I just came across two really powerful accounts of the crisis of our times. One was an article in the New York Times that discusses the record setting numbers of long-term unemployed, people who are, according to the article, likely to remain unemployed despite the uptick in the U.S. economy. The article cites some really shocking statistics:
During periods of American economic expansion in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the number of private-sector jobs increased about 3.5 percent a year, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, a research firm. During expansions in the 1980s and ’90s, jobs grew just 2.4 percent annually. And during the last decade, job growth fell to 0.9 percent annually.
“The pace of job growth has been getting weaker in each expansion,” Mr. Achuthan said. “There is no indication that this pattern is about to change.”
In the face of this long-term structural decline of decent work, the already weak U.S. social safety net is coming undone, leaving many thousands of previously middle class people – who are now unable to find any kind of work, let alone well-paid work – on the edge of homelessness.
The other piece was an interview with journalist Seth Wessler, who’s just written an article for the ‘zine Colorlines about how poor women in Hartford, capital of America’s insurance industry, are forced to sell their food stamps at dimes on the dollar, in order to get money to buy shoes for their children. What was really amazing about the interview, broadcast on Democracy Now, was that it was followed by commentary by a local community organizer who worried that Wessler’s muckraking piece was likely to spark not sympathy from those in power but more scapegoating of the poor.
But sympathy may be a red herring. As Terry Eagleton puts it (in a very different context): “The idea that lack of sympathy springs from lack of knowledge is a typically liberal mistake. It is a matter of structures, not just of sympathies.” What the poor need now is some viable counter-power to the unchecked and baleful power of the rich. A bread riot or two wouldn’t hurt either.