Friday, December 12, 2008

Reality Bites

When I think of strength, or of motherhood, or of desperation, or of the future, this is the image I can't get out of my mind. Dorothea Lange captured so much in this portrait; far beyond any other description.

This recession, this financial nosedive the talking heads like to cluck about on the news... This is what they're talking about.

A while back, I was watching Anderson Cooper on CNN, "reporting" on the criminals responsible for this financial crisis. After a series blasting various CEOs, the featured jerk was... You.

Yes, this highly paid newsman actually had the gall to report that the extreme greed and irresponsibility of the average person was at the heart of the matter. I find that disgusting.

What has the concept of "Middle Class" been, other than a trap?

I'm no economist, but it seems to me that it has been quite profitable to hook people into credit traps and essentially force them into indentured servitude. Before anyone gets out their fiscal conservativism combat manual, think about when most "middle class" people fall: college. With higher education essential for finding employment and therefore access to a middle class lifestyle, one must be able to pay for college. And anyone who's had to go through the financial aid gauntlet knows that it is assumed - expected - that the student and/or the student's parents will take out any loans necessary to bridge the gap between aid packages and income. So, many of them take out these loans that are exempt from bankruptcy relief because what other shot does a kid have to break out of the paycheck-to-paycheck life?

So the kid goes to college and in the welcome package given out at the bookstore are several credit card offers tailored to students. And heck, a kid's got to eat. And feel grown up. And pay that unexpected fee or buy that essential supply that ran out too early. Mom and Dad already had to take out a mortgage to send the kid to school, so there's not much more blood to be squeezed from that stone... So assuming the kid finishes with a bachelor's degree (heaven forbid a student doesn't finish the degree - like if they get blasted with a crippling illness, physical or mental), they're already loaded with so much "good debt" that they will probably be paying the rest of their lives. Plus the bad debt, where all money will go from that entry level job that doesn't pay nearly as much as expected... and which will probably build, bit by bit, as the now-worker must have a car and food and business attire... And with every promotion, or even every year that goes by, there's more pressure to appear successful... better cars, spouse, kids, "starter home" mortgage...

What happens when one of the parents can't work? Or one of the kids has cancer? How far are they from the streets? A month? A year? What happens when jobs start drying up and someone who followed advice and sunk deep into good debt, while responsibly contributing to the 401(k), finds that all their responsibility can not control very much - and if the expensively educated person can find a job, it's comparable in pay and benefits to the person who lives on the edge of poverty, even without a student loan and college degree?

They are forever stuck playing catch-up, while the bigwigs who got the whole credit fiasco started manage to just get richer. And richer. And richer.

It's the middle class lie.

The poorest and richest among us find the view about the same. And both can mock the hubris of the people who believe that whole "American Dream" thing.

Contrary to the Neocon BS that's been spread pretty thick the past several years, the people that need help now are not leeches. They are not, as a group, stupid or even any greedier than any other consumer in this culture. They are not shiftless or lazy or in any other manner inferior. And I consider highly suspect those whose judgement turns up anything less humane. People need help. Not them. Us. Because we are all in this together.

This is a website worth browsing: One Dollar Diet Project.


  1. Now it's my chance to tell you, "Amen, sista!" :)

  2. "[...] the people that need help now are not leaches. They are not, as a group, stupid or even any greedier than any other consumer in this culture. They are not shiftless or lazy or in any other manner inferior."

    So what are they/we? Suckers for the "American Dream" BS? For all the reasons you mention, I think higher education will be the next bubble to pop.

  3. I love that picture too. It always struck a chord with me because I think I saw a little of mom and Gr.J. in it...

  4. Most everyone I work with has at least a Bachelor's Degree. And a $60,000 loan to pay off. I'm so glad I didn't go the college route. They might make a couple dollars an hour more than I do, but I'm also not a single 20-something trying to fit in the social scene and get a good start in life either.

    However, when the old man and I were looking for houses the interest rate was zero. I knew that we couldn't afford the big fancy house with a two car garage and an in-ground pool and vaulted ceilings. So we settled for the cute little "starter-home". I think there may have been some greed there. But there were also plenty of people out there ready to feed on the wishes and dreams of those who wanted to "live like the other half live". We all have our greed. I agree with you that the judging of someone that "has not" by those that "have" does nothing to help the situation.