Is the U.S. economy about to experience a major downturn? Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of signs that economic activity in the United States is really slowing down right now. Freight volumes and freight expenditures are way down, consumer confidence has declined sharply, major retail chains all over America are closing hundreds of stores, and the “sequester” threatens to give the American people their first significant opportunity to experience what “austerity” tastes like. Gas prices are going up rapidly, corporate insiders are dumping massive amounts of stock and there are high profile corporate bankruptcies in the news almost every single day now. In many ways, what we are going through right now feels very similar to 2008 before the crash happened. Back then the warning signs of economic trouble were very obvious, but our politicians and the mainstream media insisted that everything was just fine, and the stock market was very much detached from reality. When the stock market did finally catch up with reality, it happened very, very rapidly. Sadly, most people do not appear to have learned any lessons from the crisis of 2008. Americans continue to rack up staggering amounts of debt, and Wall Street is more reckless than ever. As a society, we seem to have concluded that 2008 was just a temporary malfunction rather than an indication that our entire system was fundamentally flawed. In the end, we will pay a great price for our overconfidence and our recklessness.
So what will the rest of 2013 bring?
Hopefully the economy will remain stable for as long as possible, but right now things do not look particularly promising.
The following are 20 signs that the U.S. economy is heading for big trouble in the months ahead…
#1 Freight shipment volumes have hit their lowest level in two years, and freight expenditures have gone negative for the first time since the last recession.
#2 The average price of a gallon of gasoline has risen by more than 50 cents over the past two months. This is making things tougher on our economy, because nearly every form of economic activity involves moving people or goods around.
#3 Reader’s Digest, once one of the most popular magazines in the world, has filed for bankruptcy.
#4 Atlantic City’s newest casino, Revel, has just filed for bankruptcy. It had been hoped that Revel would help lead a turnaround for Atlantic City.
#5 A state-appointed review board has determined that there is “no satisfactory plan” to solve Detroit’s financial emergency, and many believe that bankruptcy is imminent. If Detroit does declare bankruptcy, it will be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
#6 David Gallagher, the CEO of Town Sports International, recently said that his company is struggling right now because consumers simply do not have as much disposable income anymore…
“As we moved into January membership trends were tracking to expectations in the first half of the month, but fell off track and did not meet our expectations in the second half of the month. We believe the driver of this was the rapid decline in consumer sentiment that has been reported and is connected to the reduction in net pay consumers earn given the changes in tax rates that went into effect in January.“
#7 According to the Conference Board, consumer confidence in the U.S. has hit its lowest level in more than a year.
#8 Sales of the Apple iPhone have been slower than projected, and as a result Chinese manufacturing giant FoxConn has instituted a hiring freeze. The following is from a CNET report that was posted on Wednesday…
The Financial Times noted that it was the first time since a 2009 downturn that the company opted to halt hiring in all of its facilities across the country. The publication talked to multiple recruiters.
The actions taken by Foxconn fuel the concern over the perceived weakened demand for the iPhone 5 and slumping sentiment around Apple in general, with production activity a leading indicator of interest in the product.
#9 In 2012, global cell phone sales posted their first decline since the end of the last recession.
#10 We appear to be in the midst of a “retail apocalypse“. It is being projected that Sears, J.C. Penney, Best Buy and RadioShack will also close hundreds of stores by the end of 2013.
#11 An internal memo authored by a Wal-Mart executive that was recently leaked to the press said that February sales were a “total disaster” and that the beginning of February was the “worst start to a month I have seen in my ~7 years with the company.”
#12 If Congress does not do anything and “sequestration” goes into effect on March 1st, the Pentagon says that approximately 800,000 civilian employees will be facing mandatory furloughs.
#13 Barack Obama is admitting that the “sequester” could have a crippling impact on the U.S. economy. The following is from a recent CNBC article…
Obama cautioned that if the $85 billion in immediate cuts — known as the sequester — occur, the full range of government would feel the effects. Among those he listed: furloughed FBI agents, reductions in spending for communities to pay police and fire personnel and teachers, and decreased ability to respond to threats around the world.
He said the consequences would be felt across the economy.
“People will lose their jobs,” he said. “The unemployment rate might tick up again.”
#14 If the “sequester” is allowed to go into effect, the CBO is projecting that it will cause U.S. GDP growth to go down by at least 0.6 percent and that it will “reduce job growth by 750,000 jobs“.
#15 According to a recent Gallup survey, 65 percent of all Americans believe that 2013 will be a year of “economic difficulty“, and 50 percent of all Americans believe that the “best days” of America are now in the past.
#16 U.S. GDP actually contracted at an annual rate of 0.1 percent during the fourth quarter of 2012. This was the first GDP contraction that the official numbers have shown in more than three years.
#17 For the entire year of 2012, U.S. GDP growth was only about 1.5 percent. According to Art Cashin, every time GDP growth has fallen this low for an entire year, the U.S. economy has always ended up going into a recession.
#18 The global economy overall is really starting to slow down…
The world’s richest countries saw their economies contract for the first time in almost four years during the final three months of 2012, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said.
The Paris-based thinktank said gross domestic product across its 34 member states fell by 0.2% – breaking a period of rising activity stretching back to a 2.3% slump in output in the first quarter of 2009.
All the major economies of the OECD – the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the UK – have already reported falls in output at the end of 2012, with the thinktank noting that the steepest declines had been seen in the European Union, where GDP fell by 0.5%. Canada is the only member of the G7 currently on course to register an increase in national output.
#19 Corporate insiders are dumping enormous amounts of stock right now. Do they know something that we don’t?
#20 Even some of the biggest names on Wall Street are warning that we are heading for an economic collapse. For example, Seth Klarman, one of the most respected investors on Wall Street, said in his year-end letter that the collapse of the U.S. financial system could happen at any time…
“Investing today may well be harder than it has been at any time in our three decades of existence,” writes Seth Klarman in his year-end letter. The Fed’s “relentless interventions and manipulations” have left few purchase targets for Baupost, he laments. “(The) underpinnings of our economy and financial system are so precarious that the un-abating risks of collapse dwarf all other factors.”
So what do you think is going to happen to the U.S. economy in the months ahead?
Please feel free to express your opinion by leaving a comment below…
Historically, small businesses have been the primary engine of new job creation in the United States. If the economy was getting healthy, we would expect to see the number of jobs at new businesses rise. Instead, we are witnessing just the opposite. We are told that the economy is supposed to be “recovering”, but the number of “startup jobs” at new businesses has fallen for five years in a row. According to an analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data performed by economist Tim Kane, there were almost 12 startup jobs per 1000 Americans back in the year 2006. By 2011, that figure had fallen to less than 8 startup jobs per 1000 Americans. According to Kane, the number of jobs in the United States at businesses that are less than one year old has fallen from 4.1 million in 1994 to 2.5 million in 2010. Overall, the number of “new entrepreneurs and business owners” has fallen by more than 50 percent as a percentage of the population since 1977. The United States was once known as “the land of opportunity”, but now that is fundamentally changing. At this point we truly do have a “crisis of entrepreneurship” in this country, and that is a huge reason why America is in decline. We are witnessing the slow death of the small business in America, and that is incredibly bad news for all of us.
Unfortunately, the problems that small businesses are experiencing right now have been building up for decades. The economic environment for small businesses in America has become incredibly toxic. Sadly, we can see this in the numbers. According to Kane, the following is how the decline in the number of startup jobs per 1000 Americans breaks down by presidential administration…
Bush Sr.: 11.3
Bush Jr.: 10.8
Obviously, we are headed very much in the wrong direction. Kane speculates about why this may be happening in his paper…
There is anecdotal evidence that the U.S. policy environment has become inadvertently hostile to entrepreneurial employment. At the federal level, high taxes and higher uncertainty about taxes are undoubtedly inhibiting entrepreneurship, but to what degree is unknown. The dominant factor may be new regulations on labor. The passage of the Affordable Care Act is creating a sweeping alteration of the regulatory environment that directly changes how employers engage their workforces, and it will be some time until those changes are understood by employers or scholars. Separately, there has been a federal crackdown since 2009 by the Internal Revenue Service on U.S. employers that hire U.S. workers as independent contractors rather than employees, raising the question of mandatory benefits. New firms tend to use part-time and contract staffing rather than full-time employees during the startup stage. According to Labor Department data, the typical American today only takes home 70 percent of compensation as pay, while the rest is absorbed by the spiraling cost of benefits (e.g., health insurance). The dilemma for U.S. policy is that an American entrepreneur has zero tax or regulatory burden when hiring a consultant/contractor who resides abroad. But that same employer is subject to paperwork, taxation, and possible IRS harassment if employing U.S.-based contractors. Finally, there has been a steady barrier erected to entrepreneurs at the local policy level. Brink Lindsey points out in his book Human Capitalism that the rise of occupational licensing is destroying startup opportunities for poor and middle class Americans.
Kane raises some very good points in his analysis. Without a doubt, small businesses in the United States are being taxed into oblivion. If you doubt this, just read this article.
And the regulatory environment for small businesses is more suffocating than it has ever been before. Unfortunately, our politicians never seem to learn that lesson. During his first term, Obama piled on mountains of new regulations, and now that he has won a second term he is preparing to unleash another massive wave of new regulations.
But many times the worst offenders are politicians on the state and local level. There are some areas of the country (such as California) that have created absolutely nightmarish conditions for small businesses. California had the worst “small business failure rate” in the country in 2010. It was 69 percent higher than the national average. And in 2011, the state of California ranked 50th out of all 50 states in new business creation.
Yet the politicians in California just continue to pile on even more regulations and even more taxes.
Sadly, this kind of thing is happening from coast to coast and it is killing off hordes of small businesses. Just consider the following statistics…
-According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. economy lost more than 220,000 small businesses during the last recession.
-As a share of the population, the percentage of Americans that are self-employed fell by more than 20 percent between 1991 and 2010.
-As a share of the population, the percentage of “new entrepreneurs and business owners” dropped by a staggering 53 percent between 1977 and 2010.
-The average pay for self-employed Americans declined by $3,721 between 2006 and 2010.
So what needs to be done?
Well, first of all, the tax burden and the regulatory burden on small businesses both need to be greatly reduced.
Secondly, the balance of power in our nation needs to be dramatically shifted. Conservatives run around talking about the need to reduce the power of government and liberals run around talking about the need to reduce the power of corporations, and actually both of them are right.
Our founding fathers intended to establish a Republic where power would never be concentrated in the hands of just a few. That is why they tried to strictly limit the power of the federal government in the U.S. Constitution, and that is why they greatly restricted the size and scope of corporations in early America. For much more on this, please see this article: “Corporatism Is Not Capitalism: 7 Things About The Monolithic Predator Corporations That Dominate Our Economy That Every American Should Know“.
Our founding fathers wanted to empower individual citizens and small businesses. They never intended for us to have a system where big government and big corporations dominate everything and crush the “little guy” at every opportunity.
Even as we witness the death of the small business in America, corporations are absolutely thriving. The following chart shows how corporate profits after tax have exploded to new record highs in recent years…
So has this been good for workers? No, it has not translated into more jobs and higher wages. In fact, wages and salaries as a percentage of GDP are now at an all-time low…
That is why it is imperative that we change “the rules of the game” so that the balance of power is shifted back in the direction of individual citizens and small businesses. We desperately need to turn back to the principles that this nation was founded upon.
If nothing is done, these trends are going to get even worse. Barack Obama certainly has no plans to reduce the size and the power of the government. Since he was elected, an average of 101 new federal employees have been added to the government payroll every single day…
In the 1,420 days since he took the oath of office, the federal government has daily hired on average 101 new employees. Every day. Seven days a week. All 202 weeks. That makes 143,000 more federal workers than when Obama talked forever on that cold day in January of 2009.
And if nothing is done, the monolithic predator corporations that dominate our economy will just get even larger and even more powerful. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands more small businesses will close up shop all over the country.
Unfortunately, most Americans seem totally apathetic about these issues. They seem content to wear “meggings“, watch “Honey Boo Boo” on television and let our government and corporate overlords run everything. Most of them have even been brainwashed into believing that this is the American way of doing things.
So where do we go from here?
Well, this nation will probably continue to keep doing the same things that it has been doing, and it will continue to get the same results.
The death of small business in America is happening right in front of our eyes, and everybody can see it happening, but very few people are doing anything to stop it.
Would you rather live in the America of 1950 or the America of 2012? Has the United States changed for the better over the last 62 years? Many fondly remember the 1950s and the 1960s as the “golden age” of America. We emerged from World War II as the wealthiest and most powerful nation on the planet. During that time period, just about anyone that wanted to get a job could find a job and the U.S. middle class expanded rapidly. Back in 1950, America was still considered to be a “land of opportunity” and the economy was growing like crazy. There was less crime, there was less divorce, the American people had much less debt and the world seemed a whole lot less crazy. Most of the rest of the world deeply admired us and wanted to be more like us. Of course there were a lot of things that were not great about America back in 1950, and there are many things that many of us dearly love that we would have to give up in order to go back and live during that time. For example, there was no Internet back in 1950. Instead of being able to go online and read the articles that you want to read, your news would have been almost entirely controlled by the big media companies of the day. So there are definitely some advantages that we have today that they did not have back in 1950. But not all of the changes have been for the better. America is in a constant state of change, and many are deeply concerned about where all of these changes are taking us.
There has never been any society in the history of the world that has been perfect. America was flawed in 1950 just as America is flawed today.
But that doesn’t mean that we should not reflect on how much things have changed over the past 62 years.
So which version of America would you rather live in?
America 1950 vs. America 2012 – you make the call….
In 1950, a gallon of gasoline cost about 27 cents.
In 2012, a gallon of gasoline costs $3.69.
In 1950, you could buy a first-class stamp for just 3 cents.
In 2012, a first-class stamp will cost you 45 cents.
In 1950, more than 80 percent of all men were employed.
In 2012, less than 65 percent of all men are employed.
In 1950, the average duration of unemployment was about 12 weeks.
In 2012, the average duration of unemployment is about 40 weeks.
In 1950, the average family spent about 22% of its income on housing.
In 2012, the average family spends about 43% of its income on housing.
In 1950, gum chewing and talking in class were some of the major disciplinary problems in our schools.
In 2012, many of our public schools have been equipped with metal detectors because violence has become so bad.
In 1950, mothers decided what their children would eat for lunch.
In 2012, lunches are inspected by government control freaks to make sure that they contain the “correct foods” in many areas of the country. For example, one 4-year-old girl recently had her lunch confiscated by a “lunch monitor” because it did not meet USDA guidelines….
A preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because the school told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious.
The girl’s turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the person who was inspecting all lunch boxes in the More at Four classroom that day.
The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs – including in-home day care centers – to meet USDA guidelines. That means lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables, even if the lunches are brought from home.
In 1950, the United States was #1 in GDP per capita.
In 2012, the United States is #13 in GDP per capita.
In 1950, redistribution of wealth was considered to be something that “the communists” did.
In 2012, the U.S. government redistributes more wealth than anyone else in the world.
In 1950, about 13 million Americans had manufacturing jobs.
In 2012, less than 12 million Americans have manufacturing jobs even though our population has more than doubled since 1950.
In 1950, the entire U.S. military was mobilized to protect the borders of South Korea.
In 2012, the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada are wide open and now there are 1.4 million gang members living inside the United States.
In 1950, there were about 2 million people living in Detroit and it was one of the greatest cities on earth.
In 2012, there are about 700,000 people living in Detroit and it has become a symbol of what is wrong with the U.S. economy.
In 1950, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was slightly over the 200 mark.
In 2012, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is threatening to soar over the 13,000 mark.
In 1950, corporate taxes accounted for about 30 percent of all federal revenue.
In 2012, corporate taxes will account for less than 7 percent of all federal revenue.
In 1950, the median age at first marriage was about 22 for men and about 20 for women.
In 2012, the median age at first marriage is about 28 for men and about 26 for women.
In 1950, many Americans dressed up in suits and dresses before getting on an airplane.
In 2012, security goons look at the exposed forms of our women and our children before they are allowed to get on to an airplane.
In 1950, each retiree’s Social Security benefit was paid for by 16 workers.
In 2012, each retiree’s Social Security benefit is paid for by approximately 3.3 workers.
In 1950, many Americans regularly left their cars and the front doors of their homes unlocked.
In 2012, many Americans live with steel bars on their windows and gun sales are at record highs.
In 1950, the American people had a great love for the U.S. Constitution.
In 2012, if you are “reverent of individual liberty“, you may get labeled as a potential terrorist by the U.S. government.
In 1950, the United States loaned more money to the rest of the world than anybody else.
In 2012, the United States owes more money to the rest of the world than anybody else.
In 1950, the U.S. national debt was about 257 billion dollars.
In 2012, the U.S. national debt is 59 times larger. It is currently sitting at a grand total of $15,435,694,556,033.29. Surely our children and our grandchildren will thank us for that.
One of the only things that is constant in life is change.
Whether we like it or not, America is going to continue to change.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, about 70 percent of all American adults were married.
Today, only about 50 percent of all American adults are married.
We are more independent, less religious, more addicted to entertainment and more doped up on prescription drugs than Americans used to be.
We have a higher standard of living than Americans in 1950 did, but we are also drowning in an ocean of debt unlike anything the world has ever seen.
For a lot more on how the U.S. economy is doing in 2012, just check out this list of interesting facts.
So is America 2012 a better version than America 1950 was?
Have we made progress since then or are we going backwards?
Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts below….
Are you unemployed and out of options? Well, if you live in most areas of the country there is not much hope for you. But there is one state where hiring is really hot right now. If you are desperate for a job, you just might want to check out North Dakota. Way back in the middle of the 19th centurty, author Horace Greeley gave young Americans the following advice: “Go West, young man, go West“. Well, we have reached another moment in U.S. history when it may be wise for many Americans to pick up and move to another part of the country in search of opportunity. Of course traveling to North Dakota is not “going west” for all Americans, but for the majority of the population it is. In the 19th century, many Americans traveled west because they believed those that told them that there was “gold in them thar hills”, but today a different kind of “gold” is being found in North Dakota. The state is currently enjoying a boom of “black gold”, and all of that oil is creating a huge number of jobs. If you are unemployed and you are desperate, you might want to check out North Dakota. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
As I write about so frequently, unemployment is an absolute nightmare in most areas of the country right now. But in North Dakota there are plenty of jobs and they pay really well. Just check out what a new CNN article is saying about what is going on in the state….
Believe it or not, a place exists where companies are hiring like crazy, and you can make $15 an hour serving tacos, $25 an hour waiting tables and $80,000 a year driving trucks.
You just have to move to North Dakota. Specifically, to one of the tiny towns surrounding the oil-rich Bakken formation, estimated to hold anywhere between 4 billion and 24 billion barrels of oil.
CNBC also recently ran an article about the jobs boom up in North Dakota. According to CNBC, there are “help wanted” signs all over the place in little towns such as Williston….
Unemployment is a national problem in the U.S., but you wouldn’t know that if you travel through North Dakota.
The state’s unemployment rate hovers around 3 percent, and “Help Wanted” signs litter the landscape of cities such as Williston in the same way “For Sale” signs populate the streets of Las Vegas.
“It’s a zoo,” said Terry Ayers, who drove into town from Spokane, Wash., slept in his truck, and found a job within hours of arrival, tripling his salary. “It’s crazy what’s going on out here.”
If you are desperate for work and you are looking for a “reboot”, North Dakota may be an option for you. According to CNN, there are a significant number of families that have already changed their lives by heading out to North Dakota….
McMullen now works as a nanny in exchange for housing. Her husband, who worked on behavior management programs for a school system in North Carolina where he took home about $1,600 a month, found a job working in the oilfields where he makes that same amount of money in one week — adding up to an annual salary of about $77,000.
“We want to be debt-free, so we came here to play catch-up,” said McMullen. “But when I came here, I thought I was on Mars. It’s just so crazy that the rest of the country has no jobs, and here’s this one place that doesn’t have enough people to fill all the jobs.”
So is North Dakota for everyone?
Of course not.
First of all, it gets bone-chilling cold in North Dakota in the winter.
If you cannot handle really cold weather then you should not go up there.
Secondly, there is not nearly enough housing in the boom towns and the housing that is available is really expensive.
So you may either have to commute a long way or deal with accommodations that are less than stellar.
North Dakota is very flat, the geography is not very pleasant, there is not much to do there, the “boom towns” are very far from major population centers and moving there would entail major sacrifices for most people.
But there are good jobs up there.
So if you are looking for some good news, you just got some.
Look, it is better to try to do something than to sit around waiting for Barack Obama to save you. As I have written about previously, the Obama jobs plan is a bad joke and even if it got through Congress it would do very little to create jobs.
The truth is that Barack Obama simply does not know what he is doing when it comes to jobs. He continues to push for even more job-killing “free trade” agreements that will result in millions more American jobs being shipped overseas.
Barack Obama continues to run around the country talking about “infrastructure jobs”, but according to ABC News, thousands upon thousands of those jobs are actually going to Chinese workers….
In New York there is a $400 million renovation project on the Alexander Hamilton Bridge.
In California, there is a $7.2 billion project to rebuild the Bay Bridge connecting San Francisco and Oakland.
In Alaska, there is a proposal for a $190 million bridge project.
These projects sound like steps in the right direction, but much of the work is going to Chinese government-owned firms.
The sad truth is that the U.S. economy continues to slide even further down the tubes and the vast majority of our politicians have no idea how to fix things.
When Barack Obama first took office, the official U.S. unemployment rate was 7.6 percent. Today it is 9.1 percent.
There are less jobs in the United States today than there were a decade ago, and the number of good paying jobs continues to shrink.
In 1980, 52 percent of all jobs in the United States were middle income jobs. Today, only 42 percent of all jobs are middle income jobs.
So don’t sit around waiting for the economy to fix itself. There is no reason to have blind faith in the system at this point.
We live during unconventional times, and many of us are going to have to find unconventional solutions to our problems.
There are lots of good jobs in the western part of North Dakota.
If you need a job, you might want to look into it.