The images that have been broadcast in recent days surrounding the annual orgy of consumer spending that kicks off after Thanksgiving depict a cash-rich America filled with millions of people shoveling billions of dollars of disposable income into an economy that depends greatly on their consumption of goods and services.
Through the eyes of a Chinese farmer, a Bangladeshi sweatshop worker or an African jihadist, this annual bacchanal of consumption is proof that America is a fabulously wealthy country whose citizens' primary concerns are not securing clean drinking water or sufficient calorie intake (signs of so-called abject poverty) but rather acquiring the thinnest tablet, the fastest gaming console or the latest pair of basketball kicks. In short, the world’s poorest have no need to feel any sympathy for America’s poorest -- because they’re too busy trying to keep themselves and their families alive.
This point, about how America’s poor don’t really know the meaning of real poverty, is used by groups like the conservative Heritage Foundation, whose stance on the matter is that America’s poor are largely able to provide for themselves shelter and food, and that in the U.S., “real material hardship … is limited in scope and severity.”
It’s true. America doesn’t have an "abject poverty" problem like the world’s poorest countries face. It does, however, have a poverty problem, and it’s getting worse as even working Americans are experiencing underemployment, lack of job security and eroding incomes. The cost of health care in America is so much higher than the rest of the world that one might wonder whether it’s a matter of U.S. social policy to steer the poor toward earlier graves (often from "lifestyle diseases" caused by obesity and smoking) before they become a drain on entitlements like Social Security and Medicare after they hit 65.
The effects of the 18-month economic recession that kicked off in December 2007, one of the longest U.S. economic retreats since the Great Depression, have not abated. The lingering negative impact on the lives of millions of households is being masked by the paper wealth effect of rising real estate and equity prices, and the dependence on the Fed’s current monetary policy, which has sent the cost of borrowing to historic lows.
“Due to the weak economic recovery, a large number of people have simply ‘dropped out’ of the labor force but are not retired,” writes Lance Roberts, host of “StreetTalkLive,” in his most recent column about the disturbing trend of low labor force participation in the U.S. That means many Americans have been jobless for so long they’ve dropped out of the formal economy and are either sitting idle, jobless and economically inactive, or they’ve entered the black economy.
Above are seven charts that help explain how despite the consumer frenzy, despite the meteoric rises seen on the bourses, America’s economy is facing some fundamental problems that haven’t even begun to be addressed by Congress, which seems too busy getting nothing done to do anything about the state of working lower- and middle-class America.