Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Rent Is Too Damn High (The Squeeze Continues...)

"Who owns what you do? Who owns what you use?"
(The Gang Of Four, "Of The Instant")

It's no secret that housing costs are out of whack. Ever since the housing meltdown in 2008, more Americans rent than ever (around 43 million, according to a study by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies). However, escaping the foreclosure trap just means falling into a different trap -- the gap between what you can afford, and what the landlord squeezes from your wallet.

According to CNN, one in three Americans now pay 30 percent or more of their median monthly incomes for rent. (This figure assumes a market with a three-bedroom house, something that's only a distant dream for me, and most of the folks I know.) In cities like Baltimore, Brooklyn, Miami and Philadelphia, the figure is more like 50 percent.

The financial pros quoted in the article have a knack for understatement, as Capital One's managing vice president of community development, Laura Bailey, demonstrates: "When they get affordable housing, their lives can take an entirely different, more productive path."  Uh, can we say: "Well, duh?"

Rent is too high, way too high.  Funny how the wages remain flat and are sinking down but rent goes higher.  At least where we live, it's not too bad, just small increases...but you have wonder where all this misplaced money is going. --The Squawker

"Greed knows no boundaries, Greed does not feel
I'll be damned if I die for a profiting deal"
(The Pogues, "The Bastard Landlord")

Thanks for putting this issue on the old blogger's radar, Squawker, I'll take it from here...to me, what's even more interesting than CNN's May 2014 story is the discussion below it.  It's always worth reading the comments below any news story of note, if only to see what the Haves really think of the Have-Nots

"I'm a landlord. I charge as much as I possibly can. I want to make a profit. Supply and demand. If a potential tenant can't afford my rates, there a cheaper apartments elsewhere. When my vacancies become a problem, I lower rents. Don't whine that rent is too high...and then rent the place. Go live somewhere else. Maybe with more roommates." 

Sounds like the figure in the Pogues song, doesn't it? Comically so...to top it all off, he identifies himself as "American" -- though I suspect he probably shops regularly at big box stores where all those cheap Chinese-made goods are always available. Thankfully, though, he gets a proper slap-down from the next commenter, cman:

"Yea, you seem like a complete tool. The problem Mr. American (I'm assuming your a man, because such di**ish comments suggest you have the requisite genitalia), is that people cannot go live somewhere else. These high rents are city-wide phenomenon (and indeed its becoming a national trend). People cannot simply pack up, take their families and jobs with them and move to rural Alabama where you can buy a nice home for as much as you can get a decent condo in Maryland. The jobs market is terrible, and social mobility is not an option for most."
"Second, people ARE living with more roommates, for much longer (Millennials). That same demographic then gets chided by the older generations for being lazy slackers -living in parents basements, sharing apartments with friends, when their parents owned their first home at that point in their lives. This is mainly due to economic circumstances brought about by the negligence of prior generations and has nothing to do with current youngsters."
Of course, the latter paragraph speaks to a different problem, as Matthew Yglesias notes in his book, The Rent's Too Damn High (What To Do About It, And Why It Matters More Than You Think):

"The housing cost problem is largely obscured by the predominance of owner-occupied housing among middle-aged middle-class people who think of expensive housing as 'wealth' and investment profits. That perception is a mistake...If you own a home and the price of buying a house rises faster than the price of renting one, then you can make money by selling your home and moving to a new place. But as we'll see, this is a telltale sign of a bubble rather than a strategy for national wealth creation."

This phenomenon comes with unique twists in cities like San Francisco, where only A-list techies seem to have no problem affording the Golden Gate City's infamously steep rents, as Chandler Properties vice president, Samantha Chandler Duvall, informs SFGate.com: "The people coming into the city to apply for our apartments are making huge salaries -- all six digits," she says. "It's insane. I'm the first to admit it."

Mind you, this isn't a new problem, as Tony Sanchez cheerfully explains in
Up & Down WIth The Rolling Stones (1978) in recounting the response from his A-list employer, Keith Richards, to a legal order that barred him from entering France for two years:

"'Now, at last, I can stop paying that grand [$2,400] a week rent for that bloody house. It's cost me more than a hundred grand already [$240,000] just to keep it going so the cops wouldn't try to extradite me.' He earned something like $25,000 a week. Using the old rule-of-thumb that rent shouldn't exceed more than a quarter of your salary, I guess Keith could afford Nellcote." 

So there you have it, boys and girls...while the political classes twiddle their thumbs, and hope that the problem goes away, you'll either have to brush up on your computer skills, or take up the guitar and hope that you can string together three chords to write The Great Lost Hit Record.  There's just one small matter, though...Keith's already got a 50-year head start.  --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Read 'Em And Weep, Then Hide Your Wallet):
CNN Money (One In Three Americans Spending Too Much On Rent):

Joint Center For Housing Studies (Rental Housing Affordability):

National Housing Conference/Center For Housing Policy

SFGate.com: One-third Rule Not Always Feasible In Bay Area Rental Market

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Punk Rock Poetry Corner: At One Time...

Ana Vujic: "Birth School Work Death"
(Mixed media on wood, private collection, 2014)

At One Time...

At one time...you could go shopping for fun, spend hours at the mall, and still have money left over when you were done.

At one time...two parents didn't sweat like dogs...just to afford
all those wonderful toys at the mall.

At one time...families could afford two weeks' vacation a year,
stay in a hotel each night, and enjoy some meals out.

At one time...you could actually buy groceries,
and not feel like you needed a bank loan.

At one time...you could visit long-distance relatives and friends

a couple of times a year (even on weekends)...
...and afford the gas to get there.

At one time...people got involved in what happened around them.
Now, they just don't seem to care,
no matter how crazy it gets.

At one time...civics courses were standard K-12 fare.  Today, they're drowned out by the drumbeat of standardized tests.

At one time...you had to know what the Constitution and
the Bill of Rights said (and they also taught you
something about early American history).

At one time...people could identify Vietnam
or Norway on a map without hesitation.

At one time...schools looked out for every student's needs,
and didn't try to make everybody the same.

At one time...you could afford the promises of college...when
the regimes in charge offered more grants than loans.

At one time...people stayed in the same place, and weren't forced
to move every few years, just to make a living.

At one time...even a minimum wage office job (boring as it was)
offered some sort of hedge against moving every few years
(until those jobs eventually dried up).

At one time...banks competed for customers' loyalties,
based on interest rates. Today, they slap fees
on every ounce of your slavery.

At one time...businesses were smaller, and didn't draw big red lines
through the communities they pretended to serve.

At one time...if people were practical and frugal,
they put something away for a rainy day.

At one time...many people lived on farms
and felt rewarded for the fruits of their labors.

At one time...we would never have questioned
if “Solyent Green” felt like a documentary.

At one time...working till you dropped sounded like something 
out of a bad science fiction novel, 
or a cheesy '70s movie.

Today, life is the stuff
of a cheesy, bad science fiction movie.
Logan never stops running,
always in motion -- 
alive and well for now,
but whether he sees 31
remains ripe for speculation.

--The Reckoner & The Squawker

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Two-Thirds of Gen X Poorer Then Their Parents At the Same Age


Two Thirds Of Gen X Households Have Less Wealth Than Their Parents Did At The Same Ag

Sometimes I wonder if they named my generation "X" so they could "X" us out.

Remember the 1990s when they called Generation Xers, slackers? Lazy? Wow they got started on us really early didn't they? Do you think some in power knew what was coming? I think so.--The Squawker

Where Education is Headed

What do you think all the Common Core and standardized tests are leading to?--The Squawker

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Poverty Level Republicans (You Gotta Love 'Em)

You've probably seen this book making the rounds at one time or another. Originally published in 1937, Hill's purported rags-to-riches instruction manual has entered the inner ring of all-time best-sellers (reportedly racking up some 20 million copies at the time of his death in 1970). Of course, it's a tad light on specifics, though Hill apparently believes that visualization is sufficient to get the heavy lifting done: "You may as well know, right here, that you can never have riches in great quantities unless you work yourself into a white heat of desire for money, and actually believe you will possess it."

It's not a stretch to imagine such disparate characters as the Beach Boys' lead singer, Mike Love, corporate raider T. Boone Pickens and the late "Queen Of Mean", Leona Helmsley, reading such passages aloud to themselves, nodding their approval: "Some day, I'll stand at the top of the pile...and when I do, there won't be any stopping me."

My introduction to Hill's book came as a teenager, after my late father -- who was a contractor -- brought it home from a job one day, shaking his head. When I queried further, it turned out that Dad's latest client had practically pressed the book into his palm, suggesting that he give Hill's ideas a try. What did Dad have to lose? Besides, once he finished reading it, he wouldn't avoid the only logical conclusion...and become a Republican, since they were the cash-endowed ones, right?

However, my dad had no interest in joining The Party Of No, let alone voting for any of their so-called representatives...especially after doing jobs here or there for members of the local GOP hierarchy, who'd often treated him (as he told me) "like just another dumb laborer"...even though he'd largely educated himself after the Second World War ended, primarily by reading just about every book he could get his hands on. Suffice to say, Mr. Hill's masterpiece sat gathering dust on the shelf in our den, and my dad never broached the subject again.

Dear Old Dad's encounter with Napoleon Hill's ideology ("What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve") marked my first encounter with a new phenomenon: The Poverty Level Republican.  The above graphic sums up the distinction cleverly enough, but for those who just tuned in, it's the opposite of the image typically associated with the Elephant Set: those grubby little "One Percenters" that we all keep hearing so much about.  However, I don't hate them for voting Republican, because there's a rational undercurrent behind such choices: they're only looking after their own best interests (such as reducing their individual tax burden to infinitesimal levels...but I digress).

I began seeing more Poverty Level Republicans after starting college. Overall, they tended to occupy the bottom or lower middle class rungs of the American economic ladder, which didn't dim -- not for a second -- their admiration for such up-and-coming conservative spear carriers as our newly-elected fortieth president, Ronald Reagan, or his eager acolytes (including supply-side gurus like Arthur Laffer and Milton Freidman, for example). They boasted a comically exaggerated self-confidence in their own bootstrapping abilities, even if that "some-day-my-ship-will-come-in" moment seemed an awfully long way off (as in, "dig-up-John-Lennon-to-reunite-the-Beatles" or "Finding-Jimmy-Hoffa's-perfectly-mummified-body-in-an-oil-drum-in-Southfield" territory).

However, you never heard any resentment voiced towards a political system that had only just begun its hellbent descent toward record levels of inequality. Hell, they wanted to become rich -- or, at least, well to do -- so why vote for anyone trying to interfere with the emerging Trickle-Down way of doing business? At the same time, the Poverty Level Republicans I met couldn't wait for the day that Reagan would finally push those mooching welfare queens right off the couch, and into the cold, where they so rightfully belonged.

If that meant putting off social equity a little bit longer, so be it. If that meant having to brown bag it a couple more times per week, so be it. If that meant stitching together two, three or even four part-time jobs to cobble enough money for tuition, housing or meal plan rates that were already approaching stratospheric levels, so be it. If that meant putting off major life decisions like getting married, or buying a house, to pay back those student loans -- which were also ratcheting into outer space -- so be it.

Whatever personal difficulties lay ahead, Poverty Level Republicans just confidently asserted that their personal boom time lay just around the corner (even if they didn't know which corner)...or President Reagan would give one of those folksy, but blistering fireside chats on TV, and whip those pinheads in Congress back into line...then everything would work out somehow, in its own surreal American way. You had to love optimism like that, even if no empirical evidence suggested the remotest chance of the above-mentioned scenario happening.

One of the tragic ironies of Barack Obama's presidency, it appears, is that some of his most ardent haters are the "99 Percenters" that he's trying to save -- even if it's from themselves. A recent Yahoo News story that Your Humble Narrator came across puts the whole situation nicely in perspective, focusing on why those "red state" Kentuckians can't bring themselves to support Obama.

I won't belabor the contents but what's funny (and sad) is the deepest hatred coming from the people with the least money -- and the most to lose. As one Kentucky resident (Eric Miller) observes, "If there weren't government programs, it would be a ghost town." Yet, in the same breath, he states: "The Republicans, they are the ones that know...raised up like we have, you know. Know what it's like, what we need, what shouldn't been taken away."

Such comments are downright surreal, especially when you consider the Republican-dominated House of Representatives' attempt last year to cram steep food stamp cuts down the throats of gents like Mr. Miller, who gets by on $380 per month.  Congress's recent decision to let additional unemployment extensions expire -- "not with a bang, but a whimper," as T.S. Eliot would say -- is another indicator of how the political class feels about the pesky 99 Percenters they claim to represent so ardently.

At best, they view them as a nuisance to fool into re-electing them; at worst, they harbor a deep-seated hatred and hostility toward the Eric Millers of the world. After all, various members of the Elephant Set have openly boasted of "starving the beast" as a strategy -- the theory being, if you continue gutting social programs past the point of no return, the poor will eventually shrivel up and blow away, just like all those tumbleweeds you've seen lately at dead malls across America. 

So why do the Eric Millers of the world, then, vote for the people who seemingly stay up around the clock, thinking of new ways to keep down?  Various explanations have been trotted out to try and account for the Poverty Level Republican phenomenon, which you can read below, too. Speaking from experience, however, I personally see little or no point in trying to explain bullshit for bullshit's sake. In my time, I've seen a more mundane phenomenon at work.  

People display a remarkable knack for doublethink.  They rail against "welfare moochers," even they collect food stamps and cash assistance themselves. They vote against ballot proposals and millages -- even renewals, which are considered no-brainer propositions in municipal circles -- yet are the first to scream for the services that have long evaporated  They fight like a wounded bear cub for whatever government benefits they collect, even as they pay lip service to that moth-eaten cliche that's all too frequently trotted out during the latest national debate ("America must learn to live within its means").

Contrary to what some of my left-of-center friends think, I don't believe these inconsistent attitudes reflect a desire to get rich quick anymore -- hell, with so many people broke and leveraged to the hilt, the New American Dream is simply getting out of debt.  The simpler explanation comes down to a quote attributed to Mark Twain, though I haven't managed to track down its source: "Few political systems are as ingenious as getting people to vote against their own best interests as this one."  

That's as good an explanation as I've heard for the current administration's struggles. When Obama came to Capitol Hill in 2008, he hoped, prayed and stated that -- somehow, somewhere, doggone it -- people would line up behind him, whether they agreed with him or not, for the sake of the nation. It's the kind of kabuki theater that causes seasoned political journalists to piss their pants with laughter, but apparently, our Commander In Chief really believed that scenario would happen.

Alas, such dew-eyed dreamin' and doe-eyed optimism collided head-on with The Party Of No...and their accomplices, the Poverty Level Republicans. Meanwhile, the collateral damage continues, with everyone else paying the price. In short, it's business as usual. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (And Get Depressed By):
AppalledByLePage.com: Against Their Own Interest: Why The Rural Poor Vote Republican

DemocraticUnderground.com: Poor Kentucky Has No Stomach For Obama
[Note: This is only a partial recap, since the link apparently doesn't exist anymore -- and I don't want the Copyright Cops chasing me down if I post it all here.  Anyway, the resulting discussion should give you a good feel for the actual content.]

The New York Times Opinion Pages: Moochers Against Welfare