Dark Corners in “Good Places”

By Karen Petrou and Matthew Shaw

Shortly before Thanksgiving, a new study documented that U.S. life expectancy since 2010 has taken a sharp turn for the worse for younger Americans regardless of race, gender, or education.  We knew that opioids were devastating, but this study confirmed others showing also that the overall reversal in U.S. life expectancy is due to more profound and mysterious afflictions.  Doctors are flummoxed by why U.S. mortality is so much higher than that in other advanced countries, where life expectancy continues to increase for younger citizens, concluding that something endemic is going on behind the epidemic of “diseases of despair.”  The latest inequality data demonstrate yet again that the economic “good place”  that comforts Fed policy-makers is to be found only in the 100th floor penthouses that are the eyries of the one percent.  We thought the data more than dispiriting when we analyzed the Fed’s first distributional financial account; now, we find them devastating, not to mention evil omens of a polarized, angry electorate heading to the 2020 polls. Continue reading “Dark Corners in “Good Places””

The Missing Middle Class

By Karen Petrou

When we started this blog in 2017, we began with a plea for the Federal Reserve to factor inequality into its monetary and regulatory policy equation.  We showed at the start, here, here and here, that the Fed’s focus only on averages and aggregates obscures sharp polarization at each end of the U.S. income and wealth distribution.  It is these polarizations, as we’ve repeatedly seen in blog posts that undermine the Fed’s ability to set the U.S. economy on a forward trajectory of shared prosperity and stable growth – i.e., to meet its dual mandate as Congress expressly defined it in the Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978.  The Fed is still resolutely crafting monetary policy with its eyes firmly averted from increasing inequality.  Continue reading “The Missing Middle Class”

Gross Domestic Product and U.S. Inequality

By Karen Petrou

On January 22, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and 18 senior House Democrats reintroduced legislation (now H.R. 707) requiring federal statisticians to provide an equality-focused insight into the gross domestic product (GDP) number all too often considered the arbiter of American prosperity.  Senate Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced the same bill last year and are sure to do it again and, then to join Maloney in pressing for action.  This time, it will come quickly in the House and may well pass the Senate in this Congress.  Would it make an equality difference?  No, but at least we’d know more clearly how much trouble we’re in.
Continue reading “Gross Domestic Product and U.S. Inequality”

Inequality Hits Fiscal Reality

By Karen Petrou

Readers of this blog know well that we think U.S. economic inequality is not only a profound social-welfare and political-consensus problem, but also a scourge to financial-market stability.  We have not generally wandered into fiscal-policy questions, preferring to focus on a far less well-known, but potent inequality force:  U.S. monetary and regulatory policy.  However, financial and fiscal policy are inextricably intertwined.  If inequality increases the risk of financial crises – which it does – and financial crises pose macroeconomic risk – which of course they do – then fiscal policy must ride to the rescue to prevent prolonged recession or even depression.  Could it, given how acute U.S. economic inequality has become?  A new report from Moody’s says that the rating agency may well have to downgrade U.S. debt – the AAA sine qua non of global finance – due to inequality.  Continue reading “Inequality Hits Fiscal Reality”

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”