There is a lot of discussion of economic class in America right now. As those on the left begin to target billionaires, many economists are arguing that upper middle class Americans are victims in today's economy, and even more people are raising their voices to protest the cycle of poverty many lower class Americans are trapped in. But how do you place yourself in the midst of this national conversation? Could you say definitively which class you fall into? How can you partake in this important national conversation if you don't know the facts.
While people often think of economic classes as lower class, middle class, upper middle class, and upper class, the truth is more nuanced. In reality, there are three socio-economic groups to be considered particularly in conversations regarding government benefits or taxation rates. The first is the infamous top 1%, a group whose income has grown significantly since 1980, increasing as much as 400%, a rate that is significantly faster than the growth rate of the economy in that same time period.
Then, there is the upper middle class who make $120,000 to $425,000 a year post tax, and fall into the 90th to 99th percentile of income distribution. Since 1980, this section has been growing at about the same pace as the economy, remaining mostly neck and neck with the GDP.
Finally, there is the bottom 90th percentile of households, that make up the entirety of the final class. Though this group is more encompassing than you probably assumed, this is indeed a more accurate picture of the reality of the American tax system. This class has increasingly trailed the growth of the economy since 1980, meaning that they have held less and less of American wealth as time has gone on.
So what does all of this indicate? First and foremost, the upper middle class is right where they need to be. Their income is growing steadily as the economy prospers and they're taxed at a rate that allows for reasonable upward mobility. Meanwhile, the top 1%, whose growth consistently outpaces the economy, needs to be taxed at higher rates in order to allow for wealth redistribution to the bottom 90%, whose stagnancy indicates bad things for the American economy. Essentially, rising out of that bottom 90%, given current tax rates and economic possibilities, is a near impossible task, meaning that it's time to cut the taxes of this sector of the American population. A healthy and successful country is not measured by the total amount of wealth, but the distribution of that wealth, and it's time lawmakers take this into account.
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When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.
A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.
One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.
The Federal Reserve
The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.
This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.
The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.
Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.
Frugal gifting often gets a bad reputation. However, this shopping method does not make you cheap — it makes you practical. Frugal gifts often avoid waste and overspending and can be just as meaningful (if not more so) as any other present.
With the National Retail Federation predicting each consumer this holiday season to spend upwards of $1,000 on holiday gifts amidst an economic recession —this year might be the perfect time to reconsider your spending budget. We've formulated the ultimate list of frugal gift-giving ideas to get you started.