Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Recession or Depression?

It appears that Harry Truman said it first, but that Ronald Reagan made the statement famous: It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job. It’s a depression when you lose yours.

For more and more New Yorkers the Obama recovery is an extended depression. To its credit, The New York Times has begun reporting on the many individuals the Obama recovery has left behind.

Rachel Swarns tells the bleak and frankly depressing story of the recovery that wasn’t. She begins with Marianne Scarino:

Ms. Scarino has been laid off twice, “discarded,” as she puts it. Her husband, a project manager at an architectural firm, lost his job, too. His only alternative paid 20 percent less….

Ms. Scarino, who lost her job at a law firm in 2009, spent two years hunting for work before another law firm hired her in 2011. In March, she was laid off again.

The hard truth, as she has learned it: No one is eager to hire someone of her age — not Lowe’s, not the local nursing home, not the accounting and law firms where she once thrived.

This spring, a friend told her about a temporary position as an elementary school aide in Brooklyn. It paid about $21,000 a year, with no benefits. Ms. Scarino, who once earned $160,000 a year, didn’t think twice.

Swarns describes the problem correctly:

This economic recovery is a nonrecovery for her and for all too many New Yorkers. The old rules, she says, no longer apply.

Look around you. The stock market is booming. The tech sector is thriving. New York is generating tens of thousands of new jobs, more than most big cities, labor statistics show.

Yet the bulk of the new jobs are low-wage jobs in sectors like retail, restaurants and home health care, many without benefits or opportunities for advancement, a study by theFiscal Policy Institute, a research organization, shows. The pathways that once carried people into the middle class and beyond — and the strategies that sustained them there — seem increasingly unreliable and uncertain.

Median family income in New York City has stalled, according to census data analyzed by Susan Weber-Stoger of Queens College. About 46 percent of New Yorkers are poor or near poor, city officials say. Middle-class families are also feeling the strain.

But, Marianne Scarino is not the only one who is suffering in the Obama recovery:

On Ms. Scarino’s block, the economic tremors are still rumbling, unsettling one family after another.

She ticks off the casualties: The couple with the baby who lost jobs at architectural firms; the laid-off banker; the film editor whose career foundered on the shores of the digital age; and her next-door neighbor, Jeffrey Marks, 58, a father of four, who lost his job as a manager at an auto dealership in January.

Unfortunately, Scarino and many of her neighbors decided that they could best solve their problems by voting for a leftist mayor, one Bill de Blasio.

After all, they could see what leftist policies had done to Detroit and to Chicago. Why not here?

Apparently, they have bought the line that Republicans were at fault for the current economy. In a city that always votes Democratic, where the City Council is overwhelmingly Democratic, they decided to blame Republicans:

Bill de Blasio rode this wave of economic anxiety right into City Hall. Here on Staten Island, he won 44 percent of the vote — a feat in this Republican stronghold — snaring voters like Ms. Scarino, who had not voted for a Democrat in more than a decade.

His election puts struggling New Yorkers on center stage. In the coming year, there will be battles and debates over retroactive pay for unions and the living wage. There will be strategizing about new ways to help the poor and talk of new niches and opportunities.

Swarns correctly sees the de Blasio election as a sign of “economic anxiety.”

But, what does it mean when people come to believe that higher taxes and more power for unions is going to solve New York’s income inequality. Have they become so demoralized that they see no other solution than to get on to the government dole?

Perhaps it is wildly impractical, but Scarino and her neighbors might also consider moving out of New York, to a red state where the jobs are plentiful and where the cost of living is a fraction of what it is in New York.

Some people are afraid that Bill de Blasio will turn the clock back to the bad old days when New York was barely inhabitable. Others fear that his high taxes will produce an exodus of billionaires. It might be better to think of the possibility that the city will start losing more and more of its middle class.


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Anonymous said...

Here's the answer on a very basic level…

Democrats look at people as victims. Republicans look at people as problems.

Neither viewpoint works. I see no one in the Democrat or Republican parties who have a positive vision base on a belief in people. Not one.

The nation needs someone with an optimistic vision who believes in the creative power of the individual and the richness of a society where people are deeply connected with one another (not in a "nice" way, but in a real way).

Sounds like a wacky pipe dream, I know, and simplistic. But what's really going on in America is that people don't believe in people anymore. The "hope and change" transformational ideologue is doing things his way, and the Republicans have no positive message to counter so they do the easy thing: block him. Result: deep malaise… the 1970s redux. No hope. No change. Nothing.

It is troubling that the core Democratic voters are blind to the fact that their lives are worse in every economic category under Obama, yet they cling to this rubbish that the Republican plutocracy has it in for them. If you believe there is an American plutocracy, fine… at least acknowledge that they mostly vote Democrat. Obama fancies himself as Honest Abe. Do you really think he stands for "The better angels of our nature"?