There’s a troubling news media narrative that’s now got traction crediting President Trump with delivering for Americans on the economy. Meanwhile, the corporate news media remains silent on the continued economic dislocation that’s got tens of millions of American households living paycheck to paycheck and forty million living in poverty.
And it doesn’t matter which end of the news media’s ideological spectrum you’re talking about. Talking heads on MSNBC, Fox and everything in between, all back up their claim of Trump’s robust economic expansion by pointing to the national unemployment numbers and the stock market as evidence that ‘happy days’ are here again.
A December report released on American poverty issued by Phillip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, got scant corporate news media attention. Alston, also a New York University law professor, conducted a 15-day fact finding mission in some of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods.
THE AWFUL TRUTH WE CONTINUE TO IGNORE
“I met with many people barely surviving on Skid Row in Los Angeles, I witnessed a San Francisco police officer telling a group of homeless people to move on but having no answer when asked where they could move to, I heard how thousands of poor people get minor infraction notices which seem to be intentionally designed to quickly explode into un-payable debt, incarceration, and the replenishment of municipal coffers,” he wrote in his report to the UN Human Rights Council.”
He continued. “I saw sewage filled yards in states where governments don’t consider sanitation facilities to be their responsibility, I saw people who had lost all of their teeth because adult dental care is not covered by the vast majority of programs available to the very poor, I heard about soaring death rates and family and community destruction wrought by prescription and other drug addiction, and I met with people in the South of Puerto Rico living next to a mountain of completely unprotected coal ash which rains down upon them bringing illness, disability and death.”
Among the world’s 37 most advanced nations that make up the Organization For Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED), the US ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality.
“A shockingly high number of children in the US live in poverty,” Alston writes. “In 2016, 18% of children – some 13.3 million – were living in poverty, with children comprising 32.6% of all people in poverty. Child poverty rates are highest in the southern states, with Mississippi, New Mexico at 30% and Louisiana at 29%.”
And just who are these children? “Contrary to the stereotypical assumptions, 31% of poor children are White, 24% are Black, 36% are Hispanic, and 1% are indigenous,” according to Alston. “ When looking at toddlers and infants, 42% of all Black children are poor, 32% of Hispanics, and 37% of Native American infants and toddlers are poor. The figure for Whites is 14%.”
These data points just are not part of the self-image that the corporate news media reflects back on America because, as we saw with the Trump GOP lopsided tax cuts, they have their thumb on the scale for the continued concentration of wealth and power. Even as for the second year in a row American life expectancy has declined, thanks to an unprecedented opioid addiction crisis, we see little connecting the long term deteriorating economic conditions in so much of the country that help feed that crisis.
To a large extend this is a continuation of the snow job Americans got during the Obama Administration that the sitting President had pulled the economy out of the ditch. By the fall of 2008 tens of millions of Americans had already lost $2 trillion in retirement savings. As the Great Recession ground on millions more raided their retirement plans to make ends meet, setting the stage for a looming explosion in poverty for baby boomers, especially for women, once they hit retirement.
THE BIGGEST BANK ROBBERY IN WORLD HISTORY
Even as tens of millions of American saw their retirements blowing up, the Federal Reserve provided multinational companies and Wall Street a soft landing. The foreclosure and retirement asset burn-off on Main Street was just collateral damage. Middle class families had no one at the table when their betrayal was memorialized. It would have generational consequences that were ignored for fear it would radicalize the electorate. Make no mistake, we will be feeling it for decades to come.
And yet, the corporate news media touted a “recovery” that largely ignored the loss that would grow to $20 trillion dollars of American household and retirement savings. We had been saved from a depression was the cover story. But just what is this we have come to accept that we are living in?
What that bed time “recovery” story did not take into account was the basic economic principle of the ‘time value of money’ and just how many American dreams were forever crushed when Wall Street pulled off the biggest un-prosecuted crime wave in American history. The value of their home and their 401k was swallowed up by the off-shore pirates of the Caribbean, who double as philanthropists and major campaign donors.
In 2012 they were back running the table, buying another election. By 2016, on the wings of a faux populist, their takeover was complete. They have the Cabinet posts to prove it.
No less a person than Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and chief fundraiser, was one of the most successful vulture capitalists to exploit the foreclosure crisis. By 2017 the Wall Street oligarchs had engineered a “tax cut” so they could re-patriate their off-shore booty and bathe it in the red, white and blue flood lights of a patriotic exercise.
Now, former President Obama is on to making six figure speeches for Wall Street and we have the Trump clown car. And, the business press, that misses every big slide, keeps using the same data points that have always been tangential to the facts on the ground for Main Street America, where Americans actually live and work. The country’s unemployment rate is about as empty a data point as you can find because nobody lives in the national aggregate.
THE IGNORED DATA POINTS
The unemployment rate doesn’t capture the several million Americans who have been forced into part-time work for years now. In fact, America is still a part-time job kind of economy, with the average work hours stuck at a corporate friendly 34 hours and some minutes, just enough to insure workers can’t grab the brass ring of full-time benefits we took for granted just a generation ago.
As for the stock market, according to Edward Wolff, an economist at New York University, the country’s wealthiest ten percent own 84 percent the stock that Americans hold.
“For the vast majority of Americans fluctuations in the stock market have relatively little effect on their wealth, or their well-being for that matter,” Wolff told the New York Times. Thirty-five percent of U.S. stocks are actually held by foreign investors and multinationals, up from ten percent in 1982, according to the New York Times.
By the fall of 2008 tens of millions of Americans had already lost $2 trillion in retirement savings. As the Great Recession ground on millions raided their retirement plans to make ends meet, setting the stage for a looming explosion in poverty for baby boomers, especially for women, once they hit retirement
Yet, despite the relative irrelevance of the stock market to the mass of American households we hear about it at the top of the hour, the bottom of the hour. Whole channels are committed to its gyrations. In between we get the steady stream of fabulously wealthy red carpet celebrities and luxury car ads. Its a propaganda machine that projects a faux prosperity that increasingly is actually enjoyed by a smaller and smaller percentage of Americans as wealth concentration accelerates.
THE MEDIA BLIND SPOT AND TRUMP’S PATH TO THE WHITE HOUSE
Ironically, it was this corporate news media blind-spot to the ongoing great unraveling of the middle class that Trump so masterfully exploited when he flipped this 200 counties in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan that had voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. These places, largely ignored by the grossly over compensated flyover news media, had not experienced a recovery from the Great Recession. In fact, with their grown adult children, deep in student debt, living in their basement, they were worse off.
When candidate Trump was hit with President Obama’s glowing unemployment stats he blew them off, and insisted that instead the real reference point should be the Labor Force Participation rate, which measures just how many Americans are employed or actively looking for work. To be fair, it does capture the number of Americans who have been, for whatever reason, sidelined.
It is a critical data point, particularly as we are on the verge of the massive retirement of the baby boomers when surely our social-safety net, including Social Security and Medicaid is put to a real stress test. For decades it has been on a downward trajectory and now has been stuck for several months at just 62.7 percent.
Yet, what has not been reported widely is that in the year that Trump has been in charge the number of sidelined Americans has broken its January 2017 record of 95,406,000 million to 96,743,000 million out of the labor force as of last month.
THE GARDEN STATE
Here in New Jersey, the labor force dropped from 4.5 million in December of 2016 to 4.48 million in December of 2017. Work weeks in terms of hours for the manufacturing sector were down, as were wages over the same period in that sector.
The Great Recession lingers. Consider, that even as 2016 Federal poverty data showed some statistical improvement for our state, there was evidence that even as the numbers of jobs came back to their pre-Great Recession level, elevated levels of poverty remained.
The Poverty Research Institute (PRI) of Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ), has been closely tracking the data. “Certainly the decline last year (2016) in the federal poverty rate from 10.8 percent in 2015 to 10.4 percent last year is a positive development, but it has to be viewed in perspective,” said LSNJ President Melville D. Miller Jr. in statement. “Poverty in our state still remains significantly higher than at the beginning of the Great Recession, and near the 50-year record levels reached during the recession period….Unlike the usual pattern, the job market has bounced back, but poverty has not kept pace.”
Something has profoundly changed and ignoring it won’t address it. Radical realignments are required. Mobility is on the decline post Great Recession and the elites seem satisfied with a permanent under class they can continue to ignore.