The day before the Connecticut primary, Joe Lieberman was getting down with the folks in a restaurant in Southington, a small town near Hartford. As the American Prospect reported, a longtime state employee named Paola Roy told Lieberman she felt the middle class has been forgotten by the federal government. Lieberman responded that he shared her concerns, and for good reason: "I came out of the middle class," he said, "and, being a senator, I haven't gone much beyond the middle class." [emphasis mine]What? Is Lieberman delusional? As the article points out, Lieberman and his wife made $366,084 in 2005, which places them securely in the top 1 percent of U.S. households, and they have financial assets (excluding their homes) somewhere between $465,000 and $1.9 million. That doesn't sound middle class to me. Moving along...
Then there's Rick Santorum. In a New York Times profile last year, Santorum moped about the difficulty of supporting his large family on his senatorial salary of $162,100:I guess those five condos solve the college tuition dilemma, huh? Santorum is probably worrying for nothing. After all, President Bush had this to say about the economy on Monday:
"We live paycheck to paycheck, absolutely," he says. Does he have money set aside for college? "No. None. I always tell my kids: 'Work hard. We'll take out loans. Whatever.'"
In fact, continued Santorum, his parents "send a check every now and then. They realize things are a little tighter for us."
According to Santorum's 2005 financial disclosure documents, his parents recently did more then send a check: They gave him two condominiums near Penn State. And while his children may be sad about their lack of a college fund, hopefully they take solace in the fact their family now owns five condominiums total as investments - each valued between $100,000 and $250,000.
"If I were a candidate ... I'd say, 'Look at what the economy has done. It's strong. We've created a lot of jobs. ... I'd be telling people that the Democrats will raise your taxes. That's what they said. I'd be reminding people that tax cuts have worked in terms of stimulating the economy."On the other, reality shows a totally different picture. Consider these facts from Robert Kuttner:
The system is now essentially rigged so that workers' productivity can rise, but workers' incomes can't. A study prepared last month for Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee and released by Representative Barney Frank of Newton showed that since 2002 annual productivity growth has averaged more than 3 percent, while real wage increases have been under half of 1 percent. Corporate profits, meanwhile, have risen from 8.5 percent to 14.4 percent of national income.The situation is even worse for blacks. A look at U.S. Census data shows that not only is the income gap still widening, but African-Americans are faring worse under Bush than they were under President Clinton.
Whenever wages show signs of rising with productivity, the Federal Reserve whacks them back down. It shows no such concern about corporate profits being excessive. Until this month, when the Federal Reserve announced a "pause" in rate hikes, our central bank had hiked interest rates 17 times since June 2004, citing fears of inflation, mainly in rising labor costs. But note the sleight of hand. If workers' wages are lagging well behind workers' increased productivity, then rising wages are not a source of inflation. [Emphasis mine.] The rising "total labor costs" include pensions and health insurance. Doesn't that benefit workers? In fact, the increase in recent employer contributions to pension plans is mainly to make up for the corporate looting of plans during the 1990s. ... The replenishing of fund shortfalls in recent years is not a source of true worker compensation -- and it can hardly be burdensome given the huge increase in net corporate profits.
The hike in employer health insurance costs, likewise, is not a true benefit for workers. It reflects a health system out of control, and excessive charges and profits by health maintenance organizations and drug companies. Actual health insurance benefits to workers are being cut back... Corporations generally are hiking the employee share of premiums, and plans are increasing deductibles and copayments.
And what about all those jobs that Bush bragged his administration created? Here's another dose of reality:
Monthly job growth since August 2003 is 50% lower than the average of President Clinton's entire term. Since August 2003, job growth has averaged 160,000 per month. During Clinton's eight years in office job growth averaged 236,000 per month.The scenario looking ahead isn't any better according to USA Today: "Employees can expect raises next year that are only slightly better than years past, and much of the gains will be eaten up by inflation."
Real wages have fallen since August 2003. The average worker's real wages were twenty cents lower in June 2006 than they were in August 2003.
That's just great, well at least we still have the housing market to depend on, right? Wrong. The housing market is starting to set off a few alarms too. Economists are starting to call home sales ugly, and the slowdown in the once-sizzling housing market is spreading, "with 28 states and the District of Columbia reporting spring sales declines, led by big drops in former boom areas of Arizona, Florida and California. Nationally, sales were down 7 percent in the April-June quarter this year compared with the same period in 2005, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday in its latest state-by-state look at housing conditions around the country."
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this: [...] as yet another fiscally irresponsible and reckless session of Congress winds down, we find ourselves confronting a half-trillion dollar war (so far); a massive, multibillion dollar Gulf Coast rebuilding effort; a looming energy crisis; a $260 billion deficit and an $8.5 trillion national debt.
Or this: Stagflation is making a comeback.
I'm sorry, but I have to say this. The reality from my middle-class perspective is that Bush and his fellow Republican's have very little to brag about - and I'm being liberal when I say that.