America's Two Economies, and Why One Is Recovering and the Other Isn't
By Robert Reich
Robert Reich's Blog
Next time you hear an economist or denizen of Wall Street talk about how the "American economy" is doing these days, watch your wallet.
There are two American economies. One is on the mend. The other is still coming apart.
The one that's mending is America's Big Money economy. It's comprised of Wall Street traders, big investors, and top professionals and corporate executives.
The Big Money economy is doing well these days. That's partly thanks to Ben Bernanke, whose Fed is keeping interest rates near zero by printing money as fast as it dare. It's essentially free money to America's Big Money economy.
Free money can almost always be put to uses that create more of it. Big corporations are buying back their shares of stock, thereby boosting corporate earnings. They're merging and acquiring other companies.
And they're going abroad in search of customers.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is back to where it was before the Lehman bankruptcy filing triggered the financial collapse. And profits at America's largest corporations are heading upward.
But there's another American economy, and it's not on the mend. Call it the Average Worker economy.
Last Friday's jobs report showed 159,000 new private-sector jobs in October. That's better than previous months. But 125,000 net new jobs are needed just to keep up with the growth of the American labor force. So another way of expressing what happened to jobs in October is to say 34,000 were added over what we need just to stay even.
Yet the American economy has lost 15 million jobs since the start of the Great Recession. And if you add in the growth of the labor force - including everyone too discouraged to look for a job - we're down about 22 million.
Or to put it another way, we're still getting nowhere on jobs.
One out of eight breadwinners is still out of work. Most families in the Average Worker economy rely on two breadwinners. So if one out of eight isn't working, chances are high that family incomes are down compared to what they were three years ago.
And that means the bills aren't getting paid.
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