TIME Economy

The Average American Family Is Poorer Than It Was 10 Years Ago

The typical American household is worth a third less than it was in 2003, according to a new study

The typical American household was significantly poorer in 2013 than it was ten years earlier as a result of the Great Recession, a new study shows, an effect that is compounded by growing wealth inequality in the United States.

The net worth of the typical American household in 2003 was $87,992, adjusting for inflation. Ten years later, it was just $56,335, a decline of 36 percent, according to a study by the Russell Sage Foundation.

But even as the average American household’s wealth declined, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially. The average wealth of the American household in the 95th percentile was $1,192,639 in 2003, and $1,364,834 ten years later, an increase of 14 percent.

The authors of the study said the reason for the disparity was that affluent households were able to ride the success of the surging stock market after the 2008 crash, while middle class families were severely impacted by the decreasing value of their homes.

Wealth declined for everyone in the aftermath of the Great Recession, but better-off families were able to rebound. Households at the bottom of the wealth distribution, on the other hand, lost the largest share of their wealth.

‘The American economy has experienced rising income and wealth inequality for several decades, and there is little evidence that these trends are likely to reverse in the near term,” wrote the authors of the study.

TIME Companies

Walmart’s Head of U.S. Operations Will Step Down After Slump in Sales

A sign lists the current Walmart stock price at a Walmart Supercenter in Bentonville
A sign lists the current Walmart stock price at the Walmart Supercenter in Bentonville, Ark., on June 5, 2014 Rick Wilking — Reuters

His replacement has quickly ascended the ranks of the company's operations in Asia in recent years

Walmart announced on Thursday that Bill Simon, the president of its operations in the U.S., will leave the company next month after four years of leadership marked most recently by a decline in sales. Greg Foran, the New Zealand–born executive who just last month assumed his role as head of Walmart Asia, will take over from Simon from Aug. 9.

“Being asked to lead the Walmart U.S. business is a privilege that I don’t take lightly,” Foran said in a company statement. “I am excited to get started. The needs of our customers are changing dramatically, and we have an enormous opportunity to serve them in new and different ways.”

Foran will assume office at a time of uncertainty for the corporation, with five quarters of falling sales in the rearview mirror despite a recent surge in U.S. consumer confidence. A market analyst told Reuters that Walmart CEO Doug McMillon “wanted new blood” in the company to facilitate its efforts in online retail and general rebranding. Foran has been a rising star in Walmart: he left his position as Woolworths’ head of supermarkets in 2011 to take the reins of Walmart’s fledgling China project and was promoted to oversee the company’s expansion in Asia.

MONEY

Higher Gas Prices Keep Inflation Just Above 2%

Gas nozzle and hose line graph
TS Photography—Getty Images

Inflation steady as pain at pump is offset by slower growth in food costs.

The Consumer Price Index increased 2.1% for the twelve months that ended in June, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is the second month in a row that the CPI broke 2%.

The index, which estimates overall inflation by measuring price changes in a “basket” of consumer goods, also showed .3% month-over-month growth from May to June of this year. That number is slightly down from May, which saw a .4% month-over-month increase.

Because food and energy prices tend to be volatile, many analysts and economists also look at the “core” consumer price index, which excludes those items, to get a sense of underlying inflation trends. The core CPI rose 1.9% since last June, says the BLS. This increase is roughly on par with last month’s year-over-year core CPI increase, suggesting inflation remains relatively steady.

According to the BLS, the CPI’s increase this month was primary driven by higher gasoline prices. The cost of gasoline rose 3.3% during the month of June and accounted for two-thirds of the entire index’s increase. The price of food, which had jumped in May, rose more slowly in June, increasing by only 0.1%

Investors watch inflation numbers closely because they may offer a clue about when the Federal Reserve may begin to raise key short-term interest rates, which the Fed has held near zero since the 2008 financial crisis. Chair Janet Yellen has said the central bank intends to hold rates down at least until inflation runs at 2%.

But though the closely watched CPI has notched above 2% for the second month in a row, it’s not the inflation number the Fed uses for its 2% target. Instead, it uses a number from the Bureau of Economic Analysis called the personal consumption expenditure, or PCE, deflator. This index covers a broader selection of goods and is also calculated somewhat differently. It also has been running lower than CPI recently—the latest reading was 1.8% for the twelve months ending in May, or 1.5% for the core number excluding food and energy. The BEA will release updated PCE numbers on August 1st.

The CPI typically runs 0.30 to 0.40 percentage points higher than the PCE index, says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, speaking to Money.com on Monday evening before the release.

“The target CPI is 2.3% or 2.4%, somewhere in that range,” said Zandi. If so, today’s numbers suggest the Fed is getting closer to it’s target, but isn’t there yet.

Update: Due to an editing error, the story originally misstated the amount CPI typically runs above the PCE index. It has been corrected.

TIME trade

It’s Time for Europe to Get Tough With Russia

European Union Foreign Ministers Meet On Ukraine Crisis
Flags of the European Union seen in front of the headquarters of the European Commission on March 03, 2014 in Brussels, Belgium. Michael Gottschalk—Photothek/Getty Images

Europe has a history of coming together in good times but not in bad. Think about the creation of the Eurozone, and the launch of the single currency, juxtaposed with the piecemeal policy reaction over the last few years to the Eurozone financial crisis. This tendency has been on tragic display recently, with the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines jet that carried numerous European passengers. This event should have strengthened European resolve to put more and tougher sanctions on Russia. Instead, it’s led to half-hearted measures doled out on a country-by-country basis. France is even going ahead with big deal to supply warships to Russia.

The key issue, of course, is that Europe is in very deep with the Russians economically, much deeper than the U.S. Or China, for that matter; The recent Russia-China gas deal was small potatoes compared to the business that the Europeans do. Europeans get about 30 percent of their gas from Russia, and are dependent on other natural resources, like oil and minerals, from Russia too. Indeed, the Netherlands, which lost more people than any European country in the crash, took in the largest share of those exports from Russia last year. They aren’t alone—German banks and multinationals do lots of business with Russia, and countries like the UK are a big destination for oligarchs looking to stash cash outside their home country.

That’s why it’s so crucial that European foreign ministers come together at their meeting over the Ukraine situation and Russian sanctions in Brussels. Until they are on board with more serious sanctions, particularly in the energy sector, it’s unlikely that the current rounds are going to make a serious dent in the Russian economy, which, as a recently Capital Economics report pointed out, still has a strong international investment position.

The bottom line is that Europe needs a much smarter and less Russia-centric energy strategy. As I’ve explained before, that’s a need that’s unlikely to filled by the gas rich US anytime soon. Rather it’s something that will have to be driven internally within Europe. It’s an opportunity not only for Europe to become more secure, but to prove to the rest of the world that it can work together and live up to the promise of the EU itself—in both good times and bad.

TIME Economy

New Data Show Faster Job Growth in States With Higher Minimum Wage

Labor Secretary Perez Discusses Raising Minimum Wage During Visit To DC Restaurant
U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, second left, and Representative George Miller (D-CA) visit a Sweetgreen restaurant to discuss minimum wage, June 16, 2014 at Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Findings could undermine the argument that raising the minimum wage hurts job growth

New data show that the 13 states that raised the minimum wage this year are adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not.

State-by-state hiring data released Friday by the Labor Department reveal that in the 13 states that boosted minimum wages at the beginning of this year, the number of jobs grew an average of 0.85 percent from January to June. The average in the other 37 states was 0.61 percent, the Associated Press reports.

The findings could undermine the argument that raising the minimum wage hurts job growth, a view held by major conservative lobbies. The Congressional Budget Office reported earlier this year that a minimum wage of $10.10 could bring 900,000 people out of of poverty, but would cost 500,000 jobs nationwide.

“It raises serious questions about the claims that a raise in the minimum wage is a jobs disaster,” said John Schmitt, a senior economist at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research. The job data “isn’t definitive,” he added, but is “probably a reasonable first cut at what’s going on.”

President Barack Obama has supported raising the minimum wage, saying that it will help the economy and businesses.

Some economists said that data was inconclusive and that it’s too early to say whether minimum wage hikes hurt job growth. The rate of job growth was the highest in North Dakota, where the local oil and gas boom has spurred the economy but there has been no minimum wage increase. “It’s too early to tell,” said Stan Veuger, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “These states are very different along all kinds of dimensions.”

[AP]

TIME housing

4 Charts That Will Totally Ruin Your Saturday

Housing development under construction on farmland, aerial view.
Housing development under construction on farmland, aerial view. Ryan McVay—Getty Images

If you’re waiting to sell your house because you think prices will continue to rise, don’t

fortunelogo-blue
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published atFortune.com.

The housing recovery that began in 2012 came on almost as quickly and forcefully as the real estate crash that preceded it.

The combination of low interest rates, investor interest, and good, old-fashioned confidence conspired to cause a rapid and vigorous turnaround in home prices after years of tumbling or stagnant home values. But a number of key metrics suggest that the party is over, and any future home price appreciation will be slow and steady from here on out. Here are four charts showing why the housing recovery has ended:

1. Price-to-rent ratios are near their long-term average. Price-to-rent ratios are an important housing indicator that can tell you whether the housing market is overvalued. During the housing bubble, this metric skyrocketed, as speculative fever led people to believe that housing prices would always rise. But the fact that rent rates didn’t rise with purchase prices should have been a warning that the underlying demand for shelter hadn’t increased as much as the demand for owning property as an asset. As you can see, price-to-rent ratios have snuck up above their historical averages, meaning that home values are already a little pricey relative to rents in many markets.

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2. Homeownership rates are also near their long-term average.In the decades leading up to the housing bubble, politicians pushed policies that would increase the homeownership rate. The theory was that homeownership gave people a vested interest in the economy and in their neighborhoods, and that would lead to greater prosperity. But giving out credit to those who didn’t have the wherewithal to afford a home was one factor that led to the failure of the subprime mortgage market. It’s likely, now that policy makers are more aware of the dangers of pushing homeownership, that those rates will remain in the 64% or 65% historical average.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 11.34.22 AM

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME Economy

Motor City Revival: Detroit’s Stunning Evolution in 19 GIFs

One year ago today Detroit became the largest city in US history to file for bankruptcy. See what changes took place in the city in the years leading up to the momentous declaration.

The Motor City, the former automotive capital of the nation, has seen a steady and precipitous decline in population and economic growth over the last half-century. The automotive industry’s move out of Detroit, poor political decision-making, and the collapse of the housing industry can all be viewed as causes for the city’s decline, among other reasons. On July 18, 2013, unable to pay its looming debts, Detroit became the largest city in U.S. history to enter bankruptcy.

However, this momentous step did not happen overnight. Detroit was hit with a housing crisis in 2008, a sign of economic trouble that foreshadowed the city’s bankruptcy. A major outcome of that crisis is the city’s ongoing blight epidemic. Vast stretches of abandoned residential property lay on the outskirts of the once sprawling 139-square-mile city.

As Steven Gray wrote in 2009, “If there’s any city that symbolizes the most extreme effects of the nation’s economic crisis and, in particular, America’s housing crisis, it is Detroit.”

While many of the buildings and houses within the city have disappeared, evidence of a former era can be found in the more than 80,000 blighted houses remaining combined with an estimated 5,000 incidents of arson each year, according to the New York Times Magazine.

Despite all this, the Motor City could have a bright road ahead. There has been a recent surge in growth, spurred by a sense of opportunity in the ever-evolving city. New businesses are popping up and property is being rebuilt and re-purposed for urban farming, startups and public art.

Google Street view images, compiled here into GIFs, offer a unique look at how Detroit’s landscape has changed over the past four to six years leading up to the city’s bankruptcy a year ago.

TIME General Electric

GE Profits Up 13% As Company Continues to Refocus

Workers assemble a General Electric Co. CF6-80C2 jet engine at the GE Aviation factory in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 25, 2014.
Workers assemble a General Electric Co. CF6-80C2 jet engine at the GE Aviation factory in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 25, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

General Electric profits climbed 13% in the second quarter as the conglomerate refocuses on its core businesses of energy and heavy industry.

GE’s posted earnings of 35 cents a share ($3.55 billion) are up from 31 cents a share a year ago. Operating earnings climbed from 36 cents a share to 39 cents a share.

“GE had a good performance in the quarter and in the first half of 2014, with double-digit industrial segment profit growth, 30 basis points of margin expansion, and nearly $6 billion returned to shareholders,” said GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt in a statement. “The environment continues to be generally positive.”

The news signals the success of GE’s strategy of shedding non-core businesses, like the media giant NBCUniversal, and doubling down on its energy and industrial portfolio. Last quarter, the French engineering titan Alstom agreed to sell its Power and Grid business that builds and services power plants and transmission grids.

MONEY The Economy

Think the Fed Should Raise Rates Quickly? Ask Sweden How That Worked Out

Raising interest rates brought the Swedish economy toward deflation Ewa Ahlin—Corbis

Some investors are impatient for the Fed to raise interest rates. They may want to be a little more patient after hearing what happened to Sweden.

If you’re a saver, or if bonds make up a sizable portion of your portfolio, chances are you’re not the biggest fan of the Federal Reserve these days.

That’s because ever since the financial crisis, the nation’s central bank has kept short-term interest rates at practically zero, meaning your savings accounts and bonds are yielding next to nothing. The Fed has also added trillions of dollars to its balance sheet by buying up longer-term bonds and other assets in an effort to lower long-term interest rates.

Thanks to some positive economic news — like the recent jobs report — lots of people (investors, not workers) think the Fed has done enough to get the economy on its feet and worry inflation could spike if monetary policy stays “loose,” as Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher recently put it.

If you want to know why the argument Fisher and other inflation hawks are pushing hasn’t carried the day, you may want to look to Sweden.

Like most developed nations, Sweden fell into a recession in the global financial crisis. But unlike its counterparts, it rebounded rather quickly. Or at least, that’s how it looked.

As Neil Irwin wrote in the Washington Post back in 2011, “unlike other countries, (Sweden) is bouncing back. Its 5.5 percent growth rate last year trounces the 2.8 percent expansion in the United States and was stronger than any other developed nation in Europe.”

Even though the Swedish economy showed few signs of inflation and still suffered from relatively high unemployment, central bankers in Stockholm worried that low interest rates over time would lead to a real estate bubble. So board members of the Riksbank, Sweden’s central bank, decided to raise interest rates (from 0.25% to eventually 2%) believing that the threat posed by asset bubbles (housing) inflated by easy money outweighed the negative side effects caused by tightening the spigot in a depressed economy.

What happened? Well…

Per Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman in the New York Times:

“Swedish unemployment stopped falling soon after the rate hikes began. Deflation took a little longer, but it eventually arrived. The rock star of the recovery has turned itself into Japan.”

And deflation is a particularly nasty sort of business. When deflation hits, the real amount of money that you owe increases since the value of that debt is now larger than it was when you incurred it.

It also takes time to wring deflation out of the economy. Indeed, Swedish prices have floated around 0% for a while now, despite the Riksbank’s inflation goal of 2%. Plus, as former Riksbank board member Lars E. O. Svensson notes, “Lower inflation than anticipated in wage negotiations leads to higher real wages than anticipated. This in turns leads to many people without safe jobs losing their jobs and becoming unemployed.” Svensson, it should be noted, opposed the rate hike.

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Sweden

Moreover, economic growth has stagnated. After growing so strongly in 2010, Sweden’s gross domestic product began expanding more slowly in recent years and contracted in the first quarter of 2014 by 0.1% thanks in large part to falling exports.

As a result, Sweden reversed policy at the end of 2011 and started to pare its interest rate. The central bank recently cut the so-called “repo” rate by half a percentage point to 0.25%, more than analysts estimated. The hope is that out-and-out deflation will be avoided.

So the next time you’re inclined to ask the heavens why rates in America are still so low, remember Sweden and the scourge of deflation. Ask yourself if you want to take the risk that your debts (think mortgage) will become even more onerous.

TIME Economy

Global Markets Suffer After Ukraine Crash, Unrest Elsewhere

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange July 17, 2014. U.S. stocks fell sharply lower on Thursday. © Brendan McDermid / Reuters—REUTERS

Stock markets report losses around the world as investors take fright at the broader geopolitical implications of the MH17 tragedy

Markets across the world took a conspicuous dive on Thursday in the wake of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17’s catastrophic crash in Ukraine — an event that came toward the end of a week marked by political unrest across Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

The Boeing 777 crashed in a rural area controlled by pro-Russian insurgency forces, believed by Ukrainian authorities to have shot down the plane, killing all 298 people on board.

As governments mobilized to make sense of the tragedy, which a spokesman for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko denounced as an unequivocal act of terrorism, equity and currency traders anxiously rushed to sell their shares, eyeing the crash as indicative of a broader geopolitical tumult that could threaten global economic stability.

“What happened with the plane today and things swirling around with what may have actually happened with the plane caused a bit of a sell-off,” J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade, told the Associated Press. “The geopolitical risk is always the first one that people look for because it’s the one that changes the fastest. The market always hates uncertainty.”

Things had been economically rocky in Russia on Thursday morning even prior to the incident, with new sanctions against the country being imposed by the U.S. and E.U. — a response to Vladimir Putin’s support for the very rebels believed to have downed the Malaysia Airlines flight. That knocked the MICEX, Moscow’s primary stock exchange, down 2.9% by the day’s end. The ruble was down 1.1% against the dollar.

Things were relatively secure elsewhere until news of the crash broke around 10:30 a.m. E.T., shortly after markets opened on Wall Street. Emerging headlines on the tragedy, compounded with reports of Israel launching a ground offensive against Hamas forces in Gaza, jump-started the panic. The New York Stock Exchange had fallen by more than 127 points by the time it closed on Thursday evening; the S&P 500 reported its largest one-day percentage drop since April; prices of gold and oil had risen globally.

Friday has so far proved grim for stock markets in Asia, with both the Hang Seng in Hong Kong and the Nikkei 225 reporting notable slides by mid-afternoon.

In Kuala Lumpur, the price of Malaysia Airlines stock has been on the decline — not only in the aftermath of Thursday’s incident but for the past several months after the disappearance of Flight 370 in March, which has placed a significant financial burden on the company.

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