As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, June 06, 2008

Everything's Coming Up Crap

The job news today was quite discouraging.

The nation's unemployment rate jumped to 5.5 percent in May — the biggest monthly rise since 1986 — as nervous employers cut 49,000 jobs.

The latest snapshot of business conditions showed a deeply troubled economy, with dwindling job opportunities in a time of continuing hardship in the housing, credit and financial sectors.

"It was ugly," said Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research.

This really is about two things - rising energy prices and the collapse of the housing market. Foreclosures hit a record in the first quarter of 2008 as adjustable rate mortgages continue to reset at levels too high for homeowners. The financial industry is holding bunches of bad loans, not only from mortgages but from what they floated for construction of buildings that aren't selling. This is causing a construction slump, which has hurt Latinos tremendously, but also the greater economy. Without rising property tax revenue local governments find it harder to deliver services, which tends to lock in class struggles. This blog post from Sen. Bernie Sanders is telling:

As gas and oil prices soared and as the nation slipped into recession, I made a request to Vermonters on my e-mail list. I asked them to tell me what was going on in their lives economically. That was it. Frankly, I expected a few dozen replies. I was amazed, therefore, when my office received more than 700 responses from all across the state, as well as some from other states.

A Vermont mother wrote, "We have at times had to choose between baby food and heating fuel." A 55-year-old man from rural Pennsylvania said, "I am just tired, the harder that I work the harder it gets." A retired couple in Vermont asked, "Does anybody in Washington care?"

It is one thing to read dry economic statistics which describe the collapse of the American middle class. Since George W. Bush has been in office 5 million Americans have slipped into poverty, 8 million have lost their health insurance and 3 million have lost their pensions. In the last seven years median household income for working-age Americans has declined by $2,500. Our country, for the first time since the Great Depression, now has a zero personal savings rate and, all across the nation, emergency food shelves are being flooded with working families whose inadequate wages prevent them from feeding their families.

It is another thing to understand, in flesh-and-blood terms, what that means in the lives of ordinary Americans. The responses that I received describe the decline of the American middle class from the perspective of those people who are living that decline. They speak about families who, not long ago, thought they were economically secure, but now find themselves sinking into desperation and hopelessness.

We are looking at a disruptive economic downturn that will either be countered by some kind of 21st-century New Deal, overturned by some technological innovation or expansion, or ignored as the stratification between rich and poor becomes almost unthinkable. This is a dangerous economic picture. It may mean electoral success for the Democrats, but right now I'm worried about the pain and suffering.

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