November 27, 2007

John's talked about watching the stock shows, and I have to admit that I do occasionally catch them myself, but far less frequently than he does, mostly because I find them bizarrely contradictory and less than useful. The same set of conditions can be characterized as being the precipice of a recession, the warning of a deep depression or positive signs of growth, depending on which talking head is looking at it.

What I know of the economy is both informed by friends in the financial industry and just common sense of looking at the circumstances of people all around me. And what it's telling me is that things just aren't looking good for most Americans.

I just came across a study that confirms that gut feeling and then some. Demos and IASP/Brandeis have released a study that shows that the middle class is hanging by a thread. Some of their findings ( full .pdf here):

Overall Economic Security

* Only 31 percent of middle-income families match our profile for being securely middle class. That is, despite falling into the broad range that defines middle-class "income," fewer than one in three families has the necessary combination of other factors to ensure middle-class security.
* Our Index results vary by race. Thirty-four percent of white middle-income families are securely in the middle class, as compared to 26 percent of African-American middle-income families and only 18 percent of Latino middle-income families.
* One in four middle-class families matches our profile for being at high risk of slipping out of the middle class altogether.
* One in five (21 percent) white families is at high risk for slipping out of the middle class, as compared to one in three (33 percent) African-American headed households and an alarming two in five (41 percent) Latino families.

Lack of Assets

* More than half of middle-class families have no net financial assets whatsoever-that is, no financial assets or debt levels that exceed their assets.
* Only 13 percent of middle-class families have sufficient assets to meet three-quarters of their essential living expenses for nine months, should their source of income disappear.
* About four out of five middle-class families do not have sufficient assets to cover three quarters of essential living expenses for even three months should their source of income disappear. We defined essential living expenses as food, housing, clothing, transportation, health care, personal care, education, personal insurance and pensions.
* Middle-class families have a median debt of $3,500 and median net assets of $0.

Insufficient Income to Meet Living Expenses, Cover Housing Costs, and Buy Healthcare

* Twenty-one percent of middle-class families have less than $100 per week ($5,000 per year) remaining after meeting essential living expenses. These families are living from paycheck to paycheck with very little margin of security.
* In nearly one out of four middle-class families (23 percent), at least one family member lacks health insurance of any kind.
* Twenty-eight percent of middle-class families spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing expenses, putting them above federal guidelines for housing affordability.

For me personally, THESE are the real issues that the presidential candidates need to address, not diamonds or pearls or whether the top 1% should have their tax cuts made permanent. This kind of disparity and insecurity for the vast majority of Americans should be considered an abomination in the last remaining superpower.

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