St. Petersburg Times http://www.tampabay.com/ columnist Robin Blumner is right on target about the decline of the American middle class.
In case you haven't been keeping up with the fortunes of the fortunate, the private jet business is booming. In the first quarter of this year, shipments of private jets were up 41 percent. It seems that servicing America's elite is a thriving niche. There are so many new mega-yachts that owners can't keep them staffed, says the New York Observer.
Now, back on Earth, let's look at how the rest of us are doing. Hmm. Not so well. Even for those in steady jobs, there is a creeping sense of instability, a generalized disquiet and unspoken worry that sits on one's shoulders adding drag to the day.
Packaged in this malaise is the spike in oil prices and what that will mean for gas prices and every other thing we buy, the bottoming out of the housing market, companies announcing huge layoffs, and rises in food and health insurance costs outpacing salaries and wages.
This volatility has led to a shift in how we see ourselves. "Vulnerable" is probably the best descriptor. Our thoughts turn to hunkering down rather than plans for the future. But what makes this coming decline in economic security different from the one visited upon American families in the 1970s, for example, is that we are much less well-positioned to withstand the financial buffeting. The work of Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren indicates there is a coming collapse of the middle class and she can prove it with a raft of scary statistics and charts.
Warren says we are moving toward a two-class rather than a three-class society, where there is a somewhat larger upper class made up of the financially comfortable and then there is the rest of America, people who are "constantly living on the edge of a cliff." These are families who might appear to earn a decent income but they enjoy none of the financial security that we normally associate with middle-class status.
Warren compares the median American family of 1970 with that of 2003. She unpacks why our savings rate has dropped to zero from a rather healthy 11 percent of take-home pay in 1970, even as the family added Mom as a breadwinner.
Typically, blame for this lands on families themselves. They're spending themselves into penury by buying designer clothes for their kids and indulging in $4 lattes, say social commentators. Not so, Warren counters. She says that Americans are actually spending far less in inflation-adjusted dollars for things like clothes and food, including eating out, than they did in 1970. What has substantially changed, Warren reports, is the cost of big-ticket, fixed expenses. So that even though the income of the median two-parent, two-child family is higher, because both parents are employed, the family has less income available to shore itself up against a rough patch.
Housing costs for a median-sized house (which has gotten modestly bigger since 1970 by adding either a second bathroom or a third bedroom but not both) have increased 76 percent. Health insurance costs are up 74 percent. Also up sharply are taxes (due to the second income), child care and car-related expenses. Americans keep a car more than two years longer than they did 30 years ago, but they now need two cars to get to two jobs.
These big, inflexible expenses cost the median family three-fourths of its two-earner income. In 1970 they cost half of the single breadwinner's.
We now live in a country where there is no financial margin for most families to fall back on in case someone gets sick or a job is lost. Life is far riskier.
Then add on an energy crisis and you can almost hear the foundation cracking.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, has received hundreds of e-mails from Americans who suddenly have found themselves in desperate financial straits. He's been reading their plaintive stories on the Senate floor. How they were middle class but are no longer.
Bob Conley has been certified as the winner of the South Carolina's Democratic U.S. Senate nomination. Running against big-business Republican Lindsay Graham, Conley offers a refreshing alternative for South Carolina voters fed up with special interest-controlled Washington politicians. Here is some information concerning Conley's positions on issues obtained from his campaign website:
Energy: Bob Conley sees solutions to reduce your gas prices through the use of alternative energy and conservation. To end our dependence on foreign oil, we need to change our energy policy. Bob will fight for this change by: encouraging more energy production at home, promoting the development of alternative energy sources, wider use of proven alternative energy solutions, and encouraging the use of energy-saving technologies. We’ll regain energy independence and create good jobs in the process!
Iraq: Bob Conley believes it is time to end the occupation, and support our troops by bringing them home!
Jobs & Immigration: Corporate greed is robbing us of our jobs and driving our down our wages. Bob Conley supports secure borders. Corporations that fuel the immigration fire must pay the price. Greedy corporations and unscrupulous businessmen profit, while our working families and taxpayers foot the bill for services for illegals. This is corporate welfare, and it must end. The legal importation of foreign workers is also driving down wages, and placing Americans in unemployment lines. This is wrong, and must end. Policy needs to change and should be based on what is good for our workers, our families, and our communities – not the bottom lines of corporations and their lobbyists’ demands!
Jobs & Trade: Bob Conley says no to trade agreements that send our good, well-paying jobs to foreign lands. Multi-national corporations profit while our working families and our communities suffer. This is wrong, and must change. The U.S. needs to withdraw from trade agreements that have cost us 3.5 million of our good manufacturing jobs since 2001!
Bob will promote and restore America First trade policies. We need to follow the Constitution – where Congress is to regulate trade with the foreign nations – and cannot continue to allow unelected foreign bureaucrats in far away places to decide and dictate our trade policies. We must end most favored nation status for Communist China. Bob is our fighter to change trade policies, correct our massive trade imbalance, and keep our good jobs here at home.
Economy: We must implement fiscal policies to end deficit spending. Bob Conley believes we must change our monetary policy, restore sound, honest money, and halt the fall of the dollar. We must stop predatory lending practices, end the Wall Street bailouts, and put a lid on massive expenditures abroad.
Military: Overseas deployments of occupation are breaking our military. Deployments in recent years have left 80% of our National Guard units without the necessary equipment for training – and the missions they should be prepared to serve here at home. Our National Guard needs to be rebuilt.
Veterans: Bob Conley believes veterans need to be given adequate care, not shuffled around in a Veterans' Administration that should be overhauled. Bob will work to pass a new GI Bill for our veterans who have fought in the twenty-first century.
Constitution and the Bill of Rights: Bob Conley will fight to repeal the Big Brother legislation passed by rubber-stamp Republican Congresses. We cannot afford to give up essential liberties under the false pretense of security. Measures that infringe on our individual liberties protected by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights must be repealed! We must restore the Constitution and respect the principles on which our Republic was founded.
WASHINGTON, D.C.: As the latest round of the Chinese-American Strategic Economic Dialogue begins, the U.S. Business and Industry Council (USBIC) urged Congress on Monday to de-fund future U.S. participation in the two-year-old talks and immediately pass a series of hard-hitting measures to combat what USBIC calls China’s damaging trade cheating, and protect Americans from China’s unsafe products.
According to USBIC President Kevin L. Kearns, whose organization represents 1,550 domestic manufacturers and other companies, “Any presidential candidate genuinely concerned about America’s working families and the beleaguered domestic industries employing them will endorse these actions as well. Instead of providing rebate-check handouts, our political leaders must give the American people their factories, labs, and jobs back.”
Kearns called China “an economic rogue state—one that keeps stealing production, revenue, R&D, and jobs from our domestic manufacturers and their employees. Beijing’s American victims need their government’s help now. They can’t wait for a new president and Congress.” Since the Bush administration won’t act, Kearns adds, “Congress needs to wake up and take responsibility. It’s time for House and Senate leaders to display some legislative competence and build majorities for effective unilateral action on unfair and dangerous Chinese practices.”
The Council urged Congress to: Immediately pass a resolution formally declaring the Strategic Economic Dialogue a failure, plus legislation to prevent the administration from spending any funds to prepare for or participate in the Dialogue’s next session, at year’s end;
Pass the House and Senate bills that would make currency manipulation a countervailable subsidy under U.S. trade law. This three-year-old legislation has a long list of bipartisan cosponsors in the House, but House leaders refuse to act, and the Senate has dawdled;
Pass an immediate ban on all imports of toys and other children’s products from China; Pass legislation requiring detailed labeling for imported processed food and drug products that would specify their ingredients and levels of content from China; and other countries lacking effective domestic regulatory systems;
Pass legislation banning U.S. sales of internet surveillance hardware and software to China; and Significantly expand funding and staffing for China-specific counterespionage programs and anti-hacking efforts throughout the U.S. government.
Concludes Kearns, “Forcing the current president to veto such measures would send a powerful message to China’s leadership—and to the next occupant of the White House. The time is past for talk on China’s flagrant trade cheating and egregiously unsafe industrial practices. Now it’s time for action."
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