Is The Economy Improving?

Is the U.S. economy improving?  That is what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would have us believe.  Bernanke declared today that the “recovery appears to be proceeding at a moderate pace” and that everything is going pretty much as planned.  Sadly, the mainstream media and most of the American people still seem to have faith in the economic pronouncements of Helicopter Ben.  They seem to have forgotten all of the Bernanke quotes from before the financial crisis.  Bernanke pledged that there would not be a housing crash and that there would not be a recession.  It is amazing that anyone still believes that Bernanke has any credibility left.

Of course “economic recovery” is one of Barack Obama’s favorite new terms.  He loves to talk about all of the signs that the economy is improving.  To Obama, all of the recent bad economic news is no big deal.  He says that what we are experiencing right now are simply “bumps on the road to recovery“.

Well, whether you want to call them “bumps” or “potholes” or “massive gaping wounds that are gushing blood all over the place”, the truth is that the U.S. economy is not improving at all.  In fact, it is rapidly getting worse.

Let’s take a look at just a few areas of the economy….

Federal Government Finances

As I wrote about yesterday, the national debt is completely and totally out of control.  Since Barack Obama took office, the U.S. national debt has increased by nearly 4 trillion dollars.

Keep in mind that from George Washington to Ronald Reagan, the U.S. government accumulated only 1 trillion dollars in debt.

Between 2007 and 2010, U.S. GDP grew by only 4.26%, but the U.S. national debt soared by 61% during that same time period.

Now the Democrats and the Republicans are busy negotiating over some modest reductions in spending.

But unprecedented federal spending is one of the only things propping the economy up right now.

If the U.S. economy is performing so poorly after being flooded with “stimulus money” from the federal government, what is going to happen once the federal government cuts back?

State And Local Government Finances

All over the United States, there are large numbers of state and local governments that are on the verge of bankruptcy.

For the moment, let’s just focus on the state of Illinois.

Did you know that things have gotten so bad in Illinois at this point that the Illinois state government is letting bills go unpaid for long periods of time on a regular basis?

It’s true.

Right now they have billions in unpaid bills and they are facing a financial future that is so bleak that it is almost indescribable.

In one recent article, author Stephen Lendman described the horrific financial crisis that Illinois is facing right now….

With spending exceeding revenues, and obligations not postponed, unpaid bills are growing “at a frightening rate. For instance, IGPA’s Fiscal Futures Model indicates (they) could reach $40 billion by July 1, 2013, with an associated delay in paying those bills of more than five years.”

Besides its $13 billion deficit and $6 billion in unpaid bills, its pension fund is about $130 billion in the red – a red flag that state workers may lose out altogether, wiping out their promised retirement savings.

But it isn’t just the state government that is having problems.  According to Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, the average household in Chicago would owe a whopping $63,525 if all local government debt was divided up equally among all of the households.

The truth is that even if the finances of the federal government could somehow be fixed, there would still be dozens and dozens of very significant “government debt problems” all across America.

With so many state and local governments drowning in debt, jobs are being slashed at an alarming rate.  UBS Investment Research is projecting that state and local governments in the U.S. will combine to slash a whopping 450,000 jobs by the end of next year.

So would the U.S. government step in and start bailing out state and local governments?

Not likely.

U.S. Representative Paul Ryan has said the following about the prospect of bailing out the states….

“If we bail out one state, then all of the debt of all of the states are almost explicitly on the books of the federal government.”

So for now, state and local governments are on their own.

Commercial Real Estate

Commercial real estate continues to decline all across America.

Moody’s/REAL All Property Type Aggregate Index fell 3.7% in April and is now the lowest it has been in over 10 years.

Overall, commercial real estate is down by over 40 percent since the peak back in 2007.

Residential Real Estate

The United States is dealing with a housing crash that never seems to end.

According to the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales in the United States fell another 3.8% in May.

During this housing crash home values have declined more than they did during the Great Depression and there does not appear to be any hope in sight.

New home sales are in even worse shape.  During the first three months of this year, less new homes were sold in the U.S. than in any three month period ever recorded.

Unemployment

As 2009 began, the official U.S. unemployment rate was 7.6 percent.  Today it is 9.1 percent.

The American people keep waiting for a “jobs recovery”, but it has not shown up.

Sadly, all of this is part of a long-term trend.

Over the past decade, U.S. multinational corporations have been laying off millions of workers in the U.S. and hiring millions of workers overseas to take their place.

The labor of American workers is rapidly losing value in a globalized economy.  Big corporations have a tough time justifying paying ten times more to a worker in the United States when they are allowed to hire people for slave labor wages overseas.

The share of the national income taken in by U.S. workers continues to decline.  Just consider what Mortimer Zuckerman had to say in a recent article for usnews.com….

Labor’s share of national income has fallen to the lowest level in modern history, down to 57.5 percent in the first quarter as compared to 59.8 percent when the so-called recovery began. This reflects not only the 7 million fewer workers but the fact that wages for part-time workers now average $19,000—less than half the median income.

In the United States today, there are not nearly enough jobs for everyone.  The number of “middle class jobs” has fallen by about 10 percent over the last decade.

Only 66.8% of American men had a job last year.  That was the lowest level that has ever been recorded in all of U.S. history.

We are seeing the rise of a whole class of people that are chronically unemployed.  At the beginning of 2009, the number of “long-term unemployed” in the United States was approximately 2.6 million.  Today, that number is up to 6.2 million.

So in light of these employment statistics, can anyone really say that the economy is improving?

Economic Anxiety

The economy is the number one issue on the minds of the American people.  There is an extraordinary about of economic pain out there today, and Americans are becoming impatient.

According to CNBC, the Money Anxiety Index is at its highest level in 30 years….

The latest indicator to ring up trouble is the Money Anxiety Index, which uses traditional economic metrics as well as other factors to gauge the level of consumers’ worry regarding their personal financial conditions.

According to the May figures, the MAI is not only at its highest level in 30 years at 91.9 but also two months away from indicating another dip into recession. In the past, five straight months of increases in the index often signaled recession.

Most recent polls show that the American people are rapidly becoming more pessimistic about the direction the U.S. economy is headed.

According to a recent CNN poll, 48 percent of Americans believe that “another Great Depression” is likely within the next 12 months.

When you really stop and think about that number, it is really frightening.

Inflation

Ben Bernanke may not admit it, but the truth is that the price of just about everything is soaring.

For example, when Barack Obama took office, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States was $1.83.  Today it is about $3.74.

So what are our politicians doing about it?

Not much.

They just want to pretend that it isn’t happening.

In fact, members of Congress are actually tinkering with the idea of changing the way that inflation is calculated once again.

By making inflation appear lower, it would be easier for Congress to deny cost of living increases to those on Social Security and other social programs.

How sad is that?

Economic Suffering

As American families find it increasingly difficult to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, many of them find themselves forced to put off other expenses.  According to one recent survey, 26 percent of Americans have put off doctor visits because of the economy.

Other Americans can’t make it at all without government assistance.  As 2007 began, there were only 26 million Americans on food stamps.  Today, there are more than 44 million Americans on food stamps, which is an all-time record.

It is not good to have so many Americans on food stamps, but it is probably better than the alternative.

If there were tens of millions of Americans that could not feed themselves we would probably already have economic riots in the streets.

Solutions?

So do our politicians have any solutions?

Of course not.  Everything that they have tried has failed.

Several top Democrats in Washington D.C. are now calling for a new economic stimulus package.  When in doubt, our politicians usually revert to spending more money.

Sadly, this is about the best that our economy is going to get.

What we are experiencing right now is “the recovery”.  As we move forward things are going to get progressively worse.

A lot of people don’t like to hear that we are in the middle of a long-term economic decline, but that is the truth.

The era of tremendous economic prosperity for America is coming to an end.

An economic nightmare is coming.

You better get ready.


Michael Snyder is the editor of The Economic Collapse Blog

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