Americans step gingerly while Wall Street stampedes
It's hard to believe it, but our post-2008 economic meltdown financial markets applaud mediocre financial numbers and a so-called recovery that has left many Americans holding their breath over the future value of their home and the stability of their job -- if they even have one.
As an investor, I guess this is a great thing. But as a realist I find the entire concept outrageous. This week we learned that the nation's GDP for the first quarter was even more anemic than the pitiful level it was predicted to be. Yes, the weather was intense and that could account for some sluggishness. But with housing stalled out and many areas of the country seeing unemployment rates drop at the expense of vanishing full-time and higher-paying jobs, we can't place the blame for our woes just on "Old Man Winter."
A majority of Americans say this nation is moving in the wrong direction when responding to opinion surveys. Most have not felt the warm glow of some grand economic boom. And many are not aware that Wall Street has been rewarding tepid economic news because it helps assure that the Fed will continue to pump funds into the marketplace, even if their infusions of "quantitative easing" are slowly declining.
The fact is that money has been pushed into the economy but not to the hard-working people who need cash. Home loans are still difficult to obtain. Small raises are major miracles in most households and bonuses are basically a relic of the past. And most folks don't have enough money to seriously enjoy the fruits of financial markets that seem to be on an endless trail upward.
The average working American is confused over their health care status and nervous about the future of their job. They can't imagine how their own children will ever enjoy a better quality of life than they once did, much less their parents, who likely enjoyed an easier life and retirement than they dare hope for now. That is the cold, hard truth.
We have one relatively small group of people who have resources, are in the right places and can continue to enhance their financial position. Meanwhile, we have a vast number of Americans who are living from paycheck to paycheck, have suffered huge financial setbacks and are still scared to death about what is in store for them around the corner. To be fair to readers, many would say that I'm in that first group and couldn't possibly understand how most Americans feel about their shaky financial footing.
But the truth is no one ever knows if the entire economy will take another dive, such as when then-President George W. Bush told leaders of Congress during the economic meltdown of late-2008 that "this sucker is going down." Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats recognize how truly scared so many Americans are over their financial future. Scared and confused.
Most now know that President Obama and Harry Reid would love to use regulations, executive orders and the force of government to spread red tape all over what is left of our economy. They want to shove coal miners out of work to fight "global warming," want a tax system that encourages large corporations to move overseas and would love to make federal anything that is not locked down and bolted to the ground.
It's why President Obama has miserable approval ratings and Reid likely won't lead the Senate next year. But the Republicans are no source of solace either. Too often they dance the dance of the corporate world, luring them with promises of tax incentives while throwing hardly a bone to small businesses or hard-working families. And both parties, in refusing to talk to one another and spending most of their time posturing and pontificating, waste precious time and tax dollars getting little done of real substance.
Oh, yes, the bulls are still running on Wall Street. And the political rhetoric is hotter than a firecracker. But the average American feels left behind and paralyzed with fear. "Do I buy?"... "Do I sell?"... "Do I fold?" Fatigue is setting in for many an American household, and I'm guessing it won't be too long before the public starts clamoring for more than rhetoric... or for less "bull" be it the financial beast or the waste it leaves behind.
(Matt Towery is author of the book "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency" and runs a national polling company.)