The Private Sector is Doing Fine?

Depends on what you mean by “Private Sector”


President Obama took a lot of flack for suggesting that the “private sector is doing fine.” The right wing jumped on him for this gaffe. How could he be so out of touch with reality? Obviously, the private sector is not doing fine.

Well, it’s not quite that simple. Of course, a sociologist always says that, mostly because it’s true. It’s not the intention of this piece to speak for the President. I have no inner circle knowledge of what President Obama meant by his statement. However, there is a sociological analysis that can be done. In this case I use two recent articles from the New York Times to make the point that terms like “Private Sector” are more complicated than can be reduced into a political sound-bite.

If by Private Sector we mean all of those who make their living from privately owned segments of the economy as opposed to tax supported projects¹, then that would include those at all levels of the income spectrum. On average, such participants are not doing fine, but they are recovering.

Figure 1: Click the Chart for the Source

On the other hand, the “doing fine” elements of the private sector are not evenly distributed. If you are that part of the private sector dependent upon wages, salaries and employment, then you are most certainly “unfine.” You are underpaid, underemployed, stuck in a job that you do not want or are overqualified for. Your prospects for the future are lower than ever and you see no way out of this situation.

If, however, you are at the top of the private sector ladder, then you are, indeed, doing fine. In fact, “doing fine” is a profound understatement. You are profiting from the very collapse of the global economy that you may have had a hand in creating.


¹This is, of course, complicated by the fact that many institutions in the private sector also receive funds from the public sector, the taxpayer.


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