If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ve probably heard that the United States is in the middle of a new prosperous age. Economic growth during Trump’s first year in office is higher than the average annual growth rate for both Obama and Bush’s presidencies. In the second quarter of this year, GDP has increased a whopping 4.1 percent – the strongest growth the country has seen since 2014. Naturally, President Trump and congressional Republican leaders have been ecstatic, shouting their economic victory from the proverbial rooftops.
But to the nearly 80 percent of Americans who are still living paycheck to paycheck, those numbers and victory laps can feel a like a slap in the face. How is it that a large portion of the U.S. population is getting left behind in this age of prosperity?
The answer is complicated, but it boils down to one basic thing: jobs.
Now, it’s true that the unemployment rate has dropped to a historic low of 3.8 percent. The problem isn’t in the number of people working – it’s in the quality of the jobs that they’re able to get, and the salaries that those jobs pay. For example, in New Orleans, the average hourly worker earns $15 per hour. However, in order to rent a house in the city and have enough money left to pay for food, utilities, clothing, and other basic necessities you’d need to earn $18 per hour. Right now, 25% of New Orleans renters rely on vouchers from HANO to pay their rent. There are another 20,000 families on a waiting list for vouchers. And yet, 20 percent of the available housing in the city stands vacant.
It’s a pattern that’s repeated in cities all over America, and it’s beginning to show in our country’s culture. The headlines are full of the latest industries that Millenials (the oldest of whom are 37) have “killed” with their shifting priorities. Anti-consumerist movements are gaining steam across the country as well. YouTube is full on instructional videos on minimalism and tiny houses. There are thousands of blog posts encouraging people to pare down the possessions in order to live more economically comfortable lives.
The two biggest indicators of economic insecurity? Record low homeownership and a record low birth rate. Both are a huge problem for older Americans. The majority of Baby Boomers don’t have their wealth stored in investment portfolios, banks, or pensions, but in the homes, they hope to cash out and sell when they are ready to retire. With fewer young people planning to start families and buy homes, this could put the retirement plans of many older Americans on hold. And for those older Americans who need to downsize or move for their own economic reasons, it could be disastrous.
So who is doing well during this “age of prosperity” the United States is experiencing? Corporations. Undistributed profits reached record highs in the first quarter of this year. In spite of Republican assurances that the Trump tax cuts would result in a rise in wages, that hasn’t proved true.
Americans are struggling, and that has resulted in shifting priorities, and a growing anger in the working class. Rising racial and political tensions are a frequent feature in the news. Violent crime is increasing – something we here in New Orleans are well aware of. With per capita murder rate higher than Chicago, rising gang violence and mass shootings occurring in the city, the results of the residents’ economic struggle are all too apparent.
Something needs to change.