His conclusion is extremely wrongheaded and highly revealing. His last paragraph reads:
A growing economy and lower unemployment should eventually give U.S. workers a long-deserved raise (and so should rising labor costs overseas that persuade more companies to hire domestically). But improvements in technology and the ability of companies to hire locally as they chase worldwide demand are just two factors that should restrain any optimism we can keep corporate profits from gobbling up more and more of the economy. Workers still need help -- and they certainly won't find it in the sequester.When the Republicans rail against "the culture of dependency", this can serve as one of the most prominent examples. And the author doesn't even realize that he himself is living in dependency. He writes about the extraordinary growth of corporate profits and bemoans the lack of wage growth during the same period. Does he offer any solution? No. He hopes, vainly, that companies flush with profits will pass it along to their workers.
This is the problem with perception that many "skill" workers have with the companies that employ them. They think that because the company they work at treats them well and gives them a good wage, that companies everywhere should do the same for every worker. But the reality is that companies only treat their employees as good as they need to. And when an opportunity exists for cutting costs, shedding dead weight, or shuttering entire divisions, you can bet that management will take it.
The reason why companies like Google pays its employees so well is because the employees they hire are extraordinarily talented. Their software developers are treated like rock stars because there aren't many talented developers in the labor market and Google is a company whose profits and reputation rest upon the utility of their software. Media companies like the Atlantic Media Company pay its writers well because they want good, reliable writers that are hard working and relatively sophisticated wordsmiths. Those too, surprisingly, are in short supply.
When times are good and profits are high, companies expand their payrolls and efficiency gets relaxed upon the altar of inertia: "who cares? Our stock is still soaring". But when times are hard, the McKinsey and Bain consultants come in, tell the corporate leadership that 20% of their employees are unnecessary, dead weight, or even counterproductive, and then payrolls get slashed until the company gets lean.
If you're fired or laid off, and if you don't have any (currently) relevant skills, the next job you get will pay substantially less than your former position. And when that happens, and people realize their emergency fund barely covers 1 month worth of expenses and start dipping into whatever meager savings they have (or start raiding their 401ks in a disastrously short sighted way to keep afloat), reality hits them hard. They had things going so well for so long that they assumed it would continue in perpetuity (or at least until they made the decision to voluntarily retire).
Our country has a spending problem. People spent too much money when times are good and never saved any of it. And once things turned bad and stayed bad, everybody realized that their situation was far more precarious than they ever thought. Collectively, we are far too dependent on our jobs. It remains most people's only source of income. It defines people at a personal level (I am a software developer, not a person who just happens to develop software). And the fact is it can be taken away by a company so very easily.
That kind of dependency is horrifying. Because you aren't depending on your friends or family. You're depending your very livelihood on an entity that, at the end of the day, only has eyes on the bottom line. That is sheer lunacy.
What so many people forget is that nobody deserves a well paying job. Your compensation is tied directly to how valuable you are to somebody else. And when disruptive technologies or market conditions suddenly make your labor less valuable to somebody else, you get laid off. So what were you doing during the good times? Saving money?
Hah! Yeah right. Like most Americans, you were taking out home equity loans to pay for kitchen and bath renovations or paying for new cars even when your 6 year old car was still perfectly serviceable for an additional 5+ years.
|Our country's relative decline, summarized in one handy-dandy chart.|
That is my actual net worth (courtesy of Mint.com) at the time of this blog post. I'm 26 days from turning 25 years old. I save and invest about 15% of my after-tax pay in my taxable brokerage account. My 401k account gets a pre-tax 13% contribution (including the company match). Another 8% after-tax goes into my Roth IRA. And every month, I reduce the principal on my mortgage by 500 dollars. Almost half of my take home pay is dedicated towards increasing my net worth. And even then, I know that if I were to lose my job tomorrow, I would still be in a terrible financial position.
I need about 10 more years of doing what I'm currently doing (employed at a career-track job, saving as I currently am) before I can realistically have the slightest modicum of financial independence. Because even though I am so much better off than the vast majority of 25 years old, it's still nowhere close to safety, or even relative comfort. My situation is only slightly less precarious than the average 25 year old American.
But if I continue to be lucky, and to be honest with myself, I can gain relative financial independence in about 15 years. Otherwise, I'll be just like any other American out there. One firing, downsizing, or injury away from a personal financial death spiral.
That is the kind of dependency that the vast majority of Americans find themselves in without even realizing it. If you asked a 25 year old what their idea of independence is, it's a job that allows them to pay for a cell phone and wireless plan, an apartment lease, a used car, food and groceries, and beer. A 35 year old's idea of independence isn't too far removed from that either.
So let's go back to Derek Thompson's blog post. He complains that corporate profits are too far removed from GDP and wage growth. My advice? Buy corporate equity and get some of those record profits for yourself. The barriers to retail investing have never been lower than they are now. Are you complaining about corporate profits? Guess what? You can buy a share of it. Open an account at Fidelity and deposit just 2.5k into a Roth IRA. You can buy 16 shares of an S&P 500 index fund (I recommend either IVV or SPY) commission free. You can use your tax return refund for it instead of buying that new flat screen TV and couch you had your eye on.
The majority of Americans are fortunate enough to be able to work their way into financial independence. There is only the culture of dependence holding them back.