Monday, September 21, 2020

In a time of record wealth, many are left behind. And no stimulus means even more will be hurt.

Not that this should surprise you, but how the economy is doing may seem very different depending on your specific circumstance. For example, if you had a white-collar job, and owned a house and/or stocks, you probably haven't suffered much beyond the social inconveniences of the COVID World. That was reiterated today, as we found out that despite a record drop in GDP, household wealth hit record levels in Q2 of 2020.
Americans' household wealth rebounded last quarter to a record high as the stock market quickly recovered from a pandemic-induced plunge in March. Yet the gains flowed mainly to the most affluent households even as tens of millions of people endured job losses and shrunken incomes.

The Federal Reserve said Monday that American households' net worth jumped nearly 7% in the April-June quarter to $119 trillion. That figure had sunk to $111.3 trillion in the first quarter, when the coronavirus battered the economy and sent stock prices tumbling.
On the other end of the spectrum, we are still tens of millions of jobs in the hole, and it has disproportionately hit people who were already close to the edge without much opportunity to build wealth.
The full recovery of wealth even while the economy has recovered only about half the jobs lost to the pandemic recession underscores what many economists see as America's widening economic inequality. Data compiled by Opportunity Insights, a research group, show that the highest-paying one-third of jobs have almost fully recovered from the recession, while the lowest-paying one-third of jobs remain 16% below pre-pandemic levels.

The wealth data “highlights the inequalities in the recovery in the sense that high-income workers not only have jobs that for the most part have come back; they also have savings that have continued to grow,” said John Friedman, an economist at Brown University who is co-director of Opportunity Insights.

The recovery in household wealth has benefited mostly a narrow slice of affluent Americans. The richest one-tenth of Americans owned more than two-thirds of the nation's wealth, according to Fed data through the end of March, the latest available. The top 1% owned 31%.
The growth of wealth and lack of lost jobs in certain sectors has insulated a lot of people from realizing just how bad things still are, which raises the chances that we will get another, longer-lasting economic downturn.
“There has always been a reckoning that needs to occur which has not yet taken place,” said Steve Blitz, chief US economist for TS Lombard. “And that is the possibility of an extended recessionary environment. Because most people believe this is a COVID cycle as opposed to a true economic cycle, the forward sentiment never dropped like it would in a regular recession.”

By “COVID cycle,” Blitz means changes in economic activity dictated by the need to control the spread of the virus: short-term business closures, temporary layoffs, and so on. The sense that this is not a “real” recession comes from the fact that the economy is so bifurcated, keeping the Americans who need assistance “off the radar,” he said in an interview.

“The burden is more on the people making $14 an hour than those making $40 an hour,” Blitz said. That also masks the blow to the economy: “The $14-an-hour people are only responsible for 9% of consumer spending. And the top 40% have had a lifestyle change but their lives haven’t changed and their balance sheets are bigger than they were at the beginning of the crisis.”
One way to help those individuals who have lost their lower-wage jobs would be a new round of targeted stimulus, to give a push to the already-flagging growth in consumer spending. And if no new bill is passed, both the stock market and the real economy are likely to fall apart.
Strategists at BCA Research earlier in September quantified exactly how much fiscal support they believe is needed: at least $500 billion, to ensure consumer spending grows about 2% over the next 12 months. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, spending growth averaged between 2% and 6%, BCA notes.

BCA’s calculations show that if Congress were to extend another $1.1 trillion worth of stimulus, that would boost spending to 6% over the next 12 months. But the team estimates that even just holding spending growth flat requires more spending – roughly $249 billion, they reckon – “and that outcome would almost certainly disappoint markets,” they said.
This is especially true as unemployment claims are still at unprecedented levels in a time when expanded benefits are expiring in much of the country.
Yes, the Supreme Court fight will be a big deal. But I'd argue that it's even more important in the short term for House Dems need to put Senate GOPs and the GOP in the White House on the defensive by passing another stimulus bill this week, even if it's a pared-back $1.5 trillion package. Dare Moscow Mitch and the several endangered Senate GOPs to say no, and show Americans that they care more about rigging justice than in the economic suffering of tens of millions of Americans. That'll turn a 4-5 seat Dem pickup into 9 or 10 seats.

And the last thing Nancy Pelosi and other House Dems should do is pass a Continuing Resolution that offers no stimulus, which allows Senate GOPs to punt on stimulus until after the election. Not only will this cause major hardship for a lot of workers and business owners that are barely hanging on today, but you can bet that if Biden wins and gets a Dem Senate (a likely combination of outcomes), you know that Senate GOPs will gladly allow the economy to die so Biden can inherit a mess that handcuffs him and the Dem majorities in Congress (just like in Obama's first term).

Besides, if House Dems really want to fight for RBG, they should put Moscow Mitch, Russian Ronnie and the rest of the GOP in the position of SHUTTING DOWN THE GOVERNMENT by choosing judges over stimulus. That'll make the markets tank really fast ahead of the election, and when the 1%ers start losing their wealth and privilege, Senate GOPs tend to start caring more about what their (in)action is causing.

Now's not the time for order and "proper governance." Now is the time to take things to the wall. Both with SCOTUS, and with the stimulus that so many Americans still need.

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