The U.S. Economy is Not What It’s Cracked Up To Be

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Living on credit cards, lots of Americans are going broke. They survive paycheck to paycheck, and that money covers credit card bills, specifically exorbitant interest, continuously piling up. That’s the case for those lucky enough to have credit cards. Last year the number of destitute, homeless Americans shot into the stratosphere, reaching a record high; no surprise, considering half of all Americans can’t afford a $1000 emergency. That emergency, increasingly, includes a rent hike, so it’s no wonder so many of our countrymen and women sleep under the stars. At least they can afford food, you say? Well, food costs 36.5 percent more than five years ago, and for those living in their cars, working multiple jobs, gas ain’t cheap either. This matters because those cars have to move to different parking spots, so as not to attract hostile police notice.

 As one woman tweeted on X: “I got a tuna salad and turkey sub from Subway and it cost me $30.” Given that that’s “cheap” fast food, the logical response is, don’t eat at restaurants. But those who lack kitchens, because they live in their cars, don’t have that choice. And for those of us proles who DO have kitchens, you just try to snag any supermarket item under $5. Prices of essentials like olive oil long ago shot through the roof. So did homeowner’s and car insurance, which have, for lots of people, doubled in the past year or two. I hate to be a quantitative easing party-pooper, but it looks like our money’s, uh, decreasing in value. Years of profligate dollar printing have sent the financial chickens home to roost. And with slim chances of these astronomical prices falling, we Americans win the booby prize: an economy run by incompetents and, for those who have them, their savings rapidly losing value.

On April 10 came bad inflation news, with housing costs the worst of it. According to the Labor Department, the consumer price index rose 3.5 percent in March from a year ago, up from 3.2 percent in February. As Zerohedge noted April 12, if these modest increases were accurate, we could relax. But how can they be true when, Fox Business reported April 10, energy “is up 36.9 percent from where it was in January 2021”? While it’s great that the white house combats price gouging with some anti-trust moves, Biden must become much more aggressive to roll back hikes in the 30 to 40 percent range.

According to the Zerohedge article, one South Dakota retiree got so slammed on his home insurance increase – up 110 percent in one year – he may lose his abode. He saw his yearly rate soar from $1665 to $3490. Try shelling that out on a fixed income. And guess what? Property taxes rose too. Add that to insurance and you got a monthly payment beginning to rival rent.

Back on April 6, we learned from RT that over one in five Americans skip meals to cope with housing costs zooming up. Citing a survey from Seattle-based real estate brokerage Redfin, the article reported that 50 percent “of U.S. homeowners and renters have had difficulties making their housing payments…22 percent reported that they had skipped meals, 21 percent sold some of their belongings and a combined 37 percent either worked extra hours or took on additional jobs.”

That’s not all. The survey added: “Housing has become so financially burdensome in America that some families can no longer afford…food and medical care.” Redfin lugubriously noted that “the typical U.S. household income is about $30,000 a year lower than the level needed to afford a median-priced home.” Face it, folks – the American dream has curdled.

“Even if you have housing right now, you are likely only one or two emergencies away from being unhoused,” writes Eleanor Goldfield in Truthout March 2. According to her report, 16 million homes sit vacant in the U.S., while approximately 650,000 people are sleeping rough. That’s likely an undercount, because while that’s the official stat, there’s another, namely, that 2.5 million children lack a roof over their heads. They are not all orphans.

In fact, if you estimate modestly that for every three kids, one adult accompanies them, that’s 830,000 unhoused adults plus the 2.5 million children, at a minimum, for a grand total of 3,330,000 destitute souls living like vagabonds, or roughly one percent of Americans. This, in the supposedly richest country in the world. Well, what that tells you is that while yes, some people are loaded, that number is a miniscule fraction of the overall population. That golden fraction hogs all the wealth and invests their abundant surplus in domiciles that then sit empty.

Housing is beyond the means of half of all renters in the U.S., Goldfield reports, which means they are at risk of homelessness. But between 2006 and 2019 in 187 municipalities “city-wide bans on camping have increased by 92 percent, on sitting or lying by 78 percent, on loitering by 103 percent, on panhandling by 103 percent and on living in vehicles by 213 percent. Meanwhile a 1300 percent growth of homeless encampments has been reported in all 50 states.” So what’s a vagabond to do? I think the answer is: Hide. But since that’s usually not feasible, arrest followed by expensive and thus unaffordable bail are the likely results. So the penniless get shelter after all – in the clink, in horrible conditions, at public expense. Wouldn’t investment in affordable housing be better?

“Mr. Biden has been banking on cooling inflation,” The New York Times reported April 10, “to lift his reelection prospects.” But inflation hasn’t simmered down, at least not enough for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates, and Biden wants those cuts – to rates and to inflation, for obvious political reasons. A campaign trail headache for him but an existential threat to the rest of us.

How will Biden conceal the inflation rampaging throughout his term? The latest scheme appears to be draining the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to the last drop. It’s already down to 17 percent, because Biden opened the spigot when his idiotic sanctions on Russian energy back in 2022 boosted prices at the pump into the stratosphere, always a terrifying development for homo politicus. Biden tamed gas prices by emptying most of the SPR. Now he may finish it off, because no, he can’t have gas prices rising before the election, not they way they did back two summers ago, when filling your tank cost almost as much as a new laptop. And he hasn’t refilled the reserve; why not, you reasonably ask? Because it would cost too much, with oil prices being so high.

You’d think that el presidente would plan a little better for the future. You’d think it, but you’d be wrong. Because once the SPR runs dry, we better not have any emergencies that rely on plentiful, cheap oil. One way to prepare for this probability, would be to improve relations with an oil-producing nation, like maybe Venezuela. Such was afoot some months back. But that must have been an idle imperial pastime, because on April 17 came news that, guess what? In a truly genius move, the Biden gang’s slapping more sanctions on Venezuela. Bye bye fuel from that country. While that echt U.S. pirate, Chevron, may still be able to pump oil in Venezuela, even though the overall sanctions waiver was allowed to expire, don’t count on that arrangement lasting. Biden apparently likes looking tough on Venezuelan president and convenient Washington punching bag, Nicolas Maduro. Letting the sanctions waiver lapse was a very stupid move and one that portends more to come.

Clearly our dear leader is banking on the oil crunch, attendant hyper-inflation and all of us going broke hitting our pocketbooks post-November. Lucky us.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.