Friday, August 15, 2008

New Signs Of A Middle-Class Collapse

By Isaiah J. Poole

A hearing in late July on the middle-class squeeze by the congressional Joint Economic Committee did not get much attention at the time, but a warning at that hearing by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that what's happening to the middle class is not just a squeeze but a "collapse" is resonating in the wake of this week's bad economic news.

Sanders is arguing for "bold and aggressive" measures to address that collapse in an interview on "Meet the Bloggers," the weekly Brave New Foundation program which will stream live at 1 p.m. today. I will be featured on the program with Amanda Logan at the Center for American Progress.

Thursday's reports on consumer inflation and unemployment claims reveal the latest blows delivered to working-class families by the current economic downturn. Consumer prices going up at an annual rate of 5.6 percent last month, far above the 3.1 percent average increase in income. At the same time, the number of people receiving unemployment claims is 3.42 million, the highest level in almost five years.

With these trends, the legacy of Bushonomics is poised to add one more item to its legacy: "stagflation," the combination of a stagnant economy and rising unemployment that had conservatives in the late 1970s indicting President Jimmy Carter and Democrats in Congress as failures on the economy.

The difference between the 1970s and today is that families earning five-figure salaries enter this dangerous economic period facing record economic disparity.

"I do think this is one of the most underreported issues of the past 10 years," Sanders told the Joint Economic Committee on July 24. "The reality is that in many respects the middle class of this country is collapsing. The vast majority of our people have seen a decline in their standard of living," while those at the top of the income ladder are beneficiaries of a wealth gap between the very rich and the middle class that has not been seen since the late 1920s.

One of the witnesses at the hearing, Elizabeth Warren, a Leo Gottlieb professor of law at Harvard Law School, said that while inflation-adjusted median household income has declined by $1,175 since 2000, basic expenses for average families have increased by more than $4,600.

"Seven years of flat or declining wages, seven years of increasing costs, and seven year of mounting debts have placed unprecedented stress on the ordinary families. By every critical financial measure, these families are losing ground. Without changes in critical economic policies, the strong middle class that has been the backbone of the American economy and the American democracy is in jeopardy," she testified.


Karen said...

From the Phoenix website:

Foreclosure filings surge 55 percent across U.S.

,WASHINGTON — The number of homeowners stung by the dramatic decline in the U.S. housing market jumped last month as foreclosure filings grew by more than 50 percent compared with the same month a year ago, according to data released Thursday.


Nationwide, more than 272,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice in July, up 55 percent from about 175,000 in the same month last year and up 8 percent from June, RealtyTrac Inc. said. That means one in every 464 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing last month.

Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac monitors default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions. More than 77,000 properties were repossessed by lenders nationwide in July, the company said. Nevada, California, Florida, Arizona, Ohio, Georgia and Michigan had the highest foreclosure rates. Foreclosure filings increased from a year earlier in all but eight states.

The combination of weak housing sales, falling home values, tighter mortgage lending criteria and a slowing U.S. economy has left financially strapped homeowners with few options to avoid foreclosure. Many can't find buyers or owe more than their home is worth and can't refinance into an affordable loan.

The mortgage crisis has moved far beyond the subprime loans that started to go bust last year, especially as borrowers start to default because they have lost their jobs due to the sour economy, said Christopher Thornberg, a principal with Beacon Economics in Los Angeles.

"It's every part of the housing market that's getting whacked right now," he said.

As foreclosures soar, banks and mortgage investors are also facing a pileup of foreclosed properties on their books and are cutting prices dramatically.

RealtyTrac noted that it had more than 750,000 foreclosed homes in its database of properties for sale, equal to about 17 percent of the 4.5 million U.S. homes that were up for sale in June.

To speed up the disposition of the 54,000 foreclosed properties it owns, Fannie Mae is opening offices in California and Florida and is considering selling those properties in bulk to investors. "I do not think this is a time to be holding onto (foreclosed properties) hoping for a better day," CEO Daniel Mudd said last week.

It remains to be seen how much the government's intervention will stem the housing crisis. President Bush last month signed sweeping housing legislation that aims to prevent foreclosures by allowing homeowners to swap their mortgages for more affordable loans, but only if their lender agrees to take a loss on the initial loan.

The number of foreclosures "could start to stabilize as early as the first quarter of next year if the government program gains any traction," said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac's vice president for marketing. "That's really the unknowable right now."

The bill is projected to help about 400,000 households. However, consumer advocates fear that lenders will simply put their highest-risk loans into the program, and borrowers will default anyway, leaving taxpayers on the hook.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 35 percent of borrowers that enter the refinancing program will default.

Even with government help, nearly 2.8 million U.S. households will either face foreclosure, turn over their homes to their lender or sell the properties for less than their mortgage's value by the end of next year, predicts Moody's

Separately, the National Association of Realtors reported Thursday that median home prices fell in more than three-quarters of U.S. cities in the second quarter. Nevertheless, home sales rose in areas where the market is flooded with foreclosures, indicating that borrowers are taking advantage of steep discounts.

Nevada and California, battered by a housing market bust, were the only states to show sales gains in the second quarter compared with a year earlier.

Nationally, sales fell by 16.3 percent in the second quarter compared with the same period a year ago.

In the RealtyTrac report, the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area in Florida was the metro area with the highest rate of foreclosure, followed by three California cities: Merced, Stockton, and Modesto. Las Vegas ranked fifth.

On the Net:

RealtyTrac Inc.:

Anonymous said...

The Doom & Gloom network. All day all gloom. You want doom we have the gloom.

Anonymous said...

Awwww! Did that make you feel better Anonymous, honey? There, there.

Mommy really should keep you from playing on the computer. Some things are just for the grown ups. Run along now and go back to sleep, back to sleep

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous-7:26, Karen is showing you respect posting your idiotic remarks, show her some in return. If you don't like it get off. Karen, thanks for the info...

Jeff Senley said...

Hey Anonymoose:

Do you have an article reference or other data source(s) that refute or provide a different angle on the Zibel article?

If so, please share with us. You might also credential yourself if you have enough pride to associate your remarks with your name.

Else, you are essentially wasting Google's storage space with your useless comments.

It's alright though, you do a fine job of making the rest of us look more intelligent.

Anonymous said...

So Jeff, since you're so vocal on blogs maybe you can explain your poor record attendance at borough council meetings. How long have you been in office and how many meetings have you missed?

Karen said...

Anonymous 11:01, rather than attacking Jeff why not commend him for actually signing his name when he does have something to say on the local blogs?

Only a few of the Councilmembers admit to reading the blogs, and in my opinion, those few are better informed than those who choose not to keep up with public opinion. No one benefits from ignoring the public.

Insofar as his absence, I spoke with Jeff several days after the Council meeting, and even then he was still terribly sick.

Give Jeff credit. He's one of the few who keeps an open mind until he has learned all points of view.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update on Jeff's health. Sorry to hear (cough) he was (cough) sick for such an important vote. Unfortunately his absents was critical and for someone who was so vocally opposed to the decision at hand it seemed odd that he would be so sick at that critical juncture. But nothing new there.

Anonymous said...

I would guess the few council people that don't read the blogs don't like listen to folks grumble all day.

Anonymous said...

I see you picked up a troll, Karen. Seems his only concern is Jeff's health.

Anonymous, stick to the subject.

You run from blog to blog with the same baloney.

Dare I say it? Don't feed the trolls.

Anonymous said...

Please don't feed the troll....

kw said...

Anonynous 1:16 - Not only are you boring us all by posting the same ridiculous thing over and over on every single blog you visit, you're driving me crazy with your errors.

It's ABSENCE for God's sake. And rather than being rather unproductive by picking on Mr. Senley for being ill and unable to attend a council meeting, spend that time educating yourself on proper use of the English language.

P.S. - You have a few questionable "absentses" over the last few years yourself, don't you?

Anonymous said...

To be fair to the situation, homes in this area have not suffered as much as the nationwide averages.
I don't think we need to overstate the situation and make it sound worse than it is.

I enjoy the downtown and it is one of the main reasons I moved here. I can't see halting development of the area because some of the residents are falling on harder times. That being said, I would have liked to see council at least ask the CDC to come up with some of its own funding.

Jeff Senley said...

This discussion has taken an interesting turn, but it has strayed too far from the basis (in an effort to collect more support for renewal, it seems).

The concern is around property taxpayer money being used to subsidize a CDC employment contract.

No one on either side of this is argument is suggestiong or supporting "halting development".