Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Let's think about these statistics.....

Vox links to a list of facts--I've not had the chance to double check them--that theoretically ought to frighten us about our economy.  A couple of them are interesting; that the "Forbes 400" list has a total wealth exceeding that of nearly the poorest half of Americans, and that the Wal-Mart heirs share wealth exceeding that of the bottom third of Americans.  Now let's run the numbers.

The numbers; bottom half of Americans have about $1.6 trillion in assets, and apparently the bottom 40% have about $90 billion in assets.  So the bottom 40% has about $750 in assets per capita, and the next 10% about $40,000 apiece.  Curses on the evil Wal-Mart, right?

Not so fast.  That "bottom 40%" includes student borrowers, who are by definition people (a) without assets and (b) with debt.  The total debt is $902 billion divided among 37 million recipients, about $25,000 per recipient. 

In short, student loan debt--the majority of which is owed by below-average wage earners--is the big driver in low net worth of the lower middle class and poor.  Maybe it's time to rein in a program whose participants have a 50% graduation rate and a 27% late payment rate.

And, quite frankly, maybe it's about time for government to recognize that "means testing" is a synonym for "incentive to remain poor."  There is no easy way out, but in the long run, our choice is between a painful way out, and a very, very painful way out.

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