For the third straight year, the median income of the typical American family fell in 2010. Adjusted for inflation, it is back where it was in 1996, the longest period of zero growth since the Depression.
And the poverty rate has inched up to 15.1 percent.
Both figures, however, should be put in perspective.
For example, a family can be classified as poor and own a car, a flat-screen TV and a computer, and have a washer-dryer and a garbage disposal.
Folks below the poverty line have their kids educated free in Head Start, for 13 years in public schools, then get Pell grants for college. They get free food stamps and health care through Medicaid. They get subsidized housing and earned income tax credits, are eligible for all other safety-net programs, and can earn $23,300 in pretax income and pay no income taxes.
Poverty in 21st century America is not poverty in the Paris of “Les Miserables” or the London of Oliver Twist or the Dust Bowl of Tom Joad.
The 15-year stagnation in the median income of the American family, however — a vanishing of the American Dream that one’s children will know a better life — is a more serious matter.
For there are causes of the stunted growth in the standard of living of the American family that neither party is willing to address, if either of them even recognizes those causes.
First is the immersion of the U.S. economy in a global economy. This plunged U.S. workers into direct competition with workers in Asia and Latin America willing to do the same jobs for far less, in factories where regulations are far lighter.
U.S. corporate executives leapt at the opportunity to close plants here and relocate abroad. This explains the 50,000 factories that disappeared in the Bush decade and the 5.5 million manufacturing jobs that vanished.
You cannot have a rising standard of living when your highest-paid production jobs are being exported overseas.
Now, to buy the goods of the foreign factories that used to be here, we are shoveling out more and more of America’s wealth. Our national bill for imported goods and services is $2.5 trillion a year. The U.S. trade deficit is back up to between $550 billion and $600 billion a year.
If President Obama wishes to know why his $800 billion stimulus bill didn’t have the kick he expected, he should look at the “seepage” problem.
How do you stimulate the U.S. economy when the workers you retain or rehire with your stimulus billions head for Walmarts on Saturday to buy goods made in Japan, Korea and China?
Our $6 trillion in trade deficits in the Bush decade stimulated economies all over the world, just not our own. Indeed, the most successful economies of the last decade were China and Germany. Not coincidentally, they were the world’s two largest exporting countries.
There are time-honored ways that nations have turned around such situations. What prevents us from adopting them? An ignorance of our own history, the immense investment of our transnational corporations in the new global arrangement, and the opposition of a World Trade Organization to which we have surrendered our national sovereignty.
A second reason why the median income of American families is back to 1996 levels and sinking is mass immigration, legal and illegal.
According to analyst Ed Rubenstein of VDARE.com, the United States, despite an unemployment rate above 9 percent, imports 100,000 immigrant workers every single month. Numbers USA contends that 125,000 foreign workers are brought in every month.
Thus, well over a million workers are added annually to our labor force when 14 million Americans are looking for work.
Why are we doing this?
Is it xenophobic to say our own citizens should come first, that the importation of foreign workers must halt until our own unemployed have found jobs?
A huge share of our immigrant population is Hispanic. And Rubenstein finds that for every 100 Hispanics employed in the United States in year 2001, 126 are employed today. But for every 100 non-Hispanics employed in 2001, only 98 are working today.
What prevents our politicians from putting Americans first, deporting illegal aliens and suspending the importation of foreign labor until our own workers are back on the job?
Politics is one reason. Democrats see illegal aliens and their children as future Democratic voters. Republicans are terrified of being called racists and alienating the ethnic lobbies.
Crass commercial interest is another reason.
U.S. companies see immigrants, legal or illegal, as an endless source of cheap labor to keep wage costs down. And they are right.
But who is looking out for the national interest, for all of the members of the American family, especially the unemployed?
If the median income of the American family is falling, already back to where it was in Bill Clinton’s first term, Middle America is one of the big losers in the global economy. And who are the big winners?