The Top Cause of Stress in the US

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The Top Cause of Stress in the US
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Money is the top cause of stress in the United States. Here’s what commentators say about the stock market and economic recovery. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.

Top Story: Top Cause of Stress

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), money is the top cause of stress in the United States. In a survey, the APA reported that 72% of Americans stressed about money at least some of the time during the previous month. With that as a backdrop, one year ago from today, many Americans woke up with a knot in their stomach. This sinking feeling was caused by a historic market sell-off the day before. If we travel back in time we see that on March 16, 2020, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 2,997.10 points lower, or 12.9%. This was the “worst day since the ‘Black Monday’ market crash in 1987 and its third-worst day ever,” according to CNBC. An utter sense of confusion gripped American households.

With that said, one-year can make a big difference, as we all know. This past Monday, March 15, 2021, the Dow and S&P 500 both hit new records as investors grew optimistic about the economic reopening from the pandemic. Here’s what various commentators have to say about the stock market and nascent economic recovery:

On The Left

The left credits government action – in both 2020 and through the latest economic relief bill – for the economic recovery. Still, they worry that the stock market rebound leaves too many Americans behind, especially minorities.

In the NYT, Ben Casselman writes about a potential depression averted by a strong government response. He contrasts this to economic hardships in the past, writing that “Many feared that the United States would repeat the experience of the last recession, when a timid and short-lived government response, in the view of many experts, led to years of high unemployment and anemic wage growth.” Instead, “Congress responded more quickly and forcefully than in any past crisis — a particularly remarkable outcome given that both the White House and Senate were controlled by Republicans, a party traditionally skeptical of programs like unemployment insurance.”

Casselman also believes that this recovery is more sustainable than the last one, given the “$1.9 trillion plan that Democrats pushed through Congress this month,” which he thinks “could help the United States achieve something it failed to do after the last recession: ensure a robust recovery.” Still, he laments the fact that “The damage was deeply unequal, and the economic response, though it helped many families weather the storm, didn’t come close to overcoming that inequity.”

Jessica Menton and George Petras also focus on the inequities that exist within the recession and recovery on the pages of USA Today. “While some Americans have seen their stock holdings balloon in value,” they write, “not everyone has been able to take advantage of the market rebound to build wealth during the market’s recovery.” Furthermore, while jobs are coming back, they are doing so at a snail’s pace, with economists saying that “it may take several years for the labor market to heal. So far, the economy has recouped 12.7 million of the 22.2 million jobs lost in the pandemic recession.” Furthermore, while the stock market rebound, specifically, is impressive, “47% of US families own no stock,” and “about 60% of White households own stock, compared with just 33% of Black households.” They conclude by stating that, “The people with the least wealth have endured the most job losses in the pandemic.”

Lastly, in regards to questions about lofty-stock valuations, Zachary Karabell argues in TIME that we are not in the midst of a bubble. In fact, Karabell says that “Calling bubbles, predicting them, and warning of them has almost become a bubble itself, but that also means that almost all of these predictions have been wrong.” Karabell says “So many people are so certain that we are in a bubble simply because stocks have gone up,” but this isn’t always the case. He thinks it’s also foolish to compare individual companies and corporate profit growth with the overall economy. He says “Most companies in the markets are growing far more than any national economy, and if you want your investments to grow, hitching a ride with companies that are thriving makes more sense than investing in government bonds whose yields barely match inflation.” Ultimately, Karabell says “… the only evident bubble in the markets is the sheer number of people predicting bubbles about to burst. Bet against them before you bet against the markets.”

While the left is optimistic regarding the stock market and America’s economic prospects, they are also focused on inequality which they believe was exacerbated by the bust and subsequent boom.

On The Right

The right is cautiously optimistic when it comes to the topic of economic recovery. However, they see risks in the Federal Reserve pumping too much cash into the market and keeping interest rates too low for too long. (Note: the first two outlets below are not expressly “right-leaning” as measured on the Allsides Media Bias chart. We’ve positioned their viewpoints in this section for counterargument purposes.)

Liz Ann Sonders writes for Charles Schwab that “Stocks tend to lead the economy.” Generally, she says, “at major stock market inflection points, the economic data is typically lagging.” Sonders takes a detailed look into specific groups of fluctuating stocks to make the case that the market has a strong economic foundation from which to rise. She notes that “For the first five to six months of the market’s rebound, the market was characterized by a very small handful of COVID-19 ‘thrivers,’ while the rest of the market remained in a beleaguered state.” While “that was certainly reflective of the behavior of the economy at that time,” after vaccine distribution ramped up, the rest of the market “began playing catch-up” with companies and stocks grounded in “reopening” rising above their “stay-at-home” counterparts. She ultimately concludes that while “a lot of prospective good economic news is now priced into the market,” there is still a “risk of market weakness if the rosy outlook is less rosy” in reality.

John Reckenthaler outlines several reasons for caution in Morningstar, but also offers key comparisons between now and prior cycles. He compares this market to that of the Roaring 20s and late 1990s, citing soaring values, excessive optimism, dominance of technology stocks, and retail investor enthusiasm. He then notes a few important differences. In previous financial bubbles, the economy had experienced prior growth for a long period of time. Right now, he writes, the economy is just starting its recovery. Furthermore, interest rates are 1.5% versus 5.3% in 1999, an important factor since more investors split their savings allocation between relatively safe fixed-income bonds and more risky stock market investments. As Reckenthaler puts it, “Today’s economic underpinnings–interest rates in particular–differ from those of the late 1990s.” He concludes by saying that “My pessimism is tempered with the hope that this time, too, my fears will not materialize.”

Lastly, not everyone agrees that this market has room to run. In fact, some think that we are entering bubble territory and that market valuations are frothy. Writing for National Review, Douglas Carr believes that “By Warren Buffett’s criteria, current stock prices are their most overvalued at least since World War II.” He says, “the ratio of stock-market value…to GDP” is dramatically above the previous all-time high at the peak of the NASDAQ stock market bubble in 2000. Carr believes that major central banks have made it a goal to “push financial markets towards riskier investments, which, of course, include stocks.” Moreover, Carr says with “housing prices appreciating faster than personal incomes by an annualized 20 percent, the fastest such rate recorded,” the biggest economic risk is “a housing downturn, similar to what happened in the Great Financial Crisis.” Carr concludes by saying “… despite its great initial work stanching the pandemic panic, right now the biggest financial instability risk is. . . the Fed.”

Republicans are not yet sounding the alarm bells, but they warn of strong headwinds and a few potential landmines when navigating financial markets in the months to come.

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Reuters poll reports that “The US economy is expected to reach pre-COVID-19 levels within a year as President Joe Biden’s planned fiscal package helps boost economic activity, but it’s likely to take over a year for unemployment to fall to early 2020 levels.” Meanwhile, a Morning Consult poll finds that about 7 in 10 Democrats and Millennials “believe the stock market is rigged against amateur investors, compared with about 3 in 5 Republicans and baby boomers who said the same.” Concurrently, “45% of the public says Wall Street isn’t regulated enough.”

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