Just thinking out loud today…
Perhaps it is due to the media’s fascination with whether Caroline Kennedy is qualified to be a senator along with the Blagojevich scandal in Illinois and Bernie Madoff’s failed, 50 billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, but I’ve been thinking that the real story of the now-official, year-long recession isn’t getting the kind of attention it should.
The big picture is reported: the numbers of mortgage foreclosures and the hundreds of billions in bailout funds handed out to corporations with little or no oversight on how it is used. We hear about the size of the deficit, national debt and the trade imbalance. The frightening unemployment numbers get their 15 seconds of fame when they are released. And this week, there is a trickle of personal stories from millionaires who’ve lost everything because they invested all their money with Madoff.
On that last item, I’m having trouble working up sympathy. I don’t know anything at all about investing except “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” What were they thinking?
What’s missing, however, are stories about how most of us – the poor, the middle class, the people who live paycheck to paycheck and one small emergency from destitution - are getting by. It may not be as glamorous as a millionaire losing his yacht or the scion of a dynastic political family jockeying for advantage, but the real story of the recession isn’t just getting lost, it isn’t being told at all.
There is a small glimpse of the wreckage, hurt and fear in the Washington Post/ABC poll released yesterday. Some items:
- 40 percent are concerned about heating their homes this winter
- 10 percent of home owners have fallen behind in payments
- 29 percent of renters have fallen behind in rent payments
- Nearly 20 percent say they or a household member has lost a job in the past few months
- More than 25 percent have had their pay or hours reduced at work
- More than half are worried about medical payments if a family member gets sick
- 66 percent are worried about maintaining their lifestyle
Lifestyle? When food and shelter are at risk, Jimmy Choos and Coach handbags are the wrong thing to worry about. What bothers me is that we – the United States and the world – are in a stunning financial crisis that won’t get better any time soon, will impoverish many in the middle class and wipe out many of the poor, but there is no discussion of how it affects the essentials of everyday life.
What’s happened to the millions who are out of their homes due to foreclosure? Where are they living? How are parents who’ve lost their jobs feeding their kids? Have cities and states made arrangements so that people in the northern tier don’t lose heat and electricity through the winter if they can't pay the bill? How many have been added to the 45 million people without health coverage with so many newly unemployed?
And what about elders who lost 20, 30, 50 and more percent of their savings in the Wall Street failures and haven’t a prayer of finding work, or can no longer work? Most of these elders were not rich before and less so now.
Where are these stories? Where is the advice on how to get by when it is obvious that this is going to be a long, hard slog before better times return? What plans have public officials and other organizations throughout the country made for the day-to-day, basic needs of people as the recession continues? I’m concerned that too much hope is being pinned on Barack Obama to fix it all in his first six months. According to that Washington Post/ABC poll,
“Nearly half expect Obama will be able to improve the economy ‘a great deal’ or a ‘good amount.’”
Wishful thinking? I’m not convinced anyone knows how to fix the economy and that we will just have to ride it out wherever it takes us for however long it lasts. There will be no miracle wake-up one morning with “lifestyle” restored to 2005 levels. But there seem to be no plans for people without means to help themselves.
Are cities and towns organizing people to help people? Are members of local groups working together to keep an eye on their more vulnerable neighbors? If it is happening where I live, no one's told me.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Low income, but debt-free. I have enough to live comfortably - without frills. As long as the cat doesn’t get too sick again and inflation remains under control, we’ll be fine. But what about everyone else?
Just thinking out loud today…
UPDATE: A reader named Linda sent an email referring me to a series of posts at Huffington Post where readers are sharing their economic crisis stories. Here are the links:
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia has a beautiful collection of Postcards from Past Lives.]