The Beginning Of The End
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Are You Better Off This Thanksgiving Than You Were Last Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving Dinner - Photo by Marcus QuiqmireAre you in better shape financially than you were last Thanksgiving?  If so, you should consider yourself to be very fortunate because most Americans are not.  As you chow down on turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce this Thursday, please remember that there are millions of Americans that simply cannot afford to eat such a meal.  According to a shocking new report that was just released by the National Center on Family Homelessness, the number of homeless children in the U.S. has reached a new all-time high of 2.5 million.  And right now one out of every seven Americans rely on food banks to put food on the table.  Yes, life is very good at the moment for Americans at the top end of the income spectrum.  The stock market has been soaring and sales of homes worth at last a million dollars are up 16 percent so far this year.  But most Americans live in a very different world.  The percentage of Americans that are employed is about the same as it was during the depths of the last recession, the quality of our jobs continues to go down, the rate of homeownership in America has fallen for seven years in a row, and the cost of living is rising much faster than paychecks are.  As a result, the middle class is smaller this Thanksgiving than it was last Thanksgiving, and most Americans have seen their standards of living go down over the past year.

In 2014, there are tens of millions of Americans that are anonymously leading lives of quiet desperation.  They are desperately trying to hold on even though things just keep getting worse.  For example, just consider the plight of 49-year-old Darrell Eberhardt.  Once upon a time, his job in a Chevy factory paid him $18.50 an hour, but now he only makes $10.50 an hour and he knows that he probably would not be able to make as much in a new job if he decided to leave…

For nearly 20 years, Darrell Eberhardt worked in an Ohio factory putting together wheelchairs, earning $18.50 an hour, enough to gain a toehold in the middle class and feel respected at work.

He is still working with his hands, assembling seats for Chevrolet Cruze cars at the Camaco auto parts factory in Lorain, Ohio, but now he makes $10.50 an hour and is barely hanging on. “I’d like to earn more,” said Mr. Eberhardt, who is 49 and went back to school a few years ago to earn an associate’s degree. “But the chances of finding something like I used to have are slim to none.”

Of course you can’t support a family on $10.50 an hour.

You can barely support one person on $10.50 an hour.

But there are many men out there that would absolutely love to switch positions with Darrell Eberhardt.  At this point, one out of every six men in their prime working years (25 to 54) does not have a job.  That is an absolutely crazy number.

And of course just because you “have a job” does not mean that things are going well.  The number of Americans that are “working part-time involuntarily” has risen by over 50 percent since the beginning of the last recession.  There are millions of hard working Americans that would love to get a full-time job if they could land one.  But these days “decent jobs” are in short supply.

For example, CNN recently profiled the story of college graduate Meghan Brachle…

Meghan would love to be a music teacher or play full-time in an orchestra. She studied music at Loyola University in New Orleans and plays the flute.

Instead, Meghan works a slew of part-time jobs and receives no benefits.

She is a cashier at Whole Foods, a substitute teacher, a flute tutor and an administrative assistant at a non-profit.

Even with all of her hard work, Brachle and her husband often really struggle to pay the bills

With inconsistent hours, Meghan monthly income fluctuates between $1,000 and $3,000. Even with her husband’s teaching salary, the couple sometimes struggles to cover the $3,600 of monthly expenses they have.

“It’s very stressful,” Meghan, a college graduate, says. “I think about all the job applications I’ve turned in and all the interviews I’ve been on and all the other people who are in the same situation, looking for those same [full-time] jobs. It’s frustrating.”

Sadly, a lot of these part-time employers know that their employees desperately need these jobs and are using that leverage to treat them very poorly.

For example, it is being reported that any KMart employees that do not show up for work on Thanksgiving will be automatically fired.

What kind of nonsense is that?

And around the country at Wal-Mart stores, food drives are being held for “needy employees“.

So why wouldn’t Wal-Mart just pay their workers enough so that they could afford to take care of themselves in the first place?

Most people don’t realize this, but approximately one out of every four part-time workers in America is currently living below the poverty line.  Many of them are working as hard as they can and still can’t make enough to take care of themselves.

Meanwhile, our paychecks are getting stretched further and further with each passing month.

When you don’t make much money, every dollar is precious.  And when food prices go up substantially, it can be very painful.  Unfortunately, that is precisely what is happening right now…

-From September to October, the price of a pound of Turkey rose from $1.58 to $1.66.  That represents a 5.2 percent price increase in just one month.

-The price of a pound of ground beef has just risen to a brand new record high of $4.15 a pound, and more price increases are on the way.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture is projecting that U.S. beef production will drop by another 1 billion pounds next year due to a variety of factors including the horrific multi-year drought out west.

-The entire planet is bracing for a huge chocolate shortage, and this threatens to push the price of chocolate beyond the reach of many American families…

Start hoarding those Hershey’s Kisses and stockpile your Snickers: The world could soon experience a chocolate shortage.

Mars Inc. and Barry Callebaut, two of the world’s largest chocolate makers, say that’s the path we’re headed down. They cite a perfect storm of factors: Less cocoa is being produced as more and more people are devouring chocolate.

In 2013, consumers ate about 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than was produced, The Washington Post reports, and that deficit could go up to 1 million metric tons by 2020. The Ivory Coast and Ghana produce more than 70 percent of the world’s cacao beans, and both countries are experiencing dry weather that limits growth. To make things worse, a fungal disease called frosty pod has destroyed 30 to 40 percent of global cocoa production.

As a result of all of the things that I have just discussed above, more Americans than ever are being forced to turn to the government for assistance.  Today, the number of Americans getting a check from the government each month is at an all-time high, and at this point Americans collectively get more money from the government than they pay in taxes.  For much, much more on this, please see my recent article entitled “21 Facts That Prove That Dependence On The Government Is Out Of Control In America“.

So if things are going well for you this Thanksgiving, you should be truly thankful.

For most of the country, things just continue to get even worse.  And if the next major wave of our economic crisis arrives next year like many are projecting, this may just be the beginning of our economic pain.

24 Reasons Why Millennials Are Screaming Mad About Our Unfair Economy

Angry Woman - Public DomainDo you want to know why Millennials seem so angry?  We promised them that if they worked hard, stayed out of trouble and got good grades that they would be able to achieve the “American Dream”.  We told them not to worry about accumulating very high levels of student loan debt because there would be good jobs waiting for them at the end of the rainbow once they graduated.  Well, it turns out that we lied to them.  Nearly half of all Millennials are spending at least half of their paychecks to pay off debt, more than 30 percent of them are living with their parents because they can’t find decent jobs, and this year the homeownership rate for Millennials sunk to a brand new all-time low.  When you break U.S. adults down by age, our long-term economic decline has hit the Millennials the hardest by far.  And yet somehow we expect them to bear the burden of providing Medicare, Social Security and other social welfare benefits to the rest of us as we get older.  No wonder there is so much anger and frustration among our young people.  The following are 24 reasons why Millennials are screaming mad about our unfair economy…

#1 The current savings rate for Millennials is negative 2 percent.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Not only aren’t Millennials saving any money, they are actually spending a good bit more than they are earning every month.

#2 A survey conducted earlier this year found that 47 percent of all Millennials are using at least half of their paychecks to pay off debt.

#3 For U.S. households that are headed up by someone under the age of 40, average wealth is still about 30 percent below where it was back in 2007.

#4 In 2005, the homeownership rate for U.S. households headed up by someone under the age of 35 was approximately 43 percent.  Today, it is sitting at about 36 percent.

#5 One recent survey discovered that an astounding 31.1 percent of all U.S. adults in the 18 to 34-year-old age bracket are currently living with their parents.

#6 At this point, the top 0.1 percent of all Americans have about as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of all Americans combined.  Needless to say, there aren’t very many Millennials in that top 0.1 percent.

#7 Since Barack Obama has been in the White House, close to 40 percent of all 27-year-olds have spent at least some time unemployed.

#8 Only about one out of every five 27-year-olds owns a home at this point, and an astounding 80 percent of all 27-year-olds are paying off debt.

#9 In 2013, the ratio of what men in the 18 to 29-year-old age bracket were earning compared to what the general population was earning reached an all-time low.

#10 Back in the year 2000, 80 percent of all men in their late twenties had a full-time job.  Today, only 65 percent do.

#11 In 2012, one study found that U.S. families that have a head of household that is under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.

#12 Another study released back in 2011 discovered that U.S. households led by someone 65 years of age or older are 47 times wealthier than U.S. households led by someone 35 years of age or younger.

#13 Half of all college graduates in America are still financially dependent on their parents when they are two years out of college.

#14 In 1994, less than half of all college graduates left school with student loan debt.  Today, it is over 70 percent.

#15 At this point, student loan debt has hit a grand total of 1.2 trillion dollars in the United States.  That number has grown by about 84 percent just since 2008.

#16 According to the Pew Research Center, nearly four out of every ten U.S. households that are led by someone under the age of 40 are currently paying off student loan debt.

#17 In 2008, approximately 29 million Americans were paying off student loan debt.  Today, that number has ballooned to 40 million.

#18 Since 2005, student loan debt burdens have absolutely exploded while salaries for young college graduates have actually declined

The problem developing is that earnings and debt aren’t moving in the same direction. From 2005 to 2012, average student loan debt has jumped 35%, adjusting for inflation, while the median salary has actually dropped by 2.2%.

#19 According to CNN, 260,000 Americans with a college or professional degree made at or below the federal minimum wage last year.

#20 Even after accounting for inflation, the cost of college tuition increased by 275 percent between 1970 and 2013.

#21 In the years to come, much of the burden of paying for Medicare for our aging population will fall on Millennials.  It is being projected that the number of Americans on Medicare will grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 73.2 million in 2025.  In addition, it has been estimated that Medicare is facing unfunded liabilities of more than 38 trillion dollars over the next 75 years.  That comes to approximately $328,404 for every single household in the United States.

#22 In the years to come, much of the burden of paying for our exploding Medicaid system will fall on Millennials.  Today, more than 70 million Americans are on Medicaid, and it is being projected that Obamacare will add 16 million more Americans to the Medicaid rolls.

#23 In the years to come, much of the burden of paying for our massive Ponzi scheme known as Social Security will fall on Millennials.  Right now, there are more than 63 million Americans collecting Social Security benefits.  By 2035, that number is projected to soar to an astounding 91 million.  In 1945, there were 42 workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits.  Today, that number has fallen to 2.5 workers, and if you eliminate all government workers, that leaves only 1.6 private sector workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits.

#24 Our national debt is currently sitting at a grand total of $17,937,617,036,693.09.  It is on pace to roughly double during the Obama years, and Millennials are expected to service that debt for the rest of their lives.

Yes, there are certainly some Millennials that are flat broke because they are lazy and irresponsible.

But there are many others that have tried to do everything right and still find that they can’t get any breaks.  For example, Bloomberg recently shared the story of a young couple named Jason and Jessica Alinen…

The damage inflicted on U.S. households by the collapse of the housing market and recession wasn’t evenly distributed. Just ask Jason and Jessica Alinen.

The couple, who live near Seattle, declared bankruptcy in 2011 when the value of the house they then owned plunged to less than $200,000 from the $349,000 they paid for it four years earlier, just as the economic slump was about to start. Jason even stopped getting haircuts to save money.

“We thought we’d have a white picket fence, two kids, two dogs, and we’d have $100,000 in equity,” said Jason, 33, who does have two children. “It’s just really frustrating.”

Can you identify with them?

Most young Americans just want to work hard, buy a home and start a family.

But for millions of them, that dream might as well be a million miles away right now.

Unfortunately, most of them have absolutely no idea why this has happened.

Many of them end up blaming themselves.  Many of them think that they are not talented enough or that they didn’t work hard enough or that they don’t know the right people.

What they don’t know is that the truth is that decades of incredibly foolish decisions are starting to catch up with us in a major way, and they just happen to be caught in the crossfire.

Sadly, instead of becoming informed about what is happening to our country, a very large percentage of our young people are absolutely addicted to entertainment instead.

Below, I want to share with you a video that I recently came across.  You can find it on YouTube right here.  A student at Texas Tech University recently asked some of her classmates a series of questions.  When they were asked about Brad Pitt or Jersey Shore they knew the answers right away.  But when they were asked who won the Civil War or who the current Vice-President of the United States is, they deeply struggled.  I think that this video says a lot about where we are as a society today…

So what do you think about all of this?

Please feel free to add to the discussion 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.

Low Inflation? The Price Of Ground Beef Has Risen 17 Percent Over The Past Year

Inflation Public DomainThanks to the Federal Reserve, the middle class is slowly being suffocated by rising food prices.  Every single dollar in your wallet is constantly becoming less valuable because of the inflation the Fed systematically creates.  And if you try to build wealth by saving money and earning interest on it, you still lose because thanks to the Federal Reserve’s near zero interest rate policies banks pay next to nothing on savings accounts.  The Federal Reserve wants you to either spend your money or to put it in the giant casino that we call the stock market.  But when Americans spend their paychecks they are finding that they don’t stretch as far as they once did.  The cost of living continues to rise at a much faster pace than wages are rising, and this is especially true when it comes to the price of food.

Someone that I know wrote to me today and let me know that she had to shut down the food pantry that she had been running for the poor for so many years.  It isn’t that she didn’t want to help the poor anymore.  It was that she just couldn’t deal with the rising food prices any longer.  Now she is just doing the best that she can to survive herself.

Perhaps you have also noticed that food prices have gotten pretty crazy lately.  In particular, meat prices have become absolutely obscene.  For example, the average price of ground beef has risen to a new record high of over $4.09 a pound.  Over the past twelve months, that works out to a whopping 17 percent increase…

The average price for a pound of ground beef climbed to another record high–$4.096 per pound–in the United States in September, according to data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In August, according to BLS, the average price for a pound of all types of ground beef topped $4 for the first time–hitting $4.013. In September, the average price jumped .083 cents, an increase of 2.1 percent in one month.

A year ago, in September 2013, the average price for a pound of ground beef was $3.502 per pound. Since then, it has climbed 59.4 cents–or about 17 percent in one year.

The “intellectuals” over at the Federal Reserve insist that “a little bit of inflation” is good for an economy, but the truth is that inflation slowly robs us of our buying power.

In a previous article, I shared a chart that showed how food inflation has risen dramatically since the year 2000.  For this article, I wanted to show how food inflation has risen since the 1970s.  As you can see, the rise in food prices has been absolutely relentless for more than 40 years…

Food Inflation 2014

If our paychecks were going up at the same rate or even faster that would be okay.

But they aren’t.

In fact, CNN is reporting that our paychecks have fallen back to 1995 levels…

Americans also don’t feel any better off. While more people may have jobs, they aren’t bringing home fatter paychecks. Wages and income have remained stagnant for years, making it tough for folks even though inflation is low. Median household income, which stood at $51,939 last year, is back to 1995 levels.

Consumers expect a median income boost of 1.1% over the next year, Curtin said. But that won’t keep up with their inflation expectations of 2.8%.

“American households, on average, are still struggling with their living standards slowly eroding,” he said.

This is one of the primary reasons why the middle class is disappearing in America.

The purchasing power of our dollars is continually diminishing.

And this could be just the beginning.  Right now, severe drought is affecting some of the most important agricultural areas around the globe.  Most people are aware of the nightmarish drought in California, but did you know that things in Brazil are even worse?  Brazil is one of the most important food exporters in the world, and so they definitely need our prayers.

In addition, a “black swan event” such as a worldwide explosion of the Ebola pandemic could quickly drive food prices into the stratosphere.

Just this week, we learned that food prices in the Ebola-stricken regions of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have already risen by an average of 24 percent

Infection rates in the food-producing zones of Kenema and Kailahun in Sierra Leone, Lofa and Bong County in Liberia and GuDeckDedou in Guinea are among the highest in the region. Hundreds of farmers have died.

The three governments quarantined districts and restricted movements to contain the virus’ spread. But those measures also disrupted markets and led to food scarcity and panic buying, further pushing up prices, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization have said.

“Prices have risen by an average of 24 percent,” said WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs, adding an assessment of major markets showed the price of basic commodities was rising in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and in neighboring Senegal.

If you have been storing up food, I think that you will be very happy with your decision in the long run.

Without a doubt, food prices are only going to be going up from here.

But the Federal Reserve continues to insist that inflation is under control.

One of the ways that they make the “official numbers” look good is by playing accounting games.  They regularly change the way that inflation is calculated in order keep everyone calm.

You don’t have to take my word for it.  Posted below is an excerpt from an article by Mike Bryan, a vice president and senior economist in the Atlanta Fed’s research department…

The Economist retells a conversation with Stephen Roach, who in the 1970s worked for the Federal Reserve under Chairman Arthur Burns. Roach remembers that when oil prices surged around 1973, Burns asked Federal Reserve Board economists to strip those prices out of the CPI “to get a less distorted measure. When food prices then rose sharply, they stripped those out too—followed by used cars, children’s toys, jewellery, housing and so on, until around half of the CPI basket was excluded because it was supposedly ‘distorted'” by forces outside the control of the central bank. The story goes on to say that, at least in part because of these actions, the Fed failed to spot the breadth of the inflationary threat of the 1970s.

I have a similar story. I remember a morning in 1991 at a meeting of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s board of directors. I was welcomed to the lectern with, “Now it’s time to see what Mike is going to throw out of the CPI this month.” It was an uncomfortable moment for me that had a lasting influence. It was my motivation for constructing the Cleveland Fed’s median CPI.

I am a reasonably skilled reader of a monthly CPI release. And since I approached each monthly report with a pretty clear idea of what the actual rate of inflation was, it was always pretty easy for me to look across the items in the CPI market basket and identify any offending—or “distorted”—price change. Stripping these items from the price statistic revealed the truth—and confirmed that I was right all along about the actual rate of inflation.

It is all a game to them.

It is all about getting to the “right number” to release to the public.

But anyone that goes to the grocery store knows what has been happening to food prices.

The next time you get to the checkout register and you feel tempted to ask the cashier what organ you should donate to pay for your groceries, please keep in mind that it is not the fault of the cashier.

Instead, there is one entity that you should blame.

Blame the Federal Reserve – their policies are slowly pushing the middle class into oblivion.

Half The Country Makes Less Than $27,520 A Year And 15 Other Signs The Middle Class Is Dying

Depressed - Photo by Sander van der WelIf you make more than $27,520 a year at your job, you are doing better than half the country is.  But you don’t have to take my word for it, you can check out the latest wage statistics from the Social Security administration right here.  But of course $27,520 a year will not allow you to live “the American Dream” in this day and age.  After taxes, that breaks down to a good bit less than $2,000 a month.  You can’t realistically pay a mortgage, make a car payment, afford health insurance and provide food, clothing and everything else your family needs for that much money.  That is one of the reasons why both parents are working in most families today.  In fact, sometimes both parents are working multiple jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet.  Over the years, the cost of living has risen steadily but our paychecks have not.  This has resulted in a steady erosion of the middle class.  Once upon a time, most American families could afford a nice home, a couple of cars and a nice vacation every year.  When I was growing up, it seemed like almost everyone was middle class.  But now “the American Dream” is out of reach for more Americans than ever, and the middle class is dying right in front of our eyes.

One of the things that was great about America in the post-World War II era was that we developed a large, thriving middle class.  Until recent times, it always seemed like there were plenty of good jobs for people that were willing to be responsible and work hard.  That was one of the big reasons why people wanted to come here from all over the world.  They wanted to have a chance to live “the American Dream” too.

But now the American Dream is becoming a mirage for most people.  No matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to achieve it.

And here are some hard numbers to back that assertion up.  The following are 15 more signs that the middle class is dying…

#1 According to a brand new CNN poll, 59 percent of Americans believe that it has become impossible for most people to achieve the American Dream…

The American Dream is impossible to achieve in this country.

So say nearly 6 in 10 people who responded to CNNMoney’s American Dream Poll, conducted by ORC International. They feel the dream — however they define it — is out of reach.

Young adults, age 18 to 34, are most likely to feel the dream is unattainable, with 63% saying it’s impossible. This age group has suffered in the wake of the Great Recession, finding it hard to get good jobs.

#2 More Americans than ever believe that homeownership is not a key to long-term wealth and prosperity…

The great American Dream is dying. Even though many Americans still desire to own a home, they are losing faith in homeownership as a key to prosperity.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans, or 64%, believe they are less likely to build wealth by buying a home today than they were 20 or 30 years ago, according to a survey sponsored by non-profit MacArthur Foundation. And nearly 43% said buying a home is no longer a good long-term investment.

#3 Overall, the rate of homeownership in the United States has fallen for eight years in a row, and it has now dropped to the lowest level in 19 years.

#4 52 percent of Americans cannot even afford the house that they are living in right now…

“Over half of Americans (52%) have had to make at least one major sacrifice in order to cover their rent or mortgage over the last three years, according to the “How Housing Matters Survey,” which was commissioned by the nonprofit John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and carried out by Hart Research Associates. These sacrifices include getting a second job, deferring saving for retirement, cutting back on health care, running up credit card debt, or even moving to a less safe neighborhood or one with worse schools.”

#5 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 36 percent of Americans under the age of 35 own a home.  That is the lowest level that has ever been measured.

#6 Right now, approximately one out of every six men in the United States that are in their prime working years (25 to 54) do not have a job.

#7 The labor force participation rate for Americans from the age of 25 to the age of 29 has fallen to an all-time record low.

#8 The number of working age Americans that are not employed has increased by 27 million since the year 2000.

#9 According to the government’s own numbers, about 20 percent of the families in the entire country do not have a single member that is employed at this point.

#10 This may sound crazy, but 25 percent of all American adults do not even have a single penny saved up for retirement.

#11 As I noted in one recent article, total consumer credit in the United States has increased by 22 percent over the past three years, and 56 percent of all Americans have “subprime credit” at this point.

#12 Major retailers are shutting down stores at the fastest pace that we have seen since the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

#13 It is hard to believe, but more than one out of every five children in the United States is living in poverty in 2014.

#14 According to one recent report, there are 49 million Americans that are dealing with food insecurity right now.

#15 Overall, the U.S. poverty rate is up more than 30 percent since 1966.  It looks like LBJ’s war on poverty didn’t work out too well after all.

Sadly, it does not appear that there is much hope on the horizon for the middle class.  More good jobs are being shipped out of the country and are being lost to technology every single day, and our politicians seem convinced that “business as usual” is the right course of action for our nation.

Unless something dramatic happens, it is going to become increasingly difficult to eke out a middle class existence as a “worker bee” in American society.  The truth is that most big companies these days do not have any loyalty to their workers and really do not care what ends up happening to them.

To thrive in this kind of environment, new and different thinking is required.  The paradigm of “go to college, get a job, stay loyal and retire after 30 years” has been shattered.  The business world is more unstable now than it has been during any point in the post-World War II era, and we are all going to have to adjust.

So what advice would you give to people that are struggling out there right now?  Please feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below…

America’s Insatiable Demand For More Expensive Cars, Larger Homes And Bigger Debts

McMansionOne of the things that this era of American history will be known for is conspicuous consumption.  Even though many of us won’t admit it, the truth is that almost all of us want a nice vehicle and a large home.  They say that “everything is bigger in Texas”, but the same could be said for the entire nation as a whole.  As you will see below, the size of the average new home has just hit a brand new record high and so has the size of the average auto loan.  In the endless quest to achieve “the American Dream”, Americans are racking up bigger debts than ever before.  Unfortunately, our paychecks are not keeping up and the middle class in the United States is steadily shrinking.  The disparity between the lifestyle that society tells us that we ought to have and the size of our actual financial resources continues to grow.  This is leading to a tremendous amount of frustration among those that can’t afford to buy expensive cars and large homes.

I remember the days when paying for a car over four years seemed like a massive commitment.  But now nearly a quarter of all auto loans in the U.S. are extended out for six or seven years, and those loans have gotten larger than ever

In the latest sign Americans are increasingly comfortable taking on more debt, auto buyers borrowed a record amount in the first quarter with the average monthly payment climbing to an all-time high of $474.

Not only that, buyers also continued to spread payments out over a longer period of time, with 24.8 percent of auto loans now coming with payment terms between six and seven years according to a new report from Experian Automotive.

That’s the highest percentage of 6 and 7-year loans Experian has ever recorded in a quarter.

Didn’t the last financial crisis teach us about the dangers of being overextended?

During the first quarter 0f 2014, the size of the average auto loan soared to an all-time record $27,612.

But if you go back just five years ago it was just $24,174.

And because we are taking out such large auto loans that are extended out over such a long period of time, we are now holding on to our vehicles much longer.

According to CNBC, Americans now keep their vehicles for an average of six years and one month.

Ten years ago, it was just four years and two months.

My how things have changed.

And consumer credit as a whole has also reached a brand new all-time record high in the United States.

Consumer credit includes auto loans, but it doesn’t include things like mortgages.  The following is how Investopedia defines consumer credit…

Consumer credit is basically the amount of credit used by consumers to purchase non-investment goods or services that are consumed and whose value depreciates quickly. This includes automobiles, recreational vehicles (RVs), education, boat and trailer loans but excludes debts taken out to purchase real estate or margin on investment accounts.

As you can see from the chart below, Americans were reducing their exposure to consumer credit for a little while after the last financial crisis struck, but now it is rapidly rising again at essentially the same trajectory as before…

Consumer Credit 2014

Have we learned nothing?

Meanwhile, America also seems to continue to have an insatiable demand for even larger homes.

According to Zero Hedge, the size of the average new home in the United States has just hit another brand new record high…

There was a small ray of hope just after the Lehman collapse that one of the most deplorable characteristics of US society – the relentless urge to build massive McMansions (funding questions aside) – was fading. Alas, as the Census Bureau today confirmed, that normalization in the innate desire for bigger, bigger, bigger not only did not go away but is now back with a bang.

According to just released data, both the median and average size of a new single-family home built in 2013 hit new all time highs of 2,384 and 2,598 square feet respectively.

And while it is known that in absolute number terms the total number of new home sales is still a fraction of what it was before the crisis, the one strata of new home sales which appears to not only not have been impacted but is openly flourishing once more, are the same McMansions which cater to the New Normal uberwealthy (which incidentally are the same as the Old Normal uberwealthy, only wealthier) and which for many symbolize America’s unbridled greed for mega housing no matter the cost.

There is certainly nothing wrong with having a large home.

But if people are overextending themselves financially, that is when it becomes a major problem.

Just remember what happened back in 2007.

And just like prior to the last financial crisis, Americans are treating their homes like piggy banks once again.  Home equity lines of credit are up 8 percent over the past 12 months, and homeowners are increasingly being encouraged to put their homes at risk to fund their excessive lifestyles.

But there has been one big change that we have seen since the last financial crisis.

Lending standards have gotten a lot tougher, and many younger adults find that they are not able to buy homes even though they would really like to.  Stifled by absolutely suffocating levels of student loan debt, many of these young adults are putting off purchasing a home indefinitely.  The following is an excerpt from a recent CNN article about this phenomenon…

The Millennial generation is great at many things: texting, social media, selfies. But buying a home? Not so much.

Just 36% of Americans under the age of 35 own a home, according to the Census Bureau. That’s down from 42% in 2007 and the lowest level since 1982, when the agency began tracking homeownership by age.

It’s not all their fault. Millennials want to buy homes — 90% prefer owning over renting, according to a recent survey from Fannie Mae.

But student loan debt, tight lending standards and stiff competition have made it next to impossible for many of these younger Americans to make the leap.

This is one of the primary reasons why homeownership in America is declining.

A lot of young adults would love to buy a home, but they are already financially crippled from the very start of their adult lives by student loan debt.  In fact, the total amount of student loan debt is now up to approximately 1.1 trillion dollars.  That is even more than the total amount of credit card debt in this country.

We live in a debt-based system which is incredibly fragile.

We experienced this firsthand during the last financial crisis.

But we just can’t help ourselves.

We have always got to have more, and society teaches us that if we don’t have enough money to pay for it that we should just go into even more debt.

Unfortunately, just as so many individuals and families have found out in recent years, eventually a day of reckoning arrives.

And a day of reckoning is coming for the nation as a whole at some point as well.

You can count on that.

Median Household Income Has Fallen For FIVE YEARS IN A ROW

Five - Photo by woodley wonderworksIf the economy is getting better, then why do incomes keep falling?  According to a shocking new report that was just released by the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income (adjusted for inflation) has declined for five years in a row.  This has happened even though the federal government has been borrowing and spending money at an unprecedented rate and the Federal Reserve has been on the most reckless money printing spree in U.S. history.  Despite all of the “emergency measures” that have been taken to “stimulate the economy”, things just continue to get worse for average American families.  Americans are working harder than ever, but their paychecks are not reflecting that.  Meanwhile, the cost of everything just keeps going up.  The Federal Reserve insists that inflation is “low”, but anyone that goes grocery shopping or that stops at a gas station knows that is a lie.  In fact, if inflation was calculated the exact same way that it was calculated back in 1980, the inflation rate would be somewhere between 8 and 10 percent right now.  Paychecks are being stretched more than ever before, and that is probably the reason why about three-fourths of the entire country is living paycheck to paycheck at this point.

According to the Census report, the high point for median household income in the United States was back in 1999 ($56,080).  It almost got back to that level in 2007 ($55,627), but ever since then there has been a steady decline.  The following figures come directly from the report, and as you can see, median household income has fallen every single year for the past five years…

2007: $55,627

2008: $53,644

2009: $53,285

2010: $51,892

2011: $51,100

2012: $51,017

How far does that number have to go down before we admit that we have a major problem on our hands?

The new Census report also revealed that 46.5 million Americans are living in poverty.  As CNSNews.com noted, this is far higher than when Barack Obama first entered the White House…

During the four years that marked President Barack Obama’s first term in office, the real median income of American households dropped by $2,627 and the number of people on poverty increased by approximately 6,667,000, according to data released today by the Census Bureau.

So why does Obama continue to insist that things are getting better?

Right now, one out of every five households in the United States is on food stamps.

One out of every five.

How bad does it have to get before we acknowledge that what we are doing economically is not working.

Will half of us eventually end up on food stamps?

In addition, the new Census report also says that 48 million Americans are currently without any kind of health insurance whatsoever.

The biggest culprit for this is the stunning decline of employment-based health insurance.  Back in 1999, 64.1 percent of all Americans were covered by employment-based health insurance.  Today, only 54.9 percent are covered by employment-based health insurance.

And of course as I noted yesterday, even more companies are going to be dumping health insurance plans because of Obamacare.

All in all, what we have been witnessing over the past decade and a half is the systematic evisceration of the middle class.

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

Over the years, our incomes have certainly gone up, but inflation has increased even faster.

Back when I was growing up, $50,000 a year sounded like a whole lot of money.  I thought that anyone should be able to live a very comfortable lifestyle on that amount of money.

Unfortunately, $50,000 a year doesn’t go nearly as far as it once did.

If you take the current median household income ($51,017) and divide it up by 12 months, it comes to just a little bit more than $4000 a month.

And as I noted last year, it is not easy for the average American family to do everything that it needs to do on $4000 a month…

So can an average family of four people make it on just $4000 a month?

Well, first of all you have got to take out taxes.  After accounting for all forms of taxation you will be lucky if you have $3000 remaining.

With that $3000, you have to pay for all of the following…

*Housing

*Power

*Water

*Food

*Phone

*Internet

*At Least One Vehicle

*Gasoline

*Vehicle Repairs

*Car Insurance

*Health Insurance

*Dental Bills

*Home Or Rental Insurance

*Life Insurance

*Student Loan Debt Payments

*Credit Card Payments

*Furniture

*Clothing

*Pets

*Entertainment (although it is hard to imagine any money will be left for that)

Have I left anything out?

The truth is that $3000 does not go as far as it used to.

No wonder American families are feeling so stretched financially these days.

The new Census report also noted that the gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of us continues to grow.  There is certainly nothing wrong with making money, but if the economy was working properly all Americans should be able to have the opportunity to better themselves.

According to CNBC, the 400 wealthiest Americans now have more money than the poorest 50 percent of all Americans combined.

So why is this happening?  Well, certainly there are a lot of reasons, but in recent years quantitative easing has definitely played a role.  As I noted in my recent article about the Federal Reserve, quantitative easing has been incredibly good for those with stocks and other forms of financial investments.  All of that liquidity has juiced the financial markets, and the extremely wealthy have been loving it.

Meanwhile, things just continue to get even tougher for most of the rest of the American people, and the frightening thing is that the next major wave of the economic collapse has not even hit us yet.

How bad will things be for average American families once that happens?

And there are certainly lots of troubling signs as we get ready to head into the fall season…

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

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

-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.

Hopefully the slow and steady economic decline that we have been experiencing will not accelerate into a full-blown avalanche any time soon.

But I would definitely get prepared just in case.

Wall Street Banks Extract Enormous Fees From The Paychecks Of Millions Of American Workers

Greed - Photo by J. Solana from Madrid, SpainWould you be angry if you had to pay a big Wall Street bank a fee before you could get the money that you worked so hard to earn?  Unfortunately, that is exactly the situation that millions of American workers find themselves in today.  An increasing number of U.S. companies are paying their workers using payroll cards that are issued by large financial institutions.  Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Walgreens and Taco Bell are just some of the well known employers that are doing this.  Today, there are 4.6 million active payroll cards in the United States, and some of the largest banks in the country are issuing them.  The list includes JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup.  The big problem with these cards is that there is often a fee for just about everything that you do with them.  Do you want to use an ATM machine?  You must pay a fee.  Do you want to check your balance?  You must pay a fee.  Do you want a paper statement?  You must pay a fee.  Did you lose your card?  You must pay a big fee.  Has your card been inactive for a while?  You must pay a huge fee.  The big Wall Street banks are systematically extracting enormous fees from the working poor, and someone needs to do something to stop this.

The truth is that most American families need every penny that they earn.  In America today, 53 percent of all workers make less than $30,000 a year.

It is hard to do everything that you need to do on less than $2,500 a month.  If you doubt this, you should try it some time.

That is one reason why the fees that the big Wall Street banks hit payroll card users with are so insidious.  The following is a short excerpt from a recent CNBC article about this phenomenon…

But in the overwhelming majority of cases, using the card involves a fee. And those fees can quickly add up: one provider, for example, charges $1.75 to make a withdrawal from most A.T.M.’s, $2.95 for a paper statement and $6 to replace a card. Some users even have to pay $7 inactivity fees for not using their cards.

These fees can take such a big bite out of paychecks that some employees end up making less than the minimum wage once the charges are taken into account, according to interviews with consumer lawyers, employees, and state and federal regulators.

Devonte Yates, 21, who earns $7.25 an hour working a drive-through station at a McDonald’s in Milwaukee, says he spends $40 to $50 a month on fees associated with his JPMorgan Chase payroll card.

If you are just barely scraping by every month, can you really afford to be paying $50 a month in fees to the fatcats at JPMorgan Chase?

Of course not.

But JPMorgan Chase is far from alone.  Just check out all of the fees that another large financial institution is hitting users with…

On some of its payroll cards, NetSpend charges $2.25 for out-of-network A.T.M. withdrawals, 50 cents for balance inquiries via a representative, 50 cents for a purchase using the card, $5 for statement reprints, $10 to close an account, $25 for a balance-protection program and $7.50 after 60 days of inactivity, according to an April presentation by the company reviewed by The Times.

They are taking advantage of extremely vulnerable people and they know it.

And we see this kind of thing happening with other types of cards as well.  For example, in some states unemployment benefits are now deposited on prepaid debit cards, and the banks that issue these cards are more than happy to extract huge fees from unemployed people

Shawana Busby does not seem like the sort of customer who would be at the center of a major bank’s business plan. Out of work for much of the last three years, she depends upon a $264-a-week unemployment check from the state of South Carolina. But the state has contracted with Bank of America to administer its unemployment benefits, and Busby has frequently found herself incurring bank fees to get her money.

To withdraw her benefits, Busby, 33, uses a Bank of America prepaid debit card on which the state deposits her funds. She could visit a Bank of America ATM free of charge. But this small community in the state’s rural center, her hometown, does not have a Bank of America branch. Neither do the surrounding towns where she drops off her kids at school and attends church.

She could drive north to Columbia, the state capital, and use a Bank of America ATM there. But that entails a 50 mile drive, cutting into her gas budget. So Busby visits the ATMs in her area and begrudgingly accepts the fees, which reach as high as five dollars per transaction. She estimates that she has paid at least $350 in fees to tap her unemployment benefits.

There is something that is so greedy about all of this.

When the financial crisis hit back in 2008, the big banks had no problem begging the entire nation for mercy.

But when it comes time to show mercy to the poor, they tell us that it is “just business”.

In America today, there are tens of millions of families that are just barely surviving from month to month.  The big banks should not be preying on them like this.

With each passing year, the ranks of the working poor in this country continue to get larger.  The following statistics are from one of my previous articles entitled “35 Statistics About The Working Poor In America That Will Blow Your Mind“…

#1 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 146 million Americans are either “poor” or “low income”.

#2 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 57 percent of all American children live in a home that is either “poor” or “low income”.

#3 Back in 2007, about 28 percent of all working families were considered to be among “the working poor”.  Today, that number is up to 32 percent even though our politicians tell us that the economy is supposedly recovering.

#4 Back in 2007, 21 million U.S. children lived in “working poor” homes.  Today, that number is up to 23.5 million.

#5 In Arkansas, Mississippi and New Mexico, more than 40 percent all of working families are considered to be “low income”.

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

#7 Half of all American workers earn $505 or less per week.

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

#9 Today, the United States actually has a higher percentage of workers doing low wage work than any other major industrialized nation does.

#10 Median household income in the United States has fallen for four consecutive years.

#11 Median household income for families with children dropped by a whopping $6,300 between 2001 and 2011.

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

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

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

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

#16 Low income families spend about 8.6 percent of their incomes on gasoline.  Other families spend about 2.1 percent.

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

#18 According to one survey, 77 percent of all Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck at least part of the time.

#19 Millions of working poor families in America end up taking on debt in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, but before too long they find themselves in a debt trap that they can never escape.  According to a recent article in the New York Times, the average debt burden for U.S. households that earn $20,000 a year or less “more than doubled to $26,000 between 2001 and 2010“.

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

You can find the rest of the list right here.

The working poor simply cannot afford to be paying hundreds of dollars in fees to the big banks each year just to use the money that they worked so very hard to earn.

Unfortunately, we seem to be living during a time when the big financial institutions will squeeze every nickel that they possibly can out of average Americans no matter how high the human cost is.

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