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1.20.2015

State of the Union...

Tonight (9:00 p.m. EST) marks another opportunity for President Obama to discuss the present condition of the United States of America. On the surface, things seem to be improving. Simply on an anecdotal level, I see more development and reinvestment in real assets than I've seen since the Great Recession. I was struck, just yesterday, by the number of signs I noticed on I-10 advertising open positions, including master mechanics and qualified truck drivers. Those are jobs that provide a decent wage, and which usually signify an increase in demand for luxury items (in this case, recreation vehicles).

Our enrollments at FSCJ are down a substantial percentage, which usually signifies that individuals are confident in the job market and are willing to put aside re-training in an effort to earn more money. Like any service-related industry, we boom and bust in a cyclical pattern.

Still, there's an eerie lag in wage growth. When adjusted for inflation, Americans are actually about $2000 worse off than when the recession started in 2008. This is keeping inflation in check (relatively, but don't look at groceries for confirmation there), but for how long? Once we see even minimal wage growth, I'll begin to believe more wholly in the notion of a recovery.

President Obama is tasked with the tricky proposition of selling a recovery to an America that is still reeling from the real estate crash (Florida is now #1 in the country in foreclosures, thanks very much, according to First Coast News) and high unemployment. He will, once again, be looking to change the tax structure in ways that benefit the middle class. 

I applaud his efforts. This exhaustive piece in The Atlantic illustrates the nature of our present economy. It's a great piece, and I highly recommend that you read all of it. Will we be able to bolster our middle class through economic policies like the one the President is proposing tonight?

Almost certainly not.

Never before have we seen such partisan gridlock in Washington. It's both reassuring (checks and balances and all of that) and soul-crushing at the same time. Do something, for heaven's sake!

The dominant paradigm of the last three decades (Reagonomics, and the supposed "trickle-down" theory of wealth distribution) has failed the American middle class. Sure, automation and globalization are a large part of it as well, but the truth is that corporations don't reinvest, they sequester dollars in foreign accounts. Wealthy individuals don't allow their funds to trickle down--they improve their estates through untouched capital gains. 

America seems to be responding to the President's latest proposals, which include a stronger national cyber security shield and free community college. But I don't see how these tax measures will ever clear Congress.

We live in a world in which eighty (80!) individuals own more than over three billion people. 

Chew on that for a moment.

And while we still have the world's greatest standard of living here in America, we're seeing economic disparities that we couldn't have imagined in the 1950s and '60s, when many of our parents were coming of age and embarking on a journey that would make them the most economically prosperous generation the world has ever seen.

We in the Generation X and Millenial demographics better strap on our hardhats. Between student loans, a cratered real estate market, and the white elephant of healthcare for an aging population, we'll be pushing that rock up the hill for a damned long time.

It would be nice if, along the way, we got a little economic relief and a chance to improve our present conditions (a personal state of the union, so to speak).

Tonight will be all about rhetoric. It always is, of course, but tonight will be especially telling in how the President frames his speech. 

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