Sometimes media criticism can be easy–especially when an article is based around a shaky premise that is undermined by the article itself.
Friday’s USA Today front page (3/29/13) declared, “We’re Feeling Rich Again.” A subhead, pointing to a related sidebar article, recommends that we should “show this bull some love.” That doesn’t mean what you might think.
But the right question to ask is who precisely “we” might be.
Reporter Paul Davidson didn’t have many doubts, at least in the lead:
The stock market’s record-setting rally has helped U.S. households recover all of the wealth they lost in the Great Recession, prompting many Americans to open their wallets and shrug off a recent payroll tax hike.
So “U.S. households”–hey, that’s sort of like almost all of us, right?!
The piece tells us the Standard & Poor’s index–a “closely watched barometer of the stock market”–broke a record, just like the Dow. Home prices are coming back–up 9 percent from their low point.
That doesn’t sound terribly impressive, and you have to read to the second-to-last graph to get a dose of reality:
Although most of the increase in household wealth can be traced to climbing stock values, only about half of U.S. households own stocks, Zandi says. Only about 10 percent have significant holdings, says Beata Caranci, deputy chief economist at TD Economics.
So household wealth is on the rebound–but mostly because of the stock market. Which means it means next to nothing to the vast majority of us.
But still… “we’re” feeling rich, right?!
(For an earlier version of this, see Newsweek‘s 1999 cover “Everyone’s Getting Rich, But Me,” which assured readers that “wealth is increasingly spread out as businesses give workers more of a stake. And as everybody starts to pick up his own dot.com business plan, that picks up the pace of innovation.” That bubble was about to burst.)