Why “It’s [once more] the Economy, Stupid”*

1928-great-depression.jpgThis article reports that Dennis Blair, the US Director of National Intelligence, believes “the plunging global economy is an even bigger threat to the United States’ national security than the al Qaeda terrorist network or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”  We’ve seen violent regime changes in so-called Third World countries and could live to see them in North America. As distasteful as it is for fiscal conservatives in the United States to see their government commit to enormous debt-producing spending, many of them must realize large numbers of people without homes and jobs can easily turn into violent mobs.

Economic troubles also set the stage for social ills. A Victoria hotel has changed its practice of paying for a minimum of four hours for an employee called in for a shift. It’s now only two hours. Many hotel employees cannot afford to live in downtown Victoria. It’s costly in time and money to commute for two hours of work, but that may be all they can get. We have to be vigilant against devolving into a society of virtual migrant workers: denied a living wage and afraid to complain for fear of being “deported” to the ranks of the unemployed.  Women (and, increasingly, men) are more vulnerable in poor economic times to sexual harassment and recruitment into unsafe sex work.

According to this New York Times article, women may be surpassing men in the workforce, because more jobs held by men are “getting axed.” This could be good news for gender dynamics, provided men take on more housework and childcare responsibilities.

Unfortunately women’s jobs, on average, tend to be for shorter hours, less pay, and fewer benefits. The average income for women in Canada is $27,000 a year, compared to $45,000 for men. And those working fewer than 35 hours a week are not eligible for unemployment benefits, so if a part-time worker supporting her family loses her job, the family is shit out of luck. (An article by crusading journalist Jody Paterson looks at how the Harper government’s stimulus package misses the mark when it comes to women.)

There’s an indication that economic hard times are leading to an increase in domestic abuse as frustration expresses itself as rage. And I’ve read of two cases of murder/suicide in the U.S. where notes left indicated the dead had lost their jobs, were overwhelmed with debt, and decided to take their families with them.

Intolerance may be on the rise, as well. I’ve been reading the comments following news stories about the economy. Many Americans are angry and lashing out at Wall Street, for sure, but some also don’t want any jobs going to immigrants—legal or otherwise—and they want Buy American protectionism, despite the reality that few products are manufactured in the US anymore. Some who are fortunate to have jobs don’t want stimulus funds going to the jobless, whom they characterize as freeloaders. As the situation worsens, people will feel freer to make negative judgments about others and deny them a helping hand.

I don’t know what we can do about the dismal global picture but in our communities we can help neighbors in need, protest injustice masquerading as economic necessity, promote inclusiveness, and adopt the frugal practices of parents and grandparents who made it through the Great Depression. (What will we call this one?) If we’ve made any gains over past decades in areas of social justice, it would be a shame to lose them to greed and fear.

*”It’s the economy, stupid” was a phrase used in Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign to suggest he was a better choice than Bush the First because Bush had not adequately addressed the economy, which had gone into recession.

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