Living in a “society of anxiety”

By Kathryn Roberts, Cox-SABEW Fellow

Americans feel “stuck” financially, unable to make enough money to live comfortably, despite positive economic data, said a leading consumer journalist during a recent business journalism workshop in New York City.

“We’ve created a society of anxiety,” said Bob Sullivan, author and investigative journalist. “I don’t know that there has ever been a time where there has been this kind of disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street.” Sullivan’s most recent book, The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success, unmasks the reasons behind why people end up in these cemented situations.

Sullivan explained that typical Americans now work long hours just to make ends meet. He cited a recent study that found 80 million Americans making an average salary cannot afford an average size home in the area where they live.

“Structurally, that is incredibly anxious,” Sullivan said. “It makes you lose sleep at night.”

The government data shows positive numbers of an improving economy, yet many people all across the country still have a feeling of “restlessness,” he said.

Sullivan suggested that business and economic journalists should stop reporting about the unemployment rate all together because its underlying data fails to account for large chunks of the population and how they have fared in the post-recession economy. For example, Sullivan maintained the issue is not that fewer people are jobless, but that many people have been forced to replace their middle income jobs with low income jobs.

That factor does not show up in government unemployment rate and skews the perception of what it is happening, he said.

Sullivan told the journalists at the workshop sponsored by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers that it is up to the media to provide the public with a clearer picture of the country’s economic status so that consumers can make better personal finance decisions.

“There actually is progress in all of the unemployment numbers so there are more jobs,” Sullivan said. “The question is what kind of jobs.”