| You did NOT misread the title. That is an accurate description of the contents of Bob Herbert's column this morning, which the NY Times has labeled The Worst of the Pain. Let me present it simply, but I will give the figures he offers from the bottom income level going down. These figures are from the 4th quarter of 2009, as analyzed by The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston:
Household Income Unemployment
under 12,500 30.8%
over 150,000 3.2
But it is worse even than those figures show
|The figure for the lowest income group is, as Herbert puts it, "more than five points higher than the overall jobless rate at the height of the Depression."
And consider this:
When the data about underemployment is factored in - meaning individuals who are working part time but would like to work full time, and those who have stopped looking but would take a job if one were available - the picture only worsens. In the lowest group, the underemployment rate was 20.6 percent, compared with just 1.6 percent in the highest group.
So let's restate the impact, adding unemployment and underemployment.
If your household income is <$12,500 51.4%
If household income is >$150,000 4.8%
that is a ration of 10.7/1, if anyone cares.
And who is in those lower two groups?
the young, less well-educated workers, especially black and Hispanic high school dropouts, and certain categories of service workers, such as food preparers and building cleaners. Blue-collar workers were also hammered, especially those in the construction industry.
This is both a political crisis and a moral crisis.
Let's take the political. We know those at the bottom will get no breaks from the Republicans. The effort by Senators Boxer and Webb to put a 50% tax on amounts greater than $400,000 for the unacceptable bonuses from Wall Street will probably not get past a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Derrick Jackson, in his column today, urges that those bonuses - which reach $17 million for Jamie Dimon of Morgan Stanley, be taxed for public schools, which are now seeing the possibility of massive cuts. Remember, if you are from a lower income or even most middle income families, your only opportunity for education is public schools. That the schools were not devastated by cuts in the current school year is only because of stimulus money that is now running out. The Boxer-Webb proposal would raise an estimated $10 billion, which, as Jackson notes, could help lessen the severity of the cuts school districts are currently facing for next year. The families whose children would benefit are not those at the top of the income ladder - many of them have their kids in elite private institutions beginning in pre-school.
Herbert puts it bluntly:
The point here is that those in the lower-income groups are in a much, much deeper hole than the general commentary on the recession would lead people to believe. And none of the policy prescriptions being offered by the administration or the leaders of either party in Congress would in any way substantially alleviate the plight of those groups.
NONE OF THE POLICY PRESCRIPTIONS whether offered by the administration or either congressional leadership -
What created the Democratic majority under FDR is that the New Deal was seen as preventing total disaster for so many, not just the middle class which by the way, was a far smaller percentage of our population in the 1930s) but also those at the bottom. For all the fear we see among the so-called Tea Party participants, most of them are middle class, and suffering far less than those at the bottom of our economic structure.
The originator of the report, the Center for Labor Market Studies bluntly notes that for those in the bottom two deciles were in a true depression, while for those at the top there is basically full employment. Those in the middle are in a deep recession.
After telling us that for those at the bottom this may be worse than the Great Depression, Herbert writes
Anyone who thinks this devastating problem is going away soon, or that the economy can be put back on track without addressing it, is deluded. And for those who misread the history of the 1980s, Herbert concludes like this:
Those who believe this grievous economic situation will right itself of its own accord or can be corrected without bold, targeted (and, yes, expensive) government action are still reading from the Ronald Reagan (someday it will trickle down) hymnal.
Democracy could have failed in this nation in the 1930s. The New Deal prevented that from happening. There were efforts by the rich to not only oppose and undermine the New Deal, but to overthrow it - the attempted coup organized by Vanderbilt and others failed because the man they approached to lead it, two-time Medal of Honor winner Marine General Smedley Butler, refused, and went public, even testifying to Congress. What Vanderbilt and his crew did might not officially have qualified as treason, but it represented as great a threat to democracy as this country has seen.
Then at least those at the bottom has some hope that the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW cared about what happened to them. The New Deal was not perfect - to get the support of racist Southern Democrats Roosevelt often had to allow discriminatory application of benefits to the point that many Southern Blacks were excluded from its benefits.
Today? We see egregious use of filibusters, an unwillingness on the part of the well-off to pay anything close to a fair share of taxes for the benefits they receive - and those benefits include the continued existence of the financial institutions such as those on Wall Street which are the source of their wealth.
There is a great tendency in this country to refuse to see what is right in front of everybody's eyes. Those are the first words of Herbert's column. For the many of us who are middle class, we do not bother to look, perhaps because we are so concerned with our own financial instability. But if those lower than us cannot be economically stabilized, why should we believe that we will not sooner than later face similar instability?
Herbert warns about the "gruesome gaps" between those at the two extremes, that they are
unmistakable signs of impending societal instability. This is dangerous stuff. Nothing good can come of vast armies of the unemployed just sitting out there, simmering.
This is a threat to our democracy. It is a threat to our stability and security. That alone should be reason enough for the kinds of action we are not seeing.
It is also immoral, however comforting we may be tempted to think that at times like these we should concentrate on us and ours, to ensure our own security at all costs.
I could quote from Matthew 25 for those who pay any attention to such things, about what you do to these the least of Christ's brethren, or the many passages in the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps that might make the point for those who claim to be religious, except we have too many who misread and distort, otherwise how could we ever have so many who follow the ill-named "prosperity Gospel"?
If my well-being can exist only at the expense of the suffering of others, then I bear some responsibility for that suffering, whether or not I choose to admit it. I am complicit in their suffering.
If I allow their hopes and dreams to be irrevocably crushed, then I should not complain when they no longer choose to be bound by the rules and laws that make this an ordered society.
We just had our national holiday, on Sunday. Many were delighted to see a city that is still suffering become the victor. Yet despite that, I think of the still unhealed devastation of the Lower 9th Ward, and of the excessive and obsessive focus on things football, and Latin comes to mind: panem et circenses - Bread and Circuses to distract the masses. This was the Circus. But for far too many, there is no bread - not the metaphorical bread of income, nor the real bread it can purchase.
We have increasing Unemployment Inequality. We are becoming ever more an unequal society. And the huge disparities have little to do with true worth, are skewed racially as well as by social and economic class, betray not only the ideal of the American dream, but the basic principles of the social contract that begins with the words "We the people."
I wonder, are those in Washington who should be addressing this paying any attention at all?