It’s hard to believe, but Donald Trump finally said something I tend to agree wholeheartedly with — that America is sitting on a financial time bomb waiting to explode.
I don’t tend to be a doomsday prediction maker, though for the past two years on IVN I have written much about the dangers lurking in the shadows of the economy: the worldwide debt crisis, China’s economic meltdown, and the negatives of sustained low oil prices on the American economy (which still hasn’t provided a boom like most expected).
The Royal Bank of Scotland has warned its investors to dump everything but cash holdings and the highest quality bonds as they see a stock market crash eminent in 2016.
But economists are mixed as to what all this means — as the saying goes, ask 25 economists for their opinion and you’ll get at least 50 answers.
The economy is complicated, but there are definite fundamentals that we should be cautious about.
1. Student Loan Debt Increasing Faster Than You Can See
Expanding at a pace of almost $3,000 a second, the student loan clock of $1.3T in debt moves faster than the eyes can see. Roughly 40 million people are carrying this debt (about 12 percent of the total U.S. population).
This works out to an average of about $32,500 in debt for each person — over 1 year’s income in debt at the median wage.
And while the government has set up generous pay-down provisions, including income sensitive, 10-year pay-downs, at some point the government is going to take on the major burden from backing these loans.
2. 401k’s Make Up Most Americans’ Savings
Under most circumstances, saving money is always good. But 401k’s are almost exclusively tied to the stock markets and subject to the incredible volatility inherent to the system.
But something we also have to consider is how many Baby Boomers are reaching the age of mandatory withdrawal from their 401k’s.
A simplistic view of the markets is that there has to be a buyer for every seller. If more people want to sell than buy, the value goes down — and vice versa.
These Boomers in mandatory withdrawal will make up a huge bloc of sellers, something the markets have never faced as this is the first generation to reach the age of mandatory withdrawal.
3. Energy is Still a Major Economic Issue
Lower oil prices have not created a windfall for the economy. For individuals, it’s a win at the pump — and by all available data it seems that many Americans are using these savings to pay down debt.
But we still have an economy that is dangerously flirting with deflation, the worst case scenario in a capitalist system.
Even worse, the domestic oil industry is in tatters. Those still in business are primarily pumping for debt service.
4. The Puerto Rican Debt Crisis Will Eventually Spill Over to the Mainland
Of all the rules of colonialism, the Pottery Barn rule has always applied: if it breaks, you buy it.
The $70 billion debt isn’t huge by many state’s standards, but with a per capita debt of $19,729, it is higher than any state in the U.S.
Even worse, the debt is held almost exclusively by American banks and companies. A $70 billion loss is going to send shocks through the entire economy.
5. The Fastest Growing Industry in America is a $10/hr Job
For years, home healthcare has grown at the fastest pace in the United States as the population ages.
But while this is the fastest growing industry in America, it is a low-skill, low paying industry–with the BLS listing the median wage at $10.54/hr.
Regionally this varies — as low as $8.50/hr in some areas, while as high as $14.40/hr in others.
But what we have is the creation of a lot of jobs with little to no possibility for advancement coupled with low wages.
Home healthcare is not alone–when looking at the BLS list of fastest growing industries, over three-fourths of the jobs are lower paying.
As a rule, there isn’t a booming industry right now with high wages–unlike many previous decades throughout American history.
Is Trump Right?
The economy has a lot of fundamental problems, ones that are complicated–and not easily fixed.
The above list didn’t even bother to show data on food stamp usage, Medicaid, or other government programs. All these burden the system, but how is it fixed?
When most newly created jobs are at the lower end of pay, they are not a driving force in the economy.
The economy is always driven by consumption. When most newly created jobs are at the lower end of pay, they are not a driving force in the economy.
It’s never politically popular for a candidate to express a prediction of doom and gloom (other than ones relating to their opponent potentially winning). Trump’s business sense seems to be honing in on the fact that the economy is going to be difficult for whoever the next president will be — and to a degree, I respect that level of honesty.
If Trump is truly projecting a major economic crisis, he needs to actually come up with an economic advisory panel to help him form at least some strategy on how to deal with it.
Because what I’m not sure of is his answer to ‘fix’ the economic problems. The nation simply can’t file for bankruptcy, and a plan of “great people doing great things” isn’t going to actually fix much.