Rocky Vega

Middle-class wage stagnation and overall income inequality were US economic realities already growing in severity before the financial crisis hit. They were obscured for some time by the illusory wealth of the housing bubble, but the issues are now again in plain view… where “most Americans have been treading water” while the wealthiest one percent have seen their salaries increase threefold.

From the Financial Times:

“Dubbed ‘median wage stagnation’ by economists, the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 – having risen by only 10 per cent in real terms over the past 37 years. [...] In the last expansion, which started in January 2002 and ended in December 2007, the median US household income dropped by $2,000 – the first ever instance where most Americans were worse off at the end of a cycle than at the start. Worse is that the long era of stagnating incomes has been accompanied by something profoundly un-American: declining income mobility…

“…Nowadays in America, you have a smaller chance of swapping your lower income bracket for a higher one than in almost any other developed economy – even Britain on some measures. To invert the classic Horatio Alger stories, in today’s America if you are born in rags, you are likelier to stay in rags than in almost any corner of old Europe. Combine those two deep-seated trends with a third – steeply rising inequality – and you get the slow-burning crisis of American capitalism. It is one thing to suffer grinding income stagnation. It is another to realise that you have a diminishing likelihood of escaping it…

“…[renowned Harvard economist Larry Katz] offers the most compelling analogy. ‘Think of the American economy as a large apartment block,’ says the softly spoken professor. ‘A century ago – even 30 years ago – it was the object of envy. But in the last generation its character has changed. The penthouses at the top keep getting larger and larger. The apartments in the middle are feeling more and more squeezed and the basement has flooded. To round it off, the elevator is no longer working. That broken elevator is what gets people down the most.’”

The picture painted is that of a triple threat to the middle-class engine of the US economy: stagnating wages for most, diminished opportunity for upward income mobility, and rising income inequality. According to the FT, a substantial majority of polled Americans “expect their children to be worse off than they are,” and with that the “golden era of the American middle class” remains on the decline. You can read more details in the Financial Times reportage of America’s middle-class crisis.

Best,

Rocky Vega,
The Daily Reckoning

Rocky Vega

Rocky Vega is publisher of Agora Financial International, where he advances the growth of Agora Financial publishing enterprises outside of the US. Previously, he was publisher of The Daily Reckoning, and founding publisher of both UrbanTurf and RFID Update -- which he ran from Brazil, Chile, and Puerto Rico -- as well as associate publisher of FierceFinance. Rocky has an honors MS from the Stockholm School of Economics and an honors BA from Harvard University, where he served on the board of directors for Let?s Go Publications, Harvard Student Agencies, and The Harvard Advocate.

  • JRod

    As a member of the American middle-class I can’t say I am too surprised. Maybe we should go back to working hard and making things.

Recent Articles

5 Min. Forecast
How to Profit On the Back of an “Activist Investor”

Dave Gonigam

Since the invention of the "shareholder rights plan" (i.e. the "poison pill"), most companies are relatively immune to hostile takeovers. But according to Dave Gonigam that could all change thanks to one activist investor. And if you're savvy enough, you may just be able to follow his lead for big gains. Read on...


Extra!
Why Americans Shouldn’t Worry About Income Inequality

Jim Mosquera

As the markets have continued to rally over the last several years, more and more people have touted the problem of "income inequality" in the US. But as Jim Mosquera explains, this perceived problem will likely sort itself out with the arrival of one specific market event. Read on...


One ETF to Play Asymmetric Warfare

Addison Wiggin

Almost one year ago, substation telephone cables were maliciously cut in San Jose, CA. In 20 minutes, 17 transformers were knocked out. A year on, similar threats have cropped up. Today, Addison Wiggin explains why these threats are so serious for the safety of the global economy... and shows you one way to play it...


What Small-Caps are Saying About the Current “Bubble”

Greg Guenthner

The big problem with declaring bubbles is that it really does you no good. Unless you're attempting to measure and time market moves, you're also blowing hot air. But if you keep watch for negative divergences, you have a much better shot at figuring out big market moves than the latest bubble-busters. Greg Guenthner explains...


A Simple Strategy for Investing in the US Energy Boom

Byron King

Too often investments are made in a vacuum. But as Byron King demonstrates, the global economic crash... easy money... and technological advancements are all interdependent. In particular, that connection has changed the investment calculus in the resource market. Read on to learn how...


How Gold Will Respond to Declining Discovery

Henry Bonner

Oil isn't the only resource to experience "peaks." Due to a major contraction in gold exploration over the past few years, the mining sector is no longer mining gold at its replacement rate. In other words, the amount of gold above ground is running out. And according to Henry Bonner, it will get worse before it gets better...