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U.S. Economy Recovering; Federal Reserve Announces Taper; President Declares Inequality Defining Issue; Low-Wage Workers Struggling

Aired December 21, 2013 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A Federal Reserve confident in the U.S. economic recovery. Investors cheering economic growth revised higher. So what's next? I'm Christine Romans. This is YOUR MONEY.

The taper is here. Call it taper light, taper teeny, taper tots. On Wednesday, the Fed announced it will being pulling back on its historic stimulus, but only a little bit, a teeny bit, $10 billion a month. Why? Because the Fed says the job market is looking better. For investors, it's the best of both worlds, an acknowledgement the economy is strengthening but still plenty of stimulus in the system. That means short term you could see stocks still run.

What else can we expect? Even though the Fed indicated it is in no hurry to raise interest rates, mortgage rates will gradually rise. The same for car loans. But saving rates could also start rising, and that's good news for savers who have been killed by rock bottom rates.

Greg Valliere is the chief political strategist for Potomac Research Group. Greg, you say the Fed's decision means the recovery is real. We saw 4.1 percent economic growth in the third quarter. Tell me our long, national nightmare is over.



VALLIERE: Everything looks remarkably good. There are still people that need unemployment insurance in January, but I think that the level of acrimony on the budget clearly has diminished. The Fed can start taking the punch bowl away a little bit. And you have to conclude that this economy is gaining momentum now.

ROMANS: It's not gaining momentum for everyone. I think that's a sticking point. We still have his national conversation about a living wage. We still have this national conversation about the quality of jobs on balance that have been made in the recovery. They have not been as good as the jobs we've lost. And then you've got winners and losers. You've got stocks moving up. You've got a housing market that's still recovering. Who are going to be the winners next year?

VALLIERE: I think savers will get a little bit more on their returns. I think the banks will do very well. They always do well as rates start to go up. And I think both parties will be less vilified, shall we say, because I think they decided that their brand was hurt so badly in October that we are not going to go through this again on the debt ceiling.

ROMANS: They are backed away from the cliff, no question. Senator Ron Johnson just told me that he, you know, he's going to tie changes to Obama care to raising the debt ceiling. Could it be the Republicans really try to do it again with the debt ceiling in February, March, really where you are going to tie Obamacare to paying our bills?

VALLIERE: It's just not going to work. They have tried twice before and they've had to capitulate. Maybe they will get some reforms. My long shot special, by the way, Christine, is that somehow Keystone pipeline will get tied into a deal and we might get it approved. But the idea we are going to kill Obamacare or have big entitlement reform, that's just not going to get tied to the debt ceiling.

ROMANS: Let's talk about Ben Bernanke. You say he's going to turn out to be a hero here, the greatest Fed chief in history. Has he set up Janet Yellen perfectly for next year?

VALLIERE: Absolutely. I mean, they could have had an awkward meeting in late January or she could have done it on her own in March, but they decided to make it quite clear that they are all on the same page. I think it's a seamless transition. And as the year goes on, the Fed can focus on the next task, and that is letting everybody know we have two years to go before they actually raise rates.

ROMANS: There was a time when people said that Alan Greenspan was the best Fed chief in history. Of course he was in the Fed chair for the run up of the bubble. Could history not be less kind to Ben Bernanke if all this stimulus slushing around has created a bunch of bubbles for the future?

VALLIERE: Sure, if we get bubbles, if we see inflation. I sure don't see any inflation right now. I suppose there could be a harsh post mortem, but right now I think you have got to say what Bernanke did, very controversial, very much opposed by some politicians. I think what he did has worked and worked quite well.

ROMANS: To recap, you say our national economic nightmare is over and there's a cooling of the tensions in Washington. We'll take that as the gift, at least for this week. Thank you so much.

VALLIERE: You bet.

ROMANS: For more stories that matter to your money, give me 60 seconds on the clock. It's "Money Time."


ROMANS: Drug giant GlaxoSmithKline will no longer pay drug reps based on their sales numbers. It will also stop paying doctors, marking a change in how the Pharma company pushes its products. Vitamins are a waste of money, strong words from researchers studying long term benefits in taking multivitamins. The vitamin industry rakes in nearly $12 billion every year.

Revenge of the nerds? Not so much. A new study finds people who were attractive in high school end up making more money later, an eight percent bump for good looking women and four percent more for men.

Target is shunning Queen B. The retailer will not sell Beyonce's new album. It was available digitally first. Target says that hurts sales.

Can you smell what the Rock is cooking? Forbes named Dwayne Johnson this year's top grossing actor. His movies, including "Fast and Furious 6" and "G.I. Joe" brought in $1.3 billion at the box office.


ROMANS: Coming up, the Federal Reserve may be confident in the U.S. economic recovery, but many of you are still asking what economic recovery? Are we one America with two economies, next.


ROMANS: The jobs picture is brightening so much, in fact, the Fed will start gradually pulling back its historic stimulus. Unemployment is at a five year low. America is on track to create 2.3 million jobs this year. If you have a job and a 401(k), you are feeling better. If you don't have a job or a 401(k), if you are one of those 11 million Americans still out of work, it pretty much feels like one America with two economies. And the bipartisan budget compromise passed by Congress is not likely to change that.

The agreement does blunt the pain of those forced automatic budget cuts, but it doesn't extend federal unemployment benefits. And 1.3 million Americans stand to lose their benefits at the end of this month. It cuts pensions for military retirees younger than 62 and it does nothing to create jobs that pay a living wage.

Marc Morial is the president of the National Urban League. Will Cain is a conservative CNN political commentator and columnist for "The Blaze." Both of you welcome. Marc, let me get your reaction first. What does this budget agreement say about America's priorities?

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: I think the deal is an imperfect deal. But having said that, I think Paul Ryan and Patty Murray did find a way to do something that is both bipartisan and should last hopefully to two years.

But as you mentioned in your opening, it doesn't extend federal unemployment benefits. From my point of view, it doesn't I think secure significant investments in education and job training to deal with that long-term unemployment level. I think, also, they missed the opportunity to perhaps confront the problem with a broken, out of date tax code with lots of loopholes for special interests. ROMANS: I like the bipartisanship. I'm not going to go -- we have very low expectations. Senator Ron Johnson just told me that he will tie raising the debt ceiling to changes in Obamacare. So already Republicans are starting to maybe, I don't know, spoil for a fight.

WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So your question to both Marc and I is what does it tell us about our priorities.


CAIN: The right way to answer that is the way Marc began. It tells you some things about our policy, our substantive priorities. But the truth is, what it tells you is politics is the priority right now. And that's not necessarily always a bad thing. Many things Marc espoused were missing in this budget deal. And I disagree on some of them. But tax reform was missing. Entitlement reform including Obamacare, that was missing. And the reason why is the goal was let's politically get beyond the concept of shutdowns. Let's have fights on other grounds like Obamacare. And Republicans, by the way, just feel better having political fights over the debt ceiling. That's what you should learn from all of this.

ROMANS: Let's talk about the backdrop of this conversation. Polls are showing again and again that even if the economy is getting better, people don't feel that great about their share of it. A U.C. Berkeley study finding the top one percent of households captured 95 percent of the income gains from 2009 to 2012. And then a Pew study find 70 percent of those born poor stay poor. Will, here we go, we have had this conversation many times. Is this just the normal byproduct of a healthy, exciting, humungous democracy?

CAIN: No. I thought you were going to say "economy," not "democracy." It's not necessarily the byproduct of a healthy economy. But what is it, I would love to see if Marc and I disagree on this. The concept of inequality and poverty are not one in the same. Inequality and poverty are not the same thing. We need to do everything we can to lift people out of poverty. Marc mentioned education -- strong believer. It doesn't necessarily mean shooting more money at the problem, but reforming how we deal with education.

But inequality is something that isn't necessarily in and of itself a problem. I know that's going to hit a lot of people. Inequality is fine as long as we are all growing. We can grow at different rates, but as long --


ROMANS: The middle class has been going like this over the past 30 years.

CAIN: That's true.

MORIAL: Here is my thinking. Income equality and poverty are tied together like red beans and rice, ham and eggs, Santa Claus and Christmas. And the two go hand-in-hand. The reason this discussion is important is because 20th century America narrowed the income gap in a significant way. We had record economic growth. We had the rise of a middle class. We had a much better nation throughout the 20th century. So this is a reversal of trends inconsistent with America's values.

ROMANS: Hold on, I want to play something to make Will mad. The president called income inequality the defining challenge of our time. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Government action time and again can make an enormous difference in increasing opportunity and bolstering ladders into the middle class. Investments and education, laws establishing collective bargaining and a minimum wage, these all contributed to rising standards of living for massive numbers of Americans.



OBAMA: The key here, Will, is he says government can help fix it. You disagree.

CAIN: Yes. Well, first, I don't accept the premise that inequality is the defining issue of our time. I don't doubt that it is for President Obama. But inequality is a concept based upon the human vice of envy. It is, how am I doing compared to someone else? When the true problem is, are we all growing and getting better? That's what you hope to solve. Marc, I don't think the answer to solving that is by rewinding to the '50s. I think the answers is policies that make us all grow.

MORIAL: If you don't agree with President Obama, maybe you can agree with Pope Francis. And I think this discussion has a different frame because Pope Francis is I think raising it, makes it moral and not just an American political issue because he's talking about it in a broad context.

The second thing I would say is on the role of government. Government can play a role. The private sector has a role to play, the nonprofit sector has a role to play in improving this idea of upward mobility. This is what we are talking about. We are talking the ability of an Americans maybe born poor or in the middle class and their ability to rise, and it's not just theoretical.

ROMANS: Could it be that was a 19th and 20th century construct of the United States and now the rising mobility is something that happens in the other parts of the world, not ours?

CAIN: No, it can happen here. It can happen here, and the place, to be specific, where government can do that is the realm of education. Think outside the box, not just spend more money. Unfortunately in places like New York City as we elect mayors like Bill DeBlasio, we are going to roll backwards on that because we have seen experiments like charter schools and such, reform education. That is the way to rise.

ROMANS: Next time, we are going to talk about the education component.

CAIN: I have kids in this.

ROMANS: I know. We all do. We have a lot of opinions about this and personal experience. Guys, thanks. Nice to see you. Happy new year.

MORIAL: Merry Christmas, happy Kwanzaa, happy Chanukah, and felice navidad.

ROMANS: Ding, ding, ding, you win.

Up next, trapped by the wage gap.


JOANNA CRUZ, LOW-WAGE EARNER: By the time I finish school I'm going to like 40. Like, who is going to hire a 40-year-old that just started off with no experience? It's probably not going to happen.


ROMANS: Poppy Harlow introduces us to a family struggling not just to get ahead, but get by.


ROMANS: One America, two economies. Fact, the U.S. economy is improving. Home values are rising, 401(k)s are climbing, and big companies are making money. But those big companies are not hiring. They're not paying wages that are allowing Americans to secure in the middle class to take part in this recovery. Our Poppy Harlow met with some family who are not feeling any richer. Poppy, what did you find out about this low wage economy?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: They are now. And we have been seeing this flurry of protests by retail and fast food workers mainly over the past year demanding what they are calling a living wage, arguing they can't get by on what they are taking home an hour. And they are demanding a higher wage as the stock market soars to record highs. But keep this in mind, about half of all Americans are not invested in the market at and are not benefitting from this run.


CRUZ: You have no money on your lunch account. Not a dollar.

HARLOW: At 29 years old, Joanna Cruz is stuck at a job that pays $7.30 an hour. She works at a deli, 40 hours a week. Her weekly paycheck, $244.70.

What do you need to make to be able to get by on your own?

CRUZ: I would have to make at least $14, $15 to be able to live. HARLOW: Do you add it up as you go?

CRUZ: Yes. I have to.

HARLOW: She's a single mom fighting to get by. Don't be mistaken, she blames herself for not finishing high school and not going to college. But she tells me, there has to be more she can achieve.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is no moving up. I might get a raise if I'm there long enough, but that's about it.

HARLOW: Joanna life mirrors her mothers. Augusta Cruz worked 30 years in a mattress factory and says she never made more than $9 an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a vicious cycle for everybody.

HARLOW: Her mother provides the home Joanna can't afford.

If it weren't for you having them here under your roof, where would Joanna be?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In a shelter, in the street.

HARLOW: Years of low wage work have left Joanna with little hope.

CRUZ: I'm already 29. By the time I finish school, I'm going to be like 40. Like, who is going to hire a 40-year-old that, you know, is just starting off with no experience? It's probably not going to happen. Some days I don't want to try.

HARLOW: Tell me what you mean.

CRUZ: I feel like what's the point. What's the point in trying, I'm not going to make it anyway?

HARLOW: Do you think from the outside looking in people have any idea what you go through?

CRUZ: No. None.

HARLOW: Americans have long believed in a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, but we can't agree on what that wage is today. President Obama supports raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to about $10 an hour. But critics argue that won't help. It will hurt, costing jobs and increasing prices.

DAVID NEUMARK, CENTER FOR ECONOMICS AND PUBLIC POLICY, U.C. IRVINE: In general, prices go up, people buy a little less and therefore firms use a little less labor. You are better off if you earn a higher wage, clearly. But weigh that against the likelihood your employer is going to make due with somewhat fewer workers and you might be one of those workers.

HARLOW: At the center of the debate, fast food chains and big box retailers. In 2012, the average pay for a fast food worker was $9 an hour, for a retail worker, $12.17, both higher than minimum wage. As for Joanna, her pay will go up in January when minimum wage in New Jersey increases to $8.25 an hour. She will still struggle but hopes her children's lives will be better.

CRUZ: It's not going to happen to my kids. I promise you that it's not going to happen to my kids. It's not. I won't allow it to.


HARLOW: And I want you to consider this number. We looked at the data. Last year, more than 12 million full time working Americans, full time working Americans earned less than $20,000. And that is more than if they made minimum wage. You talk about the cycle. Joanna, her mother never made more than $9 an hour. She's making less than her mother made but says it won't happen to her kids. How do you prevent that?

ROMANS: Is it an education story?

HARLOW: It is an education story. It is also she takes personal responsibility. She said to me, look, it's my fault that I didn't finish high school. It's my fault I didn't go to college. Now she works overnight and she's so exhausted doing that and taking care of her kids she feels discouraged.

ROMANS: It's so interesting, because when people look at the economics of raising the minimum wage and making a livable wage, and then they look at technological investments in robotics and mechanized assembly lines, and they say we are talking delivering a package with a drone to someone's front door. We are talking low wage jobs and in some cases mid wage jobs that could very well be replaced by technology. It's going to be interesting to see what kind of job opportunities for people stuck in that cycle.

HARLOW: What is the answer? Where is the government's role in all of this?

ROMANS: Interesting. All right, Poppy, Harlow, it will be a story for 2014.

HARLOW: No question.

ROMANS: Coming, are you flying this holiday season? Crying babies and snoring seatmates can make it hard enough. Now the FCC use let passengers use cellphones in flight. What would you pay for a little peace and quiet? Find out after the break.


ROMANS: The NFL's television blackout rules have angered many fans over the years. Maybe they were just mad their teams were underperforming. Here is the score. The FCC is considering a ban on the NFL's television blackout rules. Currently if a stadium doesn't sell out, hometown fans don't get to watch the game on TV. The NFL says the rule helps support its franchises, gets people to the stadium. The blackout rate is the lowest in 40 years. But the FCC is worried about data because ticket sales aren't the only source of revenue for teams anymore. Many fans hate the blackout rule because they say attending a game is too expensive. It costs a family of four an average of $450 for tickets, parking, food, and merchandise. That's according to a Team Marketing report.

Senator Tom Coburn might have something to say about that. His annual waste book points out the government could have made $91 million if it was allowed to tax the NFL. Currently, NFL franchises are tax exempt.

Hate waiting to board the plane but don't want to pay that pesky fee to get on early? Just wear a Russell Wilson jersey to the airport next time. Alaska Airlines is giving priority boarding to anyone wearing Wilson's number three jersey. The Seahawks quarterback is the new spokesman for the airline. But it may just be cheaper to go to a game. Team Marketing reports that tickets to Seahawks games are cheaper than the NFL average.

The FCC is considering lifting the ban on in-flight cellphone use. The fake news folks over at "Saturday Night Live" had this to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A new poll shows that 59 percent of Americans want the FAA to keep the ban on cell phones used during flight, while the other 41 percent want you to guess where they are calling you from.



ROMANS: Can you hear me? Guess what I am? Flying can be stressful enough as it is. Is the ability to make calls inflight really worth it? We hit the streets of New York to find in a segment we like to call, "What would you pay?"


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to pay $25 for your luggage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An hour, five times 60.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll probably $25 to $50 to be in a no phone zone, if that's possible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I was trapped next to somebody, I would pay anything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's $3 a minute times 60 minutes --



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zero. You know why? I am the outlier. I don't care if people use their cellphone on the airplane. I don't. I would rather be in contact. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, $50 or so an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Double not to have phones on the plane.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would I pay to stop the person next to me from yapping? Quite frankly, I'm pretty good at tuning people out. I work in TV.


ROMANS: Funny. Isn't that funny? The only people who don't care are people who work in TV who have people talking in their ears all the time anyway.

All right, thank you. That's it for YOUR MONEY this week. Start Saturday smart with us every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. eastern. We're going to see you back here next week. Have a really happy holiday, everybody.