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May 7, 2018 | Bad News: We’re Homeless

Is an American author of books and articles on economic and financial subjects. He is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, and author of the daily financial column, Diary of a Rogue Economist.

DUBLIN – Last week ended on a high note:

“Stocks rally after jobless rate sinks to 3.9%,” said a headline at Bloomberg on Friday. “Jobless Rate at 17-Year Low,” added The Wall Street Journal front-page on Saturday.

“Solid,” was how analysts described the report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “U.S. Economy is Doing Fine,” another headline concluded.

Too bad. The high note was off-key. The news was fake.



Unemployed, Homeless

We’re back in Ireland after a quick trip for a wedding in Virginia. Here, it’s about 40 degrees cooler… and raining.

And we’ve become homeless.

Yes, we should stand on the sidewalk on St. Stephen’s Green with a sign: “Unemployed. Homeless. Please help?”

When reporter John Stossel tried that, he collected $90 in an hour – tax-free, of course.

At that rate, working 40 hours per week and taking two weeks off for Christmas, he could earn $180,000 a year.

That’s more than most members of Congress make per year. But then, he probably deserves more than a congressman.

We’re homeless because our new house is being renovated. It is having its hair cut and its boots shined.

The scaffolding is up. The rough noise of saws, drills, crowbars, and men-at-work has replaced the singing of the birds.

The whole makeover will take about six months. In the meantime, we are refugees with no fixed address, staying in hotels and other short-term rentals…

…and of course, traveling.

Being homeless here in Ireland has its benefits. We get out. We meet people. We see more of the country and its people.



Richer Than Ever

But let’s not get distracted. There was good news oozing from every orifice last week; but all of it was phony… or misinterpreted.

For example, widespread was the news that people are richer than ever.

Household net worth is at an all-time high. Typically, families have a net worth of about five times their incomes. But as the feds pumped cheap money into the financial system, stocks climbed and household wealth took a leap.

In 1999, the net worth-to-income ratio hit an all-time high of over 6. That was the top of the dot-com bubble. The bubble popped in 2000, and the ratio went back down to its normal range.

But it didn’t stay there for long. Soon, the Fed was pumping in more cash and credit, and the ratio of net worth to income was jumping up to a new record – 6.4 in 2007.

That bubble, focused on housing, blew up in 2008. Again, the ratio crashed back down to normal.

Guess what has happened since. The feds went back to work with pumps and air hoses in 2009, injecting another $3 trillion (in bond purchases), and voilà – by 2015, the ratio was back up to 6.4.

And this year, it rose to over 6.5 – a new all-time high.



Negative Unemployment

Here’s another bit of faux good news. It was only a few weeks ago when we reported the words of the Fed, claiming that the U.S. had reached “more than full employment.” And now comes news – on Friday – that now we have more than “more than full employment.”

The unemployment rate has sunk to 3.9%. If this keeps up, we will soon have negative unemployment. That is, we’ll have more people working than working people. So there will be more jobs splashing in the labor pool than people.

There are 148 million people with jobs in the U.S. today. If the feds’ math is right – if we could just add six million more jobs – there wouldn’t be a single unemployed person in the entire country.

Except, of course, for the 169 million people who still don’t have jobs, but who aren’t counted in the unemployment numbers because they aren’t actively looking for jobs.

That includes the 16.6 million people who “dropped out” of the labor force in the last eight years, and the 230,000 people that the Bureau of Labor Statistics took out of the “labor pool” last month – which is how they got the unemployment number down so low.

The U.S. Census Bureau also tells us that there are 46 million Americans living “in poverty,” which it describes as “lacking adequate food, shelter, and/or clothing.”

With so many people getting richer and richer… and with so many jobs… how could that be? Why are there still people shuffling up Charles Street in Baltimore asking for quarters?

Losing Ground

The latest jobs report inadvertently revealed the truth.

First, the typical American worker is losing ground, not gaining it.

The official inflation rate is 2.4%. Meanwhile, wage growth is at 2.6%. That leaves a net gain of 0.2% – or 2 cents for every $10 of earnings.

But that’s a statistic. The price of gasoline was an average of $2.30 per gallon a year ago. Now, it’s 50 cents higher. That’s not a statistic. That’s an actual price hike.

And it means that people are paying 22% more for fuel.

If all costs had gone up a similar amount, the nominal 2.6% increase would work out to a 19.4% pay cut.

A few more pay raises like that and they’ll be broke!

The second thing it tells us is that all the numbers are baloney. If we really had full employment, the supply of workers would be topping out, while the demand would be high; under those conditions, the price of labor would rise and working people would be getting more money.

But they’re not… because the statistics are fake.

Measuring “unemployment” properly, in terms of hours worked, colleague David Stockman found that the unemployment rate has gone up, not down. At the beginning of this century, 36.4% of available hours (the number of people of working age x 2,000 hours per year) was not being used. Currently, that figure is 40%.

That’s full employment?

The wage number tells us one more interesting thing. The tax cut didn’t work.

Remember, it wasn’t just supposed to put more cash in shareholders’ pockets. It was supposed to increase wages, too. It didn’t. Here’s Mark Whitehouse at Bloomberg:

When I checked a couple months ago, I found pretty much zero evidence that companies were increasing wages any more than they otherwise would have. Now that we have data from two more jobs reports, let’s take another look. Overall, wage gains do not appear to have accelerated. From December through April, average hourly earnings increased at an annualized pace of 2.3%, significantly slower than in 2017.

The good-news numbers are fake.

More to come.




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May 7th, 2018

Posted In: Bill Bonner's Diary

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