The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Category: Wages (Page 2 of 2)

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.

Apprenticeship Program A Good Step Forward

 

Photo: siemens.com

The Administration has announced a new job training and apprenticeship program focused on many hard to fill positions in manufacturing. The President signed an order to create a Council for the American Worker instructing the secretaries of commerce and labor to coordinate existing federal programs and focus on new apprenticeship programs for job seekers without college degrees and older workers.  Labor Secretary, R. Alexander Acosta noted prior to the announcement that in June 2017 the administration had allocated $150 million in funding to strengthen apprenticeship programs.

Officials from various job development interested groups including unions, corporations,  and trade association officials signed a ‘Pledge to America’s Workers’ committing to the creation of more career opportunities.  Many of the leaders had made previous commitments, though Fed Express announced a new pledge of 512,000 workforce development slots with tuition assistance provided.

While, ‘dual careers’ have been a staple part of German and European education programs in the U.S. the ‘college for all’ mantra has taken its effect discouraging apprentice program candidates. However, many European firms like Zurich Insurance have applied their experience with apprenticeship programs to their U.S. subsidiaries to fill positions and have shared their experience with U.S. based firms like Accenture and Walgreens. Apprenticeships are 4.0% of the workforce in Germany while in the U.S. the total is about 500,000 in skilled trades like plumbing, electrical or metal work, just a small fraction of the U.S. workforce.

Source: The Labor Department, The Wall Street Journal – 2016

American employers are struggling with filling many positions in manufacturing that require special skills but not at the level of a college degree. We expect that as more co-automation jobs are created apprenticeship programs will become the norm to accelerate the number of qualified workers and retrain those workers who lost jobs from automation.

We are pleased to see the GOP Administration move ahead with executing on its pledge to increase the number of apprenticeship training programs and enlist all interested stakeholders in the process. However, this Administration has also announced budget cuts of 40 % to a Department of Labor Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, so making the program work and develop momentum seems challenging given the mixed signals.  We see apprenticeship programs as crucial to expending jobs opportunities for the working class when they are combined with good salaries, benefits and continued training. Education is a bedrock institution to build a thriving society  for all not just the wealthy.

The Elite Makes U.S. A Land of Renters

(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.)

Photo: marketplace.org

Household formations have been trending down over the past 30 years from its peak reached after a continual increase since 1955.  More than a quarter of possible home buyers are unemployed, underemployed, saddled with student debt or living at home with their parents making home buying a challenge. The other possible household formation group is making such low income they are forced into renting as the only budgetary alternative.

Source: Real Investment Advice – 7/13/18

The housing market has shifted drastically toward high end homes for the wealthy, not first time buyers, and multi-unit rental units for investment.  As investors look outside the stock market for high returns rental units have been an excellent income stream with income streams totaling $800 billion per year.

So, while wages for the 80% in income, non – supervisory workers have been stagnant; profits, stock buybacks, executive salaries and other financial gimmicks have provided the top 10 % with 90 % of national income since 2008.  In effect, we have become a nation of renters due to two factors: wages being held down, and inflated assets benefiting the rich.

Source: Real Investment Advice – 7/13/18

Corporate executives do not make their stock price and profit targets by raising wages resulting in reduced profits.  Wages as a cost cut immediately into profits, which a CEO wants to stay clear of having to explain to the Board or shareholders.  Does it really make sense that workers are not getting wage increases in a job market with the lowest unemployment rate in 10 years? Until workers get enough countervailing power in wage negotiations worker wages are likely to stay stagnant. No, executives are allocating profits, offshore and tax cut funds to benefit themselves and shareholders while workers are left out of the economic feast.

Next steps:

We have outlined multiple reasons for lack of wage increases in earlier posts, the bottom line is executives don’t want to give raises beyond inflation.  Proposals like Senator Cory Booker’s Worker’s Dividend Act to share stock buyback dollars with workers is a good start, yet the sustainable solution lies in corporate governance, where activities shareholders required management to give workers their fair share of profits; for example if executives receive a 5 % cut of the profits workers should receive the same 5 % as well.

To give first time home buyers a boost, we need to reduce student loan debt by re financing their rates to the rates that the Federal Reserve offers bank.  After all we are ‘banking in the future’ of our young people.  Where possible student debt could be forgiven for domestic service corps work or working with corporations who hire graduates to reduce their loans as part of the offer package.  Government mortgage  agencies need to support first time buyers with reduced down payment requirements and other incentives.  To incentivize home builders set asides of homes for first time buyers need to be established to create inventory from which a first time buyer can select their home.

Increasing household formations should be a top priority for policy makers and the wealthy alike.  When household formations are moving ahead, furniture, appliances, home improvement hardware, and thousands of product and services are purchased. Plus, when people own a home they have a piece in the future of their neighborhood, schools and community which will increase property values for all.

Make America A Democracy Again

 

Image: civicsacademy.co.za

Memo

To: Oli Garchy, CEO, The Elite

Subject: Meeting – Make America a Democracy Again

Time: Lunch

Place: The Lawn in Front of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC (It helps to have Honest Abe watching over the mixed group)

Date: Soon…before it’s too late.

Oli,

Ok, we recognize you and your team since Ronald Reagan have built an Oligarchy that stands out (not outstanding for the 90 %) as a model for the history books, based on government statistics:

1. President is a billionaire (first one) – and holds title to all his properties while in office, making money while in office (first time)
2. Cabinet of largest number of billionaires in history of U.S.
3. Corporate tax rate lowest in 50 years
4. Corporations have the most cash ever sitting in banks and offshore shelters at over $1 trillion
5. Top 1 % taxes are the lowest in 50 years
6. Top 1 % received 90 % of income gained since the Great Recession
7. The 80 % working class real wages have declined in the last 30 years – while CEO pay is 300 times the average worker’s
8. Home ownership is at lowest level in 40 yrs – renting at the highest level in 15 yrs (you’ll own more residential real estate than ever)
9. Student debt highest ever at $1.5 trillion – because:
10. Spending by state and federal government on public education secondary thru higher education is the lowest ever as per cent of GDP
12. Healthcare services costs more per person in US than anywhere in the world with life expectancy lowest of all developed countries – due to all the built in middle profit layers of insurance, drug price gauging and stock buybacks                              13. Stock buy backs were at the highest level ever last quarter $431 billion, not one dime to employees or workers directly in wage increases
14. Last year had the highest average global temperature, yet the administration wants to end car emissions standards by California, drill for more oil on the coasts – fossil fuel executives are getting what they want and more                                           15. Tax receipts from U.S. corporations hit a 75 year low                                      16. The Top 1 % have 40 % of all U.S. wealth, the highest concentration since 1929

You’ve wrapped Congress around your little finger with the Tax Cut bill where 70 % of the tax cut proceeds went to executive salaries, stock buybacks, and dividends, very little into research and development, increasing productivity or job training.  You promised to raise wages and very few companies did.

The American people care more about the environment and its stewardship then you’re team, 60 % in a recent Pew Research poll say that preserving the environment is more important, even if there is an economic cost.  Oli, think about it, your profits won’t last long if your customers are unhealthy or dying due to pollution of the water, air or land.

Professors Gilens and Page at Princeton and Northwestern reviewed opinion polls versus legislation passed over the past 30 years and found of 1779 laws passed 90 % did not support popular opinion, seems you own Congress.

Your 30 year old oligarchy has come at great cost, look at the debt increased by a magnitude from the Tax Cut you wanted and the public did not:

Sources: The Congressional Budget Office, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 7/23/18

You’ve just mortgaged your children and our children’s future for good jobs, owning a home and good health care just to give you and your friends a huge tax cut.  You and your team have the lowest corporate tax cut on record, but at great cost!

Oli, here is the issue for your team; without a thriving Working Class the value of your assets will go down.  Consumer spending will spiral down unless the Working Class get a fair piece of the economic pie.  When consumer spending goes down, your businesses begin losing money, their value drops and if the spiral keeps going like it did after 1929, you could lose everything.

The way to build a Working Class that you need is via a democracy – remember that from your textbooks.  It looks like this: a government ‘by the people, for the people and of the people’ – Lincoln had it right.

Think about it Oli, meet with us before it is too late.   In the future, there maybe hostility with the wealthy elite, but there is still time.

Next steps:

How about lunch?  How about our people meeting with your people? Our folks; Senators – Warren, Sanders, Booker and Harris, Representative Pramila Jayapal, Nick Hanauer, and Robert Reich.

Let me know who on your team you would like to invite, maybe the Koch Brothers, The Devos – as couple, Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, and five more would be a good size group.

Our luncheon wrap up takes place in the Jefferson Memorial where on the south east portico Jefferson observed we must make progress together:

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.”

Please read our posts on the Common Good in a Democracy as a refresher on what it is and how we all need to build it again. Frankly, Oli, the Common Good seems lost right now, yet it provides the beacon to keep the ship of state on course for all the people. We need to work together to build the Common Good. Let’s – Make America A Democracy Again.

AT & T Wins Time-Warner – Americans Lose Free Press

 

Photo: Free Press

A federal court judge approved the $85 billion bid by AT &T of Time – Warner, creating a huge vertically integrated media giant.  The judge found no need for the kind of conditions placed on the Comcast acquisition of NBC Universal in 2011, or ensuring a free press.  Though both cases are quite similar in that AT & T and Comcast are both major media companies acquiring content providers and news organizations (NBC, and CNN).  In approving the Comcast – NBC bid, the judge laid out detailed conditions to protect consumers, requiring adherence to net neutrality for Internet supported content providers and assistance for low income users. Since the Comcast – NBC merger Comcast has violated several provisions of the agreement as outlined by former FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Senator Richard Blumenthal including: not adhering to network neutrality in providing channels to consumers, slow implementation of low income Internet assistance programs, not providing smaller cable channels with fair rates to access regional sports networks and discriminated against Bloomberg Television (a competitor of CNBC).   Clyburn and Blumenthal in their op-ed piece pose three key questions to be answered in every major merger (our answer):

  1. How will consumers be affected? Negatively by lack of competition
  2. What will this do to competition in the industry? Reduce competition significantly
  3. What will it mean for small businesses? Small businesses will be squeezed out of the market

For some reason, the court in the AT & T – Time Warner case did not seem interested in answering these questions related to safeguarding consumers, businesses or freedom of the press. Federal regulators found in the Comcast – NBC bid the need for 150 conditions to be placed on the merged corporate organization.

Today, the court saw a need for no conditions?  Why? When we have a deregulation federal government policy wave rolling across the country today it is even more imperative that conditions be in place if these giant mergers are to be approved.

Next steps:

Our position is the merger juggernaut needs to be stopped now, and this merger not approved – later we will have to break it up anyway.  Mergers contribute to lack of jobs as well which hurt wage gains by workers.  Media concentration limits access to information and choices for media coverage. In 1983, 90 % of media, entertainment and distribution markets were controlled by 50 companies, today, there are 6 major players:

By approving the AT &T – Time-Warmer deal the court is giving a green light to deals now under review like the Disney bid (Comcast biding too) for 21st Century media which would create yet another huge conglomerate strangling competition and reducing the number of news sources. Other major Internet players are waiting in the wings like Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook who are flush with cash and looking to control both the Internet, broadcast and film content and distribution.

We have said that deals like this need to be reviewed in supporting the common good ensured by freedom of the press.  This AT &T deal should not be approved on media concentration and press limitation grounds.  Jefferson and Madison observed correctly that a democracy can not long survive without a well-informed citizenry making decisions based on multiple points of view. Major corporations win in deals like the AT &T – Time Warner merger, the American citizen loses.

Millennials Buried in Student Debt Can’t Buy Homes!

 

Student debt has soared to $1.4 trillion in the last month according to the Federal Reserve.  Now millennials are faced with a combination of soaring student debt and high home prices are giving up on owning a home.

Sources: Federal Reserve Bank of New York, US Census Bureau, New York Times – 5/29/18

In 2003, 42 % of people under age 35 owned a home now only 35 % own a home.  The dream of owning a home is slipping away as our society allows the rich continue to enjoy huge tax reductions in the most recent tax bill, with continuous lack of state funding for colleges and universities and then a paucity of forgiveness programs for graduates.  The lack of household formations, now at a low point since the Great Recession means that durable orders will fall and sure enough durables (ie. appliances, furniture, cars) orders have fallen recently.  As millennials and working class are squeezed between stagnant wages and rents, college debt, car loan payments, and credit card payments:

Source: Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/29/18

Next Steps:

We saw this problem getting worse in our blog last April and suggested several solutions related to student debt forgiveness and interest reduction programs:

As part of the spending bill that Congress passed last month, $350 million was allocated for a fix it forgiveness program for some types of student loans.  Senator Elizabeth Warren has been surveying the issue and individuals trying to take advantage of the provisions where she found that it was quite complex, answers were in complete from the Department of Education and work still needed to be done to setup the process. She found many firefighters and teachers having a difficult time getting into the program.  Prior to passage of the spending bill Senators Whitehouse and Kaine wrote a bill to setup a student debt forgiveness program and get it funded, their bill set the stage for Democrats to push for provisions of the bill to be included in the omnibus spending bill.

This solution is still not enough compared to the huge issue of $1.49 trillion outstanding placing an anchor of debt on our young people when they need to be investing in starting their families and careers and buying homes. In blog of February 16th in our archives, we review an idea to cancel all student debt.  We like the idea moving forward, yet recommend that forgiveness be done in stages, by reducing interest rates, offering Heartland Service, providing a universal national service option and corporate sponsorship of an internship by the student.”

Our ideas stand today, as they did six weeks ago as Congress, the Elite and Corporate Nation States continue to ignore the fact that we are not doing right by our young people entering the economy and starting their careers.

Supreme Court Hands Corporations Another Win Over Employees

Photo: Central Penn Business Journal

Yesterday, the Supreme Court announced a major decision that further limits employee rights. Newly appointed Supreme Court, Justice Neil M. Gorsch wrote the majority opinion holding that a 1925 Arbitration held over a 1935 National Labor relations law allowing employees to sue their employers.  The court held that employees can not bind together in class action law suits where they have common interests in a complaint against a company, they must use arbitration specified in the agreement.  Employees are coerced into employee agreements in that they must sign them to take the job, corporations have the power in a job negotiation as they can just go to the Internet and find another 25 or 100 candidates for many jobs.  The candidate cannot negotiate clauses in employment contracts with their own attorney because they want the job more than worrying about a contract clause.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote the minority opinion outlining how unjust this decision is, a part of the opinion she read aloud in court:

“The court today holds enforceable these arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave-it contracts — including the provisions requiring employees to litigate wage and hours claims only one-by-one,” she said. “Federal labor law does not countenance such isolation of employees.”

Research supports Justice Ginsberg’s finding, in most cases the employee is more likely to lose a case in arbitration versus court suits and when judgements are won the final awards are much smaller.

Source: The Economic Policy Institute – 10/14/2016

The decision clearly is another win for corporations increasing their power over employees by severely limiting the ability of an employee to equalize the leverage with their employer in bringing a complaint.  Corporations can now take on employees one by one where they will not have the attorney fire power that corporations wield.

Next Steps:

Congress needs to pass a law to make clear that the National Labor Relations Act takes precedence over the Arbitration Law which was passed to use arbitration processes for company to company complaints.  Then over the years since 1925 corporations have use their lobbying influence and ability to buy control of presidents appointed justices to extend the law to covering consumers in credit agreements and employee contracts. Corporate control of campaign funding with the Citizens United decision, succeeding Super PACs and extreme lobbying spending strengthens the hegemony of corporations over employees.  It is obvious that employee power is at an all-time low as we have the lowest unemployment rate in 10 year while wages for the 80 % in income stagnant.

Employers Should Pay Hourly Employees Fairly, Not Chip Away at Stagnant Wages

Photo: smallbusiness.chron.com

As more corporations use software to track hourly employee hours some have tipped the data collection rules in their favor.   American Airlines is facing a suit from 400 employees for shorting their hours, Kroger and Montage are facing similar suits.  We realize that corporations are under great pressure to cut costs on labor to increase profits and meet shareholder and Wall Street expectations.  However, since the wages of production employees and non-supervisors have been essentially stagnant for the past 5 years we ask:  who is really getting hurt?  Corporations have all time low taxes, all time high stock buy backs to juice executive salaries, and all time cash nearly $1 trillion stashed in most offshore accounts.

Meantime employees are at the lowest point of wage power in the workplace in decades with reduced health benefits at greater cost, competition for their jobs from other workers on the Internet, automation, corporate mergers reducing the number of jobs available, and union busting laws.  So who are the wage scales tipped toward?  Corporations.  Average hour worker income has continued to fall when inflation is included.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Real Investment Advice – 5/15/18

So, when companies use software to track employee hours, then ‘round hours up’ for breaks or deduct breaks that didn’t happen – like for nurses in healthcare at the University of Missouri Health Care using time tracking software where they cared for patients during their breaks but the software recorded a break anyway.  The nurses are losing money, and even more than just wages respect for the work they do.

Next Steps:

Employers wake up! Work is a social contract that is two-way and should be equitable, time cards should be signed by employees in some manner before wages are dispersed.  The signing which used to be performed is a confirmation that the employee and employer understand the work being performed and the fair hours completed. Software should not just automatically capture data and cut checks.  When time cards were used, filled out by employees – now done online, yet most systems allowed for electronic signatures.  In haste, these companies are just using the software to capture the hours, record the hours and post checks. Company IT departments set the rules of the software sometimes in favor the company not the employee.  These rules changes can be for just minutes or more but at infrequent times so it is hard for employees to discern what is happening to their paycheck.  Time tracking software should be required to show an audit trail for the employee to see to ensure that it is a just capture of their hours. Let’s be clear when these systems don’t treat employees fairly, and allow for confirmation of hours worked the employer is committing a real in justice to the employee.  Corporations need to review the process of their time recording software for hour employees, ensure adequate safeguards are in place for employee input and install these systems with employee support.

US Washer Manufacturers Raise Prices Due To Tariffs

 

Photo: consumerreports.org

As we predicted one result of import taxes (blog of January 24) the Administration placed on imported washers was that domestic suppliers would raise prices.  Sure enough they have raised prices by 7 – 15 % at a time when consumers are squeezed.  As tariffs were placed on imports we forecasted that domestic manufacturers would take advantage of the higher competition prices and raise their prices as Maytag and Whirlpool have done. Their spokesman say they had to raise prices due to increasing costs of steel and aluminum yet they have raised prices before the steel tariffs went into effect. Once again corporations lobbied government to change the rules in their favor to make more profits while consumers lose.

Other manufacturers for processed goods, food and items with a high shipping cost are raising prices as well.

Sources: Labor Department, The Wall Street Journal – 5/9/18

Of major concern is a combination of higher interest rates, tariffs and competition will cause increases in producer prices that companies will not be able to pass along to consumers. Consumers are too indebted to accept the price increases.  Margins are squeezed, companies lose sales, and a recession begins. Possibly the wealthy can continue to purchase major appliances and processed items but the middle class will not.

Next Steps –

The middle class is caught in the cross fire of competing interests in our economy where the Federal Reserve did keep interest rates artificially low increasing the value of financial assets like stocks, homes and consumers were able take on too much debt. The real assistance would be for the federal government to invest in jobs training, career development, Heartland regional economies, African American and Hispanic community development, welcome immigrants, and end stock buybacks.  Corporations could allocate the $1 trillion in cash they are holding in accounts mostly overseas and invest in their employees – raising their wages, productivity research, decent family leave programs and giving them more voice in corporate decision making.

Consumers Squeezed Between Debt and Stagnant Wages

 

Image: americanprogress.org

The Federal Reserve just reported that consumer debt related to auto and student loans are at the highest level they have ever been since 1970 (2nd chart).  As we have noted wages have stagnated since the Great Recession with 90 % of the income gains going to the top 10 % in income.  The middle class has been left out of the mainstream of the economic recovery over the past 10 years.

Sources: The Federal Reserve Bank – St. Louis, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/8/18

While revolving debt from credit cards has fallen (top chart) since the recession, non revolving debt for autos and student loans has soared.   Consumers are caught in a squeeze between debt and flat wages.  The Commerce Department reported on 1st Quarter GDP noted that consumer spending had decelerated during the quarter.  Sentiment surveys have also shown a reduction in buying plans due to trade issues and any benefit from the tax cuts being lost due to rising prices from tariffs.  Banks have posted 7 straight months of an increasing percentage of charge offs on bad loans where consumers are not making payments on non-mortgage debt.

As interest rates go up, payments grow larger per month, with the added tightening of increased prices.  The middle class is caught trying to maintain their standard of living by borrowing money to mitigate flat wages.

Next Steps –

There are two sides to the squeeze – increasing wages and reducing loan payment size and principal.

We have endorsed Sen. Cory Booker’s bill called the Worker Dividend Act to share billions of dollars in stock buyback dollars 50/50 with employees.  We see a need for incentives for employers to share management extreme wealth now at 300 times average worker salary with the line staff.  Or if they can’t do it with incentives we like the City of Portland’s plan to require corporations share their funding above the 150 times level with employees. In our blog about why Wages Are Stuck we outline a series of steps including: placing workers on Boards, ending outsourcing overseas, end H1-B low wage visas, allow repatriated funds be brought back to the US only for wages, productivity or training investments, end stock buybacks and raise employee wages with the funds, breakup anti-competitive oligarchies of huge corporations to create more competition and jobs, balance the recruiting and hiring process for candidates, and offer incentives for employee training and development.

On the loan side, we recommend that student loan rates be brought back to reasonably fair rates as a percentage of the Fed Funds rate, and offer a series of forgiveness programs for universal service, community teaching and caregiving.  For auto loans, we request that the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau evaluate major bank auto loans to ensure they are fair and do not have hidden fees or unusual interest rate riders.

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