I spent this morning at the unemployment office. I was there to get fingerprinted, now a mandatory requirement for anyone seeking assistance in New York State. In the waiting room both televisions were set to a low drone of CNN, and talks about the stock market. Many analysts are worried that the country might slide back into a recession. But I have a secret for you, the recession never ended.
The unemployment rate has been above 9% since May of 2009 except for a single two month dip to 8.8% in early 2011. Millions of people remain unemployed, many with little access to health care. The recovery did little to help except disguise the fact that this is a depression not a recession. When you have a population unemployed for this long they become demoralized. Elected officials and media pundits tell them they did something wrong, that they should tighten their belts, meanwhile corporate executives make record salaries, and the wealthiest Americans pay record low taxes.
Those who are able to find work, find it at places like McDonalds who recently sponsored the National Hiring Day; a publicity stunt to hire 50,000 new workers on a single day this spring. But even McDonalds was not prepared for the overwhelming response. Over 1 million people put in applications. This underscores the desperation out there for any work (full disclosure: I am former McDonalds employee, so I know how shitty of a place it can be to work). There have even been reports of companies post positions with the phrase “the unemployed need not apply”. Turns out that the only valuable workers these days are the ones who already have jobs. Sorry 9.1% of people out of work. Tough luck.
As some people begin to be rehired at a lower salary base, their ability to spend is reduced. They begin to cut back; they begin to spend less in the market place. And since we no longer have a manufacturing sector that supports our economy, weakening consumer spending means a slow down in the economy. Compounded by the fact that the richest among us feel they are entitled to live in their decadence while millions of children don’t have access to education, medicine or food. Over looking the fact that a modest tax hike from them could help offset our national debt, help fund incredibly important programs like Medicare and social security, and put people back to work. Instead they lament the suggestion that they tighten their belts and pay more taxes as an aggressive assault on freedom, one that can only be met with the dismantling of the US government.
Thus these last 3 years have been one very slow car wreck.
We all heard of the “recovery summer” where the government pumped money into projects meant to kick start the economy. Unfortunately it didn’t work, a) because it was mismanaged, and b) because the sum wasn’t large enough. But it did create a lot of “confidence “ in the stock market, giving the illusion of economic growth. It is only in the wake of the past few days that these overly optimistic projections have been called into question. The tax breaks and growth of the corporate state since the crisis has not been reinvested into the American economy. Instead it has gone to the coffers of greedy, extravagant men who have fooled us all into believing that their compensation is just. Those elected to watch out for our well-being are at best complacent and at worst complicit. We face a systematic failure of the government to protect the interests of the people through regulations and enforcement.
We have allowed those in the financial sector to high jack our tax money. The money that should have gone to building schools and fixing education, or to making sure everyone is cover by health insurance, or towards building a better, bigger, cleaner train network to move people and goods across this country. But instead of dreaming for the future and all that we can accomplish, we have let competing private interests distort our vision for a just society in the name of profit and personal gain
We must decide that somethings are more important than profits. That we should pay teachers well and give them benefits. That we should make sure that every man woman and child has access to the best medical science we have to offer. That we should reduce our pollution, research new energy sources, and explore the wonders of the cosmos. We should be doing all these things, but we can’t until we get out from under this spell of market fundamentals.
The US got off relatively light at the start of the collapse. Unlike the UK, who is now seeing riots and violence as a result of the economic downturn in that country, the US hasn’t faced the tax increases and austerity measures that were put in place there, expect that to change. This crisis isn’t over. We are headed toward a bigger crisis than the one we saw in 2008. It is just a matter of time.
These are systemic problems, and they need to be dealt with by serious men, and unfortunately we do not have any serious men in congress right now. The debt ceiling debate is proof of that. One side wants to burn the place to the ground the other wants to postpone any real action until after the next election cycle. These career politicians are more worried about supporting fundamentalist ideology or being elected for another term then they are with the difficult decisions that need to be made. These are selfish men and women, held up by process or arrogance. They are unable to act, only able to posture and point and take industry money to feed this constant state of gridlock.
So what can one do? Well first one can read this article by alternative media entitled “8 Reasons Young Americans Don't Fight Back: How the US Crushed Youth Resistance”. And second you can get involved with a little direct action. Those of you who are in and around New York City should come to Occupy Wall Street on September 17th for some good ol protesting and chanting. I would also like to take this opportunity to recommend a very good book called “The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot” by Naomi Wolf about how democracies transition to authoritarian regimes and what to look out for (super congress anybody?).
Til next time, keep fighting the good fight.