Eudaimonia and Co: Half of Americans Are Effectively Poor Now. What The?

AP/Paul Sancya

The folks that did the study above call this new class of people ALICE, for “asset limited, income constrained, employed

umair haque at Medium - May 31, 2019

There are days I feel like I read dystopian statistics for a living. And then there are day when the dystopian statistics take even my jaded breath away. Here’s one: 43% of American households can’t afford a budget that includes housing, food, childcare, healthcare, transportation, and a cellphone. Translation: nearly half of Americans can’t afford the basics of life anymore.

Does that take your breath away too? It should. And yet it might not come as a surprise. You might know it intimately. The statistics say there’s an even chance you’re…living it. What a grim and bizarre reality. Half of people are effectively poor in the world’s richest country. What the?

The folks that did the study above call this new class of people ALICE, for “asset limited, income constrained, employed.” It’s a sharp way to think about American collapse. Let me translate this term, too: the people formerly known as the American middle class.

Let’s take each of those terms one by one. “Asset limited” means that these households don’t have the resources — the hard financial assets — to drawn down on anymore. That tallies with other research which says the majority of Americans now have a negative net worth. In short, “asset limited” is a polite way of saying: indebted for life, with no real way of ever not getting out of the trap. It’s a nice way of saying: broke.

Why not? That brings me to the second idea in the term. “Income constrained.” American incomes haven’t risen for half a century. But the cost of living has exploded..skyrocketed..gone supernova. Healthcare and education didn’t cost as much as a house in the 1970s, or even the 1980s. And houses didn’t cost more than the average person would ever make in their lifetime. If “asset-limited” is a polite way of saying “broke and indebted”, income constrained is a polite way of saying “poor.”

There are two basic kinds of financial poverty, after all. Not having much of an income, and not having any wealth saved up. Americans are poor in both ways now. That’s because their incomes haven’t risen to allow them to save, and their debts keep mounting, which eats up their meagre incomes. Hence (another shocking stat) most Americans now die…in debt. What the?

Is this the 1300s? What do we call a population that live and debt “in debt”? We certainly don’t call them free in any real sense. They’re the modern equivalent of serfs or peasants — who are born owing, and who will die owing, a fictional, unplayable amount.

Americans are something very much like Neo-serfs because of the last idea in the phrase ALICE, “employed.” You see, it’s not as if the average American is poor now because he or she is sitting around playing video games all day. Quite the contrary. Americans are notoriously hard working people — and that trend continues right down to this day. Americans hold several jobs. The “side hustle” has become an everyday feature of life. ...
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