EDITOR’S NOTE: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell says that the the “growth of economic activity has slowed.” The usually optimistic International Monetary Fund projects US economic growth will drop to 1.8 percent in 2020—despite trillion-dollar annual deficits and the Fed putting off any more interest rate hikes for the rest of the year. If Powell and the projections are right, the long recovery that began after the Obama administration saved an economy that was in free fall is nearing its end. Yet President Trump trumpets the “best economy” ever, touting low unemployment. So this is what we get at the height of recovery? This is as good as it gets?
It’s true that wages have begun to rise a bit, with demand for workers and minimum-wage hikes in states and localities finally giving a boost to those on the bottom. But the average weekly pay has grown less than 1 percent per year for the decade. Low-wage workers’ hourly pay in 2017 barely surpassed what they earned in 1979, while that of high-wage workers has increased nearly 50 percent. Inequality is at extremes not seen since 1928. Workers are still not capturing a fair share of the increased productivity that they help to create.
And while incomes have stagnated, key costs have soared. Health care remains remarkably expensive; millions go without insurance or are underinsured. Gallup reports that since Trump took office, the number of Americans without health insurance has increased by a stunning 7 million. Female, younger and lower-income workers have seen a greater decline than those who are male, older and/or wealthier. Life expectancy has declined for the third year in a row. The lack of health care explains part of that. The savage opioid epidemic—a disease of despair—accounts for another chunk.
Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.