These days, the idea of retirement seems like either a bad joke or a utopian fantasy. I’ve already covered some main reasons the US economy is screwed, but here are 8 reasons why the US has become a nation of indentured servants:
1) Stagnant wages
Are you partying like it’s 1999? That’s because you’re earning money like it’s 1999. Over the past 11 years, the median household income has been flat as a corpse’s pulse.
If everything gets more expensive over time but no one gets a raise, workers will afford less goods and services. This means people will either work the same amount for less stuff, or work harder for the same stuff. Either way, it’s a shitty deal.
2) Dual-income Nation
We’re a country of family values, right? Wrong. We’ve built an economy that requires two incomes to attain middle class status. It has even become a luxury for one spouse to stay home to raise children! (But that’s more of an existential issue …)
The graph above illustrates one of the most basic tenets of economics: if there is twice as much cash floating around the economy, the cost of things simply rises in direct proportion. In this case, adding an extra worker per household has increased household income. As a result, sellers of houses, child care, health insurance, cars, etc. have upped their prices to take more of our dollars.
3) Energy and Food Inflation
Remember $4 gas? Well, we’re back to $3 (double last year’s low). Every time a car ride costs more, that’s less money left over for things other than getting from point A to point B. As oil prices continue to rise with global demand (and diminishing supply), we will spend more hours working just to get to and fro.
Food is the ultimate necessity. So, when prices rise, there’s not much to do if you don’t care for the taste of cat food. It’s harder to notice 20-30% food inflation when a $2 item jumps to $2.40. But when your average bill moves from $100 to $120, those $20 bills are no longer available for things beyond basic sustenance.
4) Skyrocketing costs for Health Care and Education
One of the biggest thieves of retirement has been the unconscionable rise of health care and education costs. With health insurance costs jumping 10-25% per year, a worker with stagnant paychecks is on the long road to bankruptcy. (See Health Insurance Companies Price Gouging the US Economy)
Got a child or two? Do you want them to go to college? Well you better get rich, fast. The College Board’s study of college pricing trends shows costs have exploded 300% since 1980. That’s especially interesting since median household wages are up only 10-15% over the same time period. Maybe home schooling is better than the poor house.
5) Mauled Retirement Accounts
Have you seen those new John Hancock commercials where the boomer couples are instant messaging each other about either moving in with their children or fearing the longevity of their retirement account? Well, that’s a good reflection of how bad retirement accounts were hit after a decade of bubbles bursting. And without money for retirement, we work until we drop dead.
6) No Savings
The Employee Benefit Research Institute’s annual Retirement Confidence Survey shows that 43% of Workers have less than $10,000 saved for retirement. Really? Then the word retirement does not apply to these people because $10,000 is surely not enough to live off when even a generous 6% annuity would be paying only $600 a year before taxes.
But the scariest stat from the survey is 54% of workers are “clueless” about saving for retirement. This stat is a direct indictment on how crappy our school systems have become — and I’m talking about colleges too.
7) Trillions in Debt
Can we dig ourselves out of a $12.7 Trillion hole? If we can, it’s going to take a backbreaking amount of labor … and that’s just to fill the hole.
This debt is directly reflective of slavery. For every dollar of our debt, we owe a creditor who lent us the money. So, before we can use all our tax dollars to add value to our domestic economy and society, we have to skim a lot off the top to pay our masters their due.
8) Jobs Exported Overseas
If we are going to deal with all the costs above, we need to earn money. However, while we were drunk on credit card debt over the past 30 years, our Congressman and once domestic corporations shipped millions of middle class jobs to whichever country would do the job cheapest.
Think only the middle market has been affected? Now some of the brightest and most ambitious minds are accepting jobs in hot markets like China and Singapore. These people aren’t dumb: if the jobs move, they realize they must too.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below …