A key Wall Street indicator, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, crossed above 16,000 for the first time this week. But for Teamsters and other working Americans concerned about economic security, the news meant damn near nothing.
While stockbrokers and their clients maybe counting their additional riches, the average middle-class family isn’t seeing much more money. A recent survey showed 62 percent of U.S. residents believe the economy is still getting worse. And less than half of all Americans have a 401(k) retirement fund that would potentially share in the good cheer if their profits weren’t eaten up by unnecessary fees charged by financial managers, that is.
Why would anyone be worrying about the U.S. economy when things seem to be going so great? Because it’s not so hot for regular Americans. In fact, the income gap continues to widen in many places, even in states that have rebounded from the last recession. Those earning middle-class wages have fallen in many states.
While many might expect the income gap to be greatest in the nation’s largest cities, that is often not the case. The New York City and Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan areas are the only major metros to fall into the top 10 of income disparity, according to a recent poll. Others on the list include some of the nation’s poorest cities, including Brownsville, Texas -- which has the highest poverty rate in the U.S. at 36.1 percent and the lowest median household income at $30,953 – Albany, Ga., McAllen, Texas, Jackson, Miss. and Vero Beach, Fla.
The point being, this isn’t just a big city problem. This is an American problem, one that needs to be addressed by policymakers. Big stock gains do not mean happy days are here again. Hard-working Americans are not benefitting from the run-up on Wall Street, only the rich are.
The top one percent owned 35 percent of the nation’s stocks in 2010, while the bottom 80 percent only held 8.4 percent. And the percent of American wealth held by the nation’s richest citizens is growing. In 1976, the top one percent held 19.9 percent of U.S. wealth. Today that stands at 35.4 percent. Taken together, Wall Street can keep on booming, but it’s not going to mean much to those working hard to put food on the table.
More U.S. residents should be sharing in this country’s economic bounty, but they clearly are not. Fewer union workers, the shipping of jobs overseas through lousy trade deals like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership and a growing number of companies sitting on their profits are to thank for this mess. Here’s hoping our leaders look beyond the headlines to see there is still a lot of work to do to help workers.