Posts Tagged ‘chart’

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The economic crises that came to a head in 2008 and the massive response—by the U.S. government and corporations themselves—reshaped the world we live in.* Although sectors of the U.S. economy are still in one of their longest expansions, most people recognize that the recovery has been profoundly uneven and the economic gains have not been fairly distributed.

The question is, what has changed—and, equally significant, what hasn’t—during the past decade?

DJCA

Let’s start with U.S. stock markets, which over the course of less than 18 months, from October 2007 to March 2009, dropped by more than half. And since then? As is clear from the chart above, stocks (as measured by the Dow Jones Composite Average) have rebounded spectacularly, quadrupling in value (until the most recent sell-off). One of the reasons behind the extraordinary bull market has been monetary policy, which through normal means and extraordinary measures has transferred debt and put a great deal of inexpensive money in the hands of banks, corporations, and wealth investors.

profits

The other major reason is that corporate profits have recovered, also in spectacular fashion. As illustrated in the chart above, corporate profits (before tax, without adjustments) have climbed almost 250 percent from their low in the third quarter of 2008. Profits are, of course, a signal to investors that their stocks will likely rise in value. Moreover, increased profits allow corporations themselves to buy back a portion of their stocks. Finally, wealthy individuals, who have managed to capture a large share of the growing surplus appropriated by corporations, have had a growing mountain of cash to speculate on stocks.

Clearly, the United States has experienced a profit-led recovery during the past decade, which is both a cause and a consequence of the stock-market bubble.

banks

The crash and the Second Great Depression, characterized by the much-publicized failures of large financial institutions such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, raised a number of concerns about the rise in U.S. bank asset concentration that started in the 1990s. Today, as can be seen in the chart above, those concentration ratios (the 3-bank ratio in purple, the 5-bank ratio in green) are even higher. The top three are JPMorgan Chase (which acquired Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual), Bank of America (which purchased Merrill Lynch), and Wells Fargo (which took over Wachovia, North Coast Surety Insurance Services, and Merlin Securities), followed by Citigroup (which has managed to survive both a partial nationalization and a series of failed stress tests), and Goldman Sachs (which managed to borrow heavily, on the order of $782 billion in 2008 and 2009, from the Federal Reserve). At the end of 2015 (the last year for which data are available), the 5 largest “Too Big to Fail” banks held nearly half (46.5 percent) of the total of U.S. bank assets.

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Moreover, in the Trump administration as in the previous two, the revolving door between Wall Street and the entities in the federal government that are supposed to regulate Wall Street continues to spin. And spin. And spin.

median income

As for everyone else, they’ve barely seen a recovery. Real median household income in 2016 was only 1.5 percent higher than it was before the crash, in 2007.

workers

That’s because, even though the underemployment rate (the annual average rate of unemployed workers, marginally attached workers, and workers employed part-time for economic reasons as a percentage of the civilian labor force plus marginally attached workers, the blue line in the chart) has fallen in the past ten years, it is still very high—9.6 percent in 2016. In addition, the share of low-wage jobs (the percentage of jobs in occupations with median annual pay below the poverty threshold for a family of four, the orange line) remains stubbornly elevated (at 23.3 percent) and the wage share of national income (the green line) is still less than what it was in 2009 (at 43 percent)—and far below its postwar high (of 50.9 percent, in 1969).

Clearly, the recovery that corporations, Wall Street, and owners of stocks have engineered and enjoyed during the past 10 years has largely bypassed American workers.

income

One of the consequences of the lopsided recovery is that the distribution of income—already obscenely unequal prior to the crash—has continued to worsen. By 2014 (the last year for which data are available), the share of pretax national income going to the top 1 percent had risen to 20.2 percent (from 19.9 percent in 2007), while that of the bottom 90 percent had fallen to 53 percent (from 54.2 percent in 2007). In other words, the rising income share of the top 1 percent mirrors the declining share of the bottom 90 percent of the distribution.

wealth

The distribution of wealth in the United States is even more unequal. The top 1 percent held 38.6 percent of total household wealth in 2016, up from 33.7 percent in 2007, that of the next 9 percent more or less stable at 38.5 percent, while that of the bottom 90 percent had shrunk even further, from 28.6 percent to 22.8 percent.

So, back to my original question: what has—and has not—changed over the course of the past decade?

One area of the economy has clearly rebounded. Through their own efforts and with considerable help from the government, the stock market, corporate profits, Wall Street, and the income and wealth of the top 1 percent have all recovered from the crash. It’s certainly been their kind of recovery.

And they’ve recovered in large part because everyone else has been left behind. The vast majority of people, the American working-class, those who produce but don’t appropriate the surplus: they’ve been forced, within desperate and distressed circumstances, to shoulder the burden of a recovery they’ve had no say in directing and from which they’ve been mostly excluded.

The problem is, that makes the current recovery no different from the run-up to the crash itself—grotesque levels of inequality that fueled the bloated profits on both Main Street and Wall Street and a series of speculative asset bubbles. And the current recovery, far from correcting those tendencies, has made them even more obscene.

Thus, ten years on, U.S. capitalism has created the conditions for renewed instability and another, dramatic crash.

 

*In a post last year, I called into question any attempt to precisely date the beginning of the crises.

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For the first time in American history, students in more than half of all U.S. states are paying more in tuition to attend public colleges or universities than the government contributes.

The privatization of public education has been under way for decades but this inflection point was hastened by deep cuts states made to their higher-education appropriations in the midst of the Second Great Depression.

For the United States as a whole, according to a new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, students and their families were forced to come up with almost half (46.2 percent) of total educational revenue for public colleges and universities in 2017. They had to pay only 28.8 percent of the total in 1992, a share that had risen to 36.2 percent in 2007.

Increasingly, public higher education in the United States is public in name only.

And the privatization of the public educational system is costing the American working-class dearly. In 2016, net tuition for one student (full-time equivalent) came to 10.9 percent of median household income. That’s almost double what it was in 1992: 5.7 percent. Even as recently as 2007, it was only 7.9 percent.

While public financing for higher education has improved in recent years, the overall trend of less public support and students having to shoulder more of the burden continues.

After the crash of 2007-08, educational appropriations dropped 24 percent over four years, to $6,525 in 2012. This was largely due to accelerating enrollment growth (especially in community colleges) and the lack of proportional funding increases. Reversing this decline, appropriations have now increased for five straight years: 2.0 percent in 2013, 4.9 percent in 2014, 5.0 percent in 2015, 1.6 percent in 2016, and 2.5 percent in 2017. However, in 2017 states appropriated almost $2,000 less per student than they did in 2001, and $1,000 less than before the crash.

The same question applies today as when I wrote about the problem of higher education back in 2016:

What’s the American working-class to do? The same as in many other rich countries: demand free higher education for all high-school graduates who want to attend an in-state public college or university (and, while they’re at it, forgiveness for the student debts they’ve been forced to take on in order to attend increasingly out-of-reach public colleges and universities).

 

retirement

Millennials may be the largest, best educated, and most diverse generation in U.S. history. But they’re also generation screwed. As a result, they’re more likely than their elders to think of themselves as working-class and less likely to identify as middle-class.

The large downshift in class identity among young adults is explained by the fact that they are being left behind—with lower earnings, fewer jobs, more part-time employment, and a higher unemployment rate than any other generation in the postwar period.

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And while it is true that recent college graduates make more than young workers with a high-school diploma, the annual real wages of both groups have declined since 2009.

So, it should come as no shock that most Millennials have nothing saved for retirement, and those who are saving can’t save nearly enough.

According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, in research that was recently reported by CNN, two-thirds of working Millennials have not been able to save anything for their retirement. That’s true even though two-thirds of Millennials work for an employer that offers an employer-sponsored retirement plan. But they’re often not eligible, because they work part-time or have too little time in their current job—and, if they are eligible, their low pay and high indebtedness make it impossible to set aside anything for retirement savings.

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The fact that Millennials aren’t following the recommendations of financial and retirement experts has a lot of people worried. But Keith Spencer [ht: ja] presents a much more hopeful perspective: many millennials honestly don’t see a future for capitalism.

The idea that we millennials’ only hope for retirement is the end of capitalism or the end of the world is actually quite common sentiment among the millennial left. . .

Older generations, and even millennials who are better off and who have managed to achieve a sort of petit-bourgeois freedom, might find this sentiment unimaginable, even abhorrent. And yet, in studying the reaction to the CNN piece and reaching out to millennials who had responded to it, I was astounded not only at how many young people shared [Holly] Wood’s feelings, but how frequently our expectations for the future aligned. Many millennials expressed to me their interest in creating self-sustaining communities as their only hope for survival in old age; a lack of faith that capitalism as we know it would exist by retirement age; and that alternating climate crises, concentrations of wealth, and privatization of social welfare programs would doom their chance at survival.

Creating a world in which individual retirement savings are made irrelevant is a kind of real talk from Millennials that makes a helluva lot more sense than the constant barrage of so-called expert advice to educate “Millennials about the value of retirement savings and how employer-sponsored retirement plans and employer matches work.”

In fact, socialism may be the best way “to improve the retirement preparedness of America’s largest generation.”

profit shares

wage shares

Economic journalists, like Neil Irwin, are falling all over themselves celebrating the strength of the current economic recovery.

According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 313 thousand new jobs were added in February. The official unemployment rate remained at a relatively low 4.1 percent. Hourly wages grew at an annual rate of 2.6 percent. And so on.

Here’s Irwin:

This is not the kind of data you expect in an expansion that is nine years old, or out of a labor market that is already at full employment. . .

the February numbers are a delicious sweet spot for the economy. Many more people are working, including people who hadn’t even been in the labor force. If that trend continues — and it’s worth adding the usual caveat that each month’s jobs numbers are subject to revision and statistical error — there’s no reason to think this expansion is reaching its natural end.

What Irwin and his colleagues fail to mention is this is an economic recovery that, as in previous years, continues to be spectacularly one-sided. It’s all on capital’s terms.

Let’s look at some other numbers, as illustrated in the charts at the top of the post. The profit share (the blue line in the top chart) has in fact rebounded nicely since the depths of the Great Recession—from a low of 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 to 11.9 percent in the third quarter of 2017 (the latest period for which data are available). And that’s true across the board—in both major sectors, nonfinancial (the red line) and financial (the green line). Profits quickly recovered from the crash and, as a result of government economic policy and capital’s own decisions, they’ve stayed at or near the peak of the pre-crash period.

Meanwhile, workers are still waiting for their recovery. The wage share (in the second chart), while currently higher than its nadir (52.1 percent in the third quarter of 2014), is still (at 53 percent) only equal to its previous low (in 2006)—and therefore much lower than it was in the midst of the Great Recession and, on average, for much of the postwar period. Even with lots of new jobs and low unemployment, workers are still getting the short end of the stick.

So, Irwin is right about one thing: the current numbers are a “delicious sweet spot”—for capital, not labor. Capital is getting all the workers it wants, to make even more profits. And workers continue to be forced to have the freedom to find jobs and then to labor in return for a historically low share of what they produce.

No, there is no natural end to this one-sided expansion. Only a fundamental transformation in economic institutions, not pie-in-the-sky promises, will actually benefit American workers.

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Chris Rock may be right. Still, Americans are well aware that economic inequality in their country is obscene, even though they often underestimate the growing gap between the poor and the rich.

But it’s Frank Rich, who conducted the interview with the American comedian, who made the more perceptive observation:

For all the current conversation about income inequality, class is still sort of the elephant in the room.

All the experts agree—from Thomas Piketty and the other members of the World Inequality Lab team to John C. Weicher of the conservative Hudson Institute—that inequality in the United States, especially the unequal distribution of wealth, has been worsening for decades now. Both before and after the crash of 2007-08. And there’s no sign that things are going to get better anytime soon, unless radical changes are made.

But, as it turns out, even the experts underestimate the degree of inequality in the United States. The usual numbers that are produced and disseminated indicate that, in 2014 (the last year for which data are available), the top 1 percent of Americans owned one third (35 percent) of total household wealth while the bottom 90 percent had less than half (45.3 percent) of the wealth.

According to my calculations, illustrated in the chart at the top of the post, the situation in the United States is much worse. In 2014, the top 1 percent (red line) owned almost two thirds of the financial or business wealth, while the bottom 90 percent (blue line) had only six percent. That represents an enormous change from the already-unequal situation in 1978, when the shares were much closer (28.6 percent for the top 1 percent and 23.2 percent for the bottom 90 percent).

Why the large difference between my numbers and theirs? It all depends on how wealth is defined. Both the World Inequality Lab and the Federal Reserve (in the Survey of Consumer Finances) include housing and retirement pensions in household wealth—and those two categories comprise most of the so-called wealth of most Americans. They just don’t own much in the way of financial or business wealth. They live in their houses and they retire based on contributions from their wages and salaries over the course of their work lives. They produce but don’t take home any of the surplus; therefore, they just don’t have the ability to amass any real wealth.

For the small group at the top, things are quite different. They do get a cut of the surplus, which they use, not only to purchase housing and put aside in their pensions, but to accumulate real wealth, for themselves and their families. If we take out housing and pensions and calculate just the shares of financial or business wealth—and, thus, equities, fixed-income claims, and business assets—the degree of inequality is much, much worse.

Yes, rich people in the United States are very rich—even more than either regular Americans or the experts believe.

But that’s not the real elephant in the room. The big issue that everyone is aware of, but nobody wants to talk about, is class. And that’s the reason there should be, if not riots, at least a sustained political movement to transform the existing economic and social structures in the United States.

employment-incomes

U.S. capitalism has a real problem: there don’t seem to be enough workers to keep the economy growing.

And it has another problem: capitalists themselves are to blame for the missing workers.

As is clear from the chart above, the employment-population ratio (the blue line) has collapsed from a high of 64.4 in 2000 to 59 in 2014 (and had risen to only 60.1 by the end of 2017).* During the same period, the average real incomes of the bottom 90 percent of Americans have stagnated—barely increasing from $37,541 to $37,886.

That should be indicator that the problem is on the demand side, that employers’ demand for workers’ labor power has decreased, and not the supply side, that workers are choosing to drop out of the labor force.

But, as I explained back in 2015, that hasn’t stopped mainstream economists from blaming workers themselves—especially women and young people, for being unwilling to work and turning instead to public assistance programs and raising children and being distracted by social media and digital technologies, as well as Baby-Boomers, who are choosing to retire instead of continuing to work.

So, which is it?

Katharine G. Abraham and Melissa S. Kearney have just completed a study in which they review the available evidence and their conclusion could not be clearer:

labor demand factors, in particular trade and the penetration of robots into the labor market, are the most important drivers of observed within-group declines in employment.

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Over the course of the past two decades, U.S. capitalists have decided both to increase trade with China (through outsourcing jobs and importing commodities) and to replace workers with robots and other forms of automation (it is estimated that each robot installed displaces something on the order of 5-6 workers).

That’s the main reason the employment-population ratio has declined so precipitously and that workers’ wages have stagnated in recent years.

Clearly, U.S. capitalists have been remarkably successful at increasing their profits. But they have just as spectacularly failed the vast majority of people who continue to be forced to have the freedom to work for them.

 

*The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the employment-population ratio as the ratio of total civilian employment to the 16-and-over civilian noninstitutional population. Simply put, it is the portion of the population that is employed. Thus, for example, in 2000, the total number of civilian employees in the United States was 136.9 million and the figure for the civilian noninstitutional population was 212.6 million. By 2014, the civilian noninstitutional population had grown to 247.9 million but the total number of workers had risen to only 146.3 million. The employment-population ratio differs from both the unemployment rate (the number of unemployed divided by the civilian labor force) and the labor force participation rate (the share of the 16-and-over civilian noninstitutional population either working or looking for work).

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Must come down. . .

I’m not referring to karma or the application of Newton’s law of universal gravitation. No, it’s just the way capitalism works.

DJIA

Take the stock market, for example. Last Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 666 points, or 2.5 percent, its biggest percentage decline since the Brexit turmoil in June 2016 and the steepest point decline since the 2008 financial crisis.

The large decline is really no surprise, since the U.S. stock market—a thoroughly speculative institution within contemporary capitalism—has been on the rise, based on soaring corporate profits, since 2009.

Rising stock values are related to corporate profits in two ways: First, they are bets on corporate profits, in the sense that stock speculators expect future prices to track the rate at which corporations are able to extract surplus and realize profits from their workers. Second, the profits themselves are distributed by corporations—internally, to buy back their own stocks, and to wealthy individuals (such as CEOs and recipients of dividends), who are in the position to capture their own portion of the surplus and use it to engage in speculative stock-market purchases.

So, stock-market indices went up—and then, last week, they came down.

No one knows why the stock market plummeted, although there are many stories out there. One of them is the jobs report—indicating 200 thousand new jobs in January and an increase in workers’ wages—and the risk that the profit rate might fall.

That’s another one of those up-down features of capitalism. And every time the profit rate falls, as if like clockwork, a recession or depression is just around the corner. Corporations cut back spending, workers are laid off, and then—perhaps, always maybe—the conditions are created for another economic upturn.

wages

Here’s what’s interesting: while average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls once again increased (in January by 9 cents to $26.74, following an 11-cent gain in December, and thus, over the year, by 75 cents, or 2.9 percent), average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees increased by only 3 cents (to $22.34, or 2.4 percent on an annual basis) in January—in both cases, just a bit more than the rate of inflation. And by another measure—real weekly earnings—wages actually fell (by 1.1 percent) during the last quarter of 2017.

So, there’s no clear indication that workers’ wages are finally ready to take off (as mainstream economists and business commentators keep promising) or that they’ll make a large dent in corporate profits.

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In fact, as is clear from the chart above, workers’ wages continue to lag far behind increases in productivity—literally no change compared to an increase of almost 9 percent, respectively, since 2009.

Still, even the threat that workers’ wages might rise seems to have spooked the stock market, which tells us something else about capitalism: the members of the small group who, in terms of wealth and power, stand above the rest by benefitting from and betting on corporate profits are themselves no more than uncertain followers of the herd.

Up and then down again. . .