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Friday, 07 September 2012 07:51

A Tale of Two Economies: Skyrocketing Stock Market for the Rich, Devaluation of Work for the Rest

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The monthly job figures came out today (September 7th) and the media has determined that they indicate that the unemployment situation is not improving. "Hiring Slows in August, Adding to Pressure on Fed and Obama" blares a headline in the September 7th New York Times.

"The economy added a total of 96,000 jobs in August," the NYT articles states, "down from a revised figure of 141,000 in July and well below the 125,000 level economists had been expecting."

According to the official release from the United States Department of Labor Statistics (the primary source of unemployment figures for the media), " Both the civilian labor force (154.6 million) and the labor force participation rate
(63.5 percent) declined in August." What that means – along with other indicators -- is that the unemployment decline of .2% from 8.3% to 8.1% is likely due to people giving up on looking for jobs.

For historical reasons the unemployment rate and job growth have become the media's measure of the health of the economy.  In that sense, the Obama administration deserves credit for increasing employment for hundreds of thousands of people after a long period of net job losses under the Bush administration.  This is just a fact.  

This long-term trend of adding jobs to the economy happened under the Obama administration – as compared to job losses in the second Bush administration – despite the ongoing decline in government jobs primarily due to Republican-forced reductions and inability of local and state tax revenue to sustain public-sector employment.  In short, jobs have been steadily added to the economy based primarily on private sector growth, as government employment has declined.

However, what is more important than the unemployment rate is the overall degradation of work and wage stagnation and decline under the current corporate and business climate that devalues labor.  Since around 1990, the working class has been paid less on an inflation-adjusted basis while accumulating more debt.   So even if one has a job in the labor force, if you are among the lower 99% the odds are that you have been feeling economic stress and anxiety for some time.  And the Romney/Ryan vision of firing and outsourcing is likely to ratchet up that degradation of the working class.

This is the primary story of economic distress in the United States at this time: the devaluation of those who are paid by the hour.  This should be the economic debate that we are having. It was part of the message of the Occupy movement – and woven in as a subtext to some of the speeches at the Democratic convention (although not that forcefully or directly).

After all, we have two economies – and one of them you barely hear about as billionaires whine about the threat of higher taxes on their wealth.  The second economy, the economy of the privileged, is booming.  The other day the stock market reached near record highs.  

A September 6th Bloomberg story states it quite clearly: "The $1.9 trillion restored to U.S. equity prices in 2012 has pushed the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index within 10 percent of a record, more than 7 percentage points closer than any country among the world’s biggest stock markets."

The rich are making out like bandits in the booming Wall Street economy that is based on profits squeezed out of firing workers, lowering net wages (adjusted for inflation), and outsourcing jobs to exploited labor overseas.  There is no crisis in the top 1%; there is only increasing wealth.   In that second economy, the financial returns are rising like a high tide.  The rich are not living in a recession; they are living in a gilded-age-bubble of increased profits and assets.

If it is true that the richest 400 people in the US own more wealth than the bottom 185 million, that imbalance is increasing, not decreasing.

That is the story of the tale of two economies, the story that you don't read about in the mass corporate media – but it is the financial reality of our times.

It should be at the center of this presidential election in bold stark terms.