Weekly Weigh In: The US Economy
I was watching a news/opinion program a couple of weeks ago where a economy expert joked to the show host that most of America still thinks we’re in a recession.
I’m sorry, did I miss the “Yay! We made it out!” party invite? When did we hit that magical point in figures that means America’s up the hill from economic strife and getting to the top?
The ‘expert’ then followed up his statement with a few numbers supporting his opinion that the national economy has cleared the recession and we’re on our way to re-stabilization. Glory! Hallelujah! Apply for a new credit card or two America, the budget’s going to be fine!
Except… when I look at the figures and what the rest of the economists are saying… I don’t see it. Hell, just drive down the road and count the small businesses that are shut down, abandoned, or closing… and I still don’t see it. Go online to any job board of your choice or look up jobs in a newspaper… nope, not there either. Where in the 8.1% unemployment rate, $3.50/gallon of gas, and 7.40% foreclosure rate are we “safely out of the recession”?
Has there been an improvement over the stats since 2009 & 2010? Yes, there has been a trepid improvement to the numbers as legislatures and tax cut extensions have offered the strained wallet of the average American some relief, however there has not been enough improvement in the overall figures to give us any sense of security.
In fact, I just read an article yesterday that economists predict if the bush tax cuts are allowed to expire at the end of this year, we can expect to be plunged into round 2 of what I wryly think of as “The Great Recession.”
We can crunch numbers and analyze figures all day, but most of that doesn’t mean much to the average Joe (or me).
What we do understand, however, is how it affects us and our lives. I, like most people, will run out of fingers naming off people who’ve lost their jobs or college graduates that have fallen short on their career goals. I’m actually one of those statistics, as are many people out there. Tragic hardship stories have become something of the norm. At least once a week I hear about someone whose life is destroyed by the weight of the economy. An 87 year old woman loses the house she and her husband built, man goes on shooting spree after being laid off, and a woman loses custody of her children because she can’t pay her bills. On and on and on…. I’m not saying these things didn’t happen before or won’t continue happening when the economy gets back on its feet, but it’s the sheer scale of how many of these stories are occurring that frightens me.
For example, of my graduating class of 30, 2-3 got jobs in our field of Graphic Design (One of the job fields obliterated by the economy); the rest of us have made due. Most of us have retail jobs, a few got into white collar, and a couple managed to get jobs or start up business close to Graphic Design, like photography or web programming. Almost every liberal art degree (and even some science or math) seems to have the same story. Even my friends that chose a medical field didn’t all make it into those jobs. It is a sad, sad state of affairs when thousands, if not millions of college graduates cannot earn the potential a furthered education promised. It leaves a lot of us with close to minimum wage jobs, a large amount of student loan debt, some trying to start families, and the vision of a long future of balancing check books to squeak by. This is not the situation we signed up for when we decided to better ourselves with a higher education. However, it is the hand we’ve been dealt.
Well, they have things to help the poor… What about Welfare?
What about it? The system was not designed to carry half the country. It was designed to be a safety net for the severely impoverished and has been manipulated for every loophole it possesses. Unemployment is a great program, but it offers no real solution to getting people who’ve been put out of work new jobs. You get benefits for X number of months while you apply to 3-5 jobs a week, and that’s about it. A good supplement program, but easily abused.
As far as food stamps go… don’t count on them if you’re poor but aren’t burdened with children. The criteria is set at such a low bar that only the severely impoverished, unemployed, low income families, and sneaks can attain it. An honest person working 2-3 jobs to meet the cost of living probably make too much money to qualify, be it only 50 or 350 dollars over the limit.
In my own experience, I made 200 dollars too much, and no living expenses (gas, cable, cell phone bill, car insurance) are accounted for in the application process, only your rent & medical versus your income. So while I make just barely enough to pay my bills and stock up on hot pockets, I make too much to get assistance with my groceries. The cherry on top, as it were, is that the unemployment person told me to qualify I’d basically have to quit one of my jobs or get pregnant. Yes, young women of America… the answer to all your financial woes is to be knocked up (and if you’re good at it, you can even turn it into a career). There you go. That’s how welfare works. Enlightening, isn’t it?
This conundrum leaves most of young Americans in the state of “the working poor.” We make enough money to get by, maybe have enough dollars left in our checking account after bills to get a hair cut, eat a nice meal, or buy some clothes from Wal-Mart, but for pretty much any major purchase a credit card (or family assistance, if you’re lucky enough) is required. Another day, another dollar, another bill. This is the system we operate under. This is the New America.
We all are learning to live in a world our parents, let alone us, barely understand. With no realistic forecast for the end of our economic crisis, we live in a world where governments are tinkering on the edge of bankruptcy, where three out of five of your peers are unemployed or working a job below their skill set, where a savings account to actually save up money is an endangered species, and where debt, in its many forms, rules all.