The less rosy side of our ‘robust’ economy

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America in 2018 is enjoying faster growth, low unemployment, record numbers of job openings, and a stock market near an all-time high. Yet an alarming number of Americans are still struggling to get by.        — Heather Long

On more than one occasion this year, this column has made reference to America’s “robust” economic recovery and, in particular, how well Minnesota is faring. Among the counterpoints to Minnesota’s economic prosperity continue to be its rampant racial disparities that have plagued the state for well over a decade.

Nonetheless, the dominant narrative, both here in Minnesota and across the nation, has championed record low unemployment, significant job growth, increased corporate profits, a strong GDP, and the second longest bull market in Wall Street’s history. But how many Americans are truly benefitting from this financial wave?

This past May, the Federal Reserve published a report that two-fifths of America’s adult population lack the savings to cover a $400 household emergency. And, according to the United Way, approximately 44 percent of U.S. households do not make enough to cover basic needs such as food, rent, transportation, health care and child care.

A recent article in Forbes magazine has poked even a bigger hole in the frequent recital of a bountiful economy. In his piece “America’s Real Economy: It isn’t booming,” noted author and businessman Peter Georgescu starts by writing, “Ostensibly, for the past 10 years, our economy has been recovering from the 2008 collapse,” adding that this rally has even intensified of late. He continues, however, by referencing an “alterative set of data that depicts a different America, where the overlooked majority struggles from month to month.”

Georgescu goes on to cite a multitude of alarming statistics, which include: astronomical levels of credit card and student loan debt; the fact that two-thirds of American households have less than $1,000 in savings; and the projection that healthcare costs are expected to increase by as much as 20 percent in the coming year.

Perhaps the most telling data point centers on the purchasing power of American households in 2018. Although wages have been increasing by an average of nearly three percent per year, they have failed to keep up with the pace of inflation. As such, in 2018, a minimum wage employee in the United States must work more than 40 additional days each year just to earn “the equivalent of the 2009 minimum wage.”

Not only are these trends not sustainable, but they continue to put tens of millions of Americans on a collision course with financial disaster. Moreover, this nation’s economic disparities are a threat to its very future. Consider the world that we are leaving to our children, of whom four of 10 are already living in low-income households.

But it not just our young people who will bear the burden of our mounting inequity; everyone is at risk. Among America’s most vulnerable and neglected populations are its seniors.

For example, from suburban Cleveland comes the story of Robert and Jelaine Blocksom. First reported by the local ABC affiliate, Robert, 87, has come out of retirement to become a truck driver. The reason? So that the couple can afford to cover the medical bills associated with Jelaine’s illness.

And the Blocksoms are far from alone. The number of Americans over the age of 85 who are currently working is approaching 300,000. This represents a steady rise over the past decade and is only projected to increase in the next five years. Additionally, the bankruptcy rate among seniors has more than tripled in the last quarter century.

As long as the costs of food, housing, health care, prescription medications, and other basic needs skyrocket, our seniors (the majority of whom live on fixed incomes) will continue to suffer gratuitously under the clutches of American greed.

Where is the respect, concern and support for both our youngest and oldest generations? What have we allowed ourselves to become? And can we somehow muster the courage and compassion to change it?