Hard Work, Low Pay, High Costs: Life on the Ground in a “Well-Performing” Economy

By Matthew Shaw and Drake Palmer

Recent jobs data sparked excitement as news reports talked of how America is finally going back to work.  This is understandable optimism, based as it was on a concurrent rise in labor-force participation and a drop in the government’s preferred measure of unemploymentHere, we assess whether the Fed’s “solid” and “very well performing” economy has finally allowed low-and-moderate income (LMI) households to share the prosperity rapidly pooling at the very top of the income and wealth distribution.  In short, and sad to say, it isn’t – hourly pay for low-wage/low-skill workers has declined in real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) terms over the past four decades and is essentially flat since 2010.  As we noted in our last blog post, wealth concentration has soared since the financial crisis.  Even if a corner has now been turned for everyone else, it’s just a very tight one at the bottom of the equality canyon. Continue reading “Hard Work, Low Pay, High Costs: Life on the Ground in a “Well-Performing” Economy”

It’s Worse Than You Thought

By Karen Shaw Petrou and Matthew Shaw

Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke, and Jerome Powell have each bemoaned U.S. economic inequality and then asserted that it’s everyone else’s fault.  On the blog and in our speeches, we counter that post-crisis monetary and regulatory policy had an unintended but nonetheless dramatic and destructive impact on the income and wealth divides.  In doing so, we often point to just how much worse and how much faster inequality became as post-crisis policy took hold.  Demographics, technology, and trade policy didn’t change anywhere near that much that fast.  Now, a new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis takes the story forward with a trove of data evaluating U.S. economic inequality from 1949 through 2016.  For all the recovery and employment the Fed cites in its equality defense, these data tell a far different tale.   Continue reading “It’s Worse Than You Thought”

Disquiet on the Home Front

By Karen Shaw Petrou and Basil N. Petrou

On June 20, FRB Chairman Powell said, “Nine years into an expansion that has sometimes proceeded slowly, the U.S. economy is performing very well.”  Although Mr. Powell noted low labor participation, puzzling inflation, and problematic wage growth, he said that all will come right as long as the Fed stays the course.  No mention was made of unprecedented U.S. income and wealth inequality or of a housing market serving mostly the oldest, wealthiest, and most coastal among us.  Too bad – inequality and the impediments to effective monetary-policy transmission it erects are among the most important reasons that the nine years Mr. Powell cites have seen the slowest recovery in decades in concert with new threats to financial stability. Continue reading “Disquiet on the Home Front”

The Morass That Swallowed the Middle Class

By Matthew Shaw

While much of the inequality debate focuses on the gains of “the 1%,” less attention has been paid to the economic well-being of what is broadly termed the middle class, which is all too often just lumped into the other “99%.”  However, focusing the debate on only the 1% obscures important trends within each of these groups, including that there is ample evidence that the gains of the 1% are largely driven by the wealthiest among this already-elite group along with diminishing prospects for the rest of us.  Today, we look at one of these groups with diminishing prospects and a concerning trend recently highlighted by IMF staff: the “hollowing out” of the U.S. middle class.  Continue reading “The Morass That Swallowed the Middle Class”

Is America Really Richer?

By Karen Shaw Petrou and Matthew Shaw

On September 21, the Federal Reserve released its quarterly study of American’s net worth.  As with the Fed’s earlier study on U.S. economic happiness, the release trumpeted the good news revealed in the latest aggregate data.  For net worth, this means a new record in the second quarter, with national household net worth hitting an unprecedented $96.2 trillion.  But, the Fed’s data do not go farther to show which Americans own how much of this giant sum.  We do.
Continue reading “Is America Really Richer?”