Friday, March 18, 2005

Dept. of Blowing Smoke Up The Public Ass

How can you tell when you're hearing government propaganda? When, in spite of the government's own statistical evidence and your own eyes, you read something like this:

funstuff6"...affluence is becoming more widespread, thanks in part to baby boomers who have reached their peak earnings years. The net wealth of U.S. households hit record levels at the end of 2004, bolstered by rising real estate prices and an improved stock market, according to the Federal Reserve."
The worst fears in this time of unparalleled money-raking seem to center around the bottom falling out of the larks'-tongues-in-aspic market:

funstuff4"A major downturn in the economy could hurt the luxury market. There is also the risk of oversaturation as more marketers pile in, leaving little room for makers of copycat products without strong brand identities.
"There will be intensifying competition because, for obvious reasons, this is a high-margin area -- that's why everyone likes to get in it," said Bill Hummer, chief economist at Wayne Hummer Investments in Chicago. " If there is an oversupply, the margins will drop sharply and some players will withdraw from the market."
Fueling much of the growth are the "mass affluent" -- people who are not super rich, but who enjoy extravagances like $500 suede satchels from Coach Inc. or $690 day spa visits to Mandarin Oriental."
Heaven forfend!

Mind you, there is not one shred of evidence cited in this article for the purported (love that word!) growth of this "mass affluent", except the word of the Federal Reserve, as in Alan "we were all wrong" Greenspan, who we all know has his palsied finger on the pulse of America. The reporter gaily babbles:

funstuff5"Affluent households, with annual earnings of at least $100,000, should number more than 20 million by 2010, up 32 percent from 2004, according to the Conference Board.
Many baby boomers aged 40 to 60 are sitting on ample savings from inheritances, 401k retirement plans and investment income. Soaring home values in many U.S. markets also have helped create a sense of prosperity, with gains from real estate far outpacing those of stocks. "
"Soaring home values"--those inflated bubbles all over the country, that, when they burst, will precipitate an incredible loss of assets for millions of people, millions of people already on the knife-edge of bankruptcy from credit debt, so many of them that it motivated the entire credit industry to bully an anti-consumer bankruptcy bill through that practically allows people to be taken out and shot for debt. And I don't know about you, but my inheritance funds are looking pretty thin, given that I have no one to inherit anything from, and my stock portfolio consists of a retirement account run by my employer that may or may not be there when I curl up my toes, depending on whether Bush and Norquist can complete their economic holocaust plan in time. And I'm lucky...pensions are dying out fast, and 401ks are still too young to be judged effective replacements. And then there are the vast millions who don't even have that.

Seems just months ago the Census Bureau came out with its 2004 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey,the gist of which can be found here, and which is boiled down to this, by the Population Reference Bureau:

"(September 2004) U.S. poverty rates rose in 2003 to their highest levels in five years as the number of American children in poverty jumped by over 700,000, according to a report issued late last month by the U.S. Census Bureau."
"The sharp rise in poverty for children (from 16.7 percent to 17.6 percent of all children under 18, the highest jump in 13 years) accentuated an upward trend in U.S. poverty rates that has been underway since 2000."
And this, from a U.S. Census Press Release from August of 2004:

    • "The number of people below the official poverty thresholds numbered 35.9 million in 2003, or 1.3 million more than in 2002, for a 2003 poverty rate of 12.5 percent. Although up from 2002, this rate is below the average of the 1980s and 1990s.
    • The poverty rate and number of families in poverty increased from 9.6 percent and 7.2 million in 2002 to 10.0 percent and 7.6 million in 2003. The corresponding numbers for unrelated individuals in poverty in 2003 were 20.4 percent and 9.7 million (not different from 2002)."
In each of these sources one finds the same thing repeated again and again: median income remained essentially unchanged, yet the number below the poverty line and without health insurance increased, sometimes greatly. What may account for this is the cost of living, which, in rising, can "steal" money from an earner whose paycheck has stayed the same. In this case, costs of health insurance have risen steeply, and the Consumer Price Index shows a rise of 3% since January 2004. Combine that with the fact that the poverty level for a family of 4 is a little over $18,000, and you can see how easy it is for people on the edge to slip over. The fact is that the gap between rich and poor is growing larger, and we have been very good at colluding with government and business in averting our eyes from the evidence of it.

The bottom line is this: when your government and its media shills keep telling you things are great, it's easy to believe it, if all you pay attention to are the number of McMansions going up on shrinking green space around you, and how the lives of TV families are framed. But if you're still stepping over homeless men sleeping on grates in winter, and the soup kitchens are pleading for help, and more and more people you know are being downsized, you might want to revisit your assumptions.

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