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Rapid declines into poverty
June 27, 2012 1:58 PM   Subscribe

The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America's Middle Class (via The Billfold)

"The money's for my phone, it's for gas, it's for my bills," Adkins said.

"Why are you in a crisis," the woman asked, "when you have a phone bill?"

"I need the phone so I can get a job. You can't look for a job without a phone."

"Why do you have bills?" the woman asked. "I thought you didn't have a place to live."

"I live in my van," Adkins said. "I have insurance."

"You have a 2007 van," the woman said. "I think you need to sell that."

"Please, I need a break," Adkins said. "I need some help. I need to take a shower."

"Why didn't you have a shower?"

"I live in a van."

The woman told Adkins to come back when she really needed help.
posted by peacheater (83 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
It can take years for unemployed workers from the middle class to burn through their resources – savings, credit, salable belongings, home equity, loans from family and friends. Some 5.4 million Americans have been without work for at least six months, and an estimated 750,000 of them are completely broke or heading inexorably toward destitution. In California, where unemployment remains at 11 percent, middle-class refugees like Janis Adkins are only the earliest arrivals. "She's the tip of the iceberg," says Nancy Kapp, the coordinator of the Safe Parking program. "There are many people out there who haven't hit bottom yet, but they're on their way – they're on their way."
posted by KokuRyu at 2:10 PM on June 27, 2012


It can take years for unemployed workers from the middle class to burn through their resources – savings, credit, salable belongings, home equity, loans from family and friends.

Given that credit is not much of a resource for someone with no ability to pay debts, the [insert villain of choice here] basically took care of the antiquated notion of "home equity," and that middle class people are not likely to have wealthy family willing to strain relationships by loaning them money, I'd say maybe knock years off of that "it can take years."
posted by The World Famous at 2:15 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Good thing you had all that extra money for the Iraq war, America.

I can't be smug, though...herein lies Canada's future, too. We always lag behind the states by a decade or so. But by the grace of God and Stephen Harper, we'll catch up.
posted by DJ 3000 at 2:16 PM on June 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


And yet the US has posted positive GDP growth for 11 consecutive quarters. The "recession" is a thing of the past.
There's a serious problem in how the economy is being managed. Where does the buck stop, again?
posted by rocket88 at 2:19 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is anyone hungry enough yet to actually start eating the rich?

Not yet? Are you sure?

I'll check back in a year or two.
posted by loquacious at 2:23 PM on June 27, 2012 [35 favorites]


I could go for a nibble.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:25 PM on June 27, 2012 [27 favorites]


You know, logically speaking, this kind of arbitrary deprivation is a feature of any and all economic systems. People who have are always at risk of - occasionally very suddenly - not having at all.

Obviously, the current unemployment crisis goes well beyond that arbitrary deprivation. And it's so frustrating to see people with real skills - like drought-resistant horticulture - sitting on the shelf.

The government could borrow trillions - at historically low cost - and fund research and infrastructure projects and put people with useful skills back to work. But...nah, instead, we're worried about bond fairies and debt vigilantes.
posted by downing street memo at 2:27 PM on June 27, 2012 [21 favorites]


These stories are heartbreaking, but sorry, it's fluffy anecdata. It gets an F+ for making the point that there has been a sharp, sudden decline of the middle class. Needs more data and more analysis --- a solitary paragraph on page 5 starts to mention numbers, but fizzles out before making a point.

Try this instead: Elizabeth Warren: The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:33 PM on June 27, 2012 [34 favorites]


this kind of arbitrary deprivation is a feature of any and all economic systems. People who have are always at risk of - occasionally very suddenly - not having at all.
I agree. Which is why I think the government should make it as easy as possible for people to climb their way out of such a state -- instead of what the US government seems to be doing -- branding people as forever homeless, and ensuring that they hit absolute rock bottom before they hand out any help.
posted by peacheater at 2:33 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The government could borrow trillions - at historically low cost - and fund research and infrastructure projects and put people with useful skills back to work. But...nah, instead, we're worried about bond fairies and debt vigilantes.
Low cost? 10 year yield is at 1.65%. Between GDP growth and inflation they'll make a god damn profit on it.
posted by Talez at 2:35 PM on June 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


Given that credit is not much of a resource for someone with no ability to pay debts, the [insert villain of choice here] basically took care of the antiquated notion of "home equity,"

I bank with what I thought was one of the "good" banks, USAA. I just relocated & have started working for myself, something my wife has done for a few months. I decided to look into replacing my mortgage with a HELOC for some added flexibility, lower interest, and lower monthly payments. (Mortgage balance too small to refinance according to numerous banks & lenders.) We have liquid savings over twice the desired loan amount but were denied. Why? Insufficient work history & income. Apparently earned income trumps all and lack of it effectively shuts you off from access to home equity products.

And this is the same bank that originated my mortgage back in 2005... when I had much less savings, shorter credit history, a larger loan amount, and no wife to co-sign. When I read the explanation from the bank, I couldn't help but think of the famous aphorism:

A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.

Why we let these banks, who benefit from what is essentially a license to print money and charge interest on it, control our economy and threaten to impoverish its citizens is beyond me. It's stupefying to see anyone who dares speak ill of the central bank instantly castigated as a kook.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 2:36 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is what everyone has been screaming, wailing and voting for all along, and now they're gonna act surprised when the end-game plays out?
posted by aramaic at 2:40 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


"The money's for my phone, it's for gas, it's for my bills," Adkins said.

"Why are you in a crisis," the woman asked, "when you have a phone bill?"

"I need the phone so I can get a job. You can't look for a job without a phone."

"Why do you have bills?" the woman asked. "I thought you didn't have a place to live."

"I live in my van," Adkins said. "I have insurance."

"You have a 2007 van," the woman said. "I think you need to sell that."

"Please, I need a break," Adkins said. "I need some help. I need to take a shower."

"Why didn't you have a shower?"

"I live in a van."

The woman told Adkins to come back when she really needed help.


"If I killed you right now, just crushed your skull right there where you're sitting with your own stapler, could I have your job?" Adkins asked.

"No," the woman said. "I expect you'd go to jail for the rest of your life."

"But someone would, right? Someone would get your job. Someone who needs a job. And they have showers in jail..."
posted by Naberius at 2:41 PM on June 27, 2012 [29 favorites]


"But someone would, right? Someone would get your job. Someone who needs a job. And they have showers in jail..."

Someone who needs a job wouldn't get that job. Someone who already has a job would get that job. Because employers don't want to know why you don't have a job they just know you don't have a job and there's a reason why you don't have a job.

This job will be filled with someone who has a job already who's vacated place of employment will fill with someone who also already has a job.

It's a musical chair of jobs. And you better hope that when the music stops you sure as hell already have a seat.
posted by Talez at 2:46 PM on June 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


There decline of the middle class in America has been happening for quite a while.
posted by Jurbano at 2:48 PM on June 27, 2012


The* decline . . .
posted by Jurbano at 2:49 PM on June 27, 2012


From what I understand, California was especially hard-hit by the Great Recession (although one of the interviewees was originally from Arizona). A friend of mine who has lived in Japan for over a decade now is essentially supporting his brother's family in California, and his mother - they all lost homes and jobs.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:50 PM on June 27, 2012


My understanding is that the US was a historic anomaly in that it always had a labor shortage, for hundreds of years.... up until 1978. It's that labor shortage which allowed the middle class to rise and prosper by keeping wages growing ahead of inflation.

Mass production, Automation and Offshoring mean there will NEVER be a labor shortage again.

Unless we change the way wealth is distributed, Our children will have less than we do. We have to figure out how to deal with that as a society.
posted by MikeWarot at 3:02 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Good thing you had all that extra money for the Iraq war, America.

The decline of the middle class (and rise in inequality) started back in the 1970s. And the Iraq War aren't even the biggest part. The Bush tax cuts are responsible for more of the deficit than both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the financial crisis, and TARP...combined.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:02 PM on June 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


This wouldn't be a problem if there were less taxes and regulations on the jobcreators.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:04 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


> The Bush tax cuts are responsible for more of the deficit than both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the financial crisis, and TARP...combined.

Again, Canada follows in the U.S.'s footsteps. People would rather pocket $60 or $100 than, you know, have decent child care or public transit systems.
posted by DJ 3000 at 3:09 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you, qxntpqbbbqxl your link is both fascinating and heartbreaking.
posted by azarbayejani at 3:17 PM on June 27, 2012


From what I understand, California was especially hard-hit...

The city of Stockton, California has decided to file for chapter 9 bankruptcy, becoming the largest US city to do so.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:20 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Again, Canada follows in the U.S.'s footsteps. People would rather pocket $60 or $100 than, you know, have decent child care or public transit systems.

I thought it was a stupid idea (which is why I voted Liberal in the last federal election), and it's important to note that the 39% of Canadians (a minority) who voted Conservative probably don't give a shit about childcare subsidies or transit. They have nannies and cars.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:22 PM on June 27, 2012


And people wonder why I'm not a capitalist. When you put money as the end goal, there will be smart and slimy people who, like Scrooge McDuck, will get it all and put it in a pool and share not a cent. I know communisim didn't work out, but dammit, there MUST be a better system then this.

Also, I'm really scared about what will happen when someone finally puts a light to the kindling that is being piled up; That is going to be a fucking big blaze, as there are more and more poor Americans around, and a who lot of you have guns and deep-seated, justified anger, and I really do not think a minimally-guarded border is going to keep that blaze from spreading.
posted by Canageek at 3:24 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The nannies-and-cars set doesn't get you to 39%, though. You have to convince a lot of people to vote against their interests, which is where the American political strategists come in handy.
posted by DJ 3000 at 3:26 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is turning into a derail... However, the Canadian Conservative Party is no more right wing than New Labour.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:30 PM on June 27, 2012


And yet the US has posted positive GDP growth for 11 consecutive quarters. The "recession" is a thing of the past.

I've become more and more skeptical of official statistics over the past 5-10 years, be they government or corporate (there's an old saying about not wanting to see how sausage is made, and boy, were they right). I can't shake the strong feeling that the more sophisticated and ubiquitous quantification has become, the less reliable all these numbers actually are and the more they're being massaged, sometimes subtly and sometimes brazenly, in the interests of the powerful.

Chinese Data Said To Be Manipulated, Understating Slowdown.

Cheating Our Children: Suspicious Test Scores Across The Nation.

Juking The Stats: Our Culture Of Manipulation.


Roland 'Prezbo' Pryzbylewski: I don't get it. All this so we score higher on the state tests? If we're teaching the kids the test questions, what is it assessing in them?

Grace Sampson: Nothing. It assesses us. The test scores go up, they can say the schools are improving. The scores stay down, they can't.

Roland 'Prezbo' Pryzbylewski: Juking the stats.

Grace Sampson: Excuse me?

Roland 'Prezbo' Pryzbylewski: Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and majors become colonels. I've been here before.

Grace Sampson: Wherever you go, there you are.

posted by jhandey at 3:30 PM on June 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Each evening, 150 people in 113 vehicles spend the night in 23 parking lots in Santa Barbara. The lots are part of Safe Parking, a program that offers overnight permits to people living in their vehicles. [...]

This is surreal. I wonder if the Victorians had a Safe Viaduct program for people sleeping under bridges.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:31 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


What keeps occurring to me was that these folks are living off the scraps of our bygone prosperity; homeless programs that still exist, supermarkets that still haven't fended off homeless people who use their bathrooms to take care of daily necessities, recycling that still finds its way into garbage cans.

Those scraps are getting scarcer, and the people who live off them are growing more numerous. The image of Curtis, a father of a young kid, picking through garbage at a park is harrowing enough; the idea that there are enough people in the same plight that several people were doing the same thing simultaneously is horrifying.

I don't even know what to do with the knowledge that it's going to get worse.
posted by MrVisible at 3:47 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


What is really upsetting about this is that we have the resources to do better.

There are enough resources for everyone in the US who wants a job, to have a job. The federal government isn't "running out of money." All money is, is a unit of exchange. The real limits are resources, and last time I checked, there are plenty of idle factories, and unemployed workers. Moreover, there's lots of stuff to be done, from rebuilding bridges, to modern mass transit, to transitioning to a lower-oil using economy. But we're not doing those things. Instead, we're committing national suicide. There are people who want to work. There are plenty of things to do. We have resources. But somehow, there's a mismatch. That's wrong, and it's wasteful.
posted by wuwei at 4:03 PM on June 27, 2012 [61 favorites]


This wouldn't be a problem if there were less taxes and regulations on the jobcreators.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:04 PM on June 27


Eponysterical?
posted by Kitty Stardust at 4:36 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Instead, we're committing national suicide. There are people who want to work. There are plenty of things to do. We have resources. But somehow, there's a mismatch. That's wrong, and it's wasteful.

In some sense this is a purely monetary phenomenon. It almost seems as if there's literally not enough currency in the system to the point that the markets cannot clear; buyers and sellers (of labor) are there but they're literally lacking in the units of exchange that would allow the transaction to take place. But I fear that this is only part of the problem. Really, what's so funny about the article is that truth is sitting there, right in front of the author's facet he just can't seem to process it. The explosive growth of the middle class and it's sudden destruction -- are exactly what you'd expect from a bubble. The question that ought to be asked is not how to save "the middle class" but, rather, whether we ever should have gotten ourselves one. This notion that everybody ought to enjoy such a lifestyle, that it's a "given" simply invites massive malinvestment. And really there's something interesting in seeing the middle class, who are so often quite indifferent if not cruel to the plight of the poor, now come to understand that the poor are not so different from you and me. Let's see if Americans learn anything from this... though I certainly won't be holding my breath.
posted by nixerman at 4:51 PM on June 27, 2012


This was already happening in California in the 90s, when I left. I read reports of people renting storage compartments to store their crap from their apartments after they got evicted. They would stay in their cars between midnight and 6AM when the storage facility was closed, and then go in and sleep in the lockup when they opened at 6AM.

Those days seem like luxurious wealth compared to today, even for me. I have cut everything to the bone, and there's nothing left to cut but bone. I am sick of austerity. I often quote one of Hunter Thompson's last (and IMHO one of his best) columns, written just days after 9/11, "When War Drums Roll."

The poor bastards of what will forever be known as Generation Z are doomed to be the first generation of Americans who will grow up with a lower standard of living than their parents enjoyed.

That is extremely heavy news, and it will take a while for it to sink in. The 22 babies born in New York City while the World Trade Center burned will never know what they missed. The last half of the 20th century will seem like a wild party for rich kids, compared to what's coming now. The party's over, folks. The time has come for loyal Americans to Sacrifice. ... Sacrifice. ... Sacrifice. That is the new buzz-word in Washington. But what it means is not entirely clear.

posted by charlie don't surf at 4:53 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Unless we change the way wealth is distributed, Our children will have less than we do. We have to figure out how to deal with that as a society.

The one percenter's children will do just fine. They have little to worry about. And since they write the laws (see ALEC) of this country, why would they be motivated to change a goddamn thing?
posted by zardoz at 5:03 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's no need to redistribute the wealth, given that the "rich" in California pay taxes higher than anyone outside of Manhattan -- we can start by redistributing the welfare -- cutting the public housing, cash and food aid, and Medicaid of the permanent underclass, who haven't been a net contributor to society in generations will free up plenty of cash for working class people who haven fallen on bad luck.
posted by MattD at 5:41 PM on June 27, 2012


Heartbreaking. I'm waiting for the coda in which the story of Hippie Bob is turned into a self-published children's novel and Kennan and his children never go hungry again.

entropicamericana: This wouldn't be a problem if there were less taxes and regulations on the jobcreators.

Facetiousness received, but it seems like there's a vein of bureaucratic restriction running through the article, whenever the issue of not having a permanent address comes up. This seems like the only way to reconcile the news that in the midst of all this unemployment, employers keep reporting that there are no good candidates.

For example, we're hiring for positions in my role at [big, Fortune 100 company] and at other companies in the same field. Although if you applied for any of these jobs, or any job with a major employer, you'd have to submit to a credit check, background check, and drug test, both of which would have been obstacles for subjects of the stories. So why are these things necessary? Are they part of a corporate liability shield? An insurance requirement? What kinds of things would need to change to be able to hire these people based on a resume and an interview alone?
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 5:49 PM on June 27, 2012


The checks are essentially free, and the pool of unemployed is endless. There is no downside for a company to require these checks.
posted by ryanrs at 5:53 PM on June 27, 2012


There's no need to redistribute the wealth, given that the "rich" in California pay taxes higher than anyone outside of Manhattan -- we can start by redistributing the welfare -- cutting the public housing, cash and food aid, and Medicaid of the permanent underclass, who haven't been a net contributor to society in generations will free up plenty of cash for working class people who haven fallen on bad luck.
Ebenezer: Are there no prisons?

First Collector: Plenty of prisons.

Ebenezer: And the union workhouses - are they still in operation?

First Collector: They are. I wish I could say they were not.

Ebenezer: Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course. I'm very glad to hear it.

First Collector: I don't think you quite understand us, sir. A few of us are endeavoring to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.

Ebenezer: Why?

First Collector: Because it is at Christmastime that want is most keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. Now what can I put you down for?

Ebenezer: Huh! Nothing!

Second Collector: You wish to be anonymous?

Ebenezer: [firmly, but calmly] I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish sir, that is my answer. I help to support the establishments I have named; those who are badly off must go there.

First Collector: Many can't go there.

Second Collector: And some would rather die.
posted by briank at 5:54 PM on June 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


The really heartbreaking part of this story for me is, this newly-poor middle class is now realizing the serious pounding we've been giving to the always-poor for decades now. For many people, living in a van or less, being humiliated, with no help up only a meager hand out is not new, not news, and not something that happened in the last few years.
posted by Houstonian at 6:09 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


There's no need to redistribute the wealth, given that the "rich" in California pay taxes higher than anyone outside of Manhattan -- we can start by redistributing the welfare -- cutting the public housing, cash and food aid, and Medicaid of the permanent underclass, who haven't been a net contributor to society in generations will free up plenty of cash for working class people who haven fallen on bad luck.
As tempting as it is to try to kill off the permanent underclass through neglect, perhaps we should try to make some use of taxpayer's considerable investment which has doubtlessly been squandered and frittered away until now. I have been assured by a very knowing Londoner currently living in San Francisco that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve as local and organic for those who hold their diets to a high moral standard. I do therefor humbly offer it to public consideration that the permanent underclass be reserved to breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males, which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle, or swine; and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore one male will be sufficient to serve four females. Similarly, should a supposedly "middle class" person be unable to prove themselves after several months of living on the dole, we can enlarge our livestock with these that have absolutely no other contribution to our great society, and needlessly degrade and retard our common progress. I modestly suggest that this proposal could extend our current prosperity by up to another 283 years. By then, surely we will have rid humanity of that awful trait that drives people to desire poverty, and suggestion such as the above would no longer be needed.
posted by Llama-Lime at 6:29 PM on June 27, 2012 [27 favorites]


These stories are heartbreaking, but sorry, it's fluffy anecdata. It gets an F+ for making the point that there has been a sharp, sudden decline of the middle class.

What bugged me about the article was one tiny detail, one really pretty irrelevant detail. This sentence: By mutual unspoken agreement, the three women park in the same spots every night, keeping a minimum distance from each other.

It should be maximum distance, shouldn't it?

But it's hard to get obsessed with such an insignificant boo-boo in the face of all the really huge mistakes going on.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:40 PM on June 27, 2012


keeping a minimum distance from each other.

It should be maximum distance, shouldn't it?

No that's correct. What the author is saying is that they always keep a minimum distance away from each other (there is a particular distance below which they will not go), not that they always keep at the maximum possible distance away from each other.
posted by peacheater at 6:42 PM on June 27, 2012


No, they are keeping a minimum distance, in that they get no closer to each other than the agreed minimum.
posted by misfish at 6:43 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for clearing that up. I was just parsing it a different way. Totally irrelevant point anyway. So, yeah, thanks again.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:45 PM on June 27, 2012


Holy shit. This story may be a collection of anecadata that doesn't deserve the name journalism or whatever, but it just gave me crushing despair.

My heart aches for America.

:(
posted by thehmsbeagle at 7:27 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's no need to redistribute the wealth, given that the "rich" in California pay taxes higher than anyone outside of Manhattan -- we can start by redistributing the welfare -- cutting the public housing, cash and food aid, and Medicaid of the permanent underclass, who haven't been a net contributor to society in generations will free up plenty of cash for working class people who haven fallen on bad luck.
This sounds like trolling, because the logical implication here is that we should let these people starve to death along with their kids (thus solving the 'generational') problem. In reality most of that assistance goes to people who have jobs that don't pay much.
posted by delmoi at 7:31 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Union members and middle class residers and lower middle class residers and poor bible thumping residers who vote republican need to understand that they are not socially closer to rich whites than poor blacks.

But, the right wing blather industry is doing an outstanding job of convincing them otherwise.
posted by wrapper at 8:26 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


the permanent underclass

What? This is permanent?
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:28 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This sounds like trolling, because the logical implication here is that we should let these people starve to death along with their kids (thus solving the 'generational') problem. In reality most of that assistance goes to people who have jobs that don't pay much.

The satire went sailing over your head.
posted by Talez at 9:27 PM on June 27, 2012


They feed scrambled eggs to wounded seabirds? That's just not right.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:33 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry, that was a graveyard whistle.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:41 PM on June 27, 2012


also from the Billfold:

Young, Privileged and Applying for Food Stamps
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:47 PM on June 27, 2012


I seriously wonder how many people are just going to end up killing themselves when they end up in this situation with no hope and things always getting worse. And I think, "shit, is there any other option for them? Seems like there isn't if you don't have family to live off of."

And then I wonder why I'm still employed and how lucky I am, and how come I haven't become unemployed and homeless yet like a lot of other people, and why I ever ponder going for more in life (like pondering looking for other work or a different field or something higher on the Maslow pyramid when I have more than these folks do, and if I ever tried taking a leap I might end up like them instead.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:00 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


The satire went sailing over your head.
To be fair, it's nearly impossible to distinguish between satire and ideology these days.
posted by heathkit at 10:55 PM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Uh, if MattD's trolling, he's on some deep cover shit, because he's been posting that right wing Randroid bullshit for years.

The safety nets have been slashed every year pretty much from Reagan through 2008. Furthering the problem is that state budgets are even more susceptible to the boom/bust cycle, and that's where a lot of the social services funding is coming from. The problem is that this gets used as self-fulfilling, in that complaints about welfare programs are translated into "The Government Doesn't Work — Let's Cut It." So yeah, there are perverse incentives that come from only having the resources to help the poorest of the poor.

We can decide we want this to change, and we can make it change. But we have to be able to say that we want a system that ensures basic standards for all citizens, and realize that this means that we'll have to fund it adequately and that we can't overreact to the fact that some people will cheat the system just as part of making it humane.

For me, not to get all mom and apple pie, that decision is necessary for America to be a great nation, and I want America to be a great nation.
posted by klangklangston at 12:07 AM on June 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


According to Professor Richard Wolff:

Today, hundreds of millions of people are unemployed and want work. Economists estimate that 20-30% of our capacity to produce (machines, tools, factory, store and office space) are sitting idle, gathering rust and dust. Yet global poverty could be eradicated with the output we could have if those who wanted to work could be placed together with available industrial capacity.

He mentions in one of his economic update videos that this situation applies to the US. The US has quite a large idle productive capacity - he contends that you could give a lot of the people who want work a useful job to do, right now.

There are probably several ways that you could do this.

One thing I have been wondering about is whether or not there should be some legal structure in place, whereby local workers can claim ownership of idle factories and materials if a company decides to abandon them. If a company outsources jobs, then the workers ought to have the opportunity to organise into a local cooperative and either have first refusal on the factories that the company no longer wants, at a knock-down price - or get them outright, if the company essentially abandons them.

As far as long-term unemployment and this "Great Recession" go, I don't think that we need to "eat the rich". I think its more that we need them to get out of the way.
posted by lucien_reeve at 12:27 AM on June 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


Gee, klang. May I touch the hem of your garment? That's seriously well put.
posted by Goofyy at 12:28 AM on June 28, 2012


MattD isn't trolling. If anything, he's slightly to the left of the typical conservative, who doesn't think we should have a safety net at all.

we can start by redistributing the welfare -- cutting the public housing, cash and food aid, and Medicaid of the permanent underclass,

That certainly would be the final solution to the problem of welfare queens.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:34 AM on June 28, 2012


The question that ought to be asked is not how to save "the middle class" but, rather, whether we ever should have gotten ourselves one.
yeah things were so much better before we invented that
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:53 AM on June 28, 2012


.
posted by caclwmr4 at 1:20 AM on June 28, 2012


It's emblematic of the ignorance shaping the greed of the motherless fucks who have engineered this entire mess. Short term rewards without a consideration for the long term consequences of this disaster.

An eradication of the middle class will result in a huge, swollen, angry underclass. In a country awash in firearms and religious mania this will be an unmitigated disaster.

I don't know what's worse. That they haven't thought of that, or that they have and simply don't care.
posted by Hickeystudio at 2:40 AM on June 28, 2012


I seriously wonder how many people are just going to end up killing themselves when they end up in this situation with no hope and things always getting worse.

Greece's suicide rate has jumped by 40% in the last year, and there have been sharp increases [NYT] in other EU countries subject to "austerity". I'm guessing we'll see a lot.
posted by ryanshepard at 4:03 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


We've got three global crises:
1) Environmental degradation, most importantly "climate change"
2) Resource depletion, most importantly "peak oil"
and 3) Financial/Political Shenanigans in the "developed" world

At the most optimistic, global average temperature rises a mere 2C this century, we hit "peak oil" only after the economy has shifted enough to renewable energy sources to pull through; and the economic crisis starting in 2008 resolves itself without leading to another much, much worse crash.

If I had to say what I'd expect from the 21st century, I'd say it's going to be even more exciting than the 20th.
posted by eurypteris at 5:36 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's no need to redistribute the wealth, given that the "rich" in California pay taxes higher than anyone outside of Manhattan -- we can start by redistributing the welfare -- cutting the public housing, cash and food aid, and Medicaid of the permanent underclass, who haven't been a net contributor to society in generations will free up plenty of cash for working class people who haven fallen on bad luck.

Ah, the chorus of a generation. Indeed, the tax rates of fantastically wealthy people living in a state that can't afford to fund its own public education or fix its own crumbling infrastructure should definitely be brought down. We'll just put those pesky poor people on a raft, and set it adrift in the vast Pacific.

While I'm tempted to frame my response a little more viciously, let me just say: those taxes you are griping so bitterly about are the only thing separating your throat from the knives of the poor.
posted by Mayor West at 6:01 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


The notion of a "middle class" has always been anathema to the aristocracy. In their view, God loves them, that is why they are affluent and the poor deserve their lot. The very idea of people ascending in social class is offensive to them.
posted by Renoroc at 6:05 AM on June 28, 2012


I'm just curious, as a practical matter, how one is supposed to distinguish between the deserving working class unemployed and the undeserving permanent-underclass unemployed.

Presumably skin color is a factor.
posted by ook at 6:07 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


So Curtis and Concita are paying: "The truck payment – $424 a month – was always a problem." what the hell?

I"m pretty sure you could rent a place with a bit more room than a truck for that per month.
posted by mary8nne at 6:26 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I"m pretty sure you could rent a place with a bit more room than a truck for that per month.

Sure, but then how would you get to a job interview?
posted by Floydd at 6:29 AM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


And it's not as though your financial problems would magically vanish without the truck payments: you'd now have to deal with the consequences of defaulting on a major debt, which would make it harder for you to earn or save money.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:09 AM on June 28, 2012


The notion of a "middle class" has always been anathema to the aristocracy.
but entitlem— privi— I mean, uh— shit

look, you have to realize that things not being awful for most people is unsustainable and unnatural and probably unjust somehow, and that auster— I mean, that the new normal is literally the only sane or moral outcome
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:09 AM on June 28, 2012


I personally prefer that the middle class realize what they really are; Upper working class. The notion of 'the middle class' in politics is pretty damn obnoxious dog whistling by both parties.
posted by srboisvert at 1:32 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really sad stories. It surprises me just how crucial a car is in America, or at least California. And I am surprised that these individuals, who present as so willing to work, are struggling so hard to find jobs.
But why are they telling prospective employers they are homeless? Surely there is a friend, or a church they could use as a postal address if it is critical? I think I have received half a dozen pieces of mail related from my employer in a decade in my job, so it seems odd they see the address as a problem.
posted by bystander at 3:03 PM on June 28, 2012


This article is full of incredibly shoddy reporting. I started to read the story of the "veteran," while wondering why he didn't utilize the VA's HUD-VASH program - and then I realized that this guy had never actually served a day. He washed out in training. He was not a veteran. But for the purposes of pathos, they were sure wiling to paint him as one. I'm willing to bet that the same reasons he wasn't able to make it through training may have also affected his job.

The question that ought to be asked is not how to save "the middle class" but, rather, whether we ever should have gotten ourselves one. This notion that everybody ought to enjoy such a lifestyle, that it's a "given" simply invites massive malinvestment.

I think there's no reason to oppose having a middle class - that is completely puzzling to me. There may have been a middle class "bubble" in terms of people buying things they can't afford to sustain a lifestyle they think is "normal", and that's legitimate, but there are also people who are not doing such things, and can actually afford their lifestyle without borrowing, while still being middle class.

That said, I do agree that the idea that everyone needs to live a middle class lifestyle to be offensive - especially because the too-often-stated corollary is that the government is responsible for ensuring that lifestyle to everyone, food and housing and healthcare and suchlike.

This sounds like trolling, because the logical implication here is that we should let these people starve to death along with their kids (thus solving the 'generational') problem.

Why is there such an automatic leap to assume he/she is trolling? Even if that is the logical implication (which I don't know, as I can't read intent), isn't that a perfectly valid position to hold, without having adopted it specifically for the purpose of internet-fighting?

One thing I have been wondering about is whether or not there should be some legal structure in place, whereby local workers can claim ownership of idle factories and materials if a company decides to abandon them. If a company outsources jobs, then the workers ought to have the opportunity to organise into a local cooperative and either have first refusal on the factories that the company no longer wants, at a knock-down price - or get them outright, if the company essentially abandons them.

Absolutely not. Why should a company be forced to sell off or give away their property simply because they're not currently using it? The ownership of property, factories, and materials is a long game - even if now is not a good time to produce, ten years from now might be. The property won't go away. Nothing stops these workers from buying at market rates, but the answer is not to screw over people who own things just so others can have them for funsies.

While I'm tempted to frame my response a little more viciously, let me just say: those taxes you are griping so bitterly about are the only thing separating your throat from the knives of the poor.

You know, this is often said by a lot of people here, and I'm going to call it out. Do you actually revel in the idea of bloodshed as much as you seem to? And even if you do, how is this functionally different from, "That protection money you pay to the Mafia is the only thing keeping your business from being burned down."
posted by corb at 2:48 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


especially because the too-often-stated corollary is that the government is responsible for ensuring that lifestyle to everyone, food and housing and healthcare and suchlike.
i see nothing wrong with this
isn't that a perfectly valid position to hold
no
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:20 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"This article is full of incredibly shoddy reporting. I started to read the story of the "veteran," while wondering why he didn't utilize the VA's HUD-VASH program - and then I realized that this guy had never actually served a day. He washed out in training. He was not a veteran. But for the purposes of pathos, they were sure wiling to paint him as one. I'm willing to bet that the same reasons he wasn't able to make it through training may have also affected his job. "

First off, they never describe him as a "veteran." They say "ex-soldier." Second off, the reason why he "washed out" is that he had back problems. Which, yeah, likely impact his ability to find work. But being dismissive here just makes you look foolish.

"That said, I do agree that the idea that everyone needs to live a middle class lifestyle to be offensive - especially because the too-often-stated corollary is that the government is responsible for ensuring that lifestyle to everyone, food and housing and healthcare and suchlike. "

First off, the idea that "everyone needs to live a middle class lifestyle" is almost never phrased as such — much more often, it's that everyone deserves a shot at a middle class lifestyle. Further, the argument is generally presented that government intervention should do two separate, but often related things: Make it possible for everyone to have a shot at the middle class, and make sure that the poor have a certain standard of living that shelters them from the general cruelty of poverty as much as possible, because endemic poverty ends up costing society (and the individuals) disproportionately (along with the moral argument that people shouldn't have to suffer needlessly, but you seem blind to moral arguments around capitalism today).

So maybe instead of being offended, you could take more time to think about what's actually being said and react like an adult.

"Even if that is the logical implication (which I don't know, as I can't read intent), isn't that a perfectly valid position to hold, without having adopted it specifically for the purpose of internet-fighting? "

No, it's an idiotic position to hold. He's not trolling per se, but if, again, you thought through what you're responding to, you'd realize that letting a generation of poor people starve to death is pretty fucking stupid.
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 AM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


First off, they never describe him as a "veteran." They say "ex-soldier." Second off, the reason why he "washed out" is that he had back problems. Which, yeah, likely impact his ability to find work. But being dismissive here just makes you look foolish.

Well, he's not either. You don't become a soldier through attending a few weeks of basic training. If you've never served a day, you're not actually a soldier. I'll admit that this may not be something the general public might pay attention to, but if you're a reporter, I do expect due diligence.

Secondly, again, you may not know this, but if he had genuine back problems that required him to leave the military, he would have a particular status that would have allowed him more benefits and access to resources than he demonstrates in the article.

This is admittedly a particular pet peeve of mine in military reportage - the reporter doesn't know any better, and doesn't check on it. And that does throw doubt on the entire rest of the story.
posted by corb at 12:43 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Secondly, again, you may not know this, but if he had genuine back problems that required him to leave the military, he would have a particular status that would have allowed him more benefits and access to resources than he demonstrates in the article. "

That depends on the classification of his injury, which is an entirely pedantic complaint, especially when they're already concealing his identity.

Rolling Stone actually has some of the best fact checkers in the business, though you may not have known that, and arguments about whether or not to classify him as an "ex-soldier" are carping substituted for argument.
posted by klangklangston at 2:30 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rolling Stone has made errors in military coverage before and showed poor journalistic integrity. But no, this isn't just carping. Rolling Stone is attempting to play on our heartstrings by showing us the poor homeless vet. Well, there are homeless vets out there, but since they don't happen to fit the standards that Rolling Stone wanted, they didn't bother interviewing any of them. Instead they went for this guy. Who is in no way, shape, or form, what they try to make him out to be.
posted by corb at 7:57 PM on June 29, 2012


1) It's not necessarily an error. You're assuming based on some sort of odd perception about how the American military functions, and ignoring the fairly real possibility that some of the best fact checkers in the business are right.

2) They're interviewing people who live in their cars in a couple of lots in California. While it's possible that there are more vets living there, that they didn't track one down and instead stuck with describing the people that do live there isn't a flaw in the article.

3) This guy is homeless, and does live in his car. So to declare that he's "in no way, shape, or form, what they try to make him out to be," is pretty idiotic, and again guided more by your misreading and fantasy about the article than anything in the text itself.

I don't know why you think it's so important to not focus on the OVERWHELMING EFFECTS OF POVERTY and instead complain about something that has about as much bearing here as the flag code, but it's obnoxious and myopic.
posted by klangklangston at 3:41 PM on July 2, 2012


It is an error, and I say that as someone who has both served in the American military and been deeply involved with some of the military and veteran reporting since then. I don't understand where your obsession with insisting that Rolling Stone is correct comes from. There are a lot of phony vets out there - most recently the one on the reality show that was exposed comes to mind.

I don't think you get to dictate my reactions to the article. And my reactions were pretty much sidelined by the bad reporting on something I have experience of. You may think the flag code has no bearing on anything, for example, but if a newspaper article got it wrong I would certainly feel justified in calling it out. I am not obligated to bemoan what you want me to bemoan.
posted by corb at 3:49 PM on July 2, 2012


Oh, so you know that he wasn't rejected over back problems that were classed as an injury that existed prior to enlistment, thus disqualifying him for VA medical care? That you know that despite the editors obscuring his identity — which can sometimes include obscuring medically identifiable information — is a real insight. What did you base it on? I mean, you say that you were in the military, so I assume it must have been some sort of intelligence service training that gave you access to the Rolling Stone files with this guy's real name and then you cross-referenced it with his service file, right?

And I know that you're confused about the difference between news magazines and reality shows, but Rolling Stone's procedure requires every reporter to turn over every note they make during their investigations, along with audio of interviews (video if possible), and then the article is submitted to a three-member team for fact checking (who work with as many as three freelance fact checkers for any given article). I've worked as a fact checker before — though not for Rolling Stone — and know what the standard procedure is for doing it. While it's possible that a misrepresentation snuck through, your military bona fides aren't sufficient evidence for that.

So, you know, if we're all bemoaning what we want to bemoan, I'm calling out your petty criticism as a way for you to sidestep the overarching thrust of the article and to disparage through an essentially ad hominem attack on one of the sources. I'm bemoaning idiotic carping substituted for critical thinking.
posted by klangklangston at 5:08 PM on July 2, 2012


I think it extremely unlikely that if he wished to continue, he would have been disqualified during any part of initial entry training for medical reasons. The general rule for drills is to push them through and let their unit sort them out. I've seen people passed through with broken ribs. For him to have been removed from initial training for back problems means it's extremely, extremely likely that he wanted out.

My statement was that if he were an actual veteran (which, as noted, means actually serving for at least one day) that even if his medical conditions were listed as pre-existing, non-service connected issues, he would still be eligible for VA social work and homelessness prevention services, regardless of whether he was eligible for their medical care.

I referenced the show as the most recent case in the public's memory, but there have been numerous cases of fake veterans appearing in reputable news magazines, or other people whose service doesn't stack to what they're claiming. Fact checkers don't always help if people don't know what to look for. It's why the best papers and news magazines hire or utilize actual veteran advisors to help them with these sorts of things.

This guy is not a veteran just because he may have attended initial entry training, and for them to paint him as one dishonors those who actually served. For him to attempt to get sympathy on this basis, and for Rolling Stone to aid him, is despicable.
posted by corb at 6:30 PM on July 2, 2012


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