Saturday, May 31, 2014

Study: American Households Hit 43-Year Low In Net Worth

Study: American Households Hit 43-Year Low In Net Worth
November 30, 2012

WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – The median net worth of American households has dropped to a 43-year low as the lower and middle classes appear poorer and less stable than they have been since 1969.

According to a recent study by New York University economics professor Edward N. Wolff, median net worth is at the decades-low figure of $57,000 (in 2010 dollars). And as the numbers in his study reflect, the situation only appears worse when all the statistics are taken as a whole.

[Chart of changes between 1983 and 2010:]

According to Wolff, between 1983 and 2010, the percentage of households with less than $10,000 in assets (using constant 1995 dollars) rose from 29.7 percent to 37.1 percent. The “less than $10,000″ figure includes the numerous households that have no assets at all, or “negative assets,” which is otherwise known as “debt.”

Over that same period of time, the wealthiest 1 percent of American households increased their average wealth by 71 percent.

As noted by Daily Finance, from 1983 to 2010 the share of total wealth held by the richest 10 percent of American households increased from 68.2 percent to 76.7 percent. Meanwhile, all the rest of Americans lost financial ground.

An August Pew Research Center study found that many in the middle-class are divided on how they believe his gap widened.

Fully 85 percent of self-described middle-class adults say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago for middle-class people to maintain their standard of living. Of those who feel this way, 62 percent say “a lot” of the blame lies with Congress, while 54 percent say the same about banks and financial institutions, 47 percent about large corporations, 44 percent about the Bush administration, 39 percent about foreign competition and 34 percent about the Obama administration.

Just 8 percent put “a lot” of blame on the middle class itself.

“This downbeat take on their economic situation comes at the end of a decade in which, for the first time since the end of World War II, mean family incomes declined for Americans in all income tiers,” the Pew Report stated. “But the middle-income tier—defined in this Pew Research analysis as all adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median —is the only one that also shrunk in size, a trend that has continued over the past four decades.”

Wolff’s focus on total wealth not only measures how much money a household brings in, but also the amount it accumulates. This latter number is very significant — economically secure households are generally more comfortable spending their disposable income, and are less likely to become a drag on the social safety net.

Stark Infographic of Too-Big-to-Fail Banks Represents 1% Consolidation in America
David Harris-Gershon (The Troubadour)
Daily Kos
Fri May 30, 2014

The four banks listed in the infographic below – CitiGroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo – have received nearly $93 billion in taxpayer funds ($92,849,517,353 to be exact) since the bailouts began in 2008.

While they make up a small percentage of the 940 bailout recipients which have, to date, received $611 billion dollars from American taxpayers, they represent a significant chunk of those funds. More importantly, their acquisition trajectories represent the consolidation of major banking institutions in America which have made them "too-big-to-fail," or so we've been told.

Click on the infographic above to enlarge.

The graphic above is not a statistical representation, as it does not display the relative sizes of those banks acquired, nor does it indicate which banks disappeared as a result of forced acquisitions. However, it does visually represent how banking institutions in this country are capable of not just dictating regulatory practices with their undeniable influence and size, but are able to get away with holding the country hostage after those criminal and unethical activities which brought our nation's economy to its knees and is serving to widen growing inequalities in America.

Regarding that latter point, income inequality is higher than its been since 1928, which is partly responsible for a crushing wealth gap in which the bottom 60 percent of Americans own only 3.5 percent of the country's wealth. We have a shrinking middle class with disappearing disposable incomes and an increasing number of Americans with no disposable incomes to speak of. Over 46 million Americans are below the poverty line, many of whom are employed but finding that "hard work is just not enough" anymore.

This is at a time in which behemoth financial institutions are getting larger, consolidating more and more wealth, and being not just financially protected by that consolidation – vacuuming up taxpayer funds from a drowning citizenry – but being legally protected as well.

In 2013, Eric Holder admitted that global financial institutions in the U.S. and abroad have become so large as to be above the law. This truth came into stark focus when the British bank HSBC, which does significant business in America, was neither shut down in the U.S. nor pursued with criminal charges after it admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels.

This and other criminal activities by those in the banking industry and on Wall Street prompted Elizabeth Warren to say two days ago:

A kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail, but a big bank breaks the law ... and no one even gets arrested.

Yes, they are shielded from the law. However, they have also been responsible for writing (or underwriting) our regulatory and financial laws which have propped up banks such as BoA, which has illegally defrauded its customers, and whose subprime lender, Countrywide, engaged in widespread mortgage fraud with BoA's knowledge.

Which brings us back to the beginning. The richest in our country continue to consolidate and grow their wealth as an increasing number of Americans slide into poverty or out of the middle class. And the consolidation of financial institutions into behemoth entities don't just symbolize what is happening, they are organically at the root of the problem.

If America has truly become an oligarchy, then the infographic above could be considered one of its banners. It is a banner which will continue to wave, I fear, until we hit a breaking point.

Where that point is, I do not know, nor do I know what the popular response will be when it is reached. However, one thing is certain: our current course will not be able to sustain itself without this country falling apart.

Perhaps that's what it will take.


David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.

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