florida, it’s been getting tighter for my customers so on a case by case basis I lower my price when they need auto repairs. I still find road signs advertising homes for sale (cash only). Many are advertised as foreclosed.
I’ve started seeing people living out of their cars. It’s not a daily occurrence but I have been noticing it.”
I have been looking after the homeless now for 4 years. Last winter I had an encounter where I was told that I could not hand out blankets and sleeping bags in the dead of winter and that I would be arrested for trespassing if “me and my friends” didn’t move along.
So, I adopted the policy that I would pull up next to them, have them get in the car and we would go for a drive. I would find a place to pull over and give them what they needed then I would drop them off in a different place.
“Around where I live in the SE, things seem ok but I live in a university town. Go to some of the surrounding small towns and it is desolate. Car dealerships closed. Entire streets with abandoned stores. The only activity is a one clerk post office. I know people in our church who are a paycheck away from going over the edge or going over due to a spouse dying and losing one of their social security checks. I see grim. More homeless. A local church is feeding many more including some folks living out of their cars—lots of children. Mostly minimum wage jobs in the area. If it were not for the university and its 34,000 students, this place would look as bad as the smaller communities.”
#15 TN Gal:
“Here in southeast TN we have jobs, mostly part-time or low wage. Our problem these days are so many people dependent on government programs no one wants to work. They do better on programs than working partying and paying for insurance. Housing still very depressed. Seeing more homeless around and local churches straining to provide food. Crime is up and drugs, which were down, are coming back with a vengeance. Middle class here are senior citizens on SS, younger retirees not the older ones. Older ones seem to be struggling. Sad.”
Michael, I live in North Central Illinois. About 60 miles southeast of Chicago. The town we live in has about 8,000 in it. Very “middle class” farm community. Unemployment is high and so is underemployment. We know many people living off 2 part time jobs. That seems to be the norm around here. Or people taking jobs that they would never of considered in the past, just to get by. My son used to work for CAT in Aurora, but was “let go” in order to bring in new workers at a lower pay scale. It took him over a year(which really isn’t bad) to find a part time job with 3M.
“Drive around Los Angeles at 3:00 AM any day and you will see the devastating and pervasive homelessness from 8 to 80 year olds. And the massage parlors and hookers on the streets of used to be ‘high-end’ neighborhoods are exploding. No other way to make a living.”
“A couple of years ago it was reported 9K people a night slept in their cars here in San Diego County. Special car parks are set up in some church parking lots. The cops look the other way. Wonder what the figure is now?”
“My own viewpoint is that a collapse of the current economic system is inevitable and imminent.”
#20 El Pollo de Oro:
“During a conversation on prepping, someone recently said to me, ‘If things get half as bad as these preppers think they will, I don’t want to be alive.’ So, how bad will things will get? Real unemployment is already at Great Depression levels (John Williams’ Shadow Statistics contradicts the BLS’ bogus figures), but when this depression deepens, I think we’ll be looking at 50% or 60% unemployment easily. Much worse than the 1930s. It will be absolute hell for millions of Americans, and when the money stops flowing down to the man on the street, the blood will flow in the streets (Gerald Celente). Lots of it.”