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Record profits and record unemployment: Nothing's trickling down

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Robert Harbison / The Christian Science Monitor / File

(Read caption) Homeless man Eddie Johnson panhandles in downtown Los Angeles in this 1999 file photo. As record profit growth deepens the pockets of the wealthiest, the great majority of Americans remain on the other side of the growing divide between rich and poor.

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America’s two economies are getting wider apart.

The Big Money economy is booming. According to a new Commerce Department report, third-quarter profits of American businesses rose at an annual record-breaking $1.659 trillion – besting even the boom year of 2006 (in nominal dollars). Profits have soared for seven consecutive quarters now, matching or beating their fastest pace in history.

Executive pay is linked to profits, so top pay is soaring as well.

Higher profits are also translating into the nice gains in the stock market, which is a boon to everyone with lots of financial assets.

And Wall Street is back. Bonuses on the Street are expected to rise about 5 percent this year, according to a survey by compensation consultants Johnson Associates Inc.

But nothing is trickling down to the Average Worker economy. Job growth is still anemic. At October’s rate of only 50,000 new private-sector jobs, unemployment won’t get down to pre-recession levels for twenty years. And almost half of October’s new jobs were in temporary help.

Meanwhile, the median wage is barely rising, adjusted for inflation. And the value of the major asset of most Americans – their homes – continues to drop.

Why are America’s two economies going in opposite directions? Two reasons.

First, big profits are coming from overseas sales of goods and services made abroad, not here. The world’s fastest-growing markets are China and India, whose inhabitants are eager to buy “American” products, and just as eager to work for the American companies that sell them. The U.S. market is barely moving.

Increasingly, American corporations are able to extract healthy gains from their global operations without adding much in the United States except executive talent.

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