Sunday, January 24, 2010

They Still Don't Get It

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

December 2007.


A new study from the Brookings Institution tells us

that the largest and fastest-growing population of poor

people in the U.S. is in the suburbs. You don't hear

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 U.S. grew by 5.2

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 U.S. population - fell below 200 percent

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 Washington, which means that new

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

highly unlikely.


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

Studies at Northeastern University in Boston put the

matter in stark perspective after analyzing the

employment challenges facing young people in Chicago:

"Labor market conditions for 16-19 and 20-24-year-olds

in the city of Chicago in 2009 are the equivalent of a

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.


Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company


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