Thursday, August 23, 2012

Interesting Numbers

And by "interesting," I mean in the Chinese curse way.
Since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some—but by no means all—of its characteristic faith in the future.
First, I want to disconnect my emotional analysis of these numbers and focus on the figures themselves. I'll get back to the implications shortly.
Summing up the study: in 1971, 61% of Americans could economically identify as the midle class (roughly $40,000 to $120,000 in income for a family of four in 2011 dollars). By 2011, that had dropped to 51%, and likely is continuing to fall as the 2011 numbers are based on 2010 Census data. Long-term unemployment has to be factored in, along with the cut-off of benefits. Let's say it's under 50% by now.
As late as 2000, this percentage was 56%. Median income for Americans peaked in 2000 at roughly $80,000 (not average income, median) and dropped more than $10,000 in one decade. Worse, the drop in median net worth-- wealth, if you will-- peaked in the mid-2000s at roughly $150,000 but now hovers around $90,000, the lowest its been since the first Bush administration.
I mean, HW, not W: 1992.
The discouraging numbers continue: nearly 85% of middle class Americans believe it is harder to maintain a middle class lifestyle, the highest that number has been since, well, the Great Depression.
Now, there's some good news for President Obama in this: he ranks low on the list of factors people attribute this income and wealth destruction to.
Congress receives high marks for fucking this nation up: 91% of respondents blame them for at least a portion of this disaster, 62% "credit" them with being one of the primary factors. Big Banks clock in at 86% at least partial blame, 54% primary blame. Large corporations come in third, 80%/47%.
Obama comes in somewhere in the mid-60s range, with about a third of the know, the goober third...blaming him primarily for our problems.
This is a recipe for liberals to come front and center in the national economic dialogue and helps explain why Occupy Wall Street was so effective last year (their silence so far this summer, I think, comes from playing a waiting game.)
Too, Obama gets some of his blame from the egregious TARP program, which was both too big and misplaced. In retrospect, it seems clear from this poll that the stimulus money really needed to be pushed further down the food chain, partially to regional banks who wouldn't dare pay their presidents billion dollar bonuses but would be free to lend money again, bypassing the money center banks who control their purse strings, and to homeowners and consumers themselves.
Which brings me to the emotional context of this post: fear.
Yoda was not wrong when he talked about  fear leading to anger in Star Wars. When we are afraid, we tend to make bad decisions because we stop thinking and start groping in panic, and that never works.
It never works because it is at that moment, our very weakest, that we are most vulnerable to predations and manipulations.
You know, like the Romney folks are engaging in. Lie, cheat, steal, all to take that little bit of power and influence each of us has, our vote, for themselves.
People are scared. Again, look at the numbers. 43% believe their children will have it better than they do (and this is after the Bush economic collapse, who by the way scored even higher than Obama: 79%/44%), down from 51% just a decade ago.
Too, "hard work will get you ahead," the quintessence of the American dream, is at its lowest point since the 40s, with just two-thirds of Americans believing that. This number peaked under Bill Clinton at 74%.
Obama scores well with the middle class, with 52% believing his policies are better for them than Romney's, but Romney still manages to squeak into the 40% range, so he's not completely out of it, and as I said earlier, scared people are manipulable people.
Here's the last number I'll throw at you, because it is the single most encouraging sign for liberals in the entire study:

Asked to compare their financial situation now with what it was 10 years ago, the evaluations of the middle class are more evenly divided. Some 44% say they are more financially secure than they had been, and 42% say less. (An additional 12% volunteered that it’s about the same.)

Over the longer term, the evaluations grow more positive. Six-in-ten (60%) say their standard of living is better than that of their parents at the same age, 24% say it is the same and just 13% say it is worse. However, these evaluations were even rosier four years ago, when 67% said they were doing better than their parents at the same age.

Why do I say this is good news for liberals? It means that thirty years of lying about tax cuts and trickle-down economics and creating bugbears of unions can no longer push back the inherent dread that things are decaying around the middle classes. The rich are doing even better in this recession than the middle class or poor, and the middle class is scratching its collective head.

The time has come, my fellow liberals, to start pushing our agenda.