The Beginning Of The End
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Does This Look Like A Housing Recovery To You?

Homeownership Rate 2014We just learned that the homeownership rate in the United States has fallen to the lowest level in 19 years.  But of course this is not a new trend.  As you will see in this article, the homeownership rate in the United States has been in a continual decline for more than 7 years.  Obviously this is not a sign of a healthy economy.  Traditionally, homeownership has been one of the key indicators that you belong to the middle class.  When people define “the American Dream”, it is usually one of the first things mentioned.  So if the percentage of Americans that own a home has been steadily going down for 7 years in a row, what does that tell us about the health of the middle class in this country?

The chart that you are about to view is clear evidence that we are in the midst of a long-term economic decline.  It shows what has happened to the homeownership rate in the U.S. since the year 2000, and as you can see it has been collapsing since the peak of the housing market back in 2007.  Does this look like a housing recovery to you?…

Homeownership Rate 2014

So many people get caught up in what is happening on Wall Street, but this is the “real economy” that affects people on a day to day basis.

Most Americans just want to be able to buy a home and provide a solid middle class living for their families.

The fact that the percentage of people that are able to achieve this “American Dream” is falling rapidly is very troubling.

There are some that blame this stunning decline in the homeownership rate on the Millennials.

And without a doubt, they are a significant part of the story.  They are moving back home with their parents at record rates, and many that are striking out on their own are renting apartments in the big cities.

This is one area where the decline of marriage in America is really hitting the economy.  Back in 1968, well over 50 percent of Americans in the 18 to 31-year-old age bracket were already married and living on their own.  Today, that number is below 25 percent.

But that is not all there is to this story.

In fact, the homeownership rate for Americans in the 35 to 44-year-old age bracket has been falling even faster than it has for Millennials…

In the first quarter of 2008, nearly 67% of people aged 35-44 owned homes. Now the number is barely above 59%. The percentage of people under 35 owning homes only fell five percentage points, to 36% from 41%.

So why is this happening?

Well, it is fairly simple actually.

In order to buy homes, people need to have good jobs.  And at this point, the percentage of Americans that are employed is still about where it was during the depths of the last recession.

In addition, wages in the United States have stagnated and the quality of our jobs continues to go down.  As I wrote about the other day, half of all American workers make less than $28,031 a year.  Needless to say, if you make less than $28,031  a year, you are going to have a really hard time getting approved for a home loan or making mortgage payments.

Things have been changing for a long time in this country, and not for the better.  Our economic problems have taken decades to develop, and the underlying causes of these problems is still not being addressed.

Meanwhile, middle class families continue to suffer.  One very surprising new survey discovered that more than half of all Americans now consider themselves to be “lower-middle class or working class with low economic security”.  While Wall Street has been celebrating in recent years, economic pessimism has become deeply ingrained on Main Street…

Optimism may be harder to come by these days. More than half of Americans surveyed in a Harris poll released Tuesday identified themselves as being lower-middle class or working class with low economic security. And 75 percent said they’re being held back financially by roadblocks like the cost of housing (24 percent), health care (21 percent) and credit-card debt (20 percent).

And that’s not the kicker.

“The most disappointing aspect is that 45 percent think they’ll never get their finances back to where they were before the financial crisis,” said Ken Rees, CEO of the Elevate credit service company, which commissioned the survey. “And a third are losing sleep over it.”

The only “recovery” that we have experienced since the last recession has been a temporary recovery on Wall Street.

For the rest of the country, our long-term economic decline has continued.

When I was growing up, my father was serving in the U.S. Navy and we lived in a fairly typical middle class neighborhood.  Everyone that I went to school with lived in a nice home and I never heard of any parent struggling to find work.  Of course life was not perfect, but it seemed to me like living a middle class lifestyle was “normal” for most people.

How times have changed since then.

Today, it seems like we are all part of a giant reality show where people are constantly being removed from the middle class and everyone is wondering who will be next.

So what do you think?

Is there hope for the middle class, or are the economic problems that we are facing just beginning?

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

 

50 Percent Of American Workers Make Less Than 28,031 Dollars A Year

Real Median Household Income 2014The Social Security Administration has just released wage statistics for 2013, and the numbers are startling.  Last year, 50 percent of all American workers made less than $28,031, and 39 percent of all American workers made less than $20,000.  If you worked a full-time job at $10 an hour all year long with two weeks off, you would make $20,000.  So the fact that 39 percent of all workers made less than that amount is rather telling.  This is more evidence of the declining quality of the jobs in this country.  In many homes in America today, both parents are working multiple jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet. Our paychecks are stagnant while the cost of living just continues to soar.  And the jobs that are being added to the economy pay a lot less than the jobs lost in the last recession.  In fact, it has been estimated that the jobs that have been created since the last recession pay an average of 23 percent less than the jobs that were lost.  We are witnessing the slow-motion destruction of the middle class, and very few of our leaders seem to care.

The “average” yearly wage in America last year was just $43,041.  But after accounting for inflation, that was actually worse than the year before

American paychecks shrank last year, just-released data show, further eroding the public’s purchasing power, which is so vital to economic growth.

Average pay for 2013 was $43,041 — down $79 from the previous year when measured in 2013 dollars. Worse, average pay fell $508 below the 2007 level, my analysis of the new Social Security Administration data shows.

Flat or declining average pay is a major reason so many Americans feel that the Great Recession never ended for them. A severe job shortage compounds that misery not just for workers but also for businesses trying to profit from selling goods and services.

Average pay declined in 59 of the 60 levels of worker pay the government reports each October.

And please keep in mind that “average pay” is really skewed by the millionaires and billionaires at the top end of the spectrum.

Median pay in 2013 was just $28,031.02.  That means that 50 percent of American workers made less than that number, and 50 percent of American workers made more than that number.

Here are some more numbers from the report that the Social Security Administration just released…

-39 percent of American workers made less than $20,000 last year.

-52 percent of American workers made less than $30,000 last year.

-63 percent of American workers made less than $40,000 last year.

-72 percent of American workers made less than $50,000 last year.

I don’t know about you, but those numbers are deeply troubling to me.

It has been estimated that it takes approximately $50,000 a year to support a middle class lifestyle for a family of four, and so the fact that 72 percent of all workers make less than that amount shows how difficult it is for families that try to get by with just a single breadwinner.

The way that our economy is structured now, both parents usually have to work as hard as they can just to pay the bills.

But there was one group of Americans that did see their incomes actually increase last year.

Those making over 50 million dollars had their pay increase by an average of $12.8 million in 2013.

For everyone else, the news was not good.

And of course this is a trend that has been going on for a long time.

Posted below is a chart that comes from the Federal Reserve.  It shows how real median household income in the United States has declined since the year 2000…

Real Median Household Income 2014

Meanwhile, the cost of living has continued to rise at a steady pace.

Needless to say, this is putting a tremendous squeeze on the middle class.  With each passing day, more Americans are losing their spots in the middle class and this has pushed government dependence to an all-time high.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 49 percent of all Americans now live in a home that receives money from the government each month.  This is completely and totally unsustainable, but our long-term economic problems just keep getting worse.

Our politicians have stood by as millions upon millions of good paying jobs have been shipped out of the country.  Millions of other middle class jobs have been lost to technology.  This has resulted in intense competition for the middle class jobs that remain.

And at this point we are even losing lots of lower paying retail jobs.  For example, it is being reported that Sears plans to close 110 more stores and lay off more than 6,000 workers.  Sears says that the report “isn’t accurate”, but it isn’t denying that stores will be closed either…

In an email to USA Today, Sears spokesman Howard Riefs said the store count and closures “isn’t accurate,” but did not provide store closures or layoff numbers.

“As we stated in our (second quarter earnings report), we disclosed that we would be closing unprofitable stores as leases expire and in some cases will accelerate closings when it is economically prudent. And that we would consider closing additional stores during the remainder of the year,” Riefs said. “Make no mistake, we believe the store will continue to play an integral role in our transformation, however, if a store is not generating a profit, it is straightforward that the store should be considered for closure.”

No matter how many stores Sears does end up closing over the next few months, the truth is that our economy is a complete and total mess at this point.

Our politicians and the mainstream media are trying to put a happy face on everything, but the cold, hard numbers prove that we are not anywhere close to where we were prior to the last recession.

Because it is so difficult to find a good job in America today, I often recommend to people that they should consider starting their own businesses.

But thanks to the bureaucratic control freaks in the Obama administration and in our state governments, small business ownership in America today is at an all-time low.  It is almost as if they don’t want the “little guy” to win.  Every avenue of prosperity for the middle class is under assault, and there does not appear to be much hope that this will change any time soon.

And the truly frightening thing is that this is about as good as things are going to get for the middle class.  We are rapidly approaching the next major wave of our long-term economic decline, but that is a topic for a future article.

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.

Job = Just Over Broke

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

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

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

But overall there are more than 7 billion people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inflation - McDonald's

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

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

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

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

Today it doesn’t work like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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 Middle Class In Canada Is Now Doing Better Than The Middle Class In America

Canada - Photo by SsolbergjFor most of Canada’s existence, it has been regarded as the weak neighbor to the north by most Americans.  Well, that has changed dramatically over the past decade or so.  Back in the year 2000, middle class Canadians were earning much less than middle class Americans, but since then there has been a dramatic shift.  At this point, middle class Canadians are actually earning more than middle class Americans are.  The Canadian economy has been booming thanks to a rapidly growing oil industry, and meanwhile the U.S. middle class has been steadily shrinking.  If current trends continue, a whole bunch of other countries are going to start passing us too.  The era of the “great U.S. middle class” is rapidly coming to a bitter end.

In recent years, I have been up to Canada frequently, and I am always amazed at how much nicer things are up there.  The stores and streets are cleaner, the people are more polite and it seems like almost everyone that wants to work has a job.

But despite knowing all this, I was still surprised when the New York Times reported this week that middle class incomes in Canada have now surpassed middle class incomes in the United States…

After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

And things are particularly dire for those in the U.S. on the low end of the scale…

The struggles of the poor in the United States are even starker than those of the middle class. A family at the 20th percentile of the income distribution in this country makes significantly less money than a similar family in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland or the Netherlands. Thirty-five years ago, the reverse was true.

Even while our politicians and the media continue to proclaim that everything is “just fine”, the U.S. middle class continues to slide toward oblivion.

The biggest reason for this is the lack of middle class jobs.  Millions of good jobs have been shipped overseas, and millions of other good jobs have been replaced by technology.

The value of our labor is declining with each passing day, and this has forced millions upon millions of very qualified Americans to take whatever they can get.  As NBC News recently noted, this is a big reason why the temp industry has been booming…

For Americans who can’t find jobs, the booming demand for temp workers has been a path out of unemployment, but now many fear it’s a dead-end route.

With full-time work hard to find, these workers have built temping into a de facto career, minus vacation, sick days or insurance. The assignments might be temporary — a few months here, a year there — but labor economists warn that companies’ growing hunger for a workforce they can switch on and off could do permanent damage to these workers’ career trajectories and retirement plans.

“It seems to be the new norm in the working world,” said Kelly Sibla, 54. The computer systems engineer has been looking for a full-time job for four years now, but the Amherst, Ohio, resident said she has to take whatever she can find.

It has been estimated that one out of every ten jobs is now filled by a temp agency.  I have worked for temp agencies myself in the past.  Big companies like the idea of having “disposable workers”, and this is a trend that is likely to only grow in the years ahead.

But temp jobs and part-time jobs don’t pay as well as normal jobs.  And those kinds of jobs generally cannot support middle class families.

At this point, nine out of the top ten occupations in the United States pay an average wage of less than $35,000 a year.

That is absolutely stunning.

These days most families are barely scraping by, and they don’t have much extra money to go shopping with.

This is a big reason for the “retail apocalypse” that we are now witnessing.  This week we learned that retail stores in the United States are closing at the fastest pace that we have seen since the collapse of Lehman Brothers.  But you won’t hear much about that on the mainstream news.

You can find lots of “space available” signs and empty buildings in formerly middle class neighborhoods all over the country.  For example, one of my readers recently shot the following YouTube video in Scottsdale, Arizona.  As you can see, empty commercial buildings are all over the place…

As the middle class shrinks, more families are being forced to take in family members that can’t find decent work.  I have written previously about the huge rise in the number of young adults that are moving back in with their parents.  But this is not just happening to young people.  As the Los Angeles Times recently detailed, the number of Americans 50 and older that are moving in with their parents has absolutely soared in recent years…

For seven years through 2012, the number of Californians aged 50 to 64 who live in their parents’ homes swelled 67.6% to about 194,000, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.

The jump is almost exclusively the result of financial hardship caused by the recession rather than for other reasons, such as the need to care for aging parents, said Steven P. Wallace, a UCLA professor of public health who crunched the data.

“The numbers are pretty amazing,” Wallace said. “It’s an age group that you normally think of as pretty financially stable. They’re mid-career. They may be thinking ahead toward retirement. They’ve got a nest egg going. And then all of a sudden you see this huge push back into their parents’ homes.”

The U.S. economy is slowly but steadily falling apart, and more people fall out of the middle class every single day.

A recent Gallup survey found that 14 percent of all Americans would experience “significant financial hardship” within one week of a job loss.

An additional 29 percent of all Americans would experience “significant financial hardship” within one month of a job loss.

That means that 43 percent of the entire country is living right on the edge.

It is no wonder why only about 30 percent of all Americans believe that we are moving in the right direction as a nation.

Most people know deep down that something is seriously wrong.  But most people can’t explain exactly what that is or how to fix it.

Meanwhile, the politicians and the media keep telling us that if we just keep doing the same old things that everything will work out okay somehow.  The blind are leading the blind, and we are rapidly marching toward disaster.

Two More Victims Of The Retail Apocalypse: Family Dollar And Coldwater Creek

Family DollarDid you know that Family Dollar is closing 370 stores? When I learned of this, I was quite stunned. I knew that retailers that serve the middle class were really struggling right now, but I had no idea that things had gotten so bad for low end stores like Family Dollar. In the post-2008 era, dollar stores had generally been one of the few bright spots in the retail industry. As millions of Americans fell out of the middle class, they were looking to stretch their family budgets as far as possible, and dollar stores helped them do that. It would be great if we could say that the reason why Family Dollar is doing so poorly is because average Americans have more money now and have resumed shopping at retailers that target the middle class, but that is not happening. Rather, as you will see later in this article, things just continue to get even worse for Americans at the low end of the income scale.

I was also surprised to learn that Coldwater Creek is closing all of their stores

Women’s clothing retailer Coldwater Creek Inc. on Friday filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after failing to find a buyer said it plans to close its stores by early summer.

Coldwater Creek joins other retailers to seek protection from creditors in recent months as consumers keep a lid on spending.

The company said it plans to wind down its operations over the coming months and begin going-out-of-business sales in early May, before the traditionally busy Mother’s Day weekend.

Coldwater Creek, which has 365 stores and employs about 6,000 people, has five stores in Maryland.

I remember browsing through a Coldwater Creek with my wife and mother-in-law just last year. At the time, my mother-in-law was excited about getting one of their catalogs. But now Coldwater Creek is going out of business, and all that will be left of that store is a big, ugly, empty space.

Of course the fact that a couple of major retailers are closing stores is nothing new. This kind of thing happens year after year.

But what we are witnessing right now is really quite startling. So many retailers are closing so many stores that it is being called a “retail apocalypse”. In a previous article entitled “This Is What Employment In America Really Looks Like…“, I detailed how major U.S. retailers have already announced the closing of thousands of stores so far this year.  If the economy really was “getting better”, this should not be happening.

So why are so many stores closing?

Well, the truth is that it is because the middle class is dying. With each passing day, more Americans lose their place in the middle class and fall into poverty. The following is an excerpt from the story of one man that this has happened to. His recent piece in the Huffington Post was entitled “Next Friday, I’ll Be Living In My Car“…

For the past 13 years, I’ve mostly been doing facility management in several locations across the state. After the position turned into more of a sales role, they laid me off. Since then, I’ve been looking to find any type of work. I’ve applied for food stamps, and I’m waiting for that. I’m mostly eating soup from a food pantry.

I’ve been on several interviews — second, third, fourth interviews — and just haven’t been able to land a job for whatever reason. I definitely have the qualifications and the experience. Last week, I had a job offer that I thought was secure, and we were talking my work schedule. They decided to call me back and go with an assistant rather than a manager.

For a number of applications, I’ve dumbed down my resume. I don’t even go with a resume sometimes, just because I don’t want them to know that I’m educated and have a master’s degree. It shoots me in the foot. They don’t want me because they don’t think I’m going to stay. I don’t blame them. I was making six figures at $60-70 an hour. Now, I’m looking for a $10 an hour job.

There are millions upon millions of Americans that can identify with what that man is going through.

Once upon a time, they were living comfortable middle class lifestyles, but now they will take any jobs that they can get.

Just today I came across a statistic that shows the massive shift that is happening in this country. A decade ago, the number of women working outnumbered the number of women on food stamps by more than a 2 to 1 margin. But now the number of women on food stamps actually exceeds the number of women that have jobs.

Wow.

How could things have changed so rapidly over the course of just one decade?

And sadly, things continue to go downhill. Every day in America, more good jobs are being sent out of the country or are being replaced by technology. I really like how James Altucher described this trend the other day…

Technology, outsourcing, a growing temp staffing industry, productivity efficiencies, have all replaced the middle class.

The working class. Most jobs that existed 20 years ago aren’t needed now. Maybe they never were needed. The entire first decade of this century was spent with CEOs in their Park Avenue clubs crying through their cigars, “how are we going to fire all this dead weight?”. 2008 finally gave them the chance. “It was the economy!” they said. The country has been out of a recession since 2009. Four years now. But the jobs have not come back. I asked many of these CEOs: did you just use that as an excuse to fire people, and they would wink and say, “let’s just leave it at that.”

I’m on the board of directors of a temp staffing company with one billion dollars in revenues. I can see it happening across every sector of the economy. Everyone is getting fired. Everyone is toilet paper now.

Flush.

There is so little loyalty in corporate America these days. If you work for a major corporation, you could literally lose your job at any moment. And you can be sure that there is someone above you that is trying to figure out a way to accomplish the tasks that you currently perform much more cheaply and much more efficiently.

Most big corporations don’t care if you are personally successful or if you are able to take care of your family. What they want is to get as much out of you as possible for as little money as possible.

This is a big reason why 62 percent of all Americans make $20 or less an hour at this point.

The quality of our jobs is going down, but the cost of living just keeps going up. Just look at what is happening to food prices. For a detailed examination of this, please see my previous article entitled “Why Meat Prices Are Going To Continue Soaring For The Foreseeable Future“.

As the middle class slowly dies, less people are able to afford to buy homes. Mortgage originations at major U.S. banks have fallen to a record low, and the percentage of Americans that live in “high-poverty neighborhoods” is rising rapidly

An estimated 12.4 million Americans live in economically devastated neighborhoods, according to American Community Survey data collected from 2008 to 2012. That’s an 11 percent jump from the previous survey, conducted from 2007 to 2011. Even more startling, it’s a 72 percent increase in the population of high-poverty neighborhoods since the 2000 Census.

If nothing is done about the long-term trends that are slowly strangling the middle class to death, all of this will just be the beginning.

We will see millions more Americans lose their jobs, millions more Americans lose their homes and millions more Americans living in poverty.

The United States is being fundamentally transformed, and very few people are doing much of anything to stand in the way of this transformation. Decades of incredibly foolish decisions are starting to catch up with us, and unless something dramatic is done right away, all of these problems will soon get much, much worse.

9 Of The Top 10 Occupations In America Pay An Average Wage Of Less Than $35,000 A Year

CashierAccording to stunning new numbers just released by the federal government, nine of the top ten most commonly held jobs in the United States pay an average wage of less than $35,000 a year.  When you break that down, that means that most of these workers are making less than $3,000 a month before taxes.  And once you consider how we are being taxed into oblivion, things become even more frightening.  Can you pay a mortgage and support a family on just a couple grand a month?  Of course not.  In the old days, a single income would enable a family to live a very comfortable middle class lifestyle in most cases.  But now those days are long gone.  In 2014, both parents are expected to work, and in many cases both of them have to get multiple jobs just in order to break even at the end of the month.  The decline in the quality of our jobs is a huge reason for the implosion of the middle class in this country.  You can’t have a middle class without middle class jobs, and we have witnessed a multi-decade decline in middle class jobs in the United States.  As long as this trend continues, the middle class is going to continue to shrink.

The following is a list of the most commonly held jobs in America according to the federal government.  As you can see, 9 of the top 10 most commonly held occupations pay an average wage of less than $35,000 a year

  1. Retail salespersons, 4.48 million workers earning  $25,370
  2. Cashiers  3.34 million workers earning $20,420
  3. Food prep and serving staff, 3.02 million workers earning $18,880
  4. General office clerk, 2.83 million working earning $29,990
  5. Registered nurses, 2.66 million workers earning $68,910
  6. Waiters and waitresses, 2.40 million workers earning $20,880
  7. Customer service representatives, 2.39 million workers earning $33,370
  8. Laborers, and freight and material movers, 2.28 million workers earning $26,690
  9. Secretaries and admins (not legal or medical),  2.16 million workers earning $34,000
  10. Janitors and cleaners (not maids),  2.10 million workers earning, $25,140

Overall, an astounding 59 percent of all American workers bring home less than $35,000 a year in wages.

So if you are going to make more than $35,000 this year, you are solidly in the upper half.

But that doesn’t mean that you will always be there.

More Americans are falling out of the middle class with each passing day.

Just consider the case of a 47-year-old woman named Kristina Feldotte.  Together with her husband, they used to make about $80,000 a year.  But since she lost her job three years ago, their combined income has fallen to about $36,000 a year

Three years ago, Kristina Feldotte, 47, and her husband earned a combined $80,000. She considered herself solidly middle class. The couple and their four children regularly vacationed at a lake near their home in Saginaw, Michigan.

But in August 2012, Feldotte was laid off from her job as a special education teacher. She’s since managed to find only part-time teaching work. Though her husband still works as a truck salesman, their income has sunk by more than half to $36,000.

“Now we’re on the upper end of lower class,” Feldotte said.

There is a common assumption out there that if you “have a job” that you must be doing “okay”.

But that is not even close to the truth.

The reality of the matter is that you can even have two or three jobs and still be living in poverty.  In fact, you can even be working for the government or the military and still need food stamps

Since the start of the Recession, the dollar amount of food stamps used at military commissaries, special stores that can be used by active-duty, retired, and some veterans of the armed forces has quadrupled, hitting $103 million last year. Food banks around the country have also reported a rise in the number of military families they serve, numbers that swelled during the Recession and haven’t, or have barely, abated.

There are so many people that are really hurting out there.

Today, someone wrote to me about one of my recent articles about food price increases and told me about how produce prices were going through the roof in that particular area.  This individual wondered how ordinary families were going to be able to survive in this environment.

That is a very good question.

I don’t know how they are going to survive.

In some cases, the suffering that is going on behind closed doors is far greater than any of us would ever imagine.

And often, it is children that suffer the most

A Texas couple kept their bruised, malnourished 5-year-old son in a diaper and locked in a closet of their Spring home, police said in a horrifying case of abuse.

The tiny, blond-haired boy was severely underweight, his shoulder blades, ribs and vertebrae showing through his skin, when officers found him late last week.

You can see some photos of that poor little boy right here.

I hope that those abusive parents are put away for a very long time.

Sadly, there are lots of kids that are really suffering right now.  There are more than a million homeless schoolchildren in America, and there are countless numbers that will go to bed hungry tonight.

But if you live in wealthy enclaves on the east or west coasts, all of this may sound truly bizarre to you.  Where you live, you may look around and not see any poverty at all.  That is because America has become increasingly segregated by wealth.  Some are even calling this the “skyboxification of America”

The richest Americans—the much-talked about 1 percent—are a cloistered class. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz scathingly put it, they “have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.” The Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel has similarly lamented the “skyboxification” of American life, in which “people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives.”

The substantial and growing gap between the rich and everyone else is increasingly inscribed on our geography. There have always been affluent neighborhoods, gated enclaves, and fabled bastions of wealth like Greenwich, Connecticut; Grosse Pointe, Michigan; Potomac, Maryland; and Beverly Hills, California. But America’s bankers, lawyers, and doctors didn’t always live so far apart from teachers, accountants, and small business owners, who themselves weren’t always so segregated from the poorest, most struggling Americans.

Nobody should talk about an “economic recovery” until the middle class starts growing again.

Even as the stock market has soared to unprecedented heights over the past year, the decline of middle class America has continued unabated.

And most Americans know deep inside that something is deeply broken.  For example, a recent CNBC All-America Economic Survey found that over 80 percent of all Americans consider the economy to be “fair” or “poor”.

Yes, for the moment things are going quite well for the top 10 percent of the nation, but that won’t last long either.  None of the problems that caused the last great financial crisis have been fixed.  In fact, they have gotten even worse.  We are steamrolling toward another great financial crisis and our leaders are absolutely clueless.

When the next crisis strikes, the economic suffering in this nation is going to get even worse.

As bad as things are now, they are not even worth comparing to what is coming.

So I hope that you are getting prepared.  Time is running out.

 

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