There are a number of indicators that the economy in the United States is on ground as shaky as that in Europe or China. Despite a stock market rally and some optimism generated by the recent presidential election there are several signs of serious economic trouble in the United States.

Some reasons why you should be concerned about America’s economy include:

  1. Interest rates. Much of the US economic growth has been driven by very low interest rates that make some kinds of money including mortgages very cheap. Rates have suddenly started going up the interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage went from 3.54% on September 30, to around 4% on December 12. This is threatens the current US real estate bubble which is based on cheap mortgages and banking.

  1. The Federal Reserve. America’s central bank has been deliberately keeping interest rates low for a long time to foster economic growth. Most observers think that the Fed’s Board of Directors will raise the interest rate during their next meeting scheduled for December 14 and 15 in order to head off inflation, Reuters reported.

  1. Inflation. The US inflation rate hit a two year high of 1.6% in October 2016. As recently as July it was .8% meaning inflation doubled in three months. That’s still low, but the rate of increase is worrisome.

  1. The strong US dollar. The value of America’s currency has risen by 40% since 2011. This threatens US exports because it makes competitors’ products cheaper on world markets. It endangers US manufacturing jobs because it is now cheaper to do business in countries like China where the yuan has fallen by 2% in recent months. A longer term threat is reduced investment in the US because investors’ money can go a lot farther elsewhere.

  1. Real estate. The average home price in the United States rose to a record high of $191,780 in September, 2016, the S&P Corelogic Case-Shiller 20 City Home Price indicates. That price is approaching the height reached during the Great Real Estate bubble in 2006 at least on paper, The Wall Street Journal reported. Although prices are still 16% lower than in 2006 when inflation is factored in. Prices indicate dangerous regional bubbles in some cities including Denver, Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. Home prices in Seattle jumped by 11% in the past year, CNBC reported.

  1. Rising Income Inequality and wage stagnation. Income for half of the working age population (those under 65) in the United States has actually fallen in the past 36 years, economists Thomas Piketty, Emanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman concluded. The average individual income in the United States grew by 61% while that for the bottom 50% stagnated. This means many people have less to spend which will lead to less economic growth.

  1. A looming public pension crisis. State and local governments in the states have amassed $4.798 trillion in pension obligations, but they have only $3.607 trillion in assets to cover those debts, The Hoover Institution calculated. That means governments will have to come with $1.91 trillion which would probably be financed by drastic cuts in government services or let pensioners starve. Governments in Pennsylvania and California are already making such cuts.

  1. Student loan debt. Americans have amassed $1.2 trillion in student loan debt but only 40% it is being paid. Student loan debt hurts the economy because younger people who are most likely to spend have no extra cash for things like homes and cars. A long term danger is that many young people will simply drop out of the labor force, because there’s no point in working if all your money goes to paying debts.

  1. The Labor Force Participation Rate. Even though the nation’s unemployment rate is at a low 4.6% in November, the number of Americans who are actually working was 62.7%, Business Insider noted. That rate actually dropped from 62.8% in October. The danger here is an obvious one; fewer people working means less money in the economy. It also means higher taxes or deficit spending because those people still use government resources.

    Note: the Labor Force Participation Rate reflects the percentage of people who are actually working. The unemployment rate only reflects those without jobs who are actively looking for work.

  1. Technological Unemployment. The replacement of large numbers of workers by technology is no longer an abstract concept in the United States. Walmart; America’s largest private employer, is eliminating 7,000 clerical positions in its stores. Those people count cash and process invoices in the store offices. They are being replaced by cash-recycling machines and a computerized-invoice processing system. Other large retailers are sure to follow Walmart’s lead.

  1. The collapse of American retail. Several large US retailers including Sears, Macy’s and Walgreens are closing or planning to close hundreds of stores and lay off thousands of people. Macy’s (NSYE: M) is planning to shutter 100 department stores because of revenue losses and Walgreens (NASDAQ: WBA) will have to close at least 500 stores to comply with antitrust regulations when it acquires competitor Rite-Aid next year. Things might get worse next year if predictions that Sears Holdings (NASDAQ: SHLD); which operates around 1,600 stores and employs 178,000, will go out of business come true. Another potential problem is Target (NYSE TGT) which has been experiencing big revenue loses similar to those at Macy’s in recent months.

The US economy is far weaker and far shaper than most people think. Its underlying problems might make sustained growth impossible.


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