I have a pet resent with NPR. Why do so many of the hour-long five-minute news programs start and end with brief stock market updates? Isn’t there a more important factoid his news editors could pass on to us?
NPR likes to present itself as a more thoughtful and penetrating alternative, but its frequent stock prices are nothing more than what CNBC listeners could win at any time of the day – not to mention simply Googling every stock the listener is invested in.
Worse, the way NPR newscasters present market news is often misleading. Telling the audience that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 1000 points is very dramatic, but the roughly 3% of total market cap it represents hardly compares to the market’s 500 point drop, 20% at one Day in October 1987. So I have a bit of unsolicited advice for NPR. If you insist on quoting a market rate on every news broadcast, please include the percentage up or down that will give your listeners some context.
Looking at America through the eyes of the stock market is not only useless in predicting major market movements, but it also blinds us to the conditions most citizens experience in their daily work and personal lives.
In any case, as even most CNBC anchors remind us, the stock market is not the economy. Some like to joke that declines in stock markets predicted nine of the last four recessions.
The average person is also unlikely to be directly affected by the daily changes in the price of stocks.
In 2013, the top 1% of households owned 38% of the stock market assets. As of 2013, the top 10% own 81% of the equity, the next 10% (80th to 90th percentile) own 11% and the bottom 80% own 8%.
Changes in the price of bread and gasoline are likely to have a greater impact on the life of the typical citizen. Nonetheless, ongoing media obsession, particularly on the part of reputable “objective” media outlets like NPR, creates disproportionate concerns for the health of the stock market. It also promotes and supports the fundamental belief that markets are the source of all truth. The shift in pensions from defined benefit to defined contribution pensions is making workers’ lives more insecure, even as the 401k accounts help build confidence, or at least approval, of market demands.
Of course, NPR executives probably know what they’re doing. The top 2-10 percent of the income distribution is heavily influenced by the stock market. (I’m leaving out the top 1% because a significant portion of their wealth comes from private equity that isn’t traded on public exchanges.) These investors, whom the blog Naked Capitalism calls the professional manager class, are likely a good part too including NPR listeners. These would be lawyers, doctors, dentists, engineers, accountants, full professors, MBAs, architects. Perhaps in the naive hope that NPR might be interested or ready to expand its base, I’d like to suggest some statistics that could replace some of those multiple daily reports on the stock market.
Every month at least one of the stock market reports should be replaced by the real unemployment rate. That number would include part-time workers looking for full-time workers and discouraged workers. At the end of February it was around 11%, almost twice as high as the headline value. Interestingly, the real unemployment rate reached 22% at the height of the global financial crisis, only 3% less than at the height of the global economic crisis. (This may be an apple-or-orange comparison, as I was unable to pinpoint the definition of unemployment from the 1930s. Even so, the Great Recession is certainly well-named.)
Just as important as the job is what happens in that job. Regular press releases from the Bureau of Labor Statistics contain data on occupational health and safety. The following highlights could be updated and presented several times a year.
Here are some statistics from the year before the pandemic: “· The 5,333 fatal work-related accidents in 2019 represent the highest annual number since 2007. · In 2019, one worker died every 99 minutes of an work-related accident. · Fatalities among old-age workers from 55 years and more than 8 percent from 1,863 in 2018 to 2,005 in 2019, the highest number ever recorded for this age group, increased slightly in 2019 due to suicides (307) and accidental overdose (313) · The death toll in the private construction industry rose 5 percent to 1,061 – the highest total since 2007. · Drivers / sellers and truck drivers suffered 1,005 fatal accidents at work, the highest since this series began in 2003. “
I am not suggesting that these numbers represent the whole truth that policy makers must assume. They raise important questions that should be included in debates about who is doing the essential work and what the risks are.
After all, instead of stock exchange prices, I would rather be regularly informed about hunger in America. The long lines in pantries, even of middle-class citizens, justify efforts to quantify, if only tentatively
Feeding America, the country’s largest hunger relief organization, plans that “42 million people, including 13 million children, could be food insecure by 2021…. Many of the people who were hardest hit by the pandemic were previously food insecure or at risk of food insecurity ”. COVID-19 and have faced greater hardship since COVID “-
Feeding America also predicts that food insecurity will be twice as high for black families as it is for whites.
Looking at America through the eyes of the stock market is not only useless in predicting major market movements, but it also blinds us to the conditions most citizens experience in their daily work and personal lives. Media that demand more depth in their reporting have to do it better.