Column, 296 words

Our Bullish Sock Market

Jim Hightower

America’s economic recovery can be measured not only in the performance of stocks — but also of socks.

Most economists, pundits, and politicos see this year’s boom in the stock market and say: “See, the recovery is going splendidly!”

What if they went to such stores as Kohl’s, Target, and Walmart to find out what’s selling? The answer would be: Socks.

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savageblackout/Flickr

During this back-to-school season, usually the year’s second-biggest buying spree, sales are sluggish at best. Customers are foregoing any spending on their kids except for socks, underwear, and other essentials.

The sock market isn’t just a key economic indicator. It’s a way to gauge the widening inequality in America.

The highly-ballyhooed “recovery” has been restricted to the few at the top who own stocks, get paychecks that top $100,000 a year, and drive BMWs. Meanwhile, the rest of us don’t have any cash to spare beyond necessities.

Charles M. Holley Jr., Walmart’s chief financial officer, seems puzzled by this. As he puts it, there’s “a general reluctance of customers to spend on discretionary items.”

Golly, sir, could it be because job growth in our supremely-wealthy country has been both lackluster and miserly?

Yes, for jobs today are typically very low-paying, part-time, and temporary, with no benefits. Mr. Walmart-man should know this, since his retail behemoth is the leading culprit in downsizing American jobs.

In recent months, headquarters has directed Walmart managers not to hire at all or to concentrate on hiring temporary and part-time workers, while cutting the hours of many full-time employees and making it harder for all workers to get the corporation’s meager health care plan.

Walmart’s sales and profits are stagnant today because — hello — even its own workers can’t afford to buy anything besides socks.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. OtherWords.org