Don’t Worry, It’s Just a Mental Recession, You Whiner

Dow Jones below 11,000 for the first time in two years.

Have a nice weekend!

56 Comments on “Don’t Worry, It’s Just a Mental Recession, You Whiner”

  1. Do you have an opinion on the William Sanders “sheet-heads” rejection letter commented on by Tobias Buckell and others?

  2. It’s still not a recession, defined by two sequential quarters of negative growth.

    Besides, if the stock market were a rational reflection of reality, it would be MUCH lower than it is.

  3. John Doe, what makes you think that asking that question in a comment thread about the Dow dropping below the 11K benchmark is at all appropriate?

    If you have a question you want to ask me to comment about, don’t hijack a comment thread to which the topic is irrelevant, e-mail it to me. My e-mail is not difficult to find; you can follow the link that says “Contact Information” right there in the sidebar.

  4. What we have here is a problem with definitions.

    A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters with negative economic growth. As of 1st quarter of 2008, we haven’t had any quarters of negative growth.

    The press is using ‘recession’ to mean people don’t feel good about the economy. That is like claiming someone is a traitor (or Commie, Nazi, or other perjoratives) because he doesn’t agree with you.

    And frankly, using one day’s stock market results as “proof” of a recession is neither valid or reasonable. Using it as an indicator that people don’t feel confident of the future is reasonable and may be valid.

  5. Brian:

    Entertain the notion that I’m mocking the term “mental recession” while pointing to another anecdotal bit of evidence that the economy is shaky, rather than pointing to a dip below an arbitrary barrier as definitive proof that we are in a formal recession.

    Also entertain the notion that I’m making a comment on the idea that the economic advisor of a presidential candidate would dismiss genuine economic concerns of the general population, buttressed by persistent continuing evidence that the economy is in fact shaky, as some sort of mental abberation in the perception of whiners. Particularly when that advisor and candidate belong to the same party as the current occupant of the White House, whose economic policies contributed heavily to today’s current general economic apprehension.

  6. Yeah, it’s only one day. So I guess that the tax revenues for my Village are down 25% over the same time last year. I guess it’s all in my head. Sure, let’s pave all those roads.

  7. Let’s see:

    – Home foreclosures are up, the dollar is down.
    – Gas prices are soaring, the job rate is plummeting.
    – Food prices are taking wing, real wages are falling.

    But it’s all in our heads. Riiiiight.

  8. No, no Steve. Pave the roads in GOLD! Don’t you believe that everything’s OK you whiner? :)

    Oh and for the pedantic folks above…. you’re right but 1) that’s an arbitrary definition (why 2 and not 1 or 3 or…) and it’s almost always applied after the recession itself has passed. The proper concern of a president or a person is to determine what’s happening and take the appropriate action for the benefit of the people of the country, not determine what happened after it’s over with.

    And, frankly, if you think Gramm was making any reference to the 2 consecutive quarters issue, you’re FAR more naive than I.

  9. It makes me think of an old saying.

    “New moon discovered orbiting Jupiter, stock market falls.”

    I think most of the stock market is a meme. Heck the dollar is worth what it is, based on some sort of weird group consensus. Same with the economy to a large extent.

    The economy is a social construct. Supply and demand have some effect. But its peoples attitude that is the major factor.

  10. rick, Gold! Yes, we can do that. With asphalt at $147 per ton for the county I live in, we’re getting closer to the gold price everyday. (FYI, concrete is now cheaper than asphalt, but for some roads we only need to resurface, concreting involves a whole lot more)

  11. Pedant moment here, but the stock market is not a meme – it’s a fiction. A consensual hallucination, if you will.

  12. Being persistently wrong does not discredit you as a pundit. Going against the reality the political class wishes to foist on the hoi polloi, on the other hand…

    So our presidential choices boil down to Hoover 2.0, and… I’m not sure what the parallel for Obama is. Coolidge, perhaps?

    Maybe in 2012 we can get our next FDR.


  13. There’s no way to know who Obama is a parallel to until he actually takes office.

  14. There is no doubt that Gramm was correct in his assessment as a technical matter. But McCain is smart enough to know that the vast majority of voters don’t give a shit about the technical definition and they want their politicians to feel their pain and at least pretend they have a plan to fix it.

    So it goes…

  15. Not in a recession…hmm…I’ll have to remember that when I’m:

    – claiming my extended unemployent benefits each week for the next several months…

    – told there were, oh, pick a number between 300 and 500, resumes for any one position I applied for…

    – told that while I was actually one of the top ten, five, two, candidates actually interviewed more than once by a potential employer, I didn’t get the job because they got hit with a corporate hiring freeze in the middle of my interview sequence and were forced to seek internal candidates…

    (who, by the way, quit after a couple of days because they got a better offer elsewhere and now the position I could have had is still vacant six months later!)

    – standing in line at the grocery store and realized the single serve package I’ve been buying for years now only serves half a person and I’m paying the same $$ for it…

    – watching the list gets longer and longer, it will be a year come Labor Day since I lost my job in the…wait for it…real estate industry!!

    Trying to go back to my roots and do tech writing or data analysis…

  16. Here’s an idea for only the most dedicated Obama campaigners: go door to door wearing a McCain button, and remind people that we’re not technically in a recession.

    Be sure to wear a cup.

  17. The trouble is that certain economic technical terms like “recession” don’t translate well to how things are going for the average person. For some reason, economists and politicians seem to care more for the numbers that tell how investors are doing rather than the numbers that tell how people are doing.

  18. I don’t know why you’re all trying to hang this on poor John McCain. He made it clear that Phil Gramm doesn’t speak for him.

    Err…except that Phil Gramm was talking to the the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal about McCain’s economic plans. Kind of…umm…speaking for him, y’know?

    Just as a rule of thumb, if you’re chief economic advisor doesn’t speak for you on the economy you probably need a new advisor.

  19. My place of employment had three openings for admin assistants. We received 124 applications. On another job posting where I had 6 jobs to offer, I was able to fill (entry level) software testing and requirements gathering positions with the most qualified group of candidates I’ve ever had, most of whom had anywhere from 10 to 20 years of experience. Most of them used to commute between 60 and 80 miles, the reduction of their commute to around 10 miles made it economically feasible for them to take a lower paying position (with some promotion potential).
    In my neighborhood there are another 15-20 households that have put in at least a small vegetable garden. I’m assuming the bulk of that can be tied to trying to save a few dollars here and there.

    So I’d say people are downright nervous about things, and while I think very few individuals will be turned off of McCain solely based on Phil Gramm’s comments, in combination with his other displays of general cluelessness about the economy, he’s at risk of hemorrhaging more of the working and middle class vote.

    If nothing else, it’s reinforcing my perception that while oil may be more than $140 a barrel, tone deaf is still only about $3, and the McCain campaign regularly takes a big Achilles dip in the stuff.

  20. The American dollar is trading one to one with the Canadian dollar. Never in my living memory (I’m 38) has the Canadian dollar EVER come close to being worth what the American dollar is.

    Damn you George Bush! You’re ruining my vacations! Everything in Canada used to cheap! Cheap I says! It was like a giant yard sale up there, and now I have to pay real money for things! In the meantime we’ve got family all of a sudden wanting to visit us down here after decades of disinterest. Damned Canadians!

  21. Glen @22: The Canadian dollar was last at parity with the US dollar in 1976, so you could have remembered it. If, as a six-year-old child, you followed financial and economic news, of course.

    The $Cdn rise against the $US is due to (1) resource prices climbing like mad (we still export a lot of raw materials), and (2) the $US losing value due to balance of payments problems, etc.

    Of course, now the Canadian economy is starting to totter thanks to the US problems. This is what happens when your #1 trading partner is the US, and you do more than 80% of your trading with them.

  22. The great thing about definitions of “recession” is, like with standards, there are so many from which to choose. The NBER have in fact called recessions when there was not two consecutive quarters of decline, even after GDP figures have been revised. The 2001 recession involved 5 quarters of alternating positive and negative GDP growth.

  23. Two years ago the dow was at 11,000 2006-dollars.
    Today it’s a lot lower, in 2006-dollars.
    To see my point, try measuring it in some other denomination – canadian dollars, euros, ounces of gold or copper, loaves of bread.

  24. #17 wendyb_09: You based the fact of a recession on your experience. There are always people experiencing their own wendyb experiences regardless of how the economy is at the moment. By your guidelines, the economy is in an upward trend because

    – my annual income is on path of about 5% growth (even with a less-than-inflation raise)

    – my employer’s sales team has to bid high on some projects to make it worth prioritizing over others if we even get that job because since it takes 6 months or more to train a new apprentice to be viable, there is more coming in the door than we can produce.

    – we go through 5 to 10 people to get one that might stick it out providing they have the ability and the patience to learn this niche craft.

    – we have to start a new apprentice at $11 per hour just to get someone to stay around and think the job is valuable.

    My advice? Find a niche job and work your ass off.

  25. Let’s run some numbers in a believable scenario:

    Single parent
    1 child
    distance from work: 15 mi
    vehicle mpg: 20mpg (we’re be nice)
    tank size: (medium sized compact approx) 12 gal tank
    Awesome niche salary: 9.00/hr
    No additional child support.

    Monthly pay: 9*40*4 = 1440.00 well above established guidelines for ‘gainful employment” iaw federal laws.

    Yearly salary: 1440 = 17,280.00 poverty level in US with 2 household members: 14, 000.00 . No additional federal assistance.

    Let’s go back to weekly: 360.00/wk
    Childcare: 20.00/day * 5 days a week = 100 dollars. (400 per month) (cheap daycare for most folks)
    Gas: [15 mi to work (30 round trip) + 2mi to daycare (4 round trip) per day ] * 5 = 170 mi/wk ; 170 mi wk / 20mi/gal = 8.5 gal gas/wk ; avg gas prices US: 4.14; 8.5*4.14= 35; 140.76/mo on gas —let’s round to 141 .

    Let’s take a look at our ‘disposable income’ that’s left so far:
    1440.00/mo – 400.00(daycare) – 141.00(trans)= 899.00

    Rent/Mortgage: Average cost of mortgage in the US= 1697 (so that’s way out of the question), average cost of rent= 890.00

    Well, crap. I haven’t even paid for taxes or utilities yet. Much less eaten. So let’s stick this person here in the mid-west where life’s a little cheaper and make rent 600.00/mo

    That leaves us with 299.00
    Electricity: -50.00/mo
    Water/Util: -30.00/mo
    Car Insurance: -70.00/mo (or like a lot of folks, just run around without it and pray you don’t get pulled over or in an accident)

    Hell, I’ll even give you the vehicle being owned outright.

    We’ll assume he/she has decent company benefits that only cost her and her child: -80.00/mo for full coverage, because she couldn’t afford to NOT have that for him/her and the child.

    What are we left with?

    I still haven’t eaten. I still haven’t taken out taxes (which would already have come out before we even started.)

    Let’s plug these numbers in over here to see if we can qualify for food stamps.

    Answer given our scenario: It appears that you are probably not eligible for Food Stamps at this time.
    If you would like to continue using this tool you can go back and change the amounts of some assets (ONLY FOR PURPOSES OF USING THIS TOOL).

    Note: Regulations state a household cannot knowingly transfer assets/resources for the purpose of qualifying or attempting to qualify for food stamp benefits.

    Well, fuckin’ quit your whinin’. At least there’s the dollar menu at McDonalds.

  26. The functional definition of recession, as opposed to the technical definition, runs something like this: 1) widespread reports of unemployment and inflation, buttressed by anecdotal evidence; 2) publication of poor economic indicators; 3) frequent media stories of people hit hard by the poor economy; 4) downplaying of good economic indicators; 5) mockery of alternate viewpoints; 6) election year; 7) Republican in the White House.

    I’m amazed how often a recession is reported when those last two factors are in play.

  27. #24 JKRichards: There will always be those anecdotes. The absolute elimination of poverty will never happen. Since 1960, the percentage of the population living at or below the poverty level has been cut in half. The percentage of blacks below poverty has reduced at double the rate of whites and the rate for hispanics is somewhere between. In real numbers, the population living in poverty is nearly the same as in 1960. The data comes from the government records on poverty.

    And how did you arrive at your “niche salary”? We start at $11/hr. I know it is tough. But is the solution with government or free market? The government gets its money from the working man (and yes the rich DO work) so if anything, the more the government takes the more depressed the individual’s spending ability. Here’s a little indicator of the government’s caring nature. The profit on a gallon of gas to the oil company is at best 9 cents. The federal government taxes on a gallon of gas is 18 cent (that’s double 9 cents). The federal corporate taxes on Exxon is 40%. When Exxon says their profits were 30 billion, that is after the taxes the government unthankfully has already taken. In 2004 (and any year is not going to be too different) Exxon paid more in taxes than the bottom 50% of wage earners in the United States. One corporation! But corporations don’t pay taxes; they only collect them from their customers or their stockholders. So when the feds make this grand display of outrage at the oil companies for gouging the public, where is their responsibility to us? The government doesn’t budge in their requirements to the taxed. They are only playing a high stakes game of demogogery. I don’t try to listen to whiners who blame Big-*. What about big-Government?

  28. In real numbers, the population living in poverty is nearly the same as in 1960. The data comes from the government records on poverty.

    Which, of course, requires the government to determine what ‘poverty’ is – defined as a particular income level.

    re Canada, friends in the computer industry tell me that Candians are pissed; for a long time pricing has been done (not just for games, but for many goods) under the assumption that the Canadian dollar is worth less. So a game would be priced at, say, $35 US or $50 Canadian. Now, even though the dollar value has changed, the pricing has not, so Canadians are paying extra for no other reason than “your dollar used to be worth less”.

  29. Mythago @30 Exactly. We can shift the data and the poverty line and move a few families to the right of that line and it all sounds groovy.

    Pat Smythe: Anecdote Mr Smythe? I don’t find this amusing or entertaining in the least.

    In what privileged world do you live in where $11.00 is a starting ‘niche salary?’ How is it that you come to assume that anyone can afford the time or training to earn a niche salary in that given scenario?

    I was being gracious at 9.00/hr. Take a gander at the average per capita income per state.

    Do you know wheere 11.00/hr gets you once I take out taxes?

    1267.20/mo — congrats. Now we’re starting out lower than my gross income example.

    Welcome to ‘niche poverty.’

  30. MuleFace

    I plugged in the above numbers for foodstamps at that very site and he/she doesn’t qualify according to their calculators.

    “Households may have $2,000 in countable resources, such as a bank account.”

    “For the following vehicles, the amount of the fair market value over $4,650 is counted: ”

    Which is not included in that online calc tool — depending on the vehicle’s fair market value, that alone could disqualify him / her.

    Regardless of his/her ability to qualify the MAXIMUM allotment would be 298 dollar; and seeing the the gross income provided would be on the high end of the spectrum provided, the amount of assistance provided would be negligible.

    Also, and again I point out that I did not take out federal or state taxes.

    Any way you cut this it’s not pretty —and it’s common.

  31. Oh quit whining already, you got you $6.10

    And while the definition of “recession” may be arbitrary, it is also a definition which hasn’t changed. At least not to my knowledge.

    Mr. Gramm said the constant drubbing of the media on the economy’s problems is one reason people have lost confidence. Various surveys show that consumer confidence has fallen precipitously this year to the lowest levels in two to three decades, with most analysts attributing that to record high gasoline prices over $4 a gallon and big drops in the value of homes, which are consumers’ biggest assets.

    “Misery sells newspapers,” Mr. Gramm said. “Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day.”

    Newspapers talk up bad economic data, especially when there’s a Republican in office, and during an election year. We’re still have positive economic growth, although at a slower rate.

  32. OK, one thing, with your hypothetical single mom, she qualifies for the Earned Income Credit with that annual salary and one child. That means she likely doesn’t pay anything for Federal, State or Local taxes.

    Take $1300 off the top for SS, and Medicare.

    There’s far more government assistance available out there for single moms, then just food stamps. And why she is a single mom could possibly give her more assistance. Child support, or death benefits are just 2 that come to mind.

    No, to me a whiner is someone who took on to much debt in already shaky times, with everyone and their brother talking about a housing bubble 2-3 years ago. Now, one person in their 2 income household has lost their job, their variable rate 1st and 2nd mortgages are raising their rates and they can’t take out anymore credit cards cause the 4-8 they already have are maxed out. And then they complain that the cost to fill their 2 year old SUV or pickup, which they got a great deal on, is now costing them 2 or 3 times as much as when the purchased it. And SHOCKA, nobody wants to give them what they owe on their truck, because part of that “great deal” was rolling in the negative equity on their previous car (which got far better MPG but wasn’t nearly as cool as their neighbors brand new truck,) and who wants a used truck when dealers are dropping the price of new truck by 1/2, since no one is buying them with gas prices in the $4 dollar range.

    I have little sympathy for these whiners. They are getting what they deserve for extending themselves financially that far out there. What they need to do is listen to Dave Ramsey.

  33. Yeah, and their kids, who had nothing to do with SUV-purchasing or house-buying or credit card debt? Buncha whiners. How dare they become anxious or upset when there’s no health insurance because Mommy lost her job, or when they hear Daddy talking quietly about whether or not they’re going to get evicted by the bank.

    Definitely, don’t waste your sympathy on these brats. You might have to get off your perch of superiority, and we wouldn’t want that.

  34. Maybe their parents ought to have thought of that before getting themselves into deep debt for their lifestyle choices…

    Maybe they’ll have to sell the kids computers, ipods and the like, get rid of their cell phones, internet, and cable.

    No, we wouldn’t want them to do that…

    I didn’t look for any sympathy when we dug ourselves into a hole. And we cut back, and dug our way out. It’s slow and it’s painful, but it’s what needs to be done.

  35. JK…..

    You are obviously computationally challenged. What a shock. I should point out, as well, that the above single mom will recieve a substantial – in excess of $3000 – payment for earned income credit.

  36. The market is a leading indicator, so in that sense it may very well be predicting a recession in our very near future.

    Gramm wasn’t trying to suggest that people were mentally deficient, he was inartfully trying to distinguish between the fact that people feel like there is a recession from the fact that there is not a current recession by definition.

    Tying this downturn to W or McCain is a bit of a stretch. The current pain is largely a result of oil prices tripling. Oil prices are going up in response to increased global demand ( mostly in India and China). The solution is to increase supply, something which our politicians haven’t had the stones to do since the 70’s.

    Let’s look at the players:

    W is an oil man and it would be hard to see him as being against drilling new holes. He has actually advocated in favor of it for the last 8 years.

    The republicans have been proposing bills to drill ANWR etc. for years. They are on record as being in favor of drilling new holes.

    The democrats have consistently blocked any and all efforts to expand the domestic oil supply out of deference to the enviornmental lobby.

    The democrats, led by Al Gore, are also advocating adding new taxes to oil and gas in an effort to change usage patterns and drive down demand in the U.S. These taxes will drive up the price of gas further and drive down the economy faster.

    Obama has said that he is okay with current prices and could see them going higher. He is against expanding domestic supply.

    So explain to me again how this is W’s fault?

    yes, there is also a mortgage crisis playing out, but the two leading figures, freddie mac and fannie mae, were created and staffed by democrats. You would really have to stretch to pin it on W. Besides it isn’t nearly as destructive as the rise in oil prices. Not even close.

    bonus: watch for Obama to “change” his no new drilling stand before the convention.

  37. Mule Face. Computationally challenged?

    Let’s not get into a slapfight.

    Last I checked we were talking Food Stamps and not EIC or EITC.

    Per the link YOU provided the maximum allotment for a 2 household family was 298.00 — which I already kindly did the online application for given the numbers I provided and was denied. I also cut and pasted the denial message in the first post.

    EITC — are you referring to Earned Income Tax Credit?
    Where are you getting your figures from? Again, I’ve done the calculations for you based on the IRS EITC tool:

    Based on the amounts you entered, your 2007 Earned Income is $17,280 and your Adjusted Gross Income is $17,280.

    Your estimated Earned Income Tax Credit amount for 2007 is $2,550.

    NOTE: Remember, this is only an estimate. To determine the exact amount of your credit and claim the EITC with this qualifying child, you must complete and attach Schedule EIC to your Form 1040 or Form 1040A and file it with the IRS.

    Congrats, the single person MAY receive that return once a year. It’s about 212.00/mo — so after we take out taxes and factor this in we’re up to a lovely net income of 1248.80 per month.

    …and btw…where’d you get that I was implying single mother anywhere? I was intentionally non-gender specific.

  38. Actually, you can get the EIC credit with each payroll, if your companies payroll software allows for this. I know the software we develop and sell allows for this.

  39. Oh, but let’s get back to the real point. You can’t just look at 1 federal program and say, see they’re screwed, because there are many federal, state and local programs to help those in need.

    Most Republicans I know, aren’t opposed to the government providing a safety net. It’s when the safety net becomes a providing a life-style that you’ll get the most complaints.

    When my wife and I faced the weakened economy in 1991, and both lost our jobs, we moved to where we could get a job. And the company I hired at even provided moving expenses because the area was lacking in qualified candidates.

  40. Keith, I agree with what you’re saying above: there are a lot of federal and state , as well as local charitable groups that can offer assistance.

    However, unlike you and your wife in ’91 many people aren’t in a position to get up and move to an area where jobs are available.

    Right now their are literally thousands of technology jobs that can’t be filled and a rising number of oil industry jobs — the problem is that they are often area specific and require specialized training to get a foot in the door.

    The position that Gramm is speaking from is a position of a man who is priviliged and has never gone without. It is also a falsehood to preach to people that if ,”you just work hard you can achieve the American Dream.”

    The American Dream is just not happening for most of America.

  41. Gosh JK, you got me on the gender thingy. I must be a misanthrope.

    I must also be web-challenged because I followed your link but couldn’t get to a web calculation tool. I simply followed the formula given on my link and determined the person was qualified. Can you send me an actual calculation, rather than an alleged cut & paste? Or a direct link to the actual web tool, rather than the cover page of the USDA? I can send you my calculation if you wish, but I’ll simply concede that food stamps are a marginal help at best.

    I just used my tax prep software & arrived at a refund of $3287. This results from the EITC of $2551 (good job there, you can use a table) plus an “additional child tax credit” of $736. This represents the unused portion of the $1000 Child Tax Credit. I can send you a PDF of the return if you like.

    What can we conclude from all of this? We could say that if you compound 1 crappy decision (having a child out of wedlock) with additional crappy decisions, like:

    1. Not living with family or seeking out a roommate to lower housing costs.

    2. Living 15 miles from work. How about walking distance or using public transportation?

    3. Child care – again – no family help with the kid? Who made the brilliant decision to not put the child up for adoption with all these negatives? Whatever happened to “the best interests of the child”?

    I can hear the “blame the victim” response now. A few more facts might flesh this out, but dammit, if you can’t make more than $9 an hour, don’t have a kid. If your family can’t help, you’ve got no business keeping one – adoption time!

  42. No, we wouldn’t want them to do that…

    Is that what you had to do, sell your kid’s iPod? I can see how that would make you think the most important thing about the recession is assuming everybody got into debt the way you did, and has the same ability to get out, so that you can heap scorn on them (as well as their kids, who had nothing to do with the mess other than be born into it), so you can sneer at how much better you are and how much they deserve whatever happens to them.

    I mean, that’s not what *I* get out of being a Republican, but you know, it’s a big tent and all.

  43. Gee, Keith, maybe instead of sympathy, you could have a little EMPATHY. You know, that’s the emotion that helps you see things from other people’s POV and maybe make you a little nicer.

    Of course, if you just want to be elitist, go ahead. One question, are you white? Because many of the people hit the hardest by this “recession” are not. They don’t have the opportunities you and your wife had in ’91 to get themselves out of their situation – which many of them were lied to and manipulated into. I used to work in the mortgage industry – I don’t anymore because it is a pretty shady business. I know how they manipulated data and credit scores to get people houses, mainly minorities, and then told them that it was just a formality – that is how everyone does it. And the minorities, many of them first time home buyers, listened, because they were ignorant of the facts – hell, they didn’t even know there were facts they should be aware of. This is why many companies have been fined and brokers have been arrested for “predatory lending”, and some mortgage companies have gone under – including the one we used to have our mortgage with.

    Empathy is just one of the things that set us apart from the “beasts of the field.” You should try it sometime.

  44. All the empathy in the world isn’t going to get them out of debt and living a better life.

    Bail them out, and they would probably still make the same bad choices given the choice again.

    Why is that millions of dirt poor people come here every year, know very little english, find jobs that pay very little, and are still able to save enough to send money back to their families in their country of origin? But people who’ve lived here all their lives, are somehow at a disadvantage because of the color of their skin?

    Working hard, saving your money, and living below your means, is the key to getting out of debt. Oh, and not digging yourself deeper into debt.

    I don’t begrudge people who’ve had unexpected expenses, like medical care, come up and turn their once comfy lives upside down. But, if you can only afford the house, car, cell phones, internet, cable, and all the other conveniences of modern life, on 2 incomes, you ought to be looking at what’s important in your life, and how to trim back, because the economy can turn south on the drop of a dime. If living your life in the past 3 decades hasn’t taught you that, YOU HAVEN’T BEEN PAYING ATTENTION.

  45. Mule Face @ #44

    I’m a social worker who works with homeless and near homeless people who are having trouble making ends meet. Let me burst some of your bubbles:

    1 – Most of the clients I work with don’t have children out of wedlock. Many clients flee a husband who is beating the crap out of them, or are being cheated on, or were just left high and dry by husbands. So, yeah, it’s a nice fantasy to suppose that there are tons of women out there having children out of wedlock, because it shifts responsiblity onto individuals, and off of structural and societal issues. Too bad it’s not often true.

    2 – Many families and friends are already doubling up in occupancy in the Chicagoland area, and are literally running out of room. So, again, that’s not always an option.

    3 – Yeah, it would be nice to be able to dictate to our employers that we want a job within a specific distance of where we live. Try that the next time you are competing for work and see how well that works for you. Of course, if people started doing that, I could just hear the cries of “You don’t really want to work, do you! You take what you can get.’

    4 – In this economy, many family members that would love to help someone with child care literally cannot afford to do such because it would cost the family members their own housing. And I detest the attitude that somehow because a person is laid off at some point in their child’s development, that they should have either not had kids or given them up for adoption. Oh, please. You can have a well paying job for years and then BAM!, you get laid off with no warning and have a health crisis and suddenly become homeless or close to it. By no fault of the individual.

    Mule Face, people aren’t looking for sympathy. They do want empathy, which requires at least a basic understanding of the realities they face.

  46. Keith_Indy @ Various Points

    1 – No, empathy will not magically get people out of debt. However, if you don’t have empathy, the government programs that are created will be ineffectual because they will not be addressing the real issues that need addressing.

    2 – Apparently the myth of the Welfare Queen is still alive and well. Ronald Reagan was a good actor – I didn’t think much about him as a President exactly because he liked to create all sorts of fantasies that had no bearing on reality. I guess it was his roots in Hollywood. Anyway…there are a few individuals who will try to game the system to their advantage. This is true for people drawing entitlements, just as it is true for executives like in the Enron case. But to then generalize out from these few to suggest that it is happening everywhere is just flat out wrong. It’s also lazy.

    The problems with your argument are manifold. First, do you have data showing people who rather use government programs than do it on their own? Because my experience, as someone doing this every day for almost the last five years, is that people who use government programs are generally ashamed and want to stop using them as soon as possible. Are there a few who game the system? Yes. I would say less than 5% in my experience. So, should people take my word for it, or yours?

    Second, while there are many programs, they are almost always underfunded. For example, ComEd, the electric utility where I am at just raised rates in the last year here. That, combined with a weak economy, spurred them to make a donation of a few hundred thousand dollars that was matched by a charity, to be put into a pot to help customers who were behind on electric bills and being foreclosed on. Publically, the said they planned for this money to last six months at least. It lasted not even a month. Clearly the need is out there. But no one is stepping up to the plate to finish the job.

    Oh, and before anyone things I’m just some sort of typical liberal mouthpiece, I’ll just ask you all preemptively to stuff it. I am an independent – for example, I thought the recent strike down of DC’s gun ban was great, AND at the same time I think our society does a piss poor job keeping the safety net up to date with societal needs.

  47. the government programs that are created will be ineffectual because they will not be addressing the real issues that need addressing.

    Yeah, just what we need, more government programs…

    Big government bureaucracy is part of the problem, not the solution. To many, already existing, ineffectual, and as you point out, underfunded programs, which in total do not really serve the publics interest.

    And the solution many people seem to want is more of the same.

    Like I said, I’m not against having a safety net, but it shouldn’t go beyond the basics. Food, shelter, clothing, child care, job training and some amount of health care. Not really sure what you mean by the safety net not keeping up with societal needs?

    I was stating who I specifically DO NOT have sympathy/empathy for. That is all. People who willingly and knowingly dug themselves into their own hole because, at the time, they were fat, happy and dumb about the world, and willingly suspended disbelief that nothing bad could ever happen to them.

  48. Todd:

    Sorry to disgust you. I’ve got nothing but props for someone like you who is out there fighting that fight day to day.

    You understandably object to my scenario as untypical. But what scenario is, really? I took JK’s facts & showed that people can make better decisions in light of their sucky cirumstances. You can always analyze your life & make changes. Find a closer aprtment, move in with friends or relatives, share child care with others who work differing shifts – these are all things people I personally know are doing to get by.

    You rightly point out tougher cases. There are no all-encompassing scenarios. You like to point out “structural, societal causes”. I am certainly more focused on personal responsibility. Being a helper, you want more resources with which to help. I get that. What’s the magical line whereby the most good is done without fostering dependence & disfunction? Tough one to answer. Yet, when the welfare reform was passed during the Clinton admin, unemployment went down.

    I’m sure if you’re willing to be fully honest with yourself & us, you can admit that many of your clients make plenty of self-defeating, destructive decisions which lead to many of their problems. The journey of life, in my opinion, is to learn how to overcome that tendency we all have. And being overly shielded from the consequences of poor decisions is helpful to nobody.

  49. Keith_Indy @ #50

    You flip-flopper! Seriously, your arguments seem to be changing as you go on. Not that this is a bad thing, but your original statements were seeming to blame people for structural inequalities in the Nation, such as the overt and covert racism against Blacks and the usage/mis-usage of government programs.

    I would agree that big bureacracy can be an impediment to effective program design. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about which bureaucracies are causing which problems in your experience.

    For example, you need someone to help navigate systems. The front line staff of Social Security and Department of Human Services in our area are generally decent enough people. I really like Social Security, they help the efficiency process by answering common questions and advocating. The DHS staff…well, they aren’t as great in my experience – however, they are often able to process food stamp applications within a few days for my clients. That’s the difference for them between eating, and not eating. Pretty important. I just hear the same old argument about big bureaucracy, and while I agree on some level, I think we need to hear specifics of changes that need to be made, and then Repugnacrats and Delouseacrats need to get together and fix specific issues.

    In fact, many government programs could be more effective if given more money and more local control of policies. The safety net is not keeping up with societal needs in the following examples. More companies are swapping full-time workers for part-time, to save on health care. Thus, we have bigger amounts of workers who want to work full-time and get health benefits, but cannot find a full-time job. The desire is there, but the jobs are not. How is our safety net addressing that? With universal basic coverage? Private-public hybrid? The fact is, millions are uninsured. What cracks me up is when I talk to Republicans and they get all pissy about the cost of universal health care, yet we get studies showing that if everyone had it, we would save money as a nation because it would reduce emergency care costs and cut health care costs for corporations. Maybe the government bureaucracy that needs to be cut here are conservative politicians who are blocking universal health care?

    Mule Face @ #51

    I apologize if it came off as me being disgusted by you. I am not. I might find some of your ideas misguided, or some of your facts wrong. But I respect your willingness to at least be in a dialog.

    Definitely, my clients make poor and harmful choices many times. And natural consequences can teach people lessons. However, I believe that if we have the capability and wealth to ensure every person has enough food to eat, clothing to wear, and adequate shelter, we need to do so.

    Finally, about welfare (PRWRA) reform and unemployment. The two may be correlated, but not causated. In addition, the unemployment data that the government releases is skewed in that people are regularly being removed from the “unemployed” column because they are considered as having given up on trying to find work. In this way, the unemployment data can be manipulated to be an underestimate. Yes, welfare reform may have helped motivated people who were gaming the system to get a job. But my experience does not indicate that it helped much. I would be interested in data that shows otherwise.

  50. I’ve just been refining my comments because some people are taking them to be blanket statements. @35 I was talking a specific example, and then @42 I started talking about safety nets.

    W/ regards to 35, does someone dumb enough to buy a pickup truck when gas prices were on the rise 3 years ago (remember Katrina and it’s effects on gas prices,) deserve much sympathy, or empathy when they complain about gas prices. And I’m certainly not talking about contractors and the like that actually need a pickup. I’m talking about the people who don’t haul anything around, and are flying by 10-16MPH over the speed limit, and alone. Heck, we have a pickup, but we only use it when we need to haul stuff around, which is rare.

    Wouldn’t a better “safety net” system be self-navigable? Instead we (taxpayers) have to pay extra so that those who really need help can find the help.

    It would also be better if there were a single point of contact for people in need.

    I worked at a PIC (Private Industry Council) a while ago developing software. One of the systems matched teenagers with work, and activities. They could sit down at a computer, fill out a survey, and search for programs that interested them. Of course, when it came to getting what I needed for the job, I had to go through 3 layers of BS to order something, or attend a class, since we were state funded.

    Health care – how about we get business out of the way of providing health care coverage. Give the money to the person, the person can shop around for the best coverage that suits their needs.

    That’s just one thought, and as with any plan, has it’s problems and risks. And I’m no expert when it comes to solutions. Experience has taught me that the Federal government isn’t the answer to all our problems.

    I certainly agree that keeping the money and control local would be a better option. But then, why should the Federal gov. be the middle-men, collecting the money, and then doling it out as they see fit.

  51. Yo Todd:

    We’ve probably beat this horse to death. For what it’s worth, the coming Obama administrationis likely to give you more of what you want & we’ll see how much good it does. Call me skeptical. Human nature being what it is, you tend to get more of that which you subsidize.

    Good luck, though.

  52. All the empathy in the world isn’t going to get them out of debt and living a better life.

    Neither is all the scorn or you-don’t-deserve-my-sympathy preening in the world, Keith. I mean, you can always find some reason that people in trouble contributed to their situation. You can decide that means it’s all their fault, they’d do the same thing tomorrow, so all they deserve is a big fat middle finger. There’s no reason to do so, though, other than to feel Better Than You and assure yourself you’d never have that happen. Defensive attribution isn’t anything on which to base social policy.

  53. #31 JK: Why would you complain about $11 an hour to start? Minimum wage is far lower than that. And anyway, starting wages are just that: STARTING WAGES! If someone sticks with something they will find their place and make more money. The lowest income families tend to be net tax receivers, not payers.

    Do you really think paying that wage to start is because I am in a privileged world? What the hell is privilege? And if someone works hard for their money, it isn’t a privileged life! It’s earned. You will only envy and hate the rich until you become rich. We are all anecdotes. Live with it.

    I tend to side with Mule Face and Keith. An Obama administration will likely raise our taxes in many areas. I don’t want to subsidize anyone who would rather collect from me than get themselves out there and improve their own life. How’s this for an anecdote: I know a guy who is not married, lives with his girlfriend, and they have a child. He has a MFA and is now starting on his doctorate studies. His tax return was huge because he CHOOSES to focus on his studies and not get married. He is an unapologetic Boulder liberal. And I have to subsidize him! I don’t like it.

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