Monday, November 29, 2010
It's not a problem until it happens to me
I'm really not sure how I feel about all this. On the one hand, I think it's deplorable that the U.S., unlike almost every other industrialized nation on the planet, does not provide an indefinite unemployment allowance (aka general welfare, the dole) to able-bodied adults who are jobless through no fault of their own. We shouldn't have beggars in the street, there shouldn't be people forced to camp out under highway bridges or live in their cars, and no one in a country as rich as this one should ever go to bed hungry.
On the other hand, as a person who spent many years in a part of the country that's been going down the economic toilet for the past 50 years, part of me is thinking "welcome to my world." What the shocked and horrified and newly poor ex-middle class is discovering is the reality that people in places like Flint, Michigan, have been living with since the '70s: fewer and fewer jobs, stagnating or declining wages for what employment does exist, and a shredded or nonexistent social safety net. And, for the past 50 years, while a few economists have warned that it was a really, really bad idea to outsource jobs and allow manufacturing in this country die a lingering, painful death, most folks have assumed that what happened in Flint or Pittsburgh or Youngstown would never affect them. After all, who cared if union jobs went away as long stock prices were going up on Wall Street? Well, it took awhile, but it's starting to look as though people are finally figuring out you can't base an economy on consumer debt and people serving hamburgers to each other. Based on the results of the last election, however, it appears the American populace isn't smart enough to figure out what to do to turn things around.