Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Measuring the Past Eight Years

So  . . .  Sentiment on social media seems to be that our country is far worse off now than it was eight years ago when President Obama took office.  Of course, it's likely impossible to accurately measure the status of our nation.  What's the metric?  What factors would one consider?  Isn't the issue dependent on one's unique perspective and values?  I don't expect anyone to be able to provide an "answer" to this issue . . .
As you all likely know, I've been told I live in a liberal bubble (and am otherwise, based on prior comments, apparently an asshole, a hypocrite, an idiot, and a poor poker player).  Admittedly, I don't see what many other people see when it comes to our country.  But I want to understand.  Or at least try to understand . . . 
Accordingly, I'm asking you to provide some insight.  Feel free to post in the comments how or why the country is worse off now than it was eight years ago.  What are the issues?  Where have we fallen off?  What's important to you and where have we gone wrong with respect to your priorities.  And, if you want to delve further in your response, how was President Obama a factor in what is, or has gone, wrong?  
Please know that I am not trolling.  If there is one thing I've learned for sure over the past year or so it's that I (and many others like me) truly don't understand the sentiment in this country.  This, in turn, is a sincere attempt to try and shed some light on the disconnect.  I simply want to understand the issues that are important to people.  [I know before I even write this that I'm likely asking FAR too much, but . . .] . . . Please keep this civil; please avoid personal attacks; keep the comments a judgment-free zone . . .  Simply put -- what are your issues with this country?  Where have things gone wrong?
 . . . . And GO:


  1. Sometimes I feel like the canary in the well but the one thing my job does is it gives me a window into how folks are doing economically. The simple answer is the shrinking of the middle class is the problem. Years ago (more than a decade)I saw primarily very well off folks, folks working and getting by and very poor folks, with little to no income. There were relatively few people working full time or almost full time and not getting by. Things were changing but slowly. Then 2008 happened. Now I see the very well off, and very poor and the biggest segment are folks who are working fulltime but not getting by. The folks who are working and getting by have become very few.

    We are told that the economy has recovered, given the improving job reports, told that the real estate market has recovered, the stock markets are up and everything is rosy. But for millions of Americans life is still really hard and despite working hard they are not making it.

    The jobs that sustained our middle class (factory and manufacturing) are never coming back in the numbers that we lost. Many reasons, and much debate, but advanced technology alone dictates shows they wont' be coming back in the number that the left.

    The current Federal Poverty Guidelines for a household of one adult is $990.00 per month. That is gross. That is a 31 hour per week job at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Think about that. 22 states have a minimum wage of $7.25.

    A little more math. $15 per hour 40 hours per week is a gross monthly income of $2,580.00. ($30,960/yr) After deducting Social Security and Medicare (which no one (who is an employee)gets out of) it is a net of $2,399. If you are S-1 and pay taxes on that the net ends up being $2,016 (in my state). I don't know about where everybody else lives but let's go on the low side with some expenses.

    Rent $800
    Food $200 ($50/wk)
    Transportation $150 (car ins and gas or bus pass)(gotta get to work)
    Utilities $100 (phone, internet, cable, elec, water, garbage, heat)(of course no one can do all that for $100)

    That leave us with $766.00, but think about what is missing, Medical insurance, retirement savings, clothing and a car payment just to mention a few.

    Take a hard look at those numbers bubble people. As you go through your day ask yourself how much the people you encounter might be making.

    If I am a full time cafeteria worker at a Smithsonian Museum making $15 per hour where could I possible live in the DC area? What would my commute look like? How long would it be?

    Loads and loads of people are working hard and not getting by with no end in sight. They get told how much better off they are but can't see it.

    So we have a very segmented society, people who are doing well, who have the vast majority of the power and money who do not want their costs increased to support the larger, but powerless, folks who aren't getting by. Both sides found something to respond to in Trump. The well off folks think he will largely deal with the issues with some form of trickle down economics, believing that bringing some jobs back and having a pro business agenda will go a long way to solve the problems and will not hurt their bottom line but will likely benefit them. The not getting by folks heard the 'Drain the Swamp' call and believe a drastic change, more jobs and all the other promises will address their issues. Trump made them feel like they were being heard and acknowledged.

    1. AgSweep: great comment; thanks for taking the time to share.

      I had a discussion a year and a half ago while driving back from court in downtown Vegas with a local attorney, who basically pointed out that there is largely no more middle class in Vegas. I'm sure this is true in many areas, perhaps attributable to different causes.

      Perhaps the issue is whether the wheels of this economic evolution began rolling prior to Obama taking office . . . whether the disappearance of the lower-middle class (for lack of a better description) occurred because of Obama's policies . . . whether he could have done more to help sustain certain sectors of the economy . . . and whether, if he did, such actions would have had larger negative consequences on other aspects of the economy.

      By asking these questions, I'm not suggesting an answer. And I know the issues are exceedingly complex and go far beyond the scope of my initial post, which you succinctly responded to. I don't expect replies to these questions; but if anyone cares to attempt a response, have at it!

      Agsweep, thanks again for your comment.


    2. I think any administration's policies are simply a drop in the bucket or finger in the dam against greater social and economic trends. After WWII, in the fifties, a typical household was comprised of one wage earner (usually the man) stay at home mom and the kids. Factory and manufacturing jobs, union jobs, were plentiful and paid relatively well. As those jobs disappeared, being either sent out of the country or due to technology the unions began to lose their strength. We began to move to to two earner households, where in order to achieve the same standard of living or better both adults worked. The economy adjusted to the the two wage earner households and those levels of combined earnings became necessary to maintain the middle class lifestyle. Now we seem to be transitioning to fewer two income households, and overall wages have continued to decline or at the very least not kept pace with rising costs. A double whammy for the declining middle class.

      I certainly don't have any answers but I think promises of 'bringing jobs back' creates false hope. Trying to go back to how it was is an exercise in futility. Isolationism has historically not worked out very well for the people of any nation. We bring a unique skill set to the world economic table and I believe we need to figure out how derive maximum benefit from that. Innovation not regression.

    3. After thinking about this for some time, perhaps I underestimated the magnitude of the issue you raised above. I was certainly aware of the concept; but perhaps not the scope, at least to the extent it impacts places like Ohio, Michigan, et cetera. Of course, while this may be the "simple" answer, I'm not sure its the sole explanation for what is going on in this country.

      This all begs the question what Trump is going to do to help this segment of society. It's somewhat astounding that people are looking to a billionaire who inherited much of his wealth, manufactures his products overseas, and has, purportedly, been pretty shitty to labor over the years, to provide working class solutions...

      Just started reading What's the Matter With Kansas, which seems to address some of these issues . . .

  2. I attempted to copy this entire opinion piece, but it was way too long. I believe it gives you a perspective that you are seeking.


    At home and abroad, Obama’s trail of disasters


  3. The Constitution is my yardstick. It was designed to protect us from the tyranny of government and to give us the freedom to pursue our dreams. The constitution is being eviscerated. It doesn't guarantee us any wage.
    Free market capitalism permits the voluntary exchange of goods and services and has proven to be the greatest system of wealth creation ever devised.
    Socialism has proven to be the destroyer of wealth and the progenitor of tyranny.
    We are not entitled to free healthcare. Mandating its purchase is tyrannical.
    The theft of trillions of taxpayer dollars to buy votes via open border welfare not only removes trillions from the earners' pockets it leads to a one-party system aka tyranny.
    The fight for gun control isn't about saving lives, it's about taking away more of your freedom.
    Higher taxes is theft of your property. It also drives investment money out of the country. Lower taxes brings capital investment into the country.
    The Constitution protects us from government...and it is being shredded...by imperial dictates, by high taxes, by changing the culture with unbridled illegal immigration, by race baiting, by propagandizing our schools...
    Obama is a Marxist ideologue who purposely is flooding us with freedom killing regulations, drowning us in debt, and fundamentally changing our freedoms. America is in trouble and unfortunately Trump isn't capable of fixing it...maybe no one is.
    Fortunately the constitution gave us a way around an out of control bureaucracy in article five: the Convention of States, in which the states collectively can circumvent a tyrannical government.

    1. In many respects, it's hard to believe that you and the "shrinking middle class" described above by Agsweep supported the same candidate. Perhaps the explanation is that the "shrinking middle class" voted largely (and unwittingly) against their economic interests.

      Thanks for the post, sir.

    2. I voted for Ted Cruz...a Reagan-like constitutionalist. Unfortunately he lost the nomination and we were all faced with two dreadful choices. Who I voted for has nothing to do with the answer to your original question.
      PS...I am a frequent 1/2 poker player and long time follower of tbc, Rob, and your blogs...and have enjoyed the intellectual honesty and depth of most of the poker players.

  4. PPP--Check out this post. It's a few years old, and if written today would be 3-4 times as long, but it will give you good start.


    Now, if you'd like a more balanced view, check out this brand new piece, which presents both the good an the bad.


    --Millard Fillmore

  5. My beef is the tidal wave of H1B visas that permit American companies to claim they are unable to find local american workers to do tech jobs and have no other choice than to go overseas for candidates to fill those vacant tech jobs. The real story is that they want half price workers. These companies are technically unable to find american tech workers who will work as cheap as a guy fresh off the boat from India. And our government gets out the rubber stamp. Here's the punch line sports fans... all those H1B visa people do for their tech jobs are call the support lines for whichever hardware or software vendor and jabber on about when they are unable to make work in that nice new job they started in America. At the same time the Americans that could do that job without the handholding of a tech support hotline are unemployed. I have directly witnessed the work products of several H1B visa people and they are a joke. The CIO gets a bonus for reducing IT costs and the Americans that should be doing those jobs are unemployed.

    Google this: Southern Cal. Edison Cost Cutting Impacting Public Safety – H1B Visa Schemes to Reduce Costs

    I am not sure if this is even on Trump's radar or not.

  6. One thing neo-conservatives fail to account for is the development of manufacturing and higher standards of living around the world. These countries that use to depend on almost everything from the USA no longer need to depend on us or worry so much about bowing down to our wishes. The economy is truly a global economy, with multiple nations competing for economic benefits. We used to be far and away the economic powerhouse. Not any longer. You can blame Obama all you want but he played the cards he was dealt the best he could. Unions built the middle class - Republicans destroyed unions. If Trump is not impeached or resign in disgrace he will fail miserably. We cannot bully nations to our will any longer.

  7. The biggest impact Obama had on my company was that it increased Health Care costs by more than $165k without any additional benefits (we already covered our employees prior to the ACA).

    Our average position at our company pays more than $55,000. So, Obamacare cost two permanent jobs at our one company.

    Also, agsweep, I am shocked you make so little. You can write and if you are responding to this blog, it likely means you play poker somewhat well which means that you are also fairly good at math. But most of all, it sounds like you know people.

    My company is *struggling* to hire good people who 'know' people. We have several $100k+ positions that have been empty for 9+months. Yes, you need to know programming (.NET anyone?), but we also struggle to fill lower (yet still high paying) positions where really the only requirement is to work hard, communicate well, and work well with others.

    And one of my biggest pet peeves is that it is so easy to get an interview.... yet people don't because they either have a) multiple spelling and simple grammatical errors on their resume, or b) they never follow up with us. It's like pulling teeth and terribly sad.

    And I know our company is not alone. I sit on other boards where other business owners lament the same thing- the desire and drive of applicants simply isn't what it used to be and that's the problem with America- we became too entitled.

    1. It's pretty clear that the ACA is a legitimate issue . . . I grant you that...

      "I sit on other boards where other business owners lament the same thing- the desire and drive of applicants simply isn't what it used to be and that's the problem with America- we became too entitled."

      I've been reading Hillbilly Elegy, and this is one of the themes . . .

      By the way, Agsweep never made any reference whatsoever to her personal income in her comments . . .

    2. Ahhh- you are right... I misread "If I was a cafeteria worker" as "I am a cafeteria worker". My bad agsweep.

    3. Nothing to apologize for, nothing wrong with being a cafeteria worker. Some days I wish I was a cafeteria worker.

      People tell me their stories day in and day out, sometimes in writing and sometimes verbally. I have come to realize that our system of education has failed some of our children. The reasons can certainly be debated and fingers can be pointed, but the fact is there are many adults out there who cannot string words into a coherent sentence, verbally or in writing. There as many or more adults who graduated from High School and even college graduates with no skills to fill the needs of employers or even a clue as to what the expectation of an employer may be. We need to assess what positions are unfilled today and train people to fill them. We need to look to the future as best we can and figure what will be trending and train for that. Hello Algorithm. Future jobs will have nothing to do with putting a screw into something on an assembly line.

      I am no spring chicken. My standard complaint about almost every national candidate is that they have no clue how the world really works today. What? Wait? There's some kid in his p'j's in Macedonia earning thousands creating fake news? What? How? OH FOR HEAVENS SAKE BUY A DAMN CLUE. My generation is largely clueless and worse yet naive. Why are we running things?

      Recently my 31 year old son complained about being unable to find people willing to do the work he had for them. I am old and by nature an optimist, I want to believe the best about people. I have been resistant to buying into the entitlement rhetoric worried that my opinion was swayed by age and colored by a 'in my day I walked through 2 feet of snow to school, uphill both ways' prism. Sadly, I am coming to realize it is a huge and pervasive issue with no solution in sight.

    4. I have a feeling that telling today's children that "you can be anything that you want to be..." has two unintended side effects. First is that kids get in their heads they want to be something that they have zero chance becoming as an adult and proceed down a college degree path to nowhere. Second is the disservice done to these kids by not adding one word: "try". As in "you can TRY to be anything that you want to be". The second side effect is an insulation from the very idea of failure. But when everybody gets a participation trophy in their soccer leagues that is no surprise.

  8. Legalize weed Biiiiiitches!!!

  9. P3:

    Act one of this episode of This American Life offers some clues, IMO. Essentially, it revolves around Ira Glass having a conversation with his uncle; this uncle has invested heavily in the post-fact world.


    I applaud your desire to break the bubble - tough to do...