They Still Don't Get It
By Bob Herbert
New York Times
January 23, 2010
How loud do the alarms have to get? There is an
economic emergency in the country with millions upon
millions of Americans riddled with fear and anxiety as
they struggle with long-term joblessness, home
foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and dwindling
opportunities for themselves and their children.
The door is being slammed on the American dream and the
politicians, including the president and his Democratic
allies on Capitol Hill, seem not just helpless to deal
with the crisis, but completely out of touch with the
hardships that have fallen on so many.
While the nation was suffering through the worst
economy since the Depression, the Democrats wasted a
year squabbling like unruly toddlers over health
insurance legislation. No one in his or her right mind
could have believed that a workable, efficient, cost-
effective system could come out of the monstrously ugly
plan that finally emerged from the Senate after long
months of shady alliances, disgraceful back-room deals,
outlandish payoffs and abject capitulation to the
insurance companies and giant pharmaceutical outfits.
The public interest? Forget about it.
With the power elite consumed with its incessant,
discordant fiddling over health care, the economic
plight of ordinary Americans, from the middle class to
the very poor, got pathetically short shrift. And there
is no evidence, even now, that leaders of either party
fully grasp the depth of the crisis, which began long
before the official start of the Great Recession in
A new study from the Brookings Institution tells us
that the largest and fastest-growing population of poor
people in the
about this from the politicians who are always so
anxious to tell you, in between fund-raisers and photo-
ops, what a great job they're doing. From 2000 to 2008,
the number of poor people in the
million, reaching nearly 40 million. That represented
an increase of 15.4 percent in the poor population,
which was more than twice the increase in the
population as a whole during that period.
The study does not include data from 2009, when so many
millions of families were just hammered by the
recession. So the reality is worse than the Brookings
figures would indicate.
Job losses, stagnant or reduced wages over the past
decade, and the loss of home equity when the housing
bubble burst have combined to take a horrendous toll on
families who thought they had done all the right things
and were living the dream. A great deal of that
bleeding is in the suburbs. The study, compiled by the
Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, said, "Suburbs
gained more than 2.5 million poor individuals,
accounting for almost half of the total increase in the
nation's poor population since 2000."
Democrats in search of clues as to why voters are
unhappy may want to take a look at the report. In 2008,
a startling 91.6 million people - more than 30 percent
of the entire
of the federal poverty line, which is a meager $21,834
for a family of four.
The question for Democrats is whether there is anything
that will wake them up to their obligation to extend a
powerful hand to ordinary Americans and help them take
the government, including the Supreme Court, back from
the big banks, the giant corporations and the myriad
other predatory interests that put the value of a
dollar high above the value of human beings.
The Democrats still hold the presidency and large
majorities in both houses of Congress. The idea that
they are not spending every waking hour trying to fix
the broken economic system and put suffering Americans
back to work is beyond pathetic. Deficit reduction is
now the mantra in
large-scale investments in infrastructure and other
measures to ease the employment crisis and jump-start
the most promising industries of the 21st century are
What we'll get instead is rhetoric. It's cheap, so we
can expect a lot of it.
Those at the bottom of the economic heap seem all but
doomed in this environment. The Center for Labor Market
matter in stark perspective after analyzing the
employment challenges facing young people in
"Labor market conditions for 16-19 and 20-24-year-olds
in the city of
Great Depression-era, especially for young black men."
The Republican Party has abandoned any serious approach
to the nation's biggest problems, economic or
otherwise. It may be resurgent, but it's not a serious
party. That leaves only the Democrats, a party that
once championed working people and the poor, but has
long since lost its way.
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