Monday, August 02, 2010

The crisis of middle-class America

FT, more often than not, does a better job of reporting than many other newspapers. Here is FT talking about middle class America - FT.com / Reportage - The crisis of middle-class America. The examples are well chosen. People with income twice the national median, working four jobs (between two adults) are not able to reliably meet their obligations. Some are stretched by healthcare expenses others while others are fighting through job losses. One can only imagine what happens at lower-than-median incomes.

Welcome to the new normal
One of the harsh realities economists talk about is the "new normal". It includes a lifestyle with smaller cost footprint. It means scaling back on purchases. It means no new clothes, no new cars, no computers and cameras. The middle class is not saving, it is simply adjusting to new levels and risks associated with their income. At least a third of American households are in this situation. So we can only imagine what it will do for a consumption-led GDP. The future does not look bright. 

The question of jobs
The government needs to look at the profile of population and profile of jobs available for the population. I mentioned in an earlier post that every economy has an ideal job profile based on education and skill levels of the population. America is losing those jobs that its people are qualified to do. They are losing these jobs thanks to uncompetitive currency, higher wages and benefits and possibly inflexible workforce (in education). This will cause further pain in the coming years.

Declining Wage profile
Just as economy has a job profile, similarly every job profile has an associated income profile based on global wages adjusting for productivity. The wages in US are higher, I believe, than global wages AFTER adjusting for productivity.  So the incomes for those jobs that americans have will not rise much or may even fall. It will stretch middle class households beyond redemption.

Volcker-Warren conundrum
At such times, America should call Volcker-Warren combine to lead the entire financial reform process.   The Warren appointment is being fought at the CFPA level itself so that it is easier to control the Warren-influence over the general Financial reforms process. I hope, rather pray, that Warren ultimately triumphs. She is the only hope in otherwise hopeless economic and political landscape. Same goes for Volcker, the ultimate Volcker rule is so watered down, I doubt Paul Volcker is really satisfied with it. It is time for leaders of America to stand up and be counted. Alas, there aren't any.