The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Category: Wages (Page 1 of 2)

Working Class Left Out of Economic Recovery

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: thedailybeast.com

As the stock market continues to defy gravity and news stories herald the second longest economic recovery since WWII, yet many working class people are left out of the recovery.  A recent report by the St. Louis Federal Reserve shows that non college graduates have lost ground or are just maintaining their economic status since 1998.

Sources: The New York Times, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – 9/14/18

College graduates continue to make strides in income and dramatically increased wealth versus the median since 1989.  Though college graduates who were Black or Hispanic actually saw a decline in their wealth levels versus the median.  However, non-graduate whites while gaining some income versus the median saw their income largely stagnant and wealth accumulation flat.  Non graduate Hispanics and Blacks fared even worse than whites in the case of blacks making zero progress over the median in wealth and half the progress of whites in income over the last 30 years.

William R. Emmons, an economist at the St. Louis Fed and a co-author of its report, noted in a New York Times story, ‘the most striking result was the steep declines among white families headed by someone without a college degree. Members of this group — labeled the white working class — not only were left behind financially, but also lagged in other measures of well-being, like self-reported health, homeownership, and marriage or cohabitation rates.’

Next steps: 

We have noted in posts the urgent need for a comprehensive ‘Marshall Plan’ like imitative in our nation’s Heartland.  Unemployment is two to three times higher there, high quality education is not as accessible, the opioid epidemic is gripping major sections of the Midwest and rural South while there is a failing infrastructure with slow Internet speeds.  All this lack of investment leaves our Heartland citizens out of the economic and career opportunities that other regions have enjoyed since the Great Recession.   We recommend that the federal government provide seed funding, borrowing from the successful Silicon Valley mode of venture investment, for partnerships between universities and colleges to develop innovation centers for job training, health services, enhanced apprenticeship programs, startup incubators and installation of high speed internet fiber optic systems.  There is no time to waste, this initiative needs to be implemented immediately to prevent even further widening of the economic gap between coastal regions and our Heartland.

Declining Mobility Limits Millennials Careers, Economy

 

Image: dailymail.co.uk

More millennials are living with their parents than ever before due to lack of income, availability of housing and marriage later in life.  Moves by people under age 35 are continuing to decline.  Seniors are moving a bit more but overall they are staying put in their homes for retirement, as the cost to move to a new home is soaring.  Home prices have increased on average by 6.7 % per year over the past five years, skewed toward large square foot homes for upper income buyers.

Source: Trulia – 1/31/2018

Overall Americans are not moving like they used to in the 1990s, and before the Great Recession. In 2017, 34.9 million Americans moved to new residences, translating to a household mobility rate of 10.9%, which is the lowest rate in the last 50 years since the Census Bureau has been tracking this statistic. Lack of mobility is showing up in total household formations including rental units, new and existing home figures.  For all of 2017 there were only 400,000 household units formed, notice this is a similar pace to the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Source: Federal Reserve of St. Louis, 1/2018

The mobility that is taking place is from major cities to major cities or coast to coast.  We noted in our post on Heartland Economics that one of the issues that faces many rural regions in the South and Midwest is lack of new jobs, digital infrastructure, health and education services.  When young people in these regions cannot receive the education they need to build a career where there are jobs in the cities they stay where they are in low wage jobs with few prospects of advancement. The opioid epidemic is worst in rural regions in the country where a sense of hopelessness has set in for many people.  While in the last quarter some of these regions have seen an increase in jobs, this increase in economic activity is likely to be a passing surge from a very low economic base to begin with that will not last without long term investment.

Next Steps:

Why should we be concerned with lack of workforce mobility?  Because, when people do not move to take on new jobs, or start families or get away from home, home purchases decline, furniture sales drop, appliance sales fall and the overall economic life blood of our economy stagnates. What do we need to do?  Raise wages for workers to a decent level in each metro and rural region of the country, so people can build a nest egg and make a down payment on a home.  Rental unit pricing needs to be addressed in a way that is fair to the multiunit owner while holding down rental costs. The most recent Tax Bill passed in December of 2017 eliminated the provision for tax deductions by employers or workers for unreimbursed moving expenses.  This provision needs to be reinstated to drive the costs of moving down.  Interest on first mortgages should be made tax deductible for all regions of the country with a special emphasis on low income first time buyers. In rural regions we recommend special tax zones be established to offer incentives for investors to setup businesses there, with partnerships with local universities to build incubators for startups much along the model pioneered in Silicon Valley yet tuned to the needs of the region.  The size of our workforce is declining, we have young people staying at home so we need to address the issue of lack of mobility head on to provide the  life opportunities to our young people that earlier generations enjoyed.

57M Gig Economy Workers Hit Benefit Limits

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: thcceomagazine.com

Gig workers create millions of dollars of goods and services for the U.S. economy yet remain frustrated at not picking off a benefits stream for themselves. While, gig economy workers enjoy ‘lifestyle benefits’ they are lacking in good health insurance, retirement plans, stock options and addons like commute cost compensation, discounts at restaurants, staff lunches, evening taxi service, onsite laundry and company cafeteria.  Income is irregular and unpredictable for contractors whether the gig is a project or a longer term assignment with an agency.

In Silicon Valley and many high growth regions jobs in security, food concession, facilities management, IT, accounting, travel, web design, and HR have been outsourced, contracted or shifted to independent contractor roles working in their home. While independent contractors have autonomy and work flexibility they are missing key benefits.  Contingent workers like Uber drivers using the Uber app to find riders and handle billing are essentially working for the company yet not enjoying full time worker benefits.

So, how widespread in our economy is the contractor workforce?  Gallup completed a recent survey and found about 36 % of the workforce is engaged in some type of gig work.

Sources: Gallup, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 9/5/18

Seven percent of workers had one traditional job and a gig job while 3 % had two gig type jobs for a total of 10 % with two jobs.  Workers in the bottom 80 % in income have seen their wages actually decline over the past 10 years. So, it is no surprise they need to hold at least two jobs to maintain their standard of living.  The number of workers holding multiple jobs has skyrocketed in the past few years.

Sources: Deutsche Bank, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 9/5/18

Note the high during the Great Recession of multiple job holders, and yet today in a strong economy we see a similar peak in workers with multiple jobs.  Is this economy really working for the majority of the labor force?

Next Steps:

The economy has not ‘lifted all boats’, we know that the top 10 % in income received 90 % of the income gains since 2008.  The most recent Tax Bill from Congress benefited the top 1 % and corporations to the tune of a $1 trillion deficit to be paid by all taxpayers who are seeing their incomes and benefits decline.  The gig economy has been a mechanism for corporate executives and their wealthy shareholders to cut costs, pass along retirement benefits responsibility to employees and shut many workers out of profit sharing programs.

We have proposed in previous posts that in addition to raising worker wages, gig economy works would be well served if they received health insurance from birth, a retirement program in tandem with Social Security at the time of a worker’s first job and other income protections.

It is time we recognize that the gig economy is here to stay, it is a key component of the dynamism and flexibility in the workforce to drive growth and innovation – we need to plan for the just needs of workers to make the economy work for all.

Labor is Our Most Productive Asset

 

Image: progressivebumperstickers.com

“Nothing will work unless you do” – Maya Angelou

On Labor Day it is a good time to reflect on our labor force – the people who make our economy go. What has become of labor in America? Does labor hold equal power with capital? No.

Wall Street, the citadel of capital,  wields supreme power focused on profit throughout our economy and control of our government. Corporations pander to financial leaders with ever higher profits manipulated by stock buybacks juicing the value of share prices. Management ensures investors are pleased with financial results using loose financial gimmicks and laying on record debt. While workers have seen their wages stagnate for 30 years since the 1980s.

Executives are handsomely compensated at 300% of the average worker’s wage. Why? They think they ‘are’ the company. At a $400 million biotech firm, this author listened to a VP extoll the value of management over workers, “we have all the power; we decide wages, allocation of resources, when and how work is done, and we can fire them anytime”.  Yet, workers make the company go.  Nothing works until the employees make it work. Managers don’t do the work, they manage the work that is getting done.

Managers are doing what they are compensated to do – increase profits and reduce costs. In Western accounting labor is viewed as an expense while money and machines are viewed as assets. Wait, aren’t employees assets? CEOs are always telling employees at ‘all hands’ meetings they are the companies’ most important asset. Do they treat employees that way?  What about when things get tough; instead of selling equipment, moving out of buildings or reducing executive benefits they lay off employees who can least afford it. Executives need to start treating employees like they are an asset.

Maybe we need to start recognizing labor as an asset from an accounting perspective. When we label capital an asset and labor a cost we are fundamentally placing a higher value on money and a lower value on people. That framework us wrong – if anything it should be the other way around. Because people create value in corporations not money. Money does not come up with the latest innovation or new process or service – people do. We need to require corporations to report on how they are building employees as assets and worker contribution to increasing company value.  The next step is for Wall Street to recognize social responsibility in their investments as Blackrock, CEO Larry Fink, has in a letter to CEOs of companies in their portfolio that he will be looking beyond profit, for implementation of policies by management in sustainability and worker advancement.

Unfortunately labor power is at an all-time low when in a great ‘boom’ economy now the 80 % in income have experienced declining wages since the Great Recession. On Labor Day we need to dig deep and renew our commitment to recognizing labor must share equally in all corporate prosperity.

Workers Facing High Prices, Stagnant Wages Are Taking On Debt

 

Image: guardiandebtrelief.com

Worker pay continues to stagnant. Yet, companies are raising prices.  The price increases are due to tariff based supplier cost increases and government tax credits juicing the economy.  The Federal Reserve survey for July in the Philadelphia area showed that manufacturers plan on raising prices by 3 % versus 2 % last year.

Source: HIS Markit, Bloomberg – 8/28/18

How did companies get this pricing power?  Corporations have received a $1 trillion tax cut,  reduced regulations by the Trump administration, less oversight by the EPA, and less scrutiny on mergers.  Companies are at the zenith of their power allowing them to raise prices, keep wages low – below inflation, while increasing profits and executive compensation.

Source Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg – 8/24/18

Worker economic power continues to wane, as real wages actually turned negative this past month. Worker share of income as a percentage of non-farm business income is at a 70-year low even in a strong economy.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 8/27/18

How are consumers handling the budget shortfall?  By borrowing, the debt as a percentage of income of the bottom 80 %  is 4 times the debt of the top 20 %.

Most of this debt is in the form of credit card, auto loans and home equity lines of credit.  Home owners have done a better job keeping their first mortgages in line with incomes this year versus the housing bubble of 2008.

Next Steps:

Caught between high prices and flat real wages, consumers are filling the budget gap by piling on debt. Companies are getting even richer from both sides of making a profit – increasing income by raising prices and reduced costs by keeping worker wages low.

Why is this vise tightening on worker budgets?  Corporations are accumulating power every day at an ever increasing rate; buying other companies, issuing stock backs to hype stock price, increasing lobbying budgets to get the federal government to make rules that tip their way, consolidating supply channels, distributing manufacturing world-wide and automating every job they can conceive be done by a robot.  Prices are rising due to tariffs in many industries, the wide spread use of tariffs on some consumer goods, contagion of one product category to another (tit for tat) and shrinking channels of distribution reducing price competition.

Meantime, workers continue to lose power at even faster rate than corporations gain power.  Wages have been stagnant for 20 years for the bottom 80 % in income.  We have outlined in previous posts why wages have actually declined – rise of corporate power, fewer unions, automation, mergers in the same industry reduce the overall number of jobs, increased availability of candidates over the Internet, outsourcing, and the gig economy.  Workers are getting some relief in the gig economy with lawsuits to recognize Uber drivers as employees, but it is a tough long slog through the courts.  Overall, most court decisions are favoring companies in reducing union power, allowing companies to give millions to campaigns unchecked (Citizens United case) and overtime pay.

Eventually prices will rise too high for declining incomes causing consumer spending to fall. Consumer spending has been falling this year, with the most recent decline announced today, as a revised downward revision to 3.8 % in 2nd quarter.

Sources: BEA, Factset – 6/1/18

Remember, corporate executives are compensated handsomely for what?  Making more profit by increasing income and reducing costs.  Workers, after all the PR from executives are viewed as a cost when managers get into salary and compensation review meetings. Workers are being squeezed between low wages and increasing prices nationally to feed the ever increasing profit making systems of corporations. Until, we as a society start to see that workers need to be an equal partner in corporate management, sharing in profits and benefits things will not change.  Without workers receiving a fair share of the economic pie, the common good will suffer and will lead to civil unrest and a contracting economy when consumer spending evaporates. The economic reality is that the U.S. economy is not working for the bottom 80 % and until it does we are faced with major disruptions in our economic life.

Disney, Walmart Begin Offering Education Aid

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Source: payactiv.com

Disney announced this week that for 80,000 hourly workers in the U.S. to take online courses beginning this fall.  The media and entertainment giant will invest $50 million to kick off the ‘Disney Aspire’ education program with $25 million each year afterward.  Disney will provide up front funding for degree programs, high school diploma or learn a new skill.  The jump start funding enables  workers with little savings to begin taking courses right away. The program will begin with online courses only though classroom course programs may be added later.

Last May, Walmart introduced a tuition assistance program for 1.4 million hourly part-time, full-time and salaried workers to take courses online in business or supply-chain management. Employees will pay just $1 a day to participate in the assistance program. The retail colossus is looking to increase retention rates, and draw more new workers.  Drew Holler, VP of Innovation at Walmart U.S. was excited, “We know we’re going to see an influx of applications.”

Other major corporations are feeling the pressure to be competitive in benefits for hourly or retail workers. Starbucks offers a full tuition degree program for baristas at Arizona State University.  Chipotle Mexican Grill offers $5,250 in tuition assistance for degree programs.

However, for many hourly workers they have a difficult time committing to education programs due to erratic work schedules.  Our Walmart, an employee advocacy group, completed a survey of worker needs finding that 70 % of workers wanted more time scheduled to work full time, and more predictable timing.  Hourly workers are busy balancing work time with family commitments, like child care, doctor appointments and caregiving.

We have commented in our posts about the necessary investment corporations and government needs to make in education.  Hourly workers in particular have a difficult time getting more education due to random work schedules, little savings and limited study time.  Many of these programs begin to address the issue of upfront funding now they need to enable workers to actually go to school while working by offering predictable work schedules and flex time to handle family commitments.  We are pleased to see Disney, Walmart and other companies  respond to the need for workers to get a better education by investing in their employees’ future and to see the move as good business.

Families Are the Place to Start Building the Common Good

Image: sleepingshouldbeeasy.com

We all have a mother and father, and may have brothers and sisters.  We come into the world born of our mother with a bonding to her, and if all goes well the father is there to raise us too.  We can all agree that families are a priority – when things get tough our families come first.

Bo Lotzoff, philosopher and counselor helping many prisoners and poor people turnaround their lives, observed about American society that we ‘love things and use people’. It should be the other way around, ‘love people and use things’. Think about this insight.  When we look objectively at what has happened to family life in the past 30 years, the slice of time devoted to family versus work has progressed in reality to not much time, or invested engagement by the working parent.

In Silicon Valley, the heart of technology innovation world-wide, it is the standard expectation for most workers at top companies to be at work until 8 or 9pm, just leaving barely enough time for fathers or mothers to read a story and tuck their children into bed.  Management expects knowledge workers to check for text messages at least 19 hours a day and email before coming into the office, responding to work requests on weekends too.  Even, on vacations, if project reviews are planned workers are expected to phone in for the key meetings and ‘stay on top’ of what is happening.  When global conference calls are involved, the calls may start at 6am to Germany and continue to 7 or 8 pm to Japan or China.  What all this connectedness means is that the company owns the mind and emotions of the worker 24 by 7. At one startup  ‘all hands’ meeting just prior to the Christmas holiday the CEO thanked everyone for their hard work over the past year and declared, “have a fun Christmas or holiday rest for a day, then let’s make our numbers!”  He made the statement kind of in just but half serious, the workers got his point, see your families and friends but stay connected 24 by 7.

Corporate life is destroying family life and our connectedness as a community.  Being totally connected to the corporation is more important if we want to maintain our standard of living is the message.  Corporations are using people and loving things (sounds like high tech).

Nourishing, sustaining and building stronger families would do a lot for solving our societal and economic issues.  Crime would go down as young men who are left to live on the streets would be learning skills, playing a team sport or having a family supporting his life, and where after school programs were funded and staffed well. Groups like Thread, in Baltimore actually use the family structure with Parents and Grandparent surrogates to support youth in poor parts of the city where there may be only one parent and that parent is not home much of the time working two or three jobs to support the family.  Today we are missing millions of our youth to crime, opioids and dead end jobs that could be active productive members of our labor force. Our labor force is declining with the aging of baby boomers, we need all the paycheck workers we can to support our aging population and for young workers to save for their futures.

So, let’s look at the policies of our federal government using the family yardstick which most people right or left, Republican or Democrat agree:

  1. Family Separation – recently we saw that there was consensus that children should be kept with their parents – even immigrant children
  2. Health Insurance – a Pew Research survey showed that 58 % of all Americans believed that every person should have affordable health insurance for which the government is responsible
  3. Childhood Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – most Senator and Congressmen agreed and renewed the CHIP bill to protect children caught between Medicaid and being too poor to afford an individual health insurance plan in this past December’s spending bill.
  4. Flexible Job Definition – more social and family counselors see a need for men and women to have flexible time jobs meaning that when a family emergency comes up like an illness or doctor appointment the worker can take time off and make the appointment without repercussions in job performance, salary or benefits.
  5. Parental Leave – Federal law of 1997 requires private employers to provide maternity leave up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of birth, adoption, or foster care placement (parental leave).  The US is the only country in the developed world that does not have paid leave for parents.
  6. Wages – real wages (after inflation) for the 80 % of workers in the U.S. have basically been stagnant for the last 30 years. Instead, corporate executives use excess profits to juice their stock prices with stock buybacks instead of raising wages. They are wasting nearly $810 billion that Goldman Sachs estimates is being spent in 2018 on stock buy backs. That $810 billion could go a long way to providing decent wages for workers. Analysts estimate the S & P 500 index is at least 20 % higher from what the prices of company stocks would be without stock buybacks. The reality is that workers and their families suffer having to work two or three jobs because of the greed of executive management. 

We could add to the list, our point is made, when we have a consensus that families need to be placed as the first priority, not the second or third or thirty-fifth, then our legislative priorities are clear.  Other countries seem to make a thriving economy and support of families work. Germany has paid parental leave, a net export economy, good wages, employee councils and at least 4 weeks of paid vacation for most employees.  Most German families feel secure.  This author asked a co-worker from Germany if he considered working in the U.S., he noted,  “I would get sharper, get closer to engineering and innovation, yet, there is no real recognition of families, In Germany, I have paid leave for a new child, four weeks of vacation every year, a good guaranteed retirement program, health insurance and I participate in our employee council…I don’t want to live under constant stress in America.”

Families are the basic economic building block of our country.  When corporations take control of our government and run our families into oblivion we all are hurt as a country.  In the end corporate executives need to wake up and support family sustaining policies in their company, their management culture, wages and in Washington to build strong families. Otherwise, someday corporations will discover as is beginning to happen today, that young women having the fewest babies ever since WW II, the lowest level of family formations ever and lowest number of millennials buying homes will lead to shrinking markets, falling margins and reduced sales. We need to monitor what is happening to the health of our families to know if our societal values, economic values, government policies and corporate behavior are strengthening or weakening families.

Corporations Have A Responsibility for The Common Good

 

Image: Your Little Planet

Corporations provide the economic foundation for the common good in supporting a community.  Air, water,  and land need to be kept in good stewardship by companies using these natural resources and returning them as they found them.  Yet, there is an economic responsibility too – good jobs for fair pay while keeping the social contract with the worker.

The New York Times returned to the Carrier site in Indianapolis that 20 months ago President Trump ‘saved’ from being moved to Mexico. Today, the furnace plant is plagued by absenteeism and concerns that the plant will be shut down when the political light is gone.  Management has not helped when the CEO of the Pratt and Whitney that owns Carrier said that there would be lost jobs and automation would help to reduce costs. Unfortunately, the Carrier situation is true for many blue collar workers in America, always looking over their back, with a cloud hanging over their job future.  There isn’t a cloud hanging over executives careers.

How can workers make commitments, to their families, pay mortgages, make car payments are send children to college when there is economic uncertainty hanging over them.

It used to be that corporate management was concerned with the future of their workers in a deep and personal way, which was reflected in their policies.  All too pervasive in executives suites throughout America is the focus on profits, stock price and how to make more money – with worker security and careers taking a second place or not at all in the financial plan.  Certainly corporations have extreme competitive pressures worldwide, government regulations and personnel laws to adhere to.  Yet, when companies announce automation plans, they seem to forget the people losing jobs to robots are unlikely to get another job that pays as well.

Automation is a social concern, damaging the common good that workers can’t be just flung out of work while all the executives left make more money.  There is something intrinsically unfair with this model.

People are the most important resource in our economy, we need to be thinking of how we treat people when economic storms come.  When companies automate workers out of job they need to take the social responsibility for ensuring the worker thrown out of work and still progress positively in their economic life. While, a capitalist democracy supports corporations as private property and run entity, with the onslaught of automation corporations can’t just run the other way after giving the laid off worker a small severance check and say ‘good luck’  That approach is just not enough, the corporation profits the worker losesWe need to end the spiral down for workers, they need to be guaranteed a productive economic life just the same way an executive who is left with the benefits of an automated factory.

Washington AG Increases Job Mobility for Fast Food Workers

 

Photo: blogs.reuters.com

Washington Attorney General, Bob Ferguson negotiated with seven major fast food franchises including; McDonalds, Arby’s, Carl’s Jr., and Jimmy Johns to delete franchise agreements with parent companies which include a no poach clause.   The no poach clause provided a way for individual franchisee’s to keep managers from other same brand franchisees from hiring their workers.  Two Princeton professors, Krueger and Ashenfelter published a study last year that estimated that no poach clauses affected about 70,000 individual restaurants in the U.S. or about 25 % of all fast food outlets.  The professors noted that the clauses were primarily to keep turnover down, limit competition and job mobility with other same brand franchises.  As a result workers had limited options to negotiate higher wages, work schedules or conditions.

Turnover in the fast food industry ranges from 60 – 70% in up-scale dining restaurants to over 120 % in fast food franchises. Franchisees are faced with constant pressure to raise wages in a low wage industry but face tight profit margins of 3 %:

Source: The Heritage Foundation – 9/4/14

With only 3 % margin to work with it is difficult for a franchise owner to raise wages.  Workers also mention in surveys the need to have more scheduled hours with more notice on the hours they work. With the no poach clauses gone from contracts workers can move to a same brand restaurant and negotiate for better hours and schedules.

We are pleased to see Attorney General Ferguson successfully negotiate with major fast food chains to delete the no poach clause to give workers more negotiating power and flexibility in their job situations.  It seems to us that major chains should have figured out that at least keeping the worker in the same chain was a plus, and the deleting the clause may force owners to treat workers better in order to reduce turnover.  Better managed franchises would rise to the top and have lower turnover rates.  Now on to raising low wages, increasing wages to a livable level is a complex issue that will require all involved; the owners, corporate franchise executives and workers to come up with a plan that will give workers the wages they deserve.

Seniors Feeling Financial Crunch – Increased Bankruptcies and Pension Overpayment Collections

Image: debt.org

Researchers tracking the financial blight of seniors report that seniors over age 65 are 3 times more likely to file for bankruptcy. Seniors are caught by reduced pensions, co pays on their children’s student loans, spiraling medical costs and lost wealth from the Great Recession.

Sources: Consumer Bankruptcy Project, The New York Times – 8/3/18

The post – Baby Boomer generation is feeling squeezed too as their bankruptcy filings are up over 66 % for the 55 to 64 year old group. Many Baby Boomers just beginning their retirement or in the their last years of savings were hit hard by the Great Recession, wiping out 401k investments in stocks and losing home equity wealth too. In all households lost $14 trillion in wealth, most of the income and asset recovery of the past 10 years has gone to the top 10 % in income.

The Consumer Bankruptcy Project is an ongoing effort led by Professor Thorne, University of Idaho; Professor Lawless; Pamela Foohey, a law professor at Indiana University; and Katherine Porter, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. Their universities fund the project as they review court documents and send out questionnaires to retirees.

Social Security has not been able to fill the gap.  Nor was Social Security designed to be the sole source of income for seniors – it was setup to supplement pensions and savings.  Over the past 30 years corporations have shifted from defined benefit (pension direct payment) plans to defined contribution plans like 401k where the worker makes the majority for the contributions and the employer is off the hook to make direct fixed payments. Yet, today for 33 % of retirees receiving Social Security it provides 90 % of their income.  Medicare and drug costs cut into their Social Security checks:

Sources: The Kaiser Family Foundation, The New York Times – 8/3/18

Health care spending for the average retiree is increasing every year beyond Social Security income and drugs become more expensive, some with standard prices of $70 per dose gauged up in price to $1700 per dose.

Adding insult to injury firms like  AT & T are contracting with collection agencies to claw back overpayments to pensioners.  The firms make up the calculation tables and send out the checks now they blame the pensioner, who has already spent the money.  It is important if the retiree receives a statement of planned disbursements to send back incorrect checks, however in most cases the checks were sent over some years until the error was found and the retiree had no idea that there was an overpayment.

Next Steps:

The perfect financial storm for retirees comes down to the basic fact that corporations shifted their responsibility for pensions onto workers helping the financial services industry sell more financial products to an naïve and financial challenged workers.  Professional financial managers were replaced by amateur workers doing their best to invest their 401k plans and save for the future.  For the bottom 80 % income the last 30 years their wages have been stagnant with increasing educational costs for their children and increasing medical costs for themselves. The federal government has been of little help, not indexing Social Security payments to the actual costs seniors incur for increasing medical and health services costs.

  1. Pension Claw backs – this makes no moral sense, many retirees have spent 20 or 30 years of their lives for the business, the business made the mistake they need to take care of it. In AT & T’s case they spend billions on stock buy backs to make their executives and shareholders rich, they could take a fraction those funds and take care of their seniors and fund their pension liabilities appropriately.
  2. Retirement Income – in previous posts we have recommended that instead of an incredible mess of 401k accounts, financial houses and amateur investment management by workers, a guaranteed retirement program be implemented starting at the time a person begins work and receives his Social Security card. Worker savings toward retirement would be transferred into this one account for a lifetime, with Social Security contributions by the federal government, and savings by the worker.  A portion would be guaranteed by the federal government and professionally managed as a defined benefit plan. Workers could opt for professional management of all their funds as well.
  3. Medical Costs – as we have recommended health insurance should be run by one entity the present Medicare operation for all Americans from the time of birth. Medicare already has a formulary for drugs, and should be authorized to negotiate drug costs for all patients. Standard compensation for procedures and quality of care implemented for Obamacare should be extended. Drug companies will no longer be able to buy back their stock, but instead will be required to spend those funds to bring drug costs down, or reduce costs in other ways.  Direct prescription drug advertising should be outlawed to save the over $1 billion spent a year in wasted advertising and spend the funds on price reductions.

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