Dec 06 2012

I do not understand Sheldon Adelson

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics

I get crazy, but not this kind of crazy.
via @Wikipedia

$150,000,000

That’s how much Sheldon Adelson spent on the 2012 election.

If total spending was around $2b, Adelson made up 7.5% of that spending.

One dude. 7.5% of all political spending in the country.

Damn.

Adelson spent all that money with the slew of conservative “dark money” groups that have popped up in the wake of the Citizen’s United decision.

Considering the investment, one might be led to believe that Adelson is a staunch conservative warrior, funding the cause.

According to this interview with the Wall Street Journal, (h/t @HuffPo) Adelson is anything but.

The pro-science, pro-choice, pro-socialized medicine Adelson spent $150,000,000 on candidates that are anti-science, anti-choice, and think people should trade chickens for healthcare.

I’m really speechless.

What’s more, he intends to spend twice as much the next time around.

Damn x2.

Of course, Adelson has been under investigation by the DOJ since 2011, so that may explain some of his animosity toward the Obama Administration. It doesn’t explain why he would work so hard against what seem to be his core political values.

When I’m irritated with a politician, either personally or politically, I just send them a letter explaining why I’m sitting this one out with them. In only one case (that I can think of) have I actively worked against anyone, and that was in a primary with no general election opposition. I can’t fathom working both against a candidate and my core values. Seriously, its unfathomable.

Of course, I also don’t have a gazillion dollars.

So I’m flummoxed. Next thing you know Adelson will come out in support of a tax increase for wealthy Americans.

If that happens, my head might explode.

Sep 19 2012

Defining The Middle Class

Posted by Steve Ross in Policy

Once upon a time home ownership was a prime indicator. Now its a bit more complicated.

There’s been a lot of talk about the middle class, and entitlements, and who benefits from what. Newscoma reminded me I wanted to talk about this yesterday. The notion that a household income of $200,000+ makes you “middle class” is not only misguided, its not supported by the facts.

Being the research goob that I am, I decided to look at what family income looks like these days, and break that down into something useable. Its important to understand where people are, and why our concepts of “middle class” have shifted to something that isn’t anywhere near the middle.

Middle Really is the “Middle”

Below is a chart that shows family income broken into groups of 20% each (quintiles), plus the top 5%. The rest is pretty self explanatory. Data comes from the US. Census. Median Family size is 3.

Now, let’s really look at these numbers.

The bottom quintile averages about $15,000/yr…or less than poverty for a family of 3 ($19,000/yr). The upper limit of this quintile is 140% of poverty, which means you’re less than 1 paycheck away from falling into poverty. So 20% of all the earners in the nation are at or near the poverty level and most likely qualify for benefits from the US government (TANF, SNAP, Medicare/Medicaid, etc.). In addition, the majority of these families have only one income earner and at least two children. A tiny fraction of these earners have a college degree.

It should also be noted that earners making the current minimum wage, $7.25/hr, working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks gross $15080/year or 135% of poverty for a household of 1. Also, the current poverty thresholds assume that 30% of income will be spent on housing. Current averages show that 45%-50% of income is spent on housing throughout the bottom 3 quintiles of earners.

Th second quintile is the working class. The average income is 200%, or 2 times the poverty level. The top limit of the working class is 250% of poverty. Everyone in the working class is about 1 paycheck away from falling into poverty. It is important to note that virtually no one in the working class qualifies for government assistance, including TANF child care credits. This means that if they have an infant or toddler, nearly $7,000 of their income is consumed by childcare, which puts additional pressure on their financial situation.

The third quintile is the middle class. The average income is 3 times the poverty level and tops out at 4 times poverty. The majority of these families have at least 1 income earner who has a college degree. Depending on the debt load of the family they may be as little as 2 paychecks away from poverty (1 month) or as much as much as 3 months.

So what we’re seeing so far is that 60% of all families in the United States are 3 months, or less of earnings away from poverty.

I don’t think I need to cover the top two quintiles. Unless earners in those classes have massive debt (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility) or are in an industry that is bleeding jobs, they’re likely safe. Both typically have two earners with college degrees, and options should they lose employment for a while. Its not that these earners necessarily have it easy, but claims of poverty should fall on deaf ears. More often than not, financial concerns don’t impact their ability to live, but their ability to maintain the life they’ve built. Two very important distinctions.

While earners making up to $140,000/year may qualify as Upper Middle Class, its important to understand that they represent the top earners in the United States. Only 11% of earners make more than $150,000 and just over 5% of families in the US make more than $200,000.

$200,000+/year isn’t middle class. Its wealthy, even though it may not seem like it to the people making that kind of money.

In order to make policy that creates conditions where more people reach that threshold, we have to have our facts straight. Based on the discussions by both Presidential candidates over the past few weeks, we don’t have a realistic understanding of that yet.

Edited to Add: Per a request in the comments, the same year by Household Income.

Jan 12 2012

Silver Spoon Endorses Silver Spoon

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics

They both act sweet and cuddly, but inside they just don't care. via Newscoma

To the surprise of no one, TN Gov. Bill Haslam endorsed Mitt Romney in the Republican primary.

Romney, who has been featured in a hit piece produced by Newt Gingrich’s “Winning Our Future” SuperPAC, which has, perhaps, done the 2012 Obama election team the biggest favor ever. It clearly draws a distinction between what some on the left have called an indistinguishable difference between Romney and Obama. Obama never made millions of dollars from auctioning off American jobs for fun and profit.

But the endorsement by Haslam isn’t surprising at all. Both men grew up sucking on the same brand of silver spoons. Neither have really ever held a job they didn’t either buy, or their daddies didn’t help them get. Both of them have benefitted from a corporate welfare system, established 40 years ago by the Nixon Administration and advanced by every administration since, that values the value of wealthy people over the value of hard work.

If you want to understand why things are the way they are, start looking right there, at the shift in our value system at the highest levels.

This morning, the Washington Post is examining Romney’s gospel of “Creative Destruction”. Here’s a couple of quotes from the article:

But like Romney’s work on all the businesses Bain invested in, the primary goal with these companies wasn’t job creation but making them more profitable and valuable. This meant embracing aspects of capitalism that have unsettled some Americans: laying off workers when necessary, expanding overseas to chase profits and paying top executives significantly more than employees on lower rungs.

But some private-equity experts think the link between Bain’s deals and jobs is more tenuous.

“I’ve got a lot of admiration for Bain Capital, but jobs were the byproduct of the mission, not the product,” said Howard Anderson, a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. “The product was to increase wealth, and in some cases it meant expanding the company. In some cases it meant contracting the company.”

Make no mistake about it, Romney’s creative math that shows 100,000 jobs created during his tenure at Bain completely ignores the jobs that were lost to his “creative destruction”. I’m sure, as is testified by the folks featured in Newt’s 30 min. movie, that the people who fell victim to this “creativity” feel like their lives were “destroyed”, at least for a short time.

As the Christian Science Monitor rightly points out:

Gingrich, Perry, and others are putting particular focus on the people who lost their jobs as a result of Romney’s Bain Capital. Gingrich’s Super PAC will be running $3.5 million of ads featuring emotional interviews with some of them.

But what, exactly, are Romney’s opponents proposing to do about layoffs that harm so many people? Millions of Americans have lost their jobs over the last four years – and as a result have often lost their health insurance, their homes, and their savings.

Are Gingrich, Perry, and others proposing to expand health insurance coverage for jobless Americans and their families? All I hear from the Republicans is their determination to repeal the law that President Obama championed – which still leaves millions of Americans uninsured. Do Romney’s opponents have plans to keep people in their homes even when they’ve lost their jobs and can’t pay their mortgages? No. Do they propose expanding unemployment insurance? If memory serves, most of them were opposed to the last extension.

I’m all in favor of reforming capitalism, but you’ll permit me some skepticism when it comes to criticisms of Bain Capital coming from Romney’s Republican opponents. None of these Republican candidates has exactly distinguished himself with new ideas for giving Americans more economic security. To the contrary — until the assault on Romney and Bain Capital — every one of them has been a cheerleader for financial capitalism of the most brutal sort.

The point is, don’t be fooled by Republicans who are currently engaged in attacking Mitt Romney as proponents for rebuilding the diminishing middle class. These attacks are more focused on the self-interest of the attackers…getting elected, than some ideological difference between Romney, Newt, and Perry.

Eventually, Democrats will join the fray in attacking Romney for his exploitation of both American workers and overseas tax havens that have become the rule rather than the exception for amassing great wealth while avoiding taxation. And while there are plenty on the Democratic side that are culpable for the changes in the tax code and regulations that made all this possible, it was driven, from the get go, by the Republican Party.