It's Hard AF To Make Ends Meet. So Why Isn't This The Top Story On The Nightly News?
Updated: Jun 19, 2020
December 12, 2018
Corporate-owned media keeps us focused on everything except what matters most: a collapsing economy that has us hustling harder than ever to survive
Do you feel like you're living in a different "economic" reality?
Maybe when you're watching an ad for the next-gen iPhone where a totally-put-together-hipster is cartwheeling down the street with groovy music and no worries? Or when you're laughing with sitcom characters who manage to live in Pottery Barn-furnished homes in the best neighborhoods, even though they're marginally-employed?
It seems that everywhere we look today the media is plastered with images of carefree strangers who drive high-end cars and seem to have no problem staying insured, keeping a roof over their heads, and their data plans up and running.
But when we turn off our TVs and power down our devices, a different reality hits most of us. And if you're like me, a big chunk of that reality revolves around one thing.
“How to get it and how to hold on to it. And right now it's getting hard AF to make ends meet. Whether it's gas, groceries, a ticket to a movie, or a night in a 3.5-star hotel, it's all gotten so damn expensive. Almost every day I find myself asking, "Who can afford this stuff anymore?"
It's a mind f^^k because no one in my iPhone/sitcom world seems to share our reality. In fact, no one of "importance" is talking about how expensive it's gotten to live now. Economists will tell us inflation has "ticked" up or down a bit, but nothing that ever raises eyebrows or sets off alarms. And if we tune into the media?
That's when the mind f^^k kicks into high gear.
Lester Holt and the other nightly news mannequins (who, like the people in my iPhone/sitcom reality, seem completely unconcerned about making ends meet) never mention what I'm experiencing. Lester never leads with:
"Tonight, peace hangs in the balance in the Middle East. But first, our top story: Americans are finding it hard AF to make ends meet."
Don Lemon never hosts a panel of CNN pundits jawboning for hours about the fact that 50% of Americans can't come up with $400 for an emergency expense.
That's the story I want to hear. I don't want to hear about grown men kneeling during the national anthem, or misbehaving Russians, or the latest dumb thing Trump Tweeted. I want to hear someone acknowledge the reality I'm living every day, the one that almost all of my friends and family are struggling with now.
It turns out there was another "inconvenient truth" that Al Gore never bothered to tell us. He warned us about superstorms, wildfires and droughts, but there was no mention of impending "class change.
We may not have been paying attention, but for decades most of us have been slipping behind, slowly but surely. And lately the pace has picked up. A LOT.
We're in high-octane class plunge now. To paraphrase George W. Bush, "Can you feel it?"
Three generations ago, being middle class meant making enough money to meet basic expenses, own a home in a decent neighborhood, send our kid(s) to college, and maintain a rainy day savings. We didn't even have to save money for retirement because our employers rewarded us with pensions. And all of this was possible on one salary.
How many people do you know in the "middle class" who can still do this today on two salaries? I bet you can count them on one finger. Because the "middle class" today isn’t what it used to be; it's now the "new" lower class.
It turns out there was another inconvenient truth that Al Gore didn't mention when he was warning us about the impending danger of climate change: the impending danger of class change.
Over the last few decades, class in America has been re-branded, but not with the flash and pizzazz of Kmart to Big-K; it's been more of a stealth re-branding. And if we weren't paying attention, we probably missed the re-branding completely.
But even if we suspected something was up, the talking heads in government and the media would tell us we were imagining things. They would rely on semantics to assure us that even if the middle class couldn't live the same way it used to, it was "technically" still the middle class because it was the one sandwiched between the other two.
This re-branding also transformed the "old" middle class to the "new" upper middle class, which means it now takes an upper middle class income to get the quality of life that a middle class income delivered 40 years ago.
So if you've managed to maintain the lifestyle your middle class parents had? Give yourself a pat on the back! Because you're now borderline-rich!
It's gotten so insane that low-income households now spend as much as 80% of their income on rent, while 26% of all households now spend at least 50% of their income on rent or mortgage. Even crazier? Families making $117,000 in San Francisco now qualify as "low income".
Al Gore didn't mention when he was warning us about the impending danger of climate change: the impending danger of class change.
The obscene cost of housing has created an unprecedented eviction and homelessness crisis in the U.S. And it's not hard to see why. If housing eats up most of your income and you lose your job, it's game over; say hello to life on the street.
Wherever we fall on the class ladder, our lifestyle is being sucked down the tubes at a frightening rate. But it's not "breaking news" on every cable news network. It's not trending on Twitter. In fact, it's barely mentioned anywhere. Do you know why?
Because the media decides what we should be focusing on and what should matter most to us. The media sets the agenda for the issues we discuss around the water cooler, Tweet or post to our friends on Facebook.
And the media has decided that we shouldn't be focusing on the single issue that affects ALL of us more than anything else: our ability to survive in a rapidly-changing economy.
But this begs the question: why are the people who are supposed to keep us informed ignoring the biggest story in America today?
Why isn't corporate-owned media talking about how poor we're all becoming?
Just to be clear, I'm not saying that the media never talks about our high octane class plunge.
Occasionally a sobering story will surface online confirming our suspicions that it's hard AF to make ends meet. But it's never the top story. And if Lester happens to mention our class plunge on NBC Nightly News, it will be a quick blurb before he moves on to more pressing issues, like the clear and present danger surrounding the blow job Trump got from Stormy Daniels 12 years ago.
I suspect the reason the media doesn't want us to focus on what's happening to us is because we don't have the media we had a couple of generations ago. Back then, journalists were scrappy, irreverent types who poked their noses into places they "shouldn’t" be poking them. They were men and women who questioned all arms of the Establishment, guardians of the truth who were wary of government and deep pockets.
Who's giving us our news today? Toothy, well-groomed mannequins who are paid seven-digit salaries to smile and deliver bullshit from a teleprompter. Pseudo-actors who are more interested in promoting their books and social media brand than digging into systemic problems that plague us. Wanna-be celebrities who buy into the dominant consensus and don’t ask the obvious questions, like, "Why are half of the people in a 'booming' economy in the 'richest' country in the world now struggling to survive?"
And who employs these mannequins?
In 1983, fifty companies owned 90% of all the newspaper, magazines, TV networks, stations, and publishing companies in the U.S. By the 1990s, that number had shrunk to nine. By 2006, it had been whittled down to eight. And today?
That number stands at SIX.
The corporate takeover of our "free and independent" press is pretty much a done deal.
Even when we think we're getting our news from an "alternative" news outlet, it's still coming from a major corporation: Verizon owns AOL and the Huffington Post. Oh, and it also owns Yahoo! News.
But our media isn't just owned by corporations; it's also controlled by billionaires:
8 billionaires own most of America’s major news media companies.
The Washington Post is owned by one guy, billionaire Jeff Bezos (who also happens to be CEO of Amazon -- because why wouldn't a guy who sells us batteries and diapers also want to give us news?)
One guy (billionaire Rupert Murdoch) owns the Wall Street Journal.
One guy (billionaire John Henry) owns the Boston Globe.
One guy (billionaire Mortimer Zuckerman) owns US News & World Report.
Six corporations that sell an array of products and services globally also deliver the vast majority of news to hundreds of millions of Americans and determine how that information is “messaged"
Please wrap your head around this: we are now relying on people who are paid handsomely by corporations -- that are owned or controlled by the richest people on the planet -- to keep us "informed."
These are the people who are telling us what we should be paying attention to.
These are the people who are distracting us with issues that don’t have much relevance to our day-to-day lives. More importantly, these are the people who are encouraging us to focus on the issues and experiences that separate us and to ignore what we're all struggling with now, whether we're black or white, Democrat or Republican, gay or straight, whether we believe in God or think a Higher Power is a cosmic joke.
It's worth asking whether the media conglomerates that sell us "stuff" have a vested interest in distracting us from our shared predicament and shaping our perception of our economic reality. Might these corporate behemoths be incentivized to maintain the appearance of prosperity and minimize attention to dramatic changes in an economic landscape that's clearly working for them, even if it’s failing most of us? Might their efforts to downplay the reality of high-octane class plunge help us justify the relentless consumption of “stuff” that many of us are finding it harder to afford?
So the next time you find yourself outraged by a "breaking news" banner flashing across your screen or a notification "pushed" to your device, before you’re driven to make that passionate Tweet or Facebook post that gives more energy to the issue du jour that's got everyone around you hot and bothered, you might want to ask yourself three simple questions:
How does this issue affect my life and the lives of most people in this country?
How will this issue affect future generations?
Most importantly, who's giving this issue the most "heat" — and WHY?
Right now, there’s no shortage of injustices and crazy things going on in the world. There’s SO much to be worried and outraged about. But when we're hit with a lot of crazy stuff, we need to prioritize what we focus on; we can't possibly deal with all the craziness at once because there's a limit to our multi-tasking abilities.
If we really want to fix what's going wrong with this country, we need to take a closer look at the issues we put most of our thoughts and energy into, the ones that galvanize us to take our anger to social media or into the streets.
Because at the end of the day, if we're all sucked down the tubes, struggling harder every year just to survive, soon none of us will have the energy or capacity to deal with any of these problems.
Suggested reads:“Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America” by Alissa Quart and “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond.