A frank and honest assessment of the reality of the present economic situation, Part Two.
Yesterday, I wrote about publishing, in two parts, a recent article from the Blogsite, Washington’s Blog. If you missed the first part that was here. As I wrote yesterday, it is detailed and comprehensive, which is why I think it will be more easily digested as two parts presented on Learning from Dogs over this week-end.
So on to Part Two.
The particular post that appeared on Washington’s Blog on the 28th April was entitled Gallup Poll Shows that More Americans Believe the U.S. is in a Depression than is Growing … Are They Right? You can link to it here.
Blytic calculates that the current average duration of unemployment is some 32 weeks, the median duration is around 20 weeks, and there are approximately 6 million people unemployed for 27 weeks or longer.
Moreover, employers are discriminating against job applicants who are currently unemployed, which will almost certainly prolong the duration of joblessness.
As I noted in January 2009:
In 1930, there were 123 million Americans.
At the height of the Depression in 1933, 24.9% of the total work force or 11,385,000 people, were unemployed.
Will unemployment reach 25% during this current crisis?
I don’t know. But the number of people unemployed will be higher than during the Depression.
Unemployment is expected to exceed 10% by many economists, and Obama “has warned that the unemployment rate will explode to at least 10% in 2009”.
10 percent of 154 million is 15 million people out of work – more than during the Great Depression.
But it is important to look at some details.
For example, official Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers put U-6 above 20% in several states:
- California: 21.9
- Nevada: 21.5
- Michigan 21.6
- Oregon 20.1
In the past year, unemployment has grown the fastest in the mountain West.
And certain races and age groups have gotten hit hard.
According to Congress’ Joint Economic Committee:
By February 2010, the U-6 rate for African Americans rose to 24.9 percent.
Unemployment rates for less-educated and younger workers:
- As of the third quarter of 2009, the overall unemployment rate for native-born Americans is 9.5 percent; the U-6 measure shows it as 15.9 percent.
- The unemployment rate for natives with a high school degree or less is 13.1 percent. Their U-6 measure is 21.9 percent.
- The unemployment rate for natives with less than a high school education is 20.5 percent. Their U-6 measure is 32.4 percent.
- The unemployment rate for young native-born Americans (18-29) who have only a high school education is 19 percent. Their U-6 measure is 31.2 percent.
- The unemployment rate for native-born blacks with less than a high school education is 28.8 percent. Their U-6 measure is 42.2 percent.
- The unemployment rate for young native-born blacks (18-29) with only a high school education is 27.1 percent. Their U-6 measure is 39.8 percent.
- The unemployment rate for native-born Hispanics with less than a high school education is 23.2 percent. Their U-6 measure is 35.6 percent.
- The unemployment rate for young native-born Hispanics (18-29) with only a high school degree is 20.9 percent. Their U-6 measure is 33.9 percent.
No wonder Chris Tilly – director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UCLA – says that African-Americans and high school dropouts are experiencing depression-level unemployment.
And as I have previously noted, unemployment for those who earn $150,000 or more is only 3%, while unemployment for the poor is 31%.
The bottom line is that it is difficult to compare current unemployment with what occurred during the Great Depression. In some ways things seem better now. In other ways, they don’t.
Factors like where you live, race, income and age greatly effect one’s experience of the severity of unemployment in America.
In addition, wages have plummeted for those who are employed. As Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter David Cay Johnston notes:
Every 34th wage earner in America in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar, new data from the Social Security Administration show. Total wages, median wages, and average wages all declined ….
Food Stamps Replace Soup Kitchens
1 out of every 7 Americans now rely on food stamps.
While we don’t see soup kitchens, it may only be because so many Americans are receiving food stamps.
Indeed, despite the dramatic photographs we’ve all seen of the 1930s, the 43 million Americans relying on food stamps to get by may actually be much greater than the number who relied on soup kitchens during the Great Depression.
In addition, according to Chaz Valenza (a small business owner in New Jersey who earned his MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business)millions of Americans are heading to foodbanks for the first time in their lives.
The War Isn’t Working
Given the above facts, it would seem that the government hasn’t been doingmuch. But the scary thing is that the government has done more than during the Great Depression, but the economy is still stuck a pit.
The amount spent in emergency bailouts, loans and subsidies during this financial crisis arguably dwarfs the amount which the government spent during the New Deal.
For example, Casey Research wrote in 2008:
Paulson and Bernanke have embarked on the largest bailout program ever conceived …. a program which so far will cost taxpayers $8.5 trillion.
[The updated, exact number can be disputed. But as shown below, the exact number of trillions of dollars is not that important.]
So how does $8.5 trillion dollars compare with the cost of some of the major conflicts and programs initiated by the US government since its inception? To try and grasp the enormity of this figure, let’s look at some other financial commitments undertaken by our government in the past:
As illustrated above, one can see that in today’s dollar, we have already committed to spending levels that surpass the cumulative cost of all of the major wars and government initiatives since the American Revolution.
Recently, the Congressional Research Service estimated the cost of all of the major wars our country has fought in 2008 dollars. The chart above shows that the entire cost of WWII over four to five years was less than half the current pledges made by Paulson and Bernanke in the last three months!
In spite of years of conflict, the Vietnam and the Iraq wars have each cost less than the bailout package that was approved by Congress in two weeks. The Civil War that devastated our country had a total price tag (for both the Union and Confederacy) of $60.4 billion, while the Revolutionary War was fought for a mere $1.8 billion.
In its fifty or so years of existence, NASA has only managed to spend $885 billion – a figure which got us to the moon and beyond.
The New Deal had a price tag of only $500 billion. The Marshall Plan that enabled the reconstruction of Europe following WWII for $13 billion, comes out to approximately $125 billion in 2008 dollars. The cost of fixing the S&L crisis was $235 billion.
So even though the government’s spending on the “war” on the economic crisis dwarfs the amount spent on the New Deal, our economy is still stuck in the mud.
Why Haven’t Things Gotten Better for the Little Guy?
Government leaders make happy talk about how things are improving, but happy talk cannot fix the economy.
Two fundamental causes of the Great Depression, and of our current economic problems, are fraud and inequality:
- Fraud was one of the main causes of the Depression, but nothing has been done to rein in fraud today
- Inequality was another major cause of downturns – including the Depression – but inequality is currently worse than during the Depression
There are, of course, other reasons the economy is still stuck in a ditch for most Americans, such as encouraging too much leverage, bailing out the big speculators, failing to break up the mammoth banks, and failing to spend wisely, where it will do some good. See this and this. But fraud and inequality were core causes of the Depression, and our failure to address them will only prolong our misery.