JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon on Tuesday praised the U.S. as "truly an exceptional country" but noted its slow rate of economic growth in recent years makes it clear "that something is wrong – and it's holding us back."
In his annual letter to shareholders, Dimon outlined his company's performance in 2016 – a year in which JPMorgan brought in a record $24.7 billion in net income – against a backdrop of lackluster economic growth maintaining just a 1.6-percent pace from January to December.
"It is understandable why so many are angry at the leaders of America's institutions, including businesses, schools and governments – they are right to expect us to do a better job," Dimon said. "Our problems are significant, and they are not the singular purview of either political party."
Annual shareholders letters are by no means novel or unique to JPMorgan Chase, but Dimon has a reputation for breaking down not only his company's overall performance but more broadly the country's – and the world's – economic and political backdrop. His 2016 reflection – which ended up spanning 46 pages in total – was no different.
His notes and musings about the world's state of affairs are especially notable in 2017, as he sits as a member of a private-sector advisory group to President Donald Trump. Perhaps because of the president's polarized public reception, Dimon noted during an interview with Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andrew Serwer Tuesday that he "did get a lot of complaints from people" about his participation in the group.
And although he had plenty of positive things to say about America overall, the JPMorgan Chase CEO lamented the country's slow rate of growth – averaging just 1 percent between 2000 and 2016.
Though that 17-year window included two recessions, one of which was the worst economic downturn the country had seen since the Great Depression, America's ongoing post-recession recovery hasn't exactly been sterling. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta on Tuesday projected the U.S. economy would grow at a rate of only 1.2 percent in January, February and March – down markedly from the fourth quarter's admittedly underwhelming 2.1-percent pace of growth.
Comparatively, Dimon noted the U.S. economy expanded at a 2.3-percent annual average between 1948 and 2000.
"Our nation's lower growth has been accompanied by – and may be one of the reasons why – real median household incomes in 2015 were actually 2.5 percent lower than they were in 1999," Dimon said. "Low-skilled labor just doesn't earn what it used to, which understandably is a source of real frustration for a very meaningful group of people. The income gap between lower skilled and skilled workers has been growing and may be the inevitable consequence of an increasingly sophisticated economy."
Dimon outlined six key variables that he believes have held the country back in recent years:
Dimon suggested a combination of money spent on wars, direct government lending to students, rising health care costs, the substantial number of Americans with felony convictions and tight mortgage availability have all "had a significant impact on America's growth." He also indicated it was "alarming that approximately 40 percent … of those who receive advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math at American universities are foreign nationals with no legal way of staying here even when many would choose to do so."
Labor Force Participation
Dimon also bemoaned the country's depressed labor force participation statistics. The participation rate – which measures the percentage of working-aged Americans who are either employed or actively looking for a job – in February clocked in at 63 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ten years prior, it sat at 66.3 percent, and 10 years before that it was at 66.9 percent.
"Some of the reasons for this decline are understandable and aren't too worrisome – for example, an aging population," he said, though he noted that the decline in participation among men between the ages of 25 and 54 in recent decades points to "a serious problem."
Dimon noted that "many high schools and vocational schools do not provide the education our students need" and that "we should be ringing the national alarm bell that inner city schools are failing our children."
"We are creating generations of citizens who will never have a chance in this land of dreams and opportunity. Unfortunately, it's self-perpetuating, and we all pay the price," he said.
With infrastructure reform garnering national attention as Trump's administration weighs its options, Dimon noted that America is "behind most major developed countries."
"The United States has not built a major airport in more than 20 years. China, on the other hand, has built 75 new civilian airports in the last 10 years alone," he said.
Corporate Tax Shortcomings
Tax reform also appears to be on the administration's and lawmakers' to-do list, particularly on the corporate side where plenty of bipartisan ground is thought to exist.
"American corporations are generally better off investing their capital overseas, where they can earn a higher return because of lower taxes," Dimon said. "Also, American corporations hold more than $2 trillion in cash abroad to avoid the additional taxes. The only question is how much damage will be done before we fix this."
Dimon argued in his letter that "everyone agrees we should have proper regulation" and that "good regulations have many positive effects." But he suggested that "anyone in business understands the damaging effects of over-complicated and inefficient regulations."
"While some regulations quite clearly create a common good (e.g., clean air and water), it is clear that excessive regulation does not help productivity, growth of the economy or job creation," he said.
Despite what he described as a handful of "critical issues confronting our country," however, Dimon indicated "it would be good to count our blessings," noting that the U.S. in 2017 "is probably stronger than ever before."
"The United States has the world's strongest military, and this will be the case for decades. We are fortunate to be at peace with our neighbors and to have the protection of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans," he said.
Corrected on April 4, 2017: An earlier version of this story misquoted a portion of the letter to shareholders.Read More...
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