On the News With Thom Hartmann: In the US, Wealth Accumulation Outpacing Income, and More

In today’s On the News segment: The US has added more than $31 trillion of household wealth since the crash of 2008, but that’s not necessarily something to celebrate; many retailers have opened earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day to draw in customers for Black Friday sales; the Social Security Administration announced the cost-of-living adjustment for 2015 benefits; and more.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. The United States has added more than $31 trillion of household wealth since the crash of 2008, but that’s not necessarily something to celebrate. According to the Global Wealth Report from Credit Suisse, wealth accumulation is outpacing income, which may be a sign of upcoming economic trouble. The ratio of wealth to income is as high as it was during the Great Depression. Our rigged economy allows those at the top to hoard more riches, while at the same time, average incomes remain stagnant. The result is that middle-class wealth has actually declined during the same period. There have been two times in our recent history when the wealth to income ratio reached similar heights. Once in 1999 before the dotcom bubble, and again in 2007 before the banksters crashed our economy. According to the Credit Suisse report, the current rate of wealth gains “is a worrying signal given that abnormally high wealth income ratios have always signaled recession.” In other words, the super-rich are raking in cash from a soaring stock market, and that’s a really bad sign for the rest of us. Tim Yeager, the chair of the Arkansas Bankers Association, explained why we should be concerned about the wealth to income ratio. He said, “Stock market and financial industry wealth are always moving around looking for the highest returns, and [that] makes bubbles more likely.” And, we know from history what happens when those financial bubbles burst. Our economy will never be stable while income and wealth inequality remains high. We need widespread prosperity that benefits more than just those at the top. Only then will we break the cycle of bubble and bust.

In recent years, many retailers have opened earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day to draw in customers for Black Friday sales. As huge chains like Walmart and Macy’s interrupt their employees’ holiday, some stores have announced that they will stay closed to give workers time to spend with their families. According to the Think Progress blog, at least six large chains will put the well-being of their employees ahead of holiday profits. Dillard’s, Burlington, Nordstrom, REI, American Girl, and Costco will all remain closed on Thanksgiving Day, and allow workers to enjoy their holiday. Because the United States is the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee workers any holiday time off, employees are forced to skip family time if their employers want them on the clock. Some chains claim that their employees volunteer for holiday shifts, but for workers subjected to unstable schedules at the minimum wage, there’s really not much of a choice. Thankfully, some retailers recognize that all employees deserve a day of rest, and they won’t make workers choose between spending time with their families and paying their bills. Hopefully, more businesses will do the same.

Thanks to television, we’ve all heard TV cops recite the Miranda warning. We know that we have the right to an attorney, and if we can’t afford one, one will be provided for us. However, it looks like the state of New York hasn’t been living up to the second part of that Constitutional protection. Last week, that state agreed to settle a lawsuit from the New York Civil Liberties Union, and agreed to do more to ensure that every defendant gets more than a “warm body and a law degree” when they need a public defender. The lawsuit alleges that five counties in New York gave public defenders only minutes or a few hours to prepare for cases. In addition, defendants were often left in jail for days before ever having the opportunity to speak with their attorney. The lawsuit also claims that Suffolk County didn’t consult a single expert in any of the cases they defended, and Onondaga County spent 35 times more on prosecuting people as it did on defending them. The Sixth Amendment to our Constitution guarantees us the right to an attorney when we’re charged with a crime, and it shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit to ensure that these counties in New York State were enforcing that fundamental right.

Last week, the Social Security Administration announced the cost-of-living adjustment for 2015 benefits. Next year, seniors and disabled veterans will only see a 1.7% increase to their already-meager monthly checks. Senator Bernie Sanders observed that this is the third year in a row that the cost-of-living adjustment will be under two percent. He said, “At a time when the prices of prescription drugs and electricity are skyrocketing, I am disappointed that seniors and disabled veterans will only be getting a 1.7 percent increase next year.” However, he warned that the paltry increase could be even worse. If Congress enacts the so-called chained CPI, he explained it “would be a disaster not only for the 58 million Americans who rely on Social Security, but for the nearly 4 million disabled veterans.” At the beginning of this year, the average Social Security check was less than $1300 dollars a month, and chained CPI could cut benefits by more than a thousand dollars per year within two decades. As Senator Sanders explained, we need to be expanding benefits for seniors and the disabled, not cutting their checks, and we must tell our lawmakers to say “no” to chained CPI.

And finally… Change.org is changing their family leave policy to benefit both parents. Last week, the company that allows users to create petitions announced that they are increasing the amount of paid time off an employee can take for a new child from six weeks to eighteen. Under the new policy, all parents can now take off more than three months to be with their new child, whether adopted or new-born. While many companies offer paid time off for biological mothers, very few offer an equal amount of time off for fathers, or for new adoptive parents. Jennifer Dulski, president of Change.org, said that the goal of the new policy “was to create a generous and equal leave policy that supported all parents.” Families today are more diverse than ever, and it’s great to see that at least one company is making sure that family leave policies are keeping up with the times.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of October 27, 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.