Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Do We Want Another Great Recession?

Financial FAQs



Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has warned of “tragic’ economic risks if another coronavirus aid package isn’t passed by congress. This is while President Trump has just said that talks over additional aid will be suspended until after the election in order that the Senate has the time left to take up Judge Amy Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination.

“Over time, household insolvencies and business bankruptcies would rise, harming the productive capacity of the economy and holding back wage growth,” Powell said. “By contrast, the risks of overdoing it seem, for now, to be smaller.”

Employment of those in the bottom rung of the wage distribution scale remains 21 percent below its February level, while it was only 4 percent lower for workers who receive higher wages, the Fed chairman said.

It seems that Republicans have painted themselves into a corner if they expect to profit from an economy sure to get worse without another aid package before the election. Why are they writing off their chances on November 3rd with an economy sure to slow again? Your guess is as good as mine.

MarketWatch’s chart above highlights the problem. The top 10 percent of household income-earners now corral 51.9 percent of Americans’ aggregate income. That includes stocks as well as real estate and other investments by ‘rentiers’—those living off their assets, rather than the wages and salaries of most workers.

Out middle-income households now garner just 14.1 percent of household income, whereas it was closer to 20 percent in the 1960s and 1970s, before the cutting of taxes and deregulation of whole industries gave corporations the license to maximize their profits, rather than the welfare of their employees.

The predictions of future growth are dire without additional aid to households as well as certain industries his hardest by the pandemic shutdowns.

The NY Times Neil Irwin summarized best what is likely to happen without additional aid. “Business news headlines are reflecting a drumbeat of layoffs normally seen in recessions. In the last few weeks alone, oil giant Shell said it was cutting 9,000 positions, with Disney eliminating 28,000 and defense giant Raytheon 15,000.

“After shedding jobs in the spring, these sectors have brought workers back slowly, or not at all, through the summer. Some have continued cutting positions. Employment at corporate headquarters — “management of companies and enterprises,” in the official terminology — fell by 92,000 in March and April, with another 4,000 jobs lost since.”

He quotes Sophia Koropeckyj, an economist at Moody’s Analytics, who said we do expect there to be a new steady state, but not until 2023 or 2024,” In a new report, she estimates that 5 million people will find it difficult to get new work after the pandemic because their old jobs have disappeared or changed significantly. “I don’t think the severity of this downturn has been well understood yet given the bounce-back over the summer.”

Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman has been saying what is obvious. Without additional government aid, we could sink into another Great Recession.

“The lesson I take is that our political dysfunction is even worse, our ability to rise to the occasion even lower, than I imagined. It’s hard to look at what’s happening now without feeling a sense of despair.”

Let us see what happens over the next few weeks. Few economists see good times ahead unless the 80 percent of households that earn wages and salaries; many are the essential workers that have a difficult time meeting even their living expenses; are given additional aid.

Harlan Green © 2020

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